International meeting honors late Swiss climate scientist | Polarjournal
Konrad “Koni” Steffen (far right), who died in 2020, promoted the establishment of the “Swiss Camp” in Greenland and accompanied young scientists there to support them in their work on climate effects on the cryosphere. This was extraordinarily important for him. Photo: WSL

Swiss polar and climate research suffered a severe blow in August 2020 when Professor Konrad Steffen died in Greenland. The well-known and popular glacier and climate researcher had been deeply involved and influential in research into the effects of climate change on the entirety of the cryosphere in the polar and mountain regions over the past decades. Now his former place of work, the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape WSL, has organised a scientific symposium that will be dedicated to the Swiss researcher and will carry on his legacy.

The symposium, titled The Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, will be held on 23-24 June in Davos. Around 150 people from a wide range of fields have already registered to spend these two days reporting on the latest findings of climate research and their impact on polar and high mountain regions. “This is a unique symposium coordinated by WSL and organised by the Swiss (research) community to honour and recognise the extraordinary contributions of Koni Steffen,” explains Danièle Rod, executive director of the Swiss Polar Research Institute (SPI), which is co-organising the symposium. In addition to the SPI, where Dr Steffen served as scientific director, the other institutions he was affiliated with — WSL, the Federal Research Institutes in Zurich ETHZ and Lausanne EPFL — are also involved in organising the meeting. The symposium was originally planned for last autumnn, but was postponed to this summer due to the pandemic. Registrations for other interested participants are still possible until May 30, 2022.

Konrad Steffen was one of the leading climate scientists and very well recognised internationally. He is pictured here in Davos in 2017 with former US Vice President Al Gore (second from left). The symposium in his honour will bring numerous experts from Switzerland and abroad to Davos. Photo: WSL

In addition to numerous scientific presentations on the effects of climate change by researchers from Switzerland and other countries, appearances to tell more about who Dr Steffen was are also planned. “The science highlights are presentations by close colleagues of Koni’s and worldwide experts,” Rod says. “The more personal words will be addressed to the attendees by friends such as Professor Atsumu Ohmura, a former professor at ETHZ, and even by former US Vice President Al Gore.” Young, early career scientists will also have the opportunity to present their work to the experts and the audience with posters and presentations, which will be an important platform for the future of researchers. “The goals are to discuss a wide variety of aspects of Koni’s scientific legacy,” Rod says. “In doing so, we bring together both established and young scientists, which has always been a heartfelt desire of Koni’s, and also talk about future scientific collaborations, especially those related to Greenland.”

For thirty years, Dr Steffen was a strong advocate for greater collaboration on climate change effects with Greenland and its inhabitants. Among his accolades was a portrayal in the documentary film “Sila and the Gatekeepers to the Arctic”.

The symposium, which is planned as a single event, is intended not only to honor the scientific aspects of Dr Steffen, but also to carry his message of increased co-operation with Greenland to the world. That’s because, in Dr Steffen’s opinion, the world’s largest island has been on the front lines of the effects of climate change. “We hope to carry forward other initiatives in Koni’s name and spirit,” Rod says. “These include, for example, the Swiss-Greenlandic Workshop for Co-operation (Koni Steffen Grant) and also other projects bearing his name that will be held for the first time this year.” This will continue to commemorate the congenial Swiss scientist who cared deeply about the future of climate, research and Greenland.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

“The cryosphere in a changing climate — A scientific symposium in memory of Koni Steffen” will be held 23-24 June at the Davos Congress Center. The target audience is anyone who is interested. The conference language will be English. Young scientists who also present a poster still have the opportunity to register for a travel grant. The application deadline for this is 30 April 2022. For more information and to register visit:

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