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Stan Paterson (1924-2013)

Leading British glaciologist who mined glacial cores that then provided climate data for the world's last 100,000 years.

Stan Paterson

University and first expeditions

Stan Paterson was born in Edinburgh in1924 and went to school at George Watson's College. He then studied Mathematics and Physics at the University of Edinburgh, enjoying extra-curricula activities in the mountaineering club (that triggered his lifelong passion for climbing), and graduating in 1949.

He then worked for a time at the University as a lecturer prior to his selection for the survey team on the British North Greenland Expedition in 1953/4. This venture introduced him to glaciology and saw him involved in measuring altitudes at 300 points on a 1200 km traverse across the Greenland ice sheet.

From 1955 to 1956, he was employed as assistant surveyor of the South Georgia Survey, where Mount Paterson is named after him.

Canada and influence

Stan emigrated to Canada in 1957, earning a PhD in Physics from the University of British Columbia in 1962, and studied glaciers in the Canadian High Arctic and the Rocky Mountains, mainly under the auspices of the Canadian Government’s Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP), initially part of the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys and then the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. During this time he produced the first edition of The Physics of Glaciers (1969).

Stan was the architect of Canada’s original ice-coring programme on Meighen Island and Devon Island. Each ice core was analysed in terms of its structure and chemistry and provided pioneering data on the earth's climate reaching back 100,000 years into history. Some of this data was then used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In the early 1970s, through his involvement with the National Research Council of Canada’s Subcommittee on Glaciers, and as IGS Correspondent, he produced regular reports on Canada’s snow and ice research. The influence of his work with the PCSP, as one of Canada’s leading glaciologists through the 1960s and 1970s, and that of his textbook, was recognized by the International Glaciological Society (IGS) with the award of Honorary Membership in 1994. The 3rd edition of The Physics of Glaciers, published that year, has been cited in every single Journal of Glaciology and Annals of Glaciology since then and has been translated into several other languages, including Russian and Chinese. 

In 2012, Stan was awarded the Richardson Medal of the IGS in recognition of his outstanding contributions to glaciology and to the Society. He died on 8 October 2013, at Campbell River, Vancouver Island, Canada.

School of Geosciences

On Close Inspection - Meet the glaciologists observing ice sheet melt