Memorial Service for Dr. Fritz Koerner: June 1, 2008

All of us at Students on Ice are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Dr. Fritz Koerner.

Expedition after expedition, year after year, he inspired us all. Fritz could ignite both laughter and learning instantaneously in people of all ages – he was a true gentleman who spoke straight from the hip.

Only a few months ago, Fritz was in Antarctica once again, on his 10th SOI expedition. That expedition marked the 50th year since his first trip to Antarctica.

Fritz was an amazing person. We simply can’t replace guys like him. Loved and respected by many people, we were lucky to have known him. His spirit, karma, humour, tenacity, outlook, energy, passion…and much more, all made him a special, unique, and real person.

Fritz’s life, his work, and his accomplishments are extraordinary, if not legendary. Two Polar medals, a mountain in Antarctica named after him, one of the first people to reach the North Pole, and the list could go on and on. It is an understatement to say that his memory and legacy will live on for years and years to come. And of course, Fritz was one of the first people to step up and support the idea of Students on Ice, and he became an integral part of our team. He will be deeply missed by us all.

Friends and family will be celebrating Fritz’s life at a memorial service from 2 to 5 pm, Sunday, June 1st at Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm, 2452 Yorks Corners Road, Edwards (near Metcalf), Ontario.


The Ottawa Citizen

KOERNER, Roy “Fritz” Martindale
Roy Fritz Martindale Koerner, beloved husband of the late Anna Koerner, passed away peacefully on Monday May 26, 2008. Remembered with love by his children Eva, Davina, Justin (Dusty), and Kristina. He led an exceptional and memorable life, with several expeditions to the Antarctic and Arctic. He was part of one of the greatest expeditions of all time; crossing the Arctic Ocean from Barrow, Alaska to Svalbard, Spitsbergen. This 476 day 1968-69 trans-arctic crossing was known as the longest trek across the arctic on dog sled. Fritz was a pioneer in glaciology, helping to set the foundation of Canadian efforts in this field. His work started the mass balance network for icefields and glaciers in the Canadian Arctic, work which will continue to be added to after his passing. His seminal use of melt layers in ice cores to reconstruct climate history of the last 11,000 years set the stage for current climate study, important to scientists in related fields and those contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In many ways his work was his passion, and his colleagues became lifelong friends to the family. In his later years he enjoyed educating kids about the Polar Regions, during voyages with Students on Ice and in Inuit communities in the north. Friends and family will be celebrating his life at a memorial service from 2 to 5 p.m., Sunday, June 1st at Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm, 2452 Yorks Corners Road, Edwards (near Metcalf), Ontario. If desired, memorial donations may be made to the Canadian Cancer Society 1-888-939-3333. (published in The Ottawa Citizen on May 29, 2008.)

The Daily Telegraph

Glaciologist and polar explorer who with Wally Herbert’s team made the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean

Koerner [second from right] with fellow members of the British Trans-Arctic Expedition team led by Wally Herbert [right] in 1968

Fritz Koerner, who died on May 26 aged 75, was a greatly respected glaciologist and polar explorer and one of only a handful of people to be awarded the Polar Medal with both Arctic and Antarctic clasps.

On May 29 1969 Koerner and a companion made a touch-and-go landing on Vesle Tavleøya, a small rocky island off the north coast of Svalbard. This marked the climax of the successful bid by Wally Herbert’s Trans-Arctic Expedition to make the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean.

The four-man expedition had left Point Barrow, Alaska, on February 21 1968 with four dog teams, and by the end of the journey had covered 3,620 route miles over the sea ice. They had spent periods of encampment on the ice during mid-summer and mid-winter, when Koerner had made detailed studies of ice structure and topography, in conjunction with meteorological observations. had reached the North Pole on April 5 1969 and then, assisted by the drift of the ice, had made good time to Svalbard. The success of the expedition had been made possible through periodic air drops of supplies by Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules aircraft.

