WSL director killed in Greenland | Polarjournal
Konrad Steffen has been the director of the Federal Institute for Forests, Snow and Landscape since 2012. Only last year he was re-elected until June 2021. Picture: WSL

The director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forests, Snow and Landscape WSL, Professor Konrad Steffen, was known throughout Switzerland and abroad as a communicative, open and factually highly competent pro in the field of glacier research, polar regions and climate. Time and again he had travelled to the polar regions to conduct climate research there. Last Saturday, August 8, 2020, the scientist and experienced polar expert was killed during an expedition in Greenland.

Konrad Steffen was on an expedition at the Swiss Camp, the Swiss research station in Greenland, according to the media reports. According to the Greenlandic newspaper Sermitisiaq, a message was received by the police in Ilulissat at 5.26pm on Saturday afternoon that a man was missing northeast of Ilulissat. However, a quick search found no trace of the missing person. The search was extended until noon on Sunday. Authorities found signs of an accident. “We found evidence that the missing person had fallen into a crack in the ice sheet,” said Brian Thomsen of Ilulissat police. “Probably an accident happened and the person died,” he told Sermitisaq.

Konrad Steffen (right hand side) spent almost every year in Greenland in the Swiss Camp, northeast of Ilulissat. Since 1990, Switzerland has operated this continuous measuring station for climate, meteorology and glacier research. Photo: WSL Since 1990, Switzerland has operated this continuous measuring station for climate, meteorology and glacier research. Photo: WSL

Professor Konrad Steffen had been director of the WSL since 2012 and was only re-elected last year. The 68-year-old Swiss-US dual citizen began his research career with a doctoral thesis in 1984 at ETH Zurich. In the course of time, professorships followed at the universities of Colorado, at the EPFL in Lausanne and at the ETH in Zurich. His passion was the polar regions, especially the research camp in Greenland “Swiss Camp”, where he had repeatedly carried out and supervised research work himself. “The poles of the earth are of greater importance for the climatic equilibrium of our planet. More research and knowledge about how they work is urgently needed,” Konrad Steffen wrote on his WSL page. “That’s why I travel every May to West Greenland for the swiss camp meteorological base station, where our team has been collecting data on snow, ice and the atmosphere with numerous instruments since 1990.”

He was regarded as an extraordinarily friendly and open person who was able to explain the complex issues of climatology in an understandable way. “With Konrad Steffen, we are losing a unique, generous and committed person. We are all very sad in the ETH area,” says ETH Council President Michael Hengartner. His position at the WSL will be taken over on an interim basis by his colleague Dr. Christoph Hegg. Konrad Steffen is survived by a wife and two adult children.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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