Paden Receives 2016 Cryosphere Early Career Award

John Paden will receive the 2016 Cryosphere Early Career Award at the 2016 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 12–16 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award is for “a significant contribution to cryospheric science and technology.”


A key to understanding the history, structure, and evolution of ice sheets is being able to observe the geometry and characteristics of the ice/bed interface, as well as the internal structure of the ice. John Paden’s pioneering efforts led to the first successful demonstration of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging of an ice bed interface. Using radar systems and processing techniques he developed as a student at the University of Kansas, during his Ph.D. work, John was able to image the ice bed at Summit Greenland, covered by more than 3 kilometers of ice, demonstrating that radars can be used to image the ice/bed interface, even when covered with very thick ice, opening up exciting new opportunities for understanding ice sheet characteristics and processes.

After finishing his Ph.D., he joined VEXCEL Corp. in Boulder, Colo., and in his spare time conducted research on radar direction of arrival (DoA) algorithms and generated 3-D topography of the ice bed using data collected at Summit Greenland with multi-beam radars. This was the first successful application of parametric signal processing algorithms to multibeam SAR data to demonstrate 3-D imaging (imaging across a swath) of the ice/bed interface. This work has laid important groundwork for future mapping of the Antarctic ice sheet bed in 3-D, both with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellites. These novel observations can contribute substantially to models of ice sheet behavior in a changing climate.

In addition to these innovations, perhaps John’s greatest strengths and contributions to the cryospheric sciences come from the tremendous service he provides the cryospheric research community through processing and distributing large amounts of airborne radar data. These data have been collected over the past 2 decades through various NASA-sponsored and NSF-sponsored campaigns. John, a veteran of 17 airborne field campaigns in Greenland and Antarctica, has been instrumental in developing the processing software that made these data usable to the scientific community, and to date, more than 100 papers, many of which constitute major scientific breakthroughs, are based on the radar data sets he developed. Some of these include: the first reconciled assessment of ice sheet mass balance, new bed elevation maps for Greenland, improved ice core interpretation, ice-sheet-wide radiostratigraphy, and the rapid retreat of Zachariae Istrom in Greenland. Without John’s efforts, these and many other studies would not have been possible or they would have had a far less significant impact. In this sense, John is more than an accomplished researcher and engineer, he is an enabler of a vast array of research, and is an exemplary citizen of the cryospheric community. As one of our colleagues has said, “John has strong shoulders on which many have stood.”

As a leader, selfless enabler, valued colleague by many, John has demonstrated himself to be very deserving of this recognition, and we look forward to his continued contributions and scientific and technical leadership in the future.

—Robin Bell, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, N.Y.


I am deeply honored to receive this award and thankful to those who generously put the nomination together and to the cryosphere community that all this work comes from. I am humbled too because there are many early-career scientists in our community who deserve this award at least as much as myself.

The common theme of my work is that every accomplishment has been part of a team effort and the best motivation the whole way were the amazing people, many now close friends, that I have had the privilege to work with. They, especially my colleagues at KU who work on the radar systems that produce the data that I work with, deserve much of the credit.

I stumbled into this career with a little apprehension in the beginning because it was not my original direction upon entering graduate school, but I became hooked when I realized I could merge my interest in engineering with my desire to contribute in some way to one of the big problems facing humanity. For this, I am grateful to my Ph.D. advisor and committee members Chris Allen, Jim Stiles, and Prasad Gogineni.

By far, the best part of working at CReSIS has been the engagement with the science community. I especially thank the Operation IceBridge team for connecting me with so many scientists that I have since collaborated with and for all the encouragement. I also thank Dorthe Dahl-Jensen and Heinz Miller for their remarkable leadership in research and their leadership of people. It is truly humbling to work alongside them.

Finally, I want to thank my family for being the greatest joy in my life and for being the foundation that supports my ability to passionately pursue my research.

—John Paden, University of Kansas, Lawrence