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. Accessed March 26, 2018.

Memoriam written by Michon Scott, NSIDC

Roger Barry

Professor Emeritus of Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
CIRES Fellow Emeritus


PhD, University of Southampton, UK, 1965


Arctic climate; cryosphere-climate interactions; mountain climate; climate change

  • Writing a text on Polar Environments with Eileen Hall-McKim for Cambridge University Press

Recent Highlights and Upcoming Expeditions

  • Aug 2012–March 2014: On short term contract as Director of the International Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) Project Office at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK
  • 2009–2012: Was awarded a Humboldt Prize Fellowship to work at the Commission for Glaciology at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich, Germany, from May–October 2009 and August–October 2010. He prepared (with Thian Gan, University of Edmonton) a new book on the cryosphere for Cambridge University Press during this time. The book The Global Cryosphere: Past, Present and Future was published in June 2011.


Foreign member, Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RAEN)

Barry serves on the editorial board of Polar Geography



Barry, R.G. 2017. The Arctic cryosphere in the twenty-first century. Geographical Review 107: 69-88.

Barry, R.G. 2017. Polar climates. In The International Encyclopedia of Geography, eds. Douglas Richardson, Noel Castree, Michael F. Goodchild, Audrey Kobayashi, Weidong Liu, and Richard A. Marston. John Wiley & Sons.

Barry, R.G. 2017. Cryospheric studies: history. In The International Encyclopedia of Geography, eds. Douglas Richardson, Noel Castree, Michael F. Goodchild, Audrey Kobayashi, Weidong Liu, and Richard A. Marston. John Wiley & Sons.

Barry, R.G. 2017. The Arctic cryosphere in the twenty first century. Geographical Review 107: 69-88.


Barry, R.G. 2016. Norwegian contributions to Arctic environmental sciences from the 1880s to the third International Polar Year. Advances in Polar Science 27, 1-7.

Barry, R.G. 2016. Jack Ives – a personal memoir. In Jack D. Ives, montologist, eds. K. Mainali and S. Sicroff, 23-30. Lalitpur, Nepal: Himalayan Association for the Advancement of Science.

Barry, R. G. and P.D. Blanken. 2016. Microclimate and local climates. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Barry, R.G. 2015. The shaping of climate science: Half a century in personal perspective. History of Geo- and Spatial Sciences, 6: 87-105.


Barry, R. G. 2014. Climate change: Polar regions. Encyclopedia of Natural Resources: Water and Air, ed. Y. Wang, 974-78. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.

Barry, R. G. 2014. Cryosphere, measurements and application. Encyclopedia of Remote Sensing, ed. E. Njoku, 104-118. New Delhi, India: Springer.

Barry, R. G., and E. A. Hall-McKim. 2014. Essentials of the Earth's Climate System. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 259 pp.

Serreze, M. C, and R. G. Barry. 2014. The Arctic Climate System, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 415 pp.


Barry, R. G. 2013. A brief history of the terms climate and climatology. International Journal of Climatology 33(5): 1,317-1,320, doi:10.1002/joc.3504.

Barry, R. G., and R. J. Chorley. 2013. Atmosfera, tempo e clima (Portugese translation) Trans R Cafaldo Costa ABDR, Bookman, 512.

Gan, T. Y., R. G. Barry, M. Gizaw, A. Gobena, and R. Balaji. 2013. Changes in North American snowpacks for 1979-2007 detected from the snow water equivalent data of SMMR and SSM/I passive microwave and related climatic factors. Journal of Geophysical Research 118(4): 7,682-7,697, doi:10.1002/jgrd.50507.

Saito, K., T. J. Zhang, D. Q. Yang, S. Marchenko, R. G. Barry, V. Romanovsky, and L. Hinzman. 2013. Influence of the physical terrestrial Arctic in the eco-climate system. Ecological Applications 23(8): 1,778-1,797, doi:10.1890/11-1062.1.


Barry, R. G. 2012. Recent advances in mountain climate research. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, doi:10.1007/s00704-012-0695-x.

Barry, R .G., and Serreze, M. C. 2012. The changing climate. In Canada's Changing Cold Environments, eds. H. French and O. Slaymaker, 89-104. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.


Barry, R. G. 2011. The cryosphere and climate. In McGraw-Hill Yearbook of Science and Technology, 48–50. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Barry, R. G. 2011. The cryosphere past, present, and future: a review of the frozen water resources of the world. Polar Geography 34(4): 219–227, doi:10.1080/1088937X.2011.638146.

Barry, R. G., J. Jania, and K. Birkenmajer. 2011. Dobrowolski—the first cryospheric scientist—and the subsequent development of cryospheric science. History of Geo- and Space Sciences 2: 75–79.

