International conference pays tribute to legacy of Konrad Steffen | Polarjournal
Konrad Steffen (68) was one of the best-known researchers in Switzerland. The former director of the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forests, Snow and Landscape WSL shaped Swiss climate, glacier and polar research for years. He died in an accident in Greenland in 2020. Photo: Michael Wenger

The death of the internationally renowned Swiss climate and glacier researcher Konrad “Koni” Steffen not only left a grieving family, friends and colleagues, but also seemingly a large gap in the research world. Koni Steffen had had a very strong influence on climate, polar and high-altitude research both nationally and internationally. At a two-day meeting, the work and life of the Swiss were honored by family members, friends and work colleagues. At the same time, however, it was also shown that his work will have a positive influence on research both nationally and internationally in the future.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants,” is a well-known saying by Sir Isaac Newton and also shaped the two-day symposium in honor of Konrad “Koni” Steffen. All participants in Davos agreed that the well-known and popular Swiss glacier and climate researcher was indeed one of the giants in his scientific branches. Whether as a researcher, as a director, as a teacher, as a communicator or privately as a friend and father, as a photographer, coffee lover or as a friend of the arts, Konrad Steffen was formative in many ways and left his mark not only in Switzerland, but worldwide, as a look at the list of participants of the meeting showed. In addition to numerous guests from Switzerland, participants even came from New Zealand to Davos in Graubünden especially for this occasion. And if anyone could not attend live, video connections saved the day.

The event was organized by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, the WSL-institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, the Swiss Polar Institute SPI and the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich ETH and Lausanne EPFL, places where Koni Steffen had worked until his death. Members of the international research community from all over the world and every level, politicians, artists, they all came to pay tribute to Koni Steffen as a person and his work, with loving anecdotes and many photos that showed a very complex, enthusiastic and captivating personality who, in addition to his work for the climate, the glaciers and Greenland, also has a big heart for coffee, photography and art. On the other hand, however, the symposium also showed that his work, his personality and his enthusiasm did not simply disappear with his death, but that a legacy was formed from it, which will continue to work on his topics with the same enthusiasm and seriousness in the future.

The occasion was not only intended to revive the past, but also to show the present and the future of the various branches of science and institutions, even countries, in which Koni had participated during his work. For young scientists, the symposium was a suitable place to present their research work. Some continued Konrad Steffen’s work, such as the weather measurement network on Greenland initiated by him and now operated by the Danish Geological Institute GEUS and whose data has been continuously incorporated into research worldwide for almost 30 years. Other works by Early Career Scientists are based on the findings and work of Koni Steffen and thus lead his work further into the future. The institutions such as the WSL or the SPI, where Koni Steffen had worked as director or scientific director, also showed at this symposium that he had a lasting influence on their development and that with him they were elevated even more strongly to internationally important institutions and look far into the future, as if on the shoulders of a giant.

Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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