Konrad Steffen

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Konrad Steffen
Konrad Steffen in 2012.jpg
Konrad Steffen in 2012
Born2 January 1952
Zurich, Switzerland[1]
Died8 August 2020 (aged 68)
Alma materETH Zurich
Known forResearch into climate change in the Arctic and Arctic sea ice
  • Regula Werner (died 2011)
  • Bianca Perren
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Colorado Boulder, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research
ThesisSurface temperature and sea ice of an arctic polynya: north water in winter : Canad. and greenlandic high arctic (1985)
Doctoral advisorAtsumu Ohmura
Notable studentsJason Box

Konrad "Koni" Steffen (2 January 1952 – 8 August 2020) was a Swiss glaciologist, known for his research into the impact of global warming on the Arctic.

Early life and education[edit]

Konrad Steffen was born on January 2, 1952 in Zurich, Switzerland to Ernst and Maria Steffen, née Kurzinski.[2] His father was a fashion designer and his mother ran an accounting firm.[2] As a child, Steffen aspired to become an actor, but his father insisted he pursue a profession first.[3]

Steffen attended ETH Zurich, from which he received his undergraduate degree or Diplom in 1977 and a Doctor of Science degree (Ph.D.) in natural sciences in 1984. In 1986, Steffen went to the United States as a visiting fellow at the Cooperative Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder.[4][3]


Steffen was an associate professor of geography at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1991 to 1997, whereupon he became a full professor there.[4] He served as the director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at Boulder from 2005[5] to 2012. He took office as the director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research on July 1, 2012.[6]


Steffen was known for his research into Arctic sea ice and the glaciers of Greenland, and how they are affected by global warming.[7] He often traveled to Greenland to study these glaciers firsthand; for example, when studying Petermann Glacier for three weeks in 2004, Steffen did so from a camp set up 4,000 feet up the flanks of the glacier's ice cap.[8] He also operated a network of 20 weather stations on the Greenland ice sheet,[9] the first of which, Swiss Camp, he established in 1990.[10]

He argued that due to this ice sheet melting faster than anticipated, sea levels could rise by about 3 feet by 2100, considerably higher than the IPCC's upper limit of 59 centimetres (1.94 ft),[11] and that Greenland might lose all its ice in 10,000 years, but Antarctica would take considerably longer, since it is so much bigger.[12]

He was a lead author of the "Observations: Cryosphere" chapter of the IPCC AR5, released in 2013.[13]

Steffen's legacy included conducting extensive geoscience research, then translating the value and implications of the scientific data for nonspecialists, including many journalists who then could inform the public and policymakers. He also served on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).[3]


In October 2017, Steffen received the Lowell Thomas Award from The Explorers Club, a non-profit group that promotes scientific exploration. The award is presented by the President of the Club on special occasions to groups of outstanding explorers. The Club cited Steffen's research of sea level changes, sensitivity studies of large ice sheets using in situ and modeling results.[14]

Personal life and death[edit]

Steffen had two children with first wife Regula Werner, who died in 2011 from cancer.[15] He later married Bianca Perren.[16]

Steffen died on 8 August 2020 in an accident while on a field trip in Greenland.[17][18] He fell into a crevasse near the Swiss Camp research station and drowned.[2][19] Prior to deglaciation, such crevasses "were unheard of," according to Ryan Neely III, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds.[2]


  1. ^ Konrad Steffen bei IEEE Xplore, abgerufen am 10. August 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Schwartz, John (13 August 2020). "Konrad Steffen, Who Sounded Alarm on Greenland Ice, Dies at 68". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c Schwartz, John (2020-08-13). "Konrad Steffen, Who Sounded Alarm on Greenland Ice, Dies at 68". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-08-14.
  4. ^ a b Konrad Steffen CV
  5. ^ Konrad Steffen Archived 2013-12-12 at the Wayback Machine, CIRES
  6. ^ "Konrad Steffen new WSL Director". Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research. 12 September 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  7. ^ "Water Flowing Through Ice Sheets Accelerates Warming, Could Speed Up Ice Flow, Says New Study". US News. 5 November 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  8. ^ Revkin, Andrew (8 June 2004). "An Icy Riddle as Big as Greenland". New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  9. ^ Williams, Jack (5 July 2001). "Greenland should hold answers to climate puzzles". USA Today. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  10. ^ Clynes, Tom (3 July 2007). "Konrad Steffen: The Global Warming Prophet". Popular Science. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  11. ^ Warner, Joel (12 December 2007). "The Ice Man". Boise Weekly. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  12. ^ Krulwich, Robert (31 January 2014). "A Hunk Of Planet Dissolves Before Our Eyes". NPR. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  13. ^ "Observations: Cryosphere" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
  14. ^ "The Explorers Club - News - Announcing the 2017 Lowell Thomas Award Winners". explorers.org. Retrieved 2017-08-15.
  15. ^ "Regula (Rägi) Steffen". Boulder Daily Camera. 5 April 2011.
  16. ^ "Konrad Steffen, renowned Swiss climate scientist, dies at 68".
  17. ^ "Direktor Konrad Steffen tödlich verunglückt - WSL". www.wsl.ch. Retrieved 2020-08-10.
  18. ^ "WSL Director Konrad Steffen fatally injured in Greenland accident | ETH-Board". www.ethrat.ch. Retrieved 2020-08-10.
  19. ^ "Kollega fortæller om tragedien på indlandsisen". Sermitsiaq.AG (in Danish).

External links[edit]