Konrad Steffen
(Inset photo credit: World Meteorological Organization / Flickr – cropped)

If, as they say, passing on – aka dying – is best when it comes “doing the thing they most enjoyed and loved doing,” then Konrad Steffen did it the right way, his way.

One of the world’s leading Greenland ice scientists, the 68-year-old Koni (pronounced as in “Connie”) Steffen died in early August after falling into an ice crevasse near Illuissat in Greenland. For more than three decades, he had conducted ambitious research projects on enormous ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.

The Swiss-born and, as the Washington Post’s Matt Schudel described him, “charismatic” Steffen had led students on annual research trips to Greenland, often doing so during his tenure with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Studies, or CIRES, at the University of Colorado in Boulder. At the time of his death he was a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

A respected climate change educator and communicator, he was also effective in speaking with policymakers and the general public on issues on which his expertise was unquestioned. He earned respect from other top climatologists and glaciologists.

“Koni’s passing is very unfortunate and a great loss to the global glaciological community,” said Ohio State University’s Lonnie Thompson. “Koni was deeply passionate about glaciers and ice sheets, especially Greenland, and the critical roles they play in Earth’s climate system. If Koni had to choose where to depart this life, Greenland would have been at the top of his list.”

“Huge loss. He was a towering figure in our field. Hard to tell even where to begin,” said Richard Alley of Penn State. “His leadership portfolio was spectacular.”

“He was an outstanding advisor to students, with a remarkable group of advisees carrying on the work (Waleed Abdalati, Atsu Muto, Julienne Stroeve, Jason Box …). He served at multiple levels, internationally (IPCC, etc.), nationally, professionally, at the university level, and more.”

Steffen “was a gifted communicator and provided extensive information to policymakers and the general public,” Alley continued. “His research was world-leading. … He enabled an amazing range of important research by others.”

Experts’ perspectives: Glaciers past, present, and future

Steffen was “especially dedicated to learning what is happening to ice, especially in Greenland, but also elsewhere including other parts of the Arctic, Canadian Arctic islands, China, and more. He wanted to get it right, providing truly accurate, reliable data and interpretations,” Alley said. “And, once he knew, for sure, what was happening, he made that information useful and actionable for policymakers, the general public, and other professionals.”

Topics: Climate Science