The climate science community is mourning the loss of a pioneering scientist and glaciologist, Konrad Steffen. Cone, as he was known to his friends and colleagues, apparently fell to his death in a deep hole in the ice called a crevasse on Saturday while doing research in West Greenland.
With nearly 15,000 academic citations for his name, Steffen, who was 68 years old, devoted his life to studying the rapidly melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Ironically, it was the dangers posed by the merger around the Swiss camp in Greenland – a research post he founded in 1990 – that claimed his life.
Jason Box, a well-known ice climatologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, had spent many years working with Steffen and was with him shortly before he disappeared.
Box says the snowy and windy weather at the time was disorienting. He says Steffen “eventually went beyond the safety perimeter in low visibility, in windy conditions. Connie fell into a water-based turn while the rest of us were working nearby, unknowingly. The last thing he told us was that he would look at the data. “
The team conducted a lengthy search and eventually found evidence on the thin ice. “[We] found a 2.5-meter-long hole sunk into the 3-centimeter-thick crevasse floor 8 feet below, “Box wrote in a Twitter message.” I have been told that one is not generous in cold freshwater. “Since he was not found, I think he remains 8 meters down in the water.”
“Personally, Connie was like a father,” Box told CBS News. “Infinite man. Extraordinary loss. Tears fall around the world.”
In a tweet earlier today, citing Steffen’s commitment to his craft, Box asked for a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “It’s enough for us living to dedicate here to the unfinished work for which those who fought here have progressed to now noble. “
This feeling was widely shared by the science community. The Swiss Polar Institute, where Steffen served as scientific director, said in a statement on its website, “We will deeply miss Cone, but we are committed to continuing his mission towards making a contribution, big or small. small, to make a difference. ” It included a link to a video about Steffen and his work.
The statement went on to say, “We lost a wonderful person and a real friend very quickly.” A stream of memories on social media paid tribute to Steffen’s kindness, warmth and generosity.
Steffen began his career in 1977 when he graduated from ETH Zurich, an institute with which he still collaborated. “With the death of Connie Steffen, we have lost a special and dedicated colleague,” ETH Board President Michael Hengartner said in a statement.
Over the years he held many leading positions in climate science. Most recently, Steffen had been director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (also known by his German acronym WSL) since 2012. Prior to that, he headed the Collaborative Institute for Environmental Science Research ( CIRES) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a joint NOAA university institute.
The local Boulder newspaper, Daily Camera, described him as an extremely active leader and liaison in the field of glaciology, noting that “In the decades since the Swiss Camp was established, he has brought countless graduate students and scientists to observe the melting of ice. and sea level rise, as well as camera crews and a U.S. congressional delegation. ”
Former US Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore praised Steffen for his work on climate change. “Cone’s well-known work as a glaciologist has been helpful in the world-wide understanding of the climate crisis,” Gore wrote.
CIRES Director Waleed Abdalati, who had Steffen as a high school counselor and later recognized him as a colleague, described his passion for science as infectious.
“I just remember thinking, he loves this,” Abdalati said, “He spent doing what he loved.”