reprinted with permission from the Baldwin City Signal, 21 August 2002
BALDWIN NATIVE RECEIVES FELLOWSHIP FROM NASA
Rural Baldwin native John Paden may have deep roots in the local soil,
but his vision extends to the ends of the Earth.
Paden is a graduate student in electrical engineering at the University
of Kansas. Last month, he got an Earth System Science Graduate Student
Fellowship from NASA.
The fellowship is one of just 52 given nationwide this year. It will help
fund his doctoral research for a project studying massive sheets of ice
in Greenland and Antarctica.
“This fellowship is a clear indicator of John’s ability to
contribute to the state-of-the-art research in his field,” said
Victor Frost, Dan F. Servey distinguished professor of electrical engineering
and computer science and director of KU’s Information and Telecommunication
Technology Center where Paden works.
Paden developed his interest in science and technology while growing up
on land first farmed by his great-grandfather.
“I did a lot of computer programming as a kid. That was my dad’s
influence on us,” he said.
Now Paden is an important part of a multi-university research project
called Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements, or PRISM. The National
Science Foundation and NASA jointly fund the project.
PRISM’s goal is to see if the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets
are growing or shrinking. The sheets are massive chunks of ice that can
be up to two miles thick. They hold three-quarters of the world’s
Local and global changes in temperature can cause the sheets to melt or
expand. These changes can have serious consequences for global sea levels,
according to Paden.
For instance, if the entire Greenland ice sheet melted it would raise
the world’s oceans by 20 feet. Paden hopes his research will help
scientists quickly see changes in the ice sheets so they can better predict
how those changes will affect the oceans.
“If sea level rose just three feet, it would flood the homes of
100 million people. It would be n ice to know ahead of time if that was
going to happen,” he said.
Paden got involved in the project because it combines an intellectual
challenge with a chance to do work with important implications.
“PRISM allows us to do cutting-edge research and to pioneer new
technologies. The bonus is that we are working toward a better understanding
of how the Earth’s climate works,” he said.
Paden plans to travel to Greenland next summer to start collecting data.
He will work with radar he is developing as part of his doctoral studies.
He wants the radar to scan the bottom of the ice sheets to see how much
is frozen to the ground and how much rides on water melted from the sheet.
He also wants to know if the area skating on water is growing or shrinking.
The amount of an ice sheet riding on water is important because it influences
an ice sheet’s speed. Ice sheets gliding on slippery water move
much faster than those scraping on bedrock, according to Prasad Gogineni,
Deane E. Ackers distinguished professor of electrical engineering and
computer science and PRISM’s lead investigator.
Icebergs continually break off the fronts of ice sheets, so faster sheets
add more water to the oceans than do slow ones.
A key advantage of Paden’s radar is its speed and mobility. Currently,
researchers have to take years and drill through an entire sheet to tell
what lies at the bottom.
The slow work and extreme weather mean that only a few holes have been
drilled in all of Greenland. Paden hopes his radar will get the same information
in a matter of minutes.
Paden can also mount his radar in a specially designed vehicle -- sort
of an Arctic ATV -- making it easy to use in many locations.