Barry, R. G., and M. C. Serreze. 2011. The changing climate. In Changing Cold Environments—A Canadian Perspective, eds. French, H.M. and O. Slaymaker, 89–104. New York: Wiley.

Barry, R.G. and T. Y. Gan. 2011. The global cryosphere: Past, present, and future. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 477 pp.

Callaghan, T. V., M. Johansson, R. D. Brown, P. Ya. Groisman, N. Labba, V. Radionov, R. G. Barry, O. N. Bulygina, R. L. H. Essery, D. M. Frolov, V. N. Golubev, T. C. Grenfell, M. N. Petrushina, V. N. Razuvaev, D. A. Robinson, P. Romanov, D. Shindell, A. B. Shmakin, S. A. Sokratov, S. Warren, and D. Yang. 2011. The changing face of Arctic snow cover: A synthesis of observed and projected change. Ambio 40: 17–31, doi:10.1007/s13280-011-0212-y.

Gan, T. Y., R. Barry, and A. Gobena. 2011. Changes in North American snow packs for 1979-2004 detected from the snow water equivalent data of SMMR and SSM/I passive microwave and related climatic factors. Cold Regions Hydrology in a Changing Climate 346: 79–85.

Serreze, M. C. and R. G. Barry. 2011. Processes and impacts of Arctic amplification: A research synthesis. Global and Planetary Change 77: 85-96, doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2011.03.004.


Ananicheva, M. D., A. N. Krenke, and R. G. Barry. 2010. Northeast Asia mountain glaciers in the near future by AOGCM scenarios. The Cryosphere Disc 4: 707–735.

Weatherhead, E., S. Gearheard, and R. G. Barry. 2010. Changes in weather persistence: Insight from Inuit knowledge. Global Environmental Change 20(3): 523–528, doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.02.002.


Barry, R. G. 2009. Cryosphere models. In Encyclopedia of Complexity and System Science Volume 2, ed. R. A. Meyers, 1,704–1,718. New York: Springer.

Barry, R. G. 2009. Snow Cover. In The Oxford Companion to Global Change, ed. D. Cuff and A. Goudie. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barry, R. G., and R. J. Chorley. 2009. Atmosphere, Weather, and Climate 9th ed. London: Routledge.

Lee, E., T. N. Chase, B. Rajagopalan, R. G. Barry, T. W. Biggs, and P. J. Lawrence. 2009. Effects of irrigation and vegetation activity on early Indian summer monsoon variability. International Journal of Climatology 29(4): 573–581, doi:10.1002/joc.1721.

Paul, F., R. G. Barry, J. G. Cogley, H. Frey, W. Haeberli, A. Ohmura, C. S. L. Ommanney, B. Raup, A. Rivera, and M. Zemp. 2009. Recommendations for the compilation of glacier inventory data from digital sources. Annals of Glaciology 50(53): 119–26.


Barry, R. G. 2008. Review of Oledenenie severnoi evrazii v nedavnem proshlom i blizhaishem budushchem [Glaciation in North Eurasia in the recent past and immediate future]. Journal of Glaciology 54(188): 931.

Mahoney, A. R., R. G. Barry, V. Smolyanitsky, and F. Fetterer. 2008. Observed sea ice extent in the Russian Arctic, 1933–2006. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, C11005, doi:10.1029/2008JC004830.

Racoviteanu, A. E., M. W. Williams, and R. G. Barry. 2008. Optical Remote Sensing of Glacier Characteristics: A Review with Focus on the Himalaya. Sensors 8(5): 3,355–3,383, doi:10.3390/s8053355.

Zhang, T., R. G. Barry, K. Knowles, J. Heginbottom, and J. Brown. 2008. Statistics and characteristics of permafrost and ground-ice distribution in the Northern Hemisphere. Polar Geography 31(1-2): 47–68, doi:10.1080/10889370802175895.


Barry, R. G. (contributing author). 2007. Portals to the universe. The NASA Astronomy Science Centers. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Barry, R. G. (review editor), et al. 2007. Chapter 4, Observations: Changes in snow, ice and frozen ground. In Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. S. Solomon et al., 337–384. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barry, R. G. (review editor), et al. 2007. Chapter 15, Polar regions (Arctic and Antarctic). In Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. M. L. Parry et al., 653–686. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barry, R. G., R. Armstrong, T. Callaghan, J. Cherry, S. Gearheard, A. Nolin, D. Russell, and C. Zaeckler. 2007. Chapter 4: Snow. In Global outlook for ice and snow, ed. United Nations Environment Programme, 39–62. Hertfordshire, England: Earthprint.

Beedle, M. J., M. Dyurgerov, W. Tangborn, S. J. S. Khalsa, C. Helm, B. Raup, R. Armstrong, and R. G. Barry. 2007. Improving estimation of glacier volume change: a GLIMS case study of Bering Glacier System, Alaska. The Cryosphere Discussion 2(1): 33–51.

