After having received a Ph.D. from the Graz University of Technology (TUG), he joined the Geodetic Science Department at the Ohio State University (OSU) in 1978. During his affiliation with OSU and thereafter as full professor and Head of Department at TUG he developed a powerful processing and visualization system for a variety of geopotential data. Among his achievements are mathematical models and algorithms for gravity prediction on and above the surface of the Earth, a global topographic-isostatic model, the first accurate determination of the geoid for Austria, and many others more.

As head of the Department for Satellite Geodesy he is responsible for the Satellite Observatory Graz-Lustbühel with the Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) system. The SLR team in Graz is extremely successful and the Graz SLR system with its multi-colour and kHz ranging capabilities is considered as one of the most powerful, accurate and reliable SLR systems worldwide. Under his guidance the Department has also made a long record of achievements in GPS – based geodynamic activities on a national and international level. It has established a national cluster of permanent GPS stations, has established the Austrian GPS Geodynamics Reference Network, and is responsible for the continuous processing of data from about 100 GPS stations in the Eastern part of Europe.

The past decade of his research and development is strongly devoted to the GOCE-Mission (Gravity Field and Steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer) of ESA that was successfully launched on March 17, 2009 from Plesetsk (Russia). He made numerous scientific contributions to relevant ESA studies, and under his guidance a data processing system for the GOCE gravity gradiometer data was developed which has proved as a particularly powerful one. The Graz GOCE processing system is custom-tailored for the mission and is capable of processing both gravity gradiometry and satellite-to-satellite tracking data in an optimal and consistent way. The processing system has been approved by ESA as operating GOCE data processing system. The system is currently providing the first global GOCE gravity field solution. H. Sünkel was also the prime contractor of several GOCE related studies of ESA.

During his presidency of the International Geoid Commission as integral part of the International Association of Geodesy, international gravity field research and development was strongly promoted, and the International Geoid Service has become the operational arm of the Commission. Under his leadership as head of the local organizing committee, the XX General Assembly of IUGG in Vienna in 1991 became a great success, despite the very unfavourable circumstances under which this mega-congress had to be organized.

In his former positions as Vice-President (research) of the Graz University of Technology and Director of the Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences he had vigorously promoted both international and national research activities in general and space research in particular. In his present position as Rector (President) of the Graz University of Technology (2003 – 2007, unanimously re-elected for the period 2007 – 2011) he is leading and managing the university after having it transformed into a fully autonomous academic institution with an increasing remarkable performance. Since 2010 he is also representing the Austrian universities in his position as President of Universities Austria.

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