glacial research in the Wind River Range of Wyoming has netted Nathan Welleford a Climate Justice Scholarship at Sterling College.

The scholarship committee was so impressed by his application—which included details of the study in Wyoming—that he was awarded the scholarship (renewable over four years). It will cover the full tuition of his studies, as he completes a self-designed major in International Adventure Education.

It is the only Climate Justice scholarship in the country, and Welleford is the second Sterling College Climate Justice Scholarship grantee.

Welleford, aged 21, is a native of Lexington, Kentucky, where he completed two years of pre-nursing studies at the University of Kentucky. He switched to Central Wyoming College and completed a two-year Associate’s Degree in Outdoor Education this year.

During his studies, Welleford saw a documentary titled Chasing Ice (2012), a study of vanishing glaciers around the world. He had also been planning to attend a backcountry expedition to the glacial cirque in Wyoming.

He decided to put the two together.

Chasing Ice was about glacial recession in Greenland, Iceland and Alaska, attributed to climate change,” said Welleford. “I was interested in studying the problem, but I didn’t have to go to Greenland; I had a boatload of glaciers right in my own backyard.”

He joined a backcountry research expedition created by Central Wyoming College and led by one of its faculty.

“Glaciers—because they are white—usually reflect the sun’s rays, and the heat they generate,” Welleford continued. “One of our hypotheses is, it’s possible that the black soot that is falling on the glaciers is making them dark and absorbing the sun’s rays, causing them to melt.”

Welleford completed the two week backcountry expedition to assist with gathering data to bring “ground truth” to bear on previous studies.

The expedition included a visit to the Gannett Cirque and the Dinwoody Glacier, between Pinedale and Dubois in Wyoming. The former includes Gannett Peak, which at 13,804 feet, is the highest peak in Wyoming.

The range’s vast wilderness attracts many hikers, climbers and skiers, and is home to grizzly bears, moose, elk, wolves, and bald eagles.

“Climate justice is important here because this is one of the primary water sources for the surrounding communities, especially in the dry summer months and in years of low rainfall,” said Welleford. “The environment and the outdoors are also part of the recreation and tourism industry here, and I am looking at it from a sustainability point of view.

“Without a healthy climate and environment, it takes away from the livelihoods of a lot of people, especially in outdoor recreation,” he added.

He plans to work with others involved in the project to obtain grants to fund the research.

“When I looked at Sterling College I was impressed by their Climate Justice program, and was encouraged to apply for the scholarship,” said Welleford. “The college was intrigued about the angle I was coming from: How the environment, the glaciers, and outdoor activities are being affected by climate change.”

Welleford chose Sterling College because it puts sustainability at the heart of its program and its community.

“Sterling values strong environmental ties to the land,” he said. “The other point in its favor was the interdisciplinary courses and how the value of environmental ethics are taught side by side with the courses. It’s really the college’s commitment to social and climate justice.”

“I would like to continue with field research. Eventually, I’d like to facilitate backcountry research,” he continued. “I really like working with people, and being the go-between for scientists and the outdoors.”

“Climate Justice Scholarship applicants were asked to write an essay about their past experiences and future goals, and how they connected to real-world issues,” explained Tim Patterson, Director of Admission at Sterling College. “Nathan wrote a really beautiful essay and the way he connected his studies with the impact on the glaciers really impressed the committee,” he concluded. •

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