Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
Friday, June 17, 2022

Glacier named for Konrad Steffen, former CIRES director

The Greenland Place Name Committee has named a glacier “Sermeq Konrad Steffen”

Konrad Steffen on the Greenland Ice Sheet
Konrad Steffen on the Greenland Ice Sheet in 2009.
- Jim Kastengren/CIRES

The Greenland Place Name Committee has named a glacier “Sermeq Konrad Steffen” after the late Konrad Steffen, former director of CIRES, who made exceptional contributions to Greenlandic society and science. The homage to Steffen, along with two other glacier renamings, represent the first time in many decades that official Greenlandic maps will have new place names recognizing people of non-Greenlandic origin.

Steffen, who directed the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at CU Boulder from 2005-2012, is one of three deceased glaciologists honored, all of whom spent the larger part of their lives uncovering scientifically and socially invaluable knowledge about the ebb and flow of the Greenland ice sheet in response to climate changes. 

Konrad Steffen in the field



“This is an incredibly unique event, a literal ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ cultural honor,” said William Colgan, a Senior Researcher from GEUS (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland), who coordinated the proposal to name the glaciers after these three men. Colgan earned his Ph.D. at CU Boulder, advised by Steffen. He worked on the glacier naming proposal with CIRES Director Waleed Abdalati and colleagues from Asiaq Greenland Survey, the University of Copenhagen and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research. Abdalati also earned his Ph.D. at CU Boulder; he was one of Steffen’s first graduate students and now leads the institution his former advisor once led. The proposal for three new glacier names ultimately had over 60 unique contributing stakeholders coordinated by a nine-person proposal committee.

“It is a great privilege to be part of this initiative. In addition to honoring these three extraordinary candidates, this initiative promotes discussion of the Greenlandic cultural heritage of place names to the broader public,” says Eva Mätzler, former member of Asiaq, Greenland Survey, now with the Greenland’s Bureau of Mineral Resources.

Steffen died in a tragic accident last August doing field work on the ice sheet near Ilulissat in southwest Greenland, while in pursuit of the knowledge he dedicated himself, his career, and ultimately his life to. In 1990, Steffen established a series of automatic weather stations on the ice sheet; the network continues to deliver data today. He documented increases in air temperatures and melt rates due to climate change, and his measurements have been used by research groups around the world to make significant discoveries. Steffen appeared regularly in Greenlandic (and international) media outlets, explaining climate-change impacts in Greenland and elsewhere. The place name committee gave the name “Sermeq Konrad Steffen” to a marine-terminating glacier in North Greenland that provides a strong connection between the ice sheet and the ocean.

A map of greenland



The committee also honored Niels Reeh and Anker Weidick with glaciers in the far north and south of Greenland, respectively. Reeh worked for the Danish Polar Center, GEUS and other institutions, mapping Greenlandic glaciers from satellite imagery and innovating ways to measure the age of the ice sheet. Weidick, who spent his entire career at GEUS, provided the first systematic inventory of all ice-sheet glaciers and their names, and he mapped present and historical ice margins around 35 percent of the ice sheet using aerial photographs and field work. These baseline data have become a key indicator of Greenland climate change.

“The contributions of these scientists to the understanding of Greenland and the critical role it plays in influencing, responding to, and recording climate are immeasurable,” Abdalati said. “Their work has led to a scientific appreciation for Greenland that complements its natural beauty and wonder.”

Read more from GEUS here

This press release is based on one written by GEUS.


Recent News