Roy Martindale Koerner, known as Fritz, was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on July 3 1932. He was educated at Portsmouth Southern Grammar School and Sheffield University, where he read Geography, graduating in 1954.

In 1957 he joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (now the British Antarctic Survey) and spent the next two and a half years as senior meteorologist and glaciologist at the Survey’s Hope Bay station, near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was when he arrived there that he first met Wally Herbert, who was about to return to Britain.

Koerner’s duties kept him mainly at the Hope Bay base, but he took part in several short journeys by dog sledge. For his work here he received the Polar Medal in 1963, and the 2,000ft high Koerner Rock, near Hope Bay, was named for him.

In 1961 Koerner was engaged, as a glaciologist, to join the expedition to Devon Island, Canadian Northwest Territories, organised by the Arctic Institute of North America in Montreal. He spent that summer and the following winter and summer working on the ice cap that covers most of the eastern half of Devon Island.

His main interest was now in snow stratigraphy, the analysis of which is needed to provide estimates of glacial mass balance and of seasonal variations of temperature, particularly in regard to the presence or absence of ice layers. Koerner’s work on the ice cap in 1961-62, and further work in the summers of 1963, 1965 and 1966, earned him a PhD from the London School of Economics, and laid the foundation for his later, important research elsewhere in the Canadian Arctic.

Meanwhile, in 1963 Koerner had joined the Geography department of Ohio State University as a research associate. In 1966-67 he was a member of the Ohio team that spent the Antarctic summer season at the United States’ remote “Plateau Station”, situated on the ice cap in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica, at an altitude of nearly 12,000ft, and established entirely by air early in 1966. Here too he concentrated on the analysis of snow stratigraphy; and for his work he later received the United States Antarctic Service Medal.

Following his crossing of the Arctic Ocean (for which, in 1969, he received a second clasp to his Polar Medal), Koerner joined the department of Energy, Mines and Resources in Ottawa as a research scientist and as head of the Ice Core Laboratory. The department had acquired the equipment needed for the deep drilling of ice cores, and it was in ice-core analysis that Koerner carried out his most important work.

He and his colleagues extracted surface-to-bedrock cores from the Agassiz ice cap on Ellesmere Island. By observation of the occurrence of dense ice layers and by analysis of temperature-dependent oxygen isotope ratios in seasonal strata, they demonstrated that the warmest summers occurred 10,000 years ago and the coldest only 150 years ago; and that the summers over the past 100 years had been the warmest for more than 1,000 years. They concluded that their results were of wide regional significance, and in general agreement with the results from similar work in central Greenland.

During his time in Ottawa Koerner held the position of Adjunct Professor of Geography at Carleton University; and over the course of his career he published more than 70 scientific papers, mainly in the field of glaciology.

Tall, lean and athletic, Koerner was from his schooldays a fine long-distance runner, and later on in life he became an expert cross-country skier. He wore lightly his years of hard endeavour and endurance in the field, and remained always an easy-going and amusing companion.

His Polish wife, Anna, whom he married in 1964, died in 1980; they had a son and three daughters.

(published in The Daily Telegraph on May 29, 2008.)

See The Daily Telegraph obituary here

The Guardian

Fritz Koerner
Explorer whose polar data illuminated the climate-change debate

by William Barr

Roy Koerner, more commonly known as Fritz, who has died aged 75, was one of the four members of Sir Wally Herbert’s British Transarctic Expedition which, on April 5 1969, stood at the North Pole. It was the halfway point of their dog-sled trip across the Arctic Ocean from Point Barrow, Alaska to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, a total distance of 3,620 miles. The first surface-crossing of the Arctic Ocean, theirs was only the second confirmed expedition to reach the North Pole. Data collected from Koerner’s later work on polar ice characteristics has been used heavily in the recent climate-change discussion.

