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Dr. Roy M. ("Fritz") Koerner

(1932–2008)

Emeritus Scientist, Glaciologist
Geological Survey of Canada (GSC)

"Relic" of the British Empire

Celebrated glaciologist Roy Koerner described himself as a "relic" of the British Empire. Born and raised in the busy British naval port of Portsmouth, England, Roy was always fascinated with people coming and going from all over the world and the idea of someday going abroad himself. But it was a chance remark at a Christmas party in 1956 that prompted him to set sail the next year for Hope Bay, Antarctica, as a meteorologist with the British Antarctic Survey.

"It was a dogsledding base," recalled Roy, "and we travelled up and down the peninsula and, of course, you are surrounded by glaciers, so naturally I got very interested."

In fact, that experience eventually led Roy to write his doctoral dissertation about the glaciology of Devon Island, Nunavut, at the University of London.

After 12 years with the British Antarctic Survey, Roy moved on to the University of Birmingham, where he published his work on Antarctica. He spent the next several years between research assignments on Devon Island and at Byrd and Plateau stations in Antarctica.

High on the Arctic

In 1968, Canada's Arctic continued to capture his imagination. He harnessed a dog team and embarked on a 16-month adventure, completing the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean. That same sense of adventure continued sustained him throughout his career.

"It's almost like science was an excuse to do it," admitted Roy, who later joined Canada's Polar Continental Shelf Project in 1969. "But I always always looked forward to doing field work and considered myself quite privileged to be retired and still be able to do it in terms of both my health and the Geological Survey of Canada's support."

Outstanding In His Ice Field

Although officially retired in 1999, Roy remained in high demand internationally as a researcher and lecturer. His role as an educator is one he clearly relished, having participated in several Antarctic and Arctic trips as a lecturer on glaciers, climate change and polar pollution for various educational programs, including for the highly respected "Students on Ice."

When back at his office in Ottawa, Roy regularly put in a full day's work. He also looked forward to a full season of fieldwork each year. In fact, he missed only two summer field seasons in the Arctic or Antarctic since 1957.

His final research interest was on reductions in acid snow due to our declining use of sulphates, a result that he identified as part of the global warming equation. He also continued his research on climate change by examining ice cores and monitoring the mass of four Arctic ice caps, for which he had kept records for more than 40 years. He also spoke with excitement about the International Polar Year 2007–2008 and the opportunity to travel to the circumpolar North once again to reassess the effects of human contamination in the Arctic.

"We did this back in the mid-nineties. We sampled Russian ice caps and our own caps and could see that the other side of the Arctic Ocean was a damn sight dirtier than ours. The idea is to see how things have changed."

Accomplishments

  • 1957 – First British Antarctic Survey field trip as meteorologist and later glaciologist
  • 1957–58 – International Geophysical Year research scientist
  • 1961–62 – First Arctic Institute expedition to Devon Island
  • 1969 – First surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean from Alaska, through the North Pole, to Norway (Guinness Book of World Records)
  • 1968 – Joins Energy, Mines and Resources' Polar Continental Shelf Project study of mass balance of Arctic glaciers and past climate through polar ice-core analysis
  • 1979 – Named Head of the Geological Survey of Canada's Glaciology group
  • 1973–78 – Chair, Glacier Sub-Ccommittee, National Research Council
  • 1994–2008 – Canadian representative to the International Arctic Science Committee
  • 1995–2002 – Co-leader, Ice Core Circum Arctic Paleoclimate Program, (Past Global Changes/International Geosphere-Biosphere Program)
  • 1999–2002 – Canadian representative to Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research
  • 1999–2008 – Emeritus Scientist, Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada

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