Jeff La Frenierre


Assistant Professor in Geography and Environmental Studies

As a geographer, I strive to understand environmental change – especially climate change – in mountain environments. My current research, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Minnesota and Penn State University and funded by the National Science Foundation, seeks to understand the relationship between glacier retreat, mountain hydrology, and water resources vulnerability in the Andes of Ecuador. As part of the larger project to discover linkages between glacier meltwater runoff and groundwater at two locations, Volcan Cayambe (18,996 feet) and Volcan Chimborazo (20,564 feet), my students and I work together on three specific tasks:

  1. Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or drones) to create very detailed maps of glacier surfaces that can be compared across time to determine how much ice is melting across different time intervals, and how the patterns of ice loss vary across geographic space.
  2. Sampling water from glaciers, springs, stream, ponds, and wetlands, then analyze the hydrochemical signature of these waters (using stable isotopes of water and major ions) to determine the role of glacier meltwater in the hydrology of watersheds that provide important sources of local irrigation water.
  3. Assisting in the design, installation, and maintenance of automated weather stations that we use to understand local climate, the ways in which the climate is changing, and how local climate influences the hydrology and glaciology of these mountains.

Students in my research group thus gain extensive experience performing applied geospatial, glaciological, hydrological, and climatological research both in the field and in the lab. Over the past three years, I have been able to bring six different Gustavus undergrads to Ecuador for multi-week field research experiences. The work is challenging: high altitudes, steep terrain, frequent poor weather, and sometimes snowy campsites combine to make what we all agree is often “Type II Fun” – the kind of fun that doesn't seem fun until later, when you're home, warm, dry, and rested! However, the experience is unforgettable, meaningful, and excellent preparation for a geospatial, geosciences, or other type of environmental career. If you are highly motivated, intellectually curious, and willing to suffer just a bit in the name of science, reach out to me to find out about possible opportunities in my research group. 

At Gustavus, I teach a range of courses in Geography and Environmental Studies, including our two-course sequence in Geographic Information Systems; an introductory natural science course, Causes of Global Climate Change, Hydrology and Water Resources; Human Impacts on the Environment; and, starting in Spring 2020, a new research capstone course, Glaciers in a Warming World. I also regularly teach international Interim Experience (IEX) courses, including one in Ecuador (From the Amazon to the Andes; January 2016), Iceland (Glaciers, Volcanoes, Sagas and Songs: Interweaving Culture and Landscape in Iceland, upcoming in January 2020), and the European Alps (Melting Mountains: Glaciers, Climate Change, and Society in the European Alps, a pilot summer IEX course that will be offered in July 2019. In all of my courses, my goal is to help create thoughtful, engaged citizens who are responsible stewards of our natural environment and who are prepared to fight for a more just society. I seek to provoke your curiosity, to challenge your preconceived notions and to inspire you to reflect upon your place in the world. If you are ready to work hard and learn a great deal, I look forward to seeing you in class!

When I’m not geeking out on all things geographic, I enjoy kayaking, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, snowshoeing and photography. I live with my wife Paula (and our cat, Sandur) in Hopkins, MN. 


Ph.D. (Geography) Ohio State University; M.A. (Geography) University of Denver; B.A. (Geography) University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Courses Taught

Synonym Title Times Taught Terms Taught
GEG-240 Fundamentals of GIS 8 2018/FA, 2018/SP, 2017/FA, 2016/FA, 2016/SP, 2015/SP, and 2014/FA
GEG-343 Prob Solving GIS Lab 6 2018/SP, 2017/SP, and 2016/SP
GEG-125 Climate Change w/Lab 4 2018/FA and 2017/FA
GEG-108 Weather and Climate 4 2016/FA, 2015/FA, 2015/SP, and 2014/FA
GEG-230 Human Impact/Environ 3 2018/SP, 2017/SP, and 2015/SP
GEG-108 Weather and Climate Lab 3 2016/FA, 2015/SP, and 2014/FA
GEG-243 Hydrology & Water Res 2 2018/FA and 2016/FA
GEG-397 Honors Thesis Project 2 2016/SP and 2015/FA
GEG-155 Landscape Evol-Ecuador 1 2016/JN