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Meet: Ted Scambos

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University of Colorado
National Snow and Ice Data Center

Who I Am and What I Do
Hi, I'm Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center. What we do at NSIDC is manage a lot of satellite data of the poles and glaciers, and provide this data to other scientists, students, and the public. We also conduct research using the data ourselves, such as mapping how fast glaciers flow, studying the melting in the Arctic, or measuring how permafrost is changing in Alaska and Siberia.

A data center ingests and archives many gigabytes of data, keeps it organized, writes documents that help explain how to use the data, how it was collected, and how accurate it is. Right now, NSIDC is holding over 100 _terabytes_ of polar and alpine data, from dozens of sensors, stretching back over 30 years. We've used this data in many studies of how the polar regions are changing as our Earth warms up.

The best part of the job is field work, usually in some of the most remote parts of the world. I have been to Antarctica nine times, sailing over its icy sea, flying over the rugged Peninsula, or trekking across some of the largest glaciers in the world. Recently, we began studying snow 'megadunes', large ripple features in the highest plateau regions
of Antarctica. We are learning that these are formed by very steady winds that actually set up a 'standing wave' over the snow, much like clouds you sometimes see in a wave pattern. Field work is challenging, hard work, but with a good team it is one of the most fun things one can do. And it's one job where you really do go 'where no one has gone before'.

Career Journey
As a teenager, and even in elementary school, I knew I wanted to be a scientist that explored distant places; at the time, I thought it would be the Moon or Mars. I read about astronomy and chemistry all the time. In high school (West Springfield H.S. in northern Virgina) I entered the science fair all four years, with projects on rocket travel, molecules in space, the planets around other stars, and high-pressure hydrogen 'metal'. But I was always interested in being outdoors, too - so I built
my own river raft, rafted down the Shenandoa, went camping in the Blue Ridge in western Virginia, went mountain climbing in Arizona, North Carolina, Maine. In college, I began to take geology classes as a way to add some fun to my physics and math coursework; and I found that I really enjoyed it. Satellite pictures were just beginning to be used widely, but my interest in astronomy and the flyby missions to other planets gave me a lot of background knowledge that I could use in remote sensing studies of Earth.

Personal Information
Living in Colorado is great, the outdoors are always there for skiing or camping. Almost every summer, my friends and I take a rafting trip down one of the many western rivers into the wilderness. I also have a big garden at home, and my wife and I really enjoy cooking a fancy dinner with the vegetables we've grown ourselves --we met in a gourmet cooking
class, by the way. I am a pilot (although I don't get much time for flying) and a scuba diver (when I can find an ocean).

I graduated from the University of Colorado with my Ph.D., then went to work at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center using Landsat to map the Antarctic continent. A few years later, my wife and I moved back to Colorado, with two young sons in tow, and we've lived here since then -- with a lot of travel in between. We've been to Hawaii a lot, and Scotland and Greece and Australia and Italy and New Zealand and Canada and... ok, we like home too.

Web Sites
Hmmm. Well, I follow hurricanes quite a bit at I also follow politics pretty closely on Yahoo! News, and I search for old books on early explorers at

Parents and Family
My dad was an Air Force pilot and engineer, now retired, but it made for an interesting time growing up near Air Force bases and aircraft. My mom was a housewife at first, but later (as my brothers, sister, and I grew up) she was a librarian at the Library of Congress in Washington. One brother also became a pilot, and my sister is a teacher. The other brother is going to be, well, no one really knows. But he's living a fun life (athlete, yoga student, construction worker).

Future Plans and Goals
My work is pretty fullfilling, but I would like someday to write a book, perhaps more than one. Not just on science, but on other interests - like my family's beginnings in Greece, or the history of Antarctica. I'm also hoping to buy some land and build a completely self-sufficient home in the Colorado mountains someday.

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NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: May 2005
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