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Kevin Schaefer

Senior Scientist, Emeritus

About Kevin

Kevin Schaefer is a senior scientist studying the impacts of climate change on permafrost.  He uses models, remote sensing, and in situ observations to study permafrost dynamics in a warming climate. Schaefer uses physical models to predict how carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost might amplify warming due to the burning of fossil fuels, then uses economic models to estimate the associated costs. Schaefer uses models to estimate potential releases from destabilized methane hydrates in thawing subsea permafrost in the continental shelf off Alaska and Siberia. He uses models and in situ measurements to predict the potential release of mercury from thawing permafrost and remote sensing techniques to study permafrost dynamics. Water expands when it freezes, causing surface soils in permafrost regions to rise during the winter freeze, and subside during the summer thaw. Schaefer uses ground, airborne, and satellite radar to measure this seasonal subsidence to study seasonal thaw depth, soil moisture, fire impacts, and threats to infrastructure. Schaefer collects in situ measurements of soil moisture and thaw depth to validate the various models and remote sensing products.  Schaefer came to NSIDC after working 14 years for NASA on the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs, and for a year at the White House.


Permafrost dynamics, fire impacts on permafrost, economic impacts of thawing permafrost, subsea permafrost and methane hydrates, land surface modeling, carbon cycle modeling, mercury cycle modeling, land-atmosphere interactions, soil thermodynamics, soil hydrology, atmospheric and soil radiative transfer modeling, inversion theory, remote sensing, project management, orbital mechanics, mercury dynamics in plants and soils

Current Research

The Airborne InSAR and PolSAR Permafrost Dynamics Observatory (PDO): The Permafrost Dynamics Observatory (PDO) estimates seasonal subsidence, Active Layer Thickness (ALT), soil dielectric constant, soil Volumetric Water Content (VWC), and associated uncertainties from airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data. PDO combines P-band data collected by the Airborne Microwave Observatory of Subcanopy and Subsurface (AirMOSS) instrument, and L-band data collected by the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument. This project has processed 66 swaths flown across Alaska and Northwest Canada in 2017 as part of NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). The resulting data product has multiple potential applications related to the study of infrastructure damage, permafrost thermodynamics, fire impacts, and vegetation change.

EHR-Polar DCL: Collaborative: Polar Explorer - A Virtual Learning: Polar Explorer is a web-based, immersive environment where students explore inaccessible regions and learn about permafrost from their laptops, desktops, or mobile devices. The NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program funded this project. Permafrost is soil at or below 0°C for at least two years and underlies 24 percent of the Northern Hemisphere land area. Permafrost regions in the high northern latitudes are currently warming at twice the global rate. Polar Explorer will consist of a suite of interactive Virtual Field Trips (iVFTs), connected via a high-resolution rendered landscape generated from real Arctic terrain data.  Polar Explorer’s interactive, virtual field trips will leverage intelligent tutoring systems and virtual reality technologies to allow students to do science, rather than just hear about science. Using realistic, scientifically accurate landscapes, students will experience the Arctic environment much like they would if they were physically there.


Ph.D., Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, 2004
M.S., Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, 1999
B.S., Aerospace Engineering, University of Illinois, 1984