Kristin Poinar: Research biography

Brainstorming at the white board

I came to glaciology after studying physics at my undergraduate school, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The latest report from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at that time, the 4th Assessment Report (AR4), was making headlines as it showed that man-made climate change was very clear and very severe.

The AR4 also found that the future behavior of ice sheets was less clear. This was because some of the outlet glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica were speeding up faster than our ice-sheet models, at the time, were predicting. This interested me: I thought I could use what I had learned during my physics major to contribute toward developing and improving ice-sheet models. I headed to the University of Washington in Seattle to work on a PhD in glaciology with Ian Joughin (awesome advisor, person, and scientist). After that, I was lucky enough to work with Sophie Nowicki (ditto) at NASA Goddard Space Flight center as an NPP postdoc.

The helicopter pad at Camp 18, Juneau Icefield, Alaska. Photo by Jeremy Stock.

We are making lots of progress in glaciology, sea-level rise science, and how Earth’s ice sheets will affect Earth’s people in the decades to come. The narrowed uncertainties in future ice-sheet behavior (see the IPCC AR5 and the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC)) are testaments to our progress as a community.

Looking ahead, glaciology is buckled in for another round of innovation, this time thanks to ICESat-2. This satellite is collecting precise elevations of the earth’s surface — including and especially the surfaces of glaciers and ice sheets — photon by photon, every 0.7 meters as it moves through its orbit. We’ll be able to see changes at all spatial scales, from full-continent (or full largest-island) to individual crevasses.

Outside of glaciology, I have fun with rock climbing, bicycling, ultimate frisbee, exploring the wildlife and natural world around western New York and the world, and wandering through the cityscape in Buffalo.