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Sierra Melton ’18 Named Goldwater Scholar

Also Working With The Polaris Project This Summer

Colorado College’s Sierra Melton ’18, a geology major and environmental issues minor, has been named a 2017 Goldwater Scholar.

The prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, given annually to sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, covers the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program awarded 240 scholarships for the 2017-18 academic year and an additional 307 nominees were named as Honorable Mentions.

“Being selected to receive the Goldwater Scholarship is both confirmation that I am making progress toward my goals and a vote of confidence from the scientific community,” says Melton, who received an Honorable Mention in 2016. “This incredible honor encourages me to continue pursuing my scientific passions with ambition and validates the importance of my research. The award will help me maximize my impact in geoscience research.”

In addition to being recognized by the Goldwater Foundation, Melton also will be working with The Polaris Project this summer. The CC junior plans to pursue a Ph.D. in glaciology, with the goal of conducting meaningful research that directly contributes to the understanding of the interactions between cryosphere, climate, and human systems. “My research will utilize remote sensing, GIS, ice penetrating radar, ice cores, modeling, and isotopic analysis to investigate the effects of a changing climate on glacier and ice sheet dynamics and Arctic and alpine meltwater resources,” she says. Specifically, Melton intends to measure changes in glacial mass and extent, quantify glacial erosion, assess the internal structure and basal conditions of glaciers, and research subglacial hydrology and glacial melt runoff.

“With an enhanced understanding of glacial dynamics and the factors that influence mass balance (positive gain or negative loss of ice), I will be able to improve the accuracy of glacial models. This will allow for increased certainty in sea level rise projections, as ice loss from mountain glaciers and ice sheets plays a significant role in sea level rise,” she says.

Melton’s work this summer with The Polaris Project focuses on investigating the fate of carbon in Arctic permafrost in the face of climate change. She will be travelling to the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska, a remote and vulnerable environment with vast stores of ancient organic carbon, to collect samples and field observations. The work is coordinated by scientists from the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, where Melton will then analyze her samples from Alaska.

“Sierra has thrown herself into research; three times over she has been selected for highly competitive undergraduate research programs,” says Rebecca Barnes, assistant professor in Colorado College’s environmental program. “These experiences have taken her to tidal rivers in Texas to soils on construction sites in North Carolina and soon to streams in Alaska. Her enthusiasm for research is hard to match and I am so excited to see what she does next!”

The Goldwater Scholars were selected based on academic merit from a field of 1,286 natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering students nominated by the campus representatives from among 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide. Of those reporting, 133 of the Scholars are men, 103 are women, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their highest degree objective. Twenty-two are mathematics majors, 153 are science and related majors, 51 are majoring in engineering, and 14 are computer science majors. Many have dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering, and computer science.

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