Back in 1968, Fritz and his companions had left Point Barrow on February 21, and the entire crossing took 16 months. It was supplied by airdrops from the Royal Canadian Air Force that allowed them to camp for the winter on the sea ice at a location where, conveniently, the ice drift carried them steadily towards their goal. For Fritz this was more than just a headline-seeking adventure; as a glaciologist he was studying the sea ice, and the result was the first detailed, continuous survey of its thickness and characteristics.

Born in Portsmouth, Fritz Koerner attended Portsmouth Southern grammar school, and gained a degree in geography at Sheffield University in 1954. After a brief spell as a teacher, he joined the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey (FIDS; the precursor of the British Antarctic Survey) in 1957 for two years as meteorologist at Hope Bay (now the Argentine station of Esperanza) at the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula. Like almost all FIDS personnel at that time, he learned to drive dogs, and made extensive trips across the sea ice and glaciers; thus, his passion for glaciology was born. It was there too that he first met Herbert.

In 1961 he joined the Arctic Institute of North America’s multi-disciplinary Devon Island Expedition as glaciologist. Having spent a reconnaissance season on the island’s ice cap (covering roughly 3,600 square miles), he wintered at the expedition’s base camp at Truelove Inlet (along with Alan Gill, who would later join him on the Transarctic Expedition), and in 1962 set out a radial network of mass-balance transects, stretching hundreds of miles and covering every corner of the ice cap. Such studies are aimed at determining the ice cap’s “budget”, whether it is growing, shrinking or stable. He would repeat most of these transects annually for more than 45 years, along with similar studies of the Agassiz ice cap on Canada’s Ellesmere Island and much smaller Meighen Island ice cap in later years.

On the basis of his mass-balance studies of another Canadian ice cap, that of Devon Island, Koerner received his PhD from the London School of Economics in 1968. While in London he met his future wife, Anna Kowalczyk, and after she returned to her native Poland, he reached a decision, got on his motorbike and rode to Warsaw, where he proposed to her. They were married in 1964. Anna accompanied Fritz and assisted him on Devon Island.

Having joined the Institute of Polar Studies at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, in 1966-67, he was a member of a team that spent the Antarctic summer season at the remote Plateau station near the summit of the Antarctic ice sheet in Dronning Maud Land at a height of 12,000ft. Here he concentrated on snow stratigraphy, and later received the US Antarctic service medal. He was one of the few people to receive Britain’s polar medal with both Arctic and Antarctic clasps.

In 1969 he and Anna moved to Ottawa, where he joined the Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP), a logistics and research arm of the Canadian government, to pursue his glacier studies in the high arctic; he became head of the project’s ice core laboratory, and later transferred to an identical position with the Geological Survey of Canada.

At PCSP he made oxygen-isotope studies of ice cores, extracted from the Agassiz ice cap, the cores extending from surface down to bedrock. A study of summer-melt layers in the cores revealed summer temperatures from as far back as 11,000 years ago. It is his ice-core data that has been widely used in recent exchanges about global climatic change.

The author of more than 70 scientific papers and chapters in books, Koerner missed only a couple of field seasons from 1961 until 2008, when he felt unwell and returned to Ottawa, where he died from colon cancer just two weeks later. From his hospital bed he consulted with his colleagues to ensure that his various research projects would continue.

After his retirement in 1999 (although he continued his research as an emeritus scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada), Fritz escorted children on Students on Ice polar cruises. His wickedly irreverent, iconoclastic sense of humour appealed to his young audiences. In the Arctic he also took the Inuit children of Grise Fiord in southern Ellesmere Island on field trips to one of the local glaciers.

A regular competitor in the Ottawa-Montreal ski race and keen jogger, Fritz was always very fit. Anna died in 1989 after a prolonged illness. Fritz is survived by his daughters Eva, Davina and Kristina, and son Justin.

Roy Martindale “Fritz” Koerner, explorer and glaciologist, born July 3 1932; died May 26 2008

(published in The Guardian on August 13, 2008.)

See The Guardian obituary here

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