Howat Receives 2007 Cryosphere Young Investigator Award

Ian M. Howat received the 2007 Cryosphere Young Investigator Award at the 2007 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for a significant contribution to cryospheric science and technology.


howat_ianI have had the great pleasure of knowing Ian M. Howat over the past seven and a half years and to benefit from his great intellect, rock-solid work ethics, and collegiality. I have been always impressed by his ability to stay focused on science while collecting field data in Antarctica and Iceland, or during long periods of computational work at UCSC. It is terrific to now see Ian receive the 2007 AGU Cryosphere Young Investigator Award for his major contribution to understanding recent, rapid changes in ice discharge from Greenland outlet glaciers.

In 2005, Ian, then still a graduate student, was the first scientist to document that major outlet glaciers in SE Greenland experienced dramatic acceleration and thinning in the first half of this decade. His findings represent a timely addition to the scientific effort aimed at evaluating the stability of the Greenland ice sheet and its potential contribution to near-future sea level rise. Ian’s research results drew the attention of national and international media. They also helped motivate a number of subsequent scientific studies of Greenland outlet glaciers. In the process of doing his groundbreaking work, Ian made a significant technological improvement in the feature-tracking software used to calculate glacier flow velocities from satellite images.

Although Ian’s work on Greenland outlet glaciers has achieved the highest level of visibility, it is important to recognize that he has also made significant contributions to other research areas, varying from the history of deglaciation in the Ross Sea to the climate sensitivity of glaciers and snowpack in California. Ian’s Ross Sea work built a solid foundation for his scientific career in the form of a “supersized” senior thesis forged under the thorough supervision of Eugene Domack. During his graduate education at UCSC, Ian dove right into quantitative glaciology, a theme that he continued to develop during his postdoctoral years, supervised jointly by two outstanding glaciologists, Ian Joughin and Ted Scambos. Ian’s great scientific achievements and potential led him to a tenure-track position in glaciology at the renowned Byrd Polar Research Center.

I have no doubt that Ian is on a quick trajectory to becoming an international leader in cryospheric sciences. My interactions with Ian during his doctoral studies at UCSC were comparable in terms of their intellectual intensity and scientific quality to interactions I had with Barclay Kamb and Hermann Engelhardt at Caltech. Ian will have an important impact on the evolution of cryospheric sciences.

Slawek M. Tulaczyk, University of California, Santa Cruz


Thank you, Slawek, for that wonderful citation. I feel tremendously lucky for the “dream team” of mentors who provided a constant stream of support, guidance, and enthusiasm since the first day I walked through the door of Gene Domack’s lab at Hamilton College. Thinking that going to Antarctica sounded fun, I signed up as an undergraduate researcher for what turned out to be the transformative event of my career. I spent 6 weeks aboard an icebreaker off the Antarctic coast with the eminent marine geophysicist John Anderson, where I was treated not just as an assistant but as an investigator. Here I found the joy of scientific discovery and became hooked for life. After a semester visiting at the Institute for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies in Tasmania, I was back a year later to Antarctica, this time with Gene, in the Peninsula region. Despite the interesting science and the beauty of that coast, my stomach was no match for the swell of the Drake Passage, and I realized I was better physiologically suited to land-based studies.

Somehow Gene was able to talk Slawek, one of the greatest quantitative minds in glaciology, into taking me, holder of a liberal arts degree in geology with no programming skills, on as an M.S. student at UCSC. Slawek’s can-do attitude and sheer enthusiasm made it easy to find the motivation to catch up, and within a year I was directing research activities at Mount Shasta, California, and in Iceland, as well as settling into the codes and algorithms. I was enjoying myself so much that I switched to the Ph.D. program within a year of arriving.

My incredible fortune in mentors continued with my postdoctoral studies. As I became more interested in remote sensing, toward the end of graduate school, I forged collaborations with the two top researchers in radar and optical remote sensing of ice sheets, Ian Joughin at the University of Washington and Ted Scambos at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, respectively. These collaborations morphed into a tremendously enriching and successful joint postdoc position. I hope to continue my close work with these excellent scientists long into the future.

Finally, I’m most lucky for the unconditional love and support of my family, my mother and father and my wife, Erica. They continue to be the foundation upon which all I accomplish is built.

Ian M. Howat, School of Earth Sciences and Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University, Columbus