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UTSA team studies Mexico’s highest point

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico (Photo by Blake Weissling

Blake Weissling is getting a first-hand look at one of the only pieces of glacial ice left in the tropical northern hemisphere.

Weissling, a research assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, and Michael Lewis, a doctoral candidate in environmental science and engineering, teamed up with colleagues from Southwest Research Institute and the University of Veracruz to study Pico de Orizaba’s summit glacier on a research expedition in April.

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 east of Mexico City on the border between Veracruz and Puebla.

The team is studying the glacier’s current area and mass using GPS to map the edges of the glacier and ground penetrating radar to estimate its thickness. The radar recordings also reveal information on 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.”

The team’s efforts 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.

—Christi Fish

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