In Memoriam

Roger Barry, NSIDC Founding Director

NSIDC's founding director, Roger Barry, passed away on March 19, 2018, ending a distinguished career in the study of the cryosphere and mountain climates.

Roger Barry
Roger celebrates his induction as an American Geophysical Union fellow in 2004. Photo © Ron Weaver.

Born in 1935, Roger grew up in the United Kingdom. As a teenager interested in weather, he began working as a scientific assistant at the UK Meteorological Office in 1952. Soon afterwards, he was plotting data at the Royal Air Force Station Workshop in Nottinghamshire, while taking correspondence courses in math and physics in the evenings. Failing the military's eyesight test, he applied for a university program related to another early interest: geography. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Liverpool in 1957, his master's degree from McGill University in 1959, and his PhD from the University of Southampton in 1965. In addition to his own coursework, he accepted a post as an assistant lecturer at the University of Southampton in 1960. He also began learning Russian through a BBC radio program, an endeavor that would later facilitate some of his international collaborations.

In the mid- to late 1960s, Roger hoped to train graduate students, but he felt constrained by the UK's limited research funding. In 1968, he accepted a post at the University of Colorado (CU), as an assistant professor at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). When CU assumed control of a World Data Center (WDC) for Glaciology in 1976, Roger became its director.

The center started small, but under Roger's leadership, it grew quickly. At first, the WDC consisted of a library, a glacier photo collection, and a small staff. In 1980, the WDC became a part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). In 1982, NOAA designated the National Snow and Ice Data Center as coexistent with the WDC. The center had a new name. In 1993, NSIDC became a NASA Distributed Active Archive Center.

Throughout the years, Roger trained and recruited a dedicated staff at NSIDC. He also fostered international collaboration. Between 1986 and 2005, several Russian scientists visited NSIDC for extended stays and research, and Roger's visits to Russia in the 1990s paved the way for multiple U.S.-Russian data-rescue efforts. Meanwhile, one of Roger's visits to China helped facilitate China's establishment of its own WDC for Glaciology.

At NSIDC, Roger contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments in 1990, 1995, and 2001. He served as a review editor for IPCC Working Groups 1 and 2 in 2007, an effort that earned the IPCC the Nobel Peace Prize.

Other honors for Roger included Lifetime Career Awards from the Climate and Mountain Specialty groups of the Association of American Geographers, Fellowship from the American Geophysical Union, the Goldthwait Polar Medal from the Byrd Polar Research Center, the Founder's Medal from London's Royal Geographic Society, the Humboldt Prize from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, a J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, and Distinguished Professor of Geography from CU.

Between 1971 and 2011, Roger supervised 67 graduate students, 36 of whom earned PhD degrees. Over the course of his career, he authored a substantial body of work published in peer-reviewed research, as well as multiple textbooks: Atmosphere, Weather and Climate; The Global Cryosphere: Past, Present and Future; Mountain Weather and Climate; Microclimate and Local Climate; Essentials of the Earth's Climate System; and Synoptic and Dynamic Climatology.

Roger retired as NSIDC director in 2008, and he retired from teaching at CU in 2010. After his official retirement, he continued to work part-time, and continued teaching and writing about climate, weather, and the cryosphere.

In a 2015 paper reviewing his life and work, Roger Barry reflected, "Climatology is a young science, spanning barely half a century, and I have indeed been fortunate to be part of most of it." He counted among his greatest satisfactions "working with so many brilliant graduate students," and "establishing NSIDC as a worldwide resource."

After his death, Roger's colleagues at NSIDC shared their memories:

Mark Serreze, NSIDC Director: Roger was my PhD academic advisor. Even while still a student, I was writing research papers with Roger, and we continued collaborating long after I graduated. He taught me how to think like a scientist. When Roger retired, and I became the new Director of NSIDC, I knew that I had big shoes to fill. Anyone who has ever done research in the cryospheric sciences knows the name Roger Barry. He was a legend.

