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reprinted with permission from the Baldwin City Signal, 21 August 2002


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 fresh water.
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.