In Memoriam: W. S. B. Patterson (1924-2013)

Photo Credit: David Fisher

Photo Credit: David Fisher

Glaciologist Stan Patterson has died at the age of 89.  Stan is perhaps best known for having authored the book The Physics of Glaciers, which has been the standard text in glaciology at most universities for more than four decades.

Stan, who graduated with honors from the University of Edinburgh in 1949, became interested in glaciology when he was selected as a member of the British North Greenland Expedition (1953-54). His survey of 300 points along a 1200-km-long traverse of the ice sheet proved incredibly accurate, with a closure error of just a few 10s of centimeters.

In 1957, Stan immigrated to Canada, entering the PhD program in Physics at the University of British Columbia.  Stan’s research at UBC focused on the geometry, flow and thermal properties of the Athabasca Glacier.

After receiving his PhD in 1962, Stan was hired as a glaciologist for Canada’s newly-formed “Polar Continental Shelf Project” to survey and conduct research related to the country’s vast and poorly mapped Arctic territories.

Over the next several decades, Stan conducted drilling and GPR investigations of a number of glaciers ice caps in Canada’s High Arctic.  The data he and his team acquired have provided invaluable insights into the age, internal temperature, and mass balance of ice these glaciers and ice sheets, especially in recent times.  This data has contributed to our understanding of climate change, played a key role in establishing its reality, and in supporting the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Stan forged close links with international colleagues in the growing field of ice core research, especially in Denmark.  By the early 1990s, his work was also being widely applied in the field of planetary science, particularly with respect to the evolution of the Martian polar ice caps and the ice shelves of Europa.  In November 1992 he served as a co-convener of the NASA/LPI Workshop on The Polar Regions of Mars: Geology, Glaciology, and Climate History, a meeting that inspired many further collaborations between terrestrial glaciologists and planetary scientists – including the five highly successful International Conferences on Mars Polar Science and Exploration and the participation of a terrestrial glaciologist on NASA’s ill-fated 1998 Mars Polar Lander and  highly-successful 2008 Mars Phoenix Polar Lander missions.

In 2012, Stan was awarded the Richardson Medal by the International Glaciological Society for his outstanding contributions to the field.  In the words of his colleague and fellow glaciologist David Fisher “Stan was one of those Scots who taught, mentored and never hesitated to speak his mind.” – a legacy that has earned Stan Patterson a lasting place in terrestrial glaciology and planetary science.