A well-known Swiss-American climate change researcher died after falling into a crack while researching ice in Greenland, authorities and reports said on Wednesday.
Konrad Steffen, head of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), was working near Ilulissat on Saturday when he was reported missing, police said.
A rescue operation was launched, but was eventually abandoned without the body of a 68-year-old researcher being found.
“We have found signs that the person fell through a crack in the glacier,” police spokesman Brian Thomsen told the local newspaper Sermitsiaq.
“An accident has probably occurred and it is very likely that the person in question has passed away,”
His death was confirmed by WSL in a statement on Monday, which said staff at the institute were “shocked and upset” by the loss of Steffen.
“We have not only lost the director of our institute, but also a committed researcher and, above all, a unique and generous person and friend,” the statement said. “We will all miss him.”
Fellow researcher Kathy Riklin said it appeared that a snow bridge had collapsed under Steffen, causing him to sink into the crevasse, Agence France-Presse reported.
The tragic accident occurred less than a mile from the Steffen research station, which was founded in 1990 – known as the “Swiss Camp” – where he conducted an annual expedition.
With the help of NASA and the US National Science Foundation, Steffen had built a network of automatic weather stations there. At the time of the accident, he was doing maintenance on these stations, according to Hegg.
Steffen’s 30-year study that observed the changing nature of Greenland’s ice sheet confirmed rising temperatures and sea levels, the most distinctive features of climate change, The Washington Post reported.
In 2017, he testified before the congress about the amount of ice melting in Greenland every year and said that it corresponded to a mile-high water column that covers Washington DC, according to Posten.
“It got some attention,” Steffen said then.