Big Ice

Meet Ian Joughin

I am a glaciologist working at the Polar Science Center to determine how the flow of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will make contributions to current and future rates of sea level change. This work mainly involves 1) working with satellite data to measure the velocity of ice streams and outlet glaciers; 2) conducting ground- and airborne-based field work to obtain additional ice flow measurements; and 3) using these data in conjunction with ice-sheet models to understand the physics that control ice flow. I also am an affiliate of the Earth and Space Science Department at UW where I supervise graduate students working on a variety of ice-sheet related projects.


I did my graduate work at the Polar Science Center, which was focused on developing methods for using spaceborne interferometry to measure topography and ice flow velocity in Greenland. After getting my PhD, I moved to Pasadena to work at the Jet Propulsion Lab, where I continued to use satellite remote sensing to study ice sheets. I also worked on the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission to develop some of the algorithms for mosaicking the final DEM products. After examining the ice sheets from the vantage point of space from my office in sunny Southern CA, I became interested in actually going to these remote locations to collect additional data. So after 9 years at JPL, I moved back to the Polar Science Center where it was easier to conduct a broader based research program. Since then I have made a half dozen or so field trips to Greenland and Antarctica.


In recent years, several large changes have occurred in Greenland and Antarctica, such as the rapid acceleration of many glaciers. These changes were unanticipated, forcing the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to conclude that they could not accurately predict any upper bound on the rate of sea level rise due to glaciers and ice sheets because we do not adequately understand many of the processes driving the changes. Scientifically this represents an exciting and challenging research area that, at the same, is societally relevant. Understanding these processes is the major focus of my current research. To that end I am continuing to determine ice flow velocity from satellite observations, travelling to Greenland and Antarctica to study things such as lake drainage events and snowfall accumulation, and developing models to help predict how climate change will influence ice sheet contributions to sea level.