A renowned researcher on rising sea levels, he died after falling into the kind of crevasse that warming has created. “It looks like climate change actually claimed him as a victim,” a colleague said.
Konrad Steffen, an Arctic scientist whose work showed that climate change is melting Greenland’s vast ice sheet with increasing speed, died on Saturday in an accident near a research station he created there 30 years ago. He was 68.
Police investigators said he had fallen into a crevasse in the ice and drowned in the deep water below.
A fellow scientist at the station, Jason Box, said the crevasse, or large crack, was a known hazard. But he added that high winds and recent snowfall had made visibility poor and landmarks harder to spot.
The small group at the site — christened Swiss Camp by Dr. Steffen — was installing new equipment when he walked off to perform another task. Over the next few hours, Dr. Box said, they assumed that Dr. Steffen had gone back to his tent for a nap. But when they finished their work he was nowhere to be found.
Ryan R. Neely III, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds who studied under Dr. Steffen, said that not long ago crevasses in the area where Dr. Steffen was working “were unheard-of,” but that they had begun emerging with the stresses on the ice sheet created by warming.
“In the end,” he said, “it looks like climate change actually claimed him as a victim.”
Dr. Neely called his old mentor (“Koni” to his friends) a “larger than life explorer-scientist that you typically only get the chance to read about.”
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Understanding Greenland’s ice sheet is crucial to understanding climate change and sea level rise. Current projections say that if the planet warms by two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial times, average sea levels will rise by more than two feet, and 32 million to 80 million people will be exposed to coastal flooding.
Greenland’s ice sheet, more than a mile thick, is the second largest mass of freshwater ice on the planet, after Antarctica. It is already a major contributor to the sea level rise.