UTSA team to study Mexico's highest point, Pico de Orizaba

Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico
(Photo by Blake Weissling)

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(April 20, 2010)--Research Assistant Professor Blake Weissling in the UTSA Department of Geological Sciences is getting a first-hand look at one of the only pieces of glacial ice left in the tropical northern hemisphere.

Weissling and Michael Lewis, a doctoral candidate in environmental science and engineering, are teaming up with colleagues from Southwest Research Institute and the University of Veracruz to study Pico de Orizaba's summit glacier on a research expedition April 17-25. They are funded, in part, by a fellowship from the UTSA Mexico Center through a program that encourages joint faculty/student research and collaboration between UTSA and researchers in Mexico.

Sitting at 18,490 feet, Pico de Orizaba is Mexico's highest point and the third highest peak in North America. The dormant volcano is part of the Eje Volcanico Transversal mountain range, situated due east of Mexico City on the border between Veracruz and Puebla.

While in Mexico, Weissling and Lewis's team will take measurements to determine the glacier's current area and mass. They will use GPS to map the edges of the glacier and ground penetrating radar to estimate its thickness. The radar recordings also will reveal information about the bedrock surface that lies beneath Pico de Orizaba's summit glacier.

"We know the glacier is melting, but we don't know how fast that's happening or why," said Weissling. "Is it melting due to climate change, or is it because the volcano is heating up from within? To study that, we need to know how much glacial ice is there."

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UTSA Mexico Center fellowship program

Established in October 2005, the UTSA Mexico Center is the umbrella organization that connects the university's Mexico-related experts. It is engaged in research and educational projects to promote greater knowledge and understanding of issues facing immigrants from Mexico.

Through a generous gift by the Carlos and Malu Alvarez International Study Fund, the center offers fellowships for students to travel to Mexico for research related to U.S.-Mexico relations or Mexico-related projects. The fellowships are competitive and selected by the UTSA Mexico Center advisory board. The Orizaba study is the first to be funded for research by the College of Sciences.