Dr. Gordon Hamilton, a prominent climate scientist, died in Antarctica when the snowmobile he was riding fell into a deep crevasse. He was 50 years old. He was doing research in the Shear Zone, which is 25 miles south of McMurdo Station on Ross Island, one of the three U.S. research stations on the continent. Dr. Hamilton’s body was recovered, and an investigation was launched.
Dr. Hamilton was an associate professor at the University of Maine’s School of Earth and Climate Sciences. He was also a researcher with the Climate Change Institute. According to The New York Times, his team was working to “identify crevasses, some of which were found and filled earlier in the week. Dr. Hamilton’s team and an operations team they worked with had experts familiar with the area and glacial safety. The Shear Zone is the location where two ice shelves meet. It is three miles wide by 125 miles long and areas can be 650 feet thick.
In a statement, the director of the National Science Foundation, Kelly K. Falkner said that Dr. Hamilton’s death is a “tragic reminder,” of what scientists in the field face every day. His research focused on ice sheet mass balance and used satellite remote sensing. Also used in his research were a pair of robots with ground-penetrating radar instruments. Dr. Hamilton’s team worked the region for years to map the area, according to The Chicago Tribune.
The accident occurred when the snowmobile he was riding hit a crevasse. He fell 100 feet into the ice. Peter West, National Science Foundation, said that some crevasses are covered by snow and hard to find at ground level. Still, the circumstances of Dr. Hamilton’s death are being investigated by the U.S. Antarctic Program.
Part of Dr. Hamilton’s research involved surveying glaciers around Greenland and Antarctica and how they contribute to rising sea levels. One of his current projects was an “ice-ocean interaction in Greenland and ice shelf stability in Antarctica,” according to Environment News Service.
Born in Scotland, Dr. Hamilton received degrees from the University of Aberdeen and University of Cambridge. Before his position at the University of Maine, Dr. Hamilton was an assistant research professor, a senior research associate at the Byrd Polar Research Center at the Ohio State University and was a Royal Society Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Norwegian Polar Institute.
The National Science Foundation was funding Dr. Hamilton’s research. They arranged for his body to be delivered to his family in the U.S. Dr. Hamilton is survived by his wife Fiona and children Martin and Calum. According to the BBC, his family is “immensely proud of all that he achieved in his life.”
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy University of Maine/Laure Noualhat