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International symposium celebrates legacy of late WSL Director

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The death of Swiss climate and glacier researcher and WSL Director Konrad 'Koni' Steffen left behind not only a grieving family but also a gaping void in the research community, given the very significant mark he made on climate, polar and high-altitude research both in Switzerland and internationally. Now a two-day event has seen family members, friends and colleagues  celebrate the life and work of this Swiss icon, who will continue to influence research moving forward.

 

Sir Isaac Newton's famous words "If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants" were a thread running through the two-day symposium paying tribute to Konrad 'Koni' Steffen, with all the participants in this event, held in Davos, united in acknowledging that the well-known and popular Swiss glacier and climate researcher was actually one of the giants in his scientific domains. Whether as a researcher, boss, teacher or communicator or, in his leisure time, as a friend and father, or a photographer or coffee or art lover, Koni Steffen was a formative influence in many ways and left his mark not only in Switzerland but also worldwide, as a glance at the list of participants in this symposium makes clear. As well as many guests from Switzerland, participants came from as far afield as New Zealand to Davos in the Swiss canton of Graubünden specially for this occasion.

The event The cryosphere in a changing climate – a scientific symposium in the memory of Koni Steffen was organised by WSL, the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF), the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), all of them institutions where Koni Steffen worked until his death. Researchers from around the world at every stage of their career along with politicians and artists all gathered to pay tribute to Koni Steffen personally and his work, drawing on affectionate anecdotes and lots of photos. They painted a picture of a highly multifaceted, enthusiastic and motivational personality who, as well as his work devoted to the climate, glaciers and Greenland, had a passion for coffee, photography and art. However, it also became abundantly clear that Koni Steffen's work, personality and enthusiasm did not just vanish with his death, but have left a legacy ensuring that work on his topics of interest will continue with the same enthusiasm and dedication in the future.

This event was envisaged as an opportunity not only to revisit past glories but also to highlight the current and future situation in the various disciplines and institutions, and even countries, in which Koni was active during his career. The symposium provided the perfect showcase for young scientists to present their research work. Some of them are continuing Koni Steffen's work, such as the weather measurement network in Greenland which he initiated and which is now operated by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland  (GEUS). Other young researchers are building on Koni Steffen's findings and work, perpetuating his influence. At this symposium, institutions such as WSL and the SPI, where Koni Steffen held the roles of Director and Scientific Director respectively, also demonstrated his lasting influence on their development and that he had further enhanced their status as institutions of international importance and ensured that they can see far into the future, as if on the shoulders of a giant.

 

  

 

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