Andy Barrett: I feel like I have known Roger since I was 16. When I was taking my A-levels (equivalent to senior year in high school in the U.S.) in England, I was the only person in my geography class also taking maths and physics. My geography teacher gave me a copy of Barry and Chorley, Atmosphere, Weather and Climate, saying that it was a little mathematical and hard going, but I might get something out of it. I know Roger was pleased that his textbook was being used in high school geography in England.

Jeff Deems: While working on my PhD at Colorado State, I traveled down to Boulder from Fort Collins twice a week for two semesters to take Roger's classes: Mountain Climatology and a special topics class on Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere. In addition to being an authority on the subjects, Roger was always so kind and engaging and encouraging—made me feel like I was contributing to the field and science just by being there. I was always amazed and inspired by how his curiosity and enthusiasm sustained and drove him even in recent years as his health waned. He was a great mentor, a pillar of our research community, and a wonderful person.

Florence Fetterer: Roger always put "getting the data" above all else. Many small collections of snow and ice observations never would have been published if not for him. He was a polyglot with a near photographic memory and an extensive national and international network of colleagues. More often than not, he got the data he was after, even back in the day when funding agencies did not insist that scientists share those data. I think that was because people understood his passion for the data as being in service to a larger cause: that of serving science, for all of us.

Laura Naranjo: Although I was never formally Roger's student, I was hired as an NSIDC student, and my job was in the library. I soon learned that the NSIDC library was essentially the physical manifestation of Roger's boundless memory. On the very rare occasions he couldn't quite remember a book's title or first author, he remembered how big or thick the book was, what picture was on the cover, whether it had a blue stripe on the spine, and which language it was in. Searching out the myriad library items for Roger was my first introduction to the cryosphere—a world glistening with frost flowers and firn, pack ice and polynyas. I was (and still am) enchanted. It shaped my life in ways I could never have foreseen, and I am forever grateful. NSIDC would not be what it is today without Roger's years of leadership, and his research and expertise have trail-blazed long tracks across the cryosphere for many to follow and continue.

Anne Nolin (now at Oregon State University): Roger was such an inspiration to me and so many others. I was in awe of his encyclopedic knowledge and ability to recall papers written over decades. He was a prolific and thoughtful writer—his books on mountain weather and climate are classics. He was so very kind, and helped an immense number of people in our careers. We have lost a giant in the field.

Donna Scott: When I came to NSIDC in 2001,  I had come from a NOAA/CIRES group that was predominately male. There were very few female science staff which made it very difficult for me as a young early-career woman in science. Within my first week at NSIDC, I was walking down the hall as Roger approached me. He said hello, he knew my name and he knew that I was part of NSIDC User Services. I was astonished by all three things, as that was not something that occurred in my previous position. It’s hard to describe how good that felt. I’m sure it seemed like a small gesture for him, but it made me feel like I was welcomed and gave me confidence that I belonged at NSIDC.

Ron Weaver: I'm probably the one person around NSIDC who has the longest association with Roger, and I must tell you that it is hard for me to step back and place perspective on that 40 plus years. . . . He was our Google before there was Google.


Barry, R.G. 2015. The shaping of climate science: half a century in personal perspective. History of Geo- and Space Sciences 6:87-105. doi:10.5194/hgss-6-87-2015.

First 25 years: the history of the WDC for Glaciology and NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado. NSIDC.

Memoriam written by NSIDC publications team

Drew Slater, NSIDC Scientist

Andrew (Drew) Slater was an exemplary scientist whose research interests spanned a wide range of fields from land surface modelling, permafrost, snow, hydrology and data assimilation. He made significant impacts in all these fields.  He was a complete scientist, combining theory, modelling and field work.  He had a keen intellect and pursued excellence in his work, which he also expected from others.  He was ready to provide thoughtful criticism at meetings and in the review process, always with the intent of getting others to “lift their game” and push science forward.

Drew Slater
Drew Slater shovels out a snow pit on the North Slope of Alaska in 2009. Photo © Mark Serreze.

He cut his scientific teeth as a graduate student examining parameterizations of snow schemes in land models as part of the PILPS 2d project. His highly cited paper reporting this work [Slater et al, 2001] not only compared snow schemes used in land models but also identified causes of the differences between these schemes; notably how models represented sub-grid heterogeneity and effects of stability induced feedbacks on the longwave radiation balance. After completing his PhD in 2003, Drew shifted his attention to improving streamflow forecasting in snow-dominated basins. He published papers on ensemble data assimilation [Slater et al, 2006], a critical examination of snow reconstruction methods [Slater et al, 2013] and recently a compilation of solar radiation observations from mesoscale observing networks in the United States [Slater, 2016].

Drew is perhaps best known for his work on improving representation of Arctic land processes in models. In 2005, along with Dave Lawrence, Drew published a paper highlighting the projected degradation of near-surface permafrost [Lawrence and Slater, 2005]. While these projection were based on output from a model with good representation of frozen soil physics, it highlighted shortcomings in land models. Drew set about not only trying to improve land models but also to develop benchmarks to allow frozen soil processes in models to be compared [Slater and Lawrence 2013].

Drew pursued science as an endeavor rather than a career.  Always curious, always searching for interesting problems to work on and always keen to communicate his work to everyone, from elementary school children to his colleagues.  In the past few years he became interested in seasonal forecasting of sea ice. Using his knowledge of forecasting, data assimilation and statistics, he developed a simple but skillful sea ice prediction model that performed as well as, if not better than, the current crop of physically-based sea ice models. Keen to communicate this work to others, he developed web pages to not only present the results of this work to both the scientific community and general public, but also to explain the results and demonstrate the skill and uncertainty of the model. He also developed a popular set of web pages to provide near real-time snow depth for the western US. This pro-bono work was mostly driven by his passion for snow and skiing, as well as by a desire to provide information about the best-skiing to his fellow powder hounds.

His contributions to science and to communicating science are appreciated by colleagues and members of the general public.


Slater, A. G. 2016. Surface solar radiation in North America: A comparison of observations, reanalyses, satellite, and derived products. Journal of Hydrometeorology 17(1): 401-420. doi:10.1175/JHM-D-15-0087.1.

Slater, A. G., and D. Lawrence. 2013. Diagnosing present and future permafrost from climate models. Journal of Climate 26, 5,608-5,623. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00341.1.

Slater A. G., A. P. Barrett, M. P. Clark, J. D. Lundquist, and M. S. Raleigh. 2013. Uncertainty in seasonal snow reconstruction: Relative impacts of forcing and image availability. Advances in Water Resources 55, 165-177, doi:10.1016/j.advwatres.2012.07.006.

Journal of Hydrometeorology, 7(3): 478-493. doi:10.1175/JHM505.1.,>

Slater, A., C. Schlosser, C. Desborough, A. Pitman, A. Henderson-Sellers, A. Robock, K. Vinnikov, J. Entin, K. Mitchell, F. Chen, A. Boone, P. Etchevers, F. Habets, J. Noilhan, H. Braden, P. Cox, P. de Rosnay, R. Dickinson, Z. Yang, Y. Dai, Q. Zeng, Q. Duan, V. Koren, S. Schaake, N. Gedney, Y. Gusev, O. Nasonova, J. Kim, E. Kowalczyk, A. Shmakin, T. Smirnova, D. Verseghy, P. Wetzel, and Y. Xue. 2001. The representation of snow in land-surface schemes; Results from PILPS 2(d). Journal of Hydrometeorology 2(1): 7-25. doi:10.1175/1525-7541(2001)002<0007:TROSIL>2.0.CO;2.

Memoriam written by Andrew Barrett, NSIDC