A prominent Swiss-American climate scientist has died after falling into a precipice while conducting ice research in Greenland, authorities and reports said on Wednesday.
Konrad Stephen, director 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 began, but was eventually left without the body of the 68-year-old researcher.
“We found signs that the man had fallen through a crack in the glacier,” police spokesman Brian Thomsen told the local newspaper Sermisiac.
“There was probably an accident and there’s a good chance the man in question died,”
His death was confirmed by the WSL in a statement Monday, saying staff at the institute were “shocked and horrified” by Steffen’s loss.
“We have not only lost the director of our institute, but also a dedicated scientist and, above all, a unique and generous person and friend,” the statement said. “He will miss us all.”
Fellow scientist Katie Ricklin said a snow bridge appeared to have collapsed under Stephen, prompting him to fall into the abyss, Agence France-Presse reported.
The tragic incident happened less than a mile from the Steffen Research Station, established in 1990 – known as the “Swiss Camp” – where he makes an annual expedition.
Assisted by NASA and the US National Science Foundation, Stephen built a network of automated weather stations there. He maintained these stations during the incident, according to Heg.
Steffen’s 30-year study of the changing nature of Greenland’s ice sheet has confirmed rising temperatures and sea levels, the most distinctive features of climate change, according to The Washington Post.
In 2017, he testified before Congress about the amount of ice that melts in Greenland each year, saying it is equivalent to a mile-high column of water covering Washington, according to the mail.
“It caught my attention,” Stephen said at the time.