Andrew Fountain's interest in the earth sciences was first piqued when he began collecting rocks as a boy. Then, in junior high, a scientist came to his school to lecture about how ice crystals form. The rest, as they say, is history; Fountain has been intrigued with ice ever since.
In graduate school, Fountain studied sea ice, lake ice, river ice and snowflakes before he turned to glaciers. After graduate school, he was invited to participate in a study in Antarctica where he joined a team of biologists studying the ecosystem of a polar desert. Fountain examines the physical processes that control glacial meltwater supply to the ecosystem. In 2004, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) honored Fountain's decade of work in Antarctica by naming a glacier after him, the Fountain Glacier.
Professor Fountain also has led research projects in Sweden and Alaska. Currently he is leading a project on glacier change in the western United States. "In Sweden and here in the West, glaciers are retreating like crazy," he notes. "We are seeking to understand the processes causing this change and how they might tie into patterns of global warming.
"Intuitively, we can all understand how glaciers are indicators of climate change. So I foresee the type of data we are gathering eventually having a significant affect on national policy makers."
Working with PSU graduate students, the USGS and the National Park Service, one of Fountain's long-term goals is to compile the glacial story for the American West, beginning with the Little Ice Age. At the same time, he remains dedicated to teaching as evidenced by his Teacher of the Year award last year. He also works closely with his graduate students.