Position: Senior Lecturer, Gateway Antarctica, College of Science, University of Canterbury.
Field: Glaciology and remote sensing
Dr Wolfgang Rack, a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury College of Science, says he has always loved flying and seeing the world from above. He grew up in the Austrian Lake District, an area in the European Alps known for its record snowfalls, and could see the Dachstein Glacier from his house. As a child, he enjoyed skiing and ice-skating. Wolfgang’s youthful love of flying and winter sports has developed into a career that involves satellite remote sensing of snow and ice.
Wolfgang began his scientific career with an MSc in meteorology and a PhD in glaciology at the Institute for Meteorology and Geophysics at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. During his studies, he used satellite and Space Shuttle flyovers to make simple reference measurements – like snow height on glaciers. This was a new and exciting field in the 1990s. As a student, Wolfgang researched glacier shrinkage and growth and climate change. His work took him to the European Alps, Patagonia and Antarctica.
Wolfgang went on to work at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. His research took him to Greenland, Svalbard (the northernmost part of Norway) and Antarctica. During this time, Wolfgang began working with an airborne simulator for the new CryoSat satellite.
Since 2006, Wolfgang has been at the University of Canterbury. His research interests are twofold – satellite and airborne remote sensing of snow and ice and mass balance studies of glaciers and ice sheets. Wolfgang uses satellites to measure the thickness of land and sea ice in Antarctica. He travels down there each year to physically measure the ice to validate the satellite measurements.
Whenever I can, I try combining my interest for satellites with outdoor activity. Skiing in Antarctica is the ‘coolest’ thing one can imagine!
Whenever possible, Wolfgang tries to combine his interests in satellites with outdoor pursuits. If he finds himself with a bit of spare time between ice measurements in Antarctica, Wolfgang puts on his skis and heads outdoors.
This article is based on information current in 2013 and 2018.
Wolfgang led a New Zealand research team that achieved a major milestone – being the first in the world to measure the thickness of Antarctic sea ice from the air. Find out more in this Stuff news article or in the findings in an article in Geophysical Research Letters in 2020.
At the beginning of 2019, Wolfgang will be part of the international team of scientists from institutions around the world on a 45-day mission, which includes amongst it's aims, the discovery of Earnst Shackleton's ship Endurance. Find out more here.