Maslanik, J., S. Drobot, C. Fowler, W. Emery, and R. Barry. 2007. On the Arctic climate paradox and the continuing role of atmospheric circulation in affecting sea ice conditions. Geophysical Research Letters 34, doi:10.1029/2006GL028269.


Barry, R. G. 2006. The status of research on glaciers and global glacier recession: a review. Progress in Physical Geography 30(3): 285–306, doi:10.1191/0309133306pp478ra.

Chudinova, S. M., O. W. Frauenfeld, R. G. Barry, T. Zhang, and V. A. Sorokovikov. 2006. Relationship between air and soil temperatures and periodicities in the permafrost regions of Russia. Journal of Geophysical Research 111, doi:10.1029/2005JF000342.

Gearheard, S., W. Matumeak, I. Angutikjuaq, J. Maslanik, H. P. Huntington, J. Leavitt, D. Matumeak Kagak, G. Tigullaraq, and R. G. Barry. 2006. "It's not that simple": A collaborative comparison of sea ice environments, their uses, observed changes, and adaptations in Barrow, Alaska, USA, and Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. Ambio 35(4): 203–211.

Khromova, T. E., G. B. Osipova, D. G. Tsvetkov, M. B. Dyurgerov, and R. G. Barry. 2006. Changes in glacier extent in the eastern Pamir, Central Asia, determined from historical data and ASTER imagery. Remote Sensing of the Environment 102(1–2): 24–32, doi:10.1016/j.rse.2006.01.019.


Barry, R. G. 2005. Alpine climate change and cryospheric responses: An introduction. In Climate and hydrology in mountain areas. Eds. Carmen de Jong, David Collins, and Roberto Ranzi, 1–4. London: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

Barry, R. G. 2005. Synoptic climatology. In Encyclopedia of world climatology. Ed. J. E. Oliver, 700–704. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer.

de Jong, C., D. N. Collins, R. Ranzi, R. G. Barry, G. Leavesley, and B. Bachhi. 2005. Introduction: Climate and hydrology of mountain areas. In Climate and hydrology of mountain areas. Eds. C. de Jong, D. N. Collins, and R. Ranzi, xix–xxi. London: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

Koerner, C., M. Ohsawa, et al. (R. Barry, contributing author). 2005. Chapter 24: Mountain systems. In Ecosystems and human well-being. Current state and trends, Volume 1, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Eds. R. Hassan, R. Scholes and N. Ash, 681–716. Washington, D. C.: Island Press.

Serreze, M. C., and R. G. Barry. 2005. The Arctic climate system. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Zhang, T., O. W. Frauenfeld, M. C. Serreze, A. J. Etringer, C. Oelke, J. L. McCreight, R. G. Barry, D. Gilichinsky, D. Yang, H. Ye, L. Feng, and S. Chudinova. 2005. Spatial and temporal variability in active layer thickness over the Russian Arctic Drainage Basin. Journal of Geophysical Research 110, doi:10.1029/2004JD005642.


Barry, R. G. 2004. Climate: Research Programs. In Encyclopedia of the Arctic, Volume 1, ed. M. Nuttall, 379–384. New York: Routledge.

Bishop, M., R. G. Barry, and 15 others. 2004. Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS): Remote sensing and GIS investigations of the Earth's cryosphere. Geocarto International 19: 57–84.

Frauenfeld, O. W., T. Zhang, R. G. Barry, and D. Gilichinsky. 2004. Interdecadal changes in seasonal freeze and thaw depths in Russia. Journal of Geophysical Research 109, doi:10.1029/2003JD004245.

Khalsa, S. J. S., M. Dyurgerov, T. Khromova, B. Raup, and R. G. Barry. 2004. Space-based mapping of glacier changes using ASTER and GIS tools. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 42(10): 2,177–2,183.

Solomina, O., R. Barry, and M. Bodnya. 2004. The retreat of Tien Shan glaciers (Kyrgyzstan) since the Little Ice Age estimated from aerial photographs, lichenometric, and historical data. Geografiska Annaler 86A(2): 205-15.

Tsukernik, M., T. N. Chase, M. C. Serreze, R. G. Barry, R. Pielke Sr., B. Herman, and X. Zeng. 2004. On the regulation of minimum mid-tropospheric temperatures in the Arctic. Geophysical Research Letters 31, doi:10.1029/2003GL018831.

Zhang, T., R. G. Barry, and R. L. Armstrong. 2004. Application of satellite remote sensing techniques to frozen ground studies. Polar Geography 28(3): 163–196.


Barry, R. G., and A. M. Carleton. 2003. Atmosphere, Weather and Climate, 8th Edition. London: Routledge.

Khromova, T. E., M. B. Dyurgerov, R. G. