Researcher killed in icy 100-foot plunge was 'smart,' 'fun'

AP News
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Posted: Oct 24, 2016 6:24 PM
Researcher killed in icy 100-foot plunge was 'smart,' 'fun'

ORONO, Maine (AP) — A University of Maine professor who plunged into a 100-foot crevasse in Antarctica while conducting research was remembered Monday as a gregarious climate scientist who lightened the mood of those around him.

"You knew that if Gordon came into the tent, that things were going to be fun and pleasant," said Paul Mayewski director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.

Hamilton, 50, was riding a snowmobile in a treacherous section of ice while identifying dangerous crevasses when one of them swallowed his snowmobile Saturday, killing him.

The area where Hamilton's team camped was known as the Shear Zone where a moving ice shelf comes into contact with ice on land, creating deep crevasses, or fissures. Some of the crevasses were being filled with snow to ensure supplies could be transported 25 miles to McMurdo Station, the largest of the three U.S. research stations in Antarctica.

"They were repeating an activity that they'd done many times before, but it's a dangerous area and accidents happen. That's exactly what this was," Mayewski said.

Hamilton enjoyed a good joke, but was serious about his research.

He spent much of his time in Greenland and Antarctica studying the movement and melting of glaciers and how that contributes to rising sea levels.

"Ice sheets are the biggest potential contributor to rapid sea level rise," Hamilton said in a video created by the University of Maine. "If we want to know how much sea level is going to rise in the coming century, we need to understand how ice sheets behave."

His loss saddened many in the small world of climate change scientists.

Waleed Abdalati, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said everyone enjoyed being around Hamilton.

"He was the kind of guy you wanted to be around. From a scientific standpoint very smart and very thoughtful, but he had fun. He was just very personable," said Abdalati, who'd worked in the past with Hamilton in Greenland. "There was just something about Gordon. You loved being around him."

The National Science Foundation, which was funding Hamilton's research, was arranging for the return of his body to the United States, a spokesman said.

"The death of one of our colleagues is a tragic reminder of the risks we all face — no matter how hard we work at mitigating those risks — in field research," Kelly K. Falkner, director of the National Science Foundation's division of polar programs, said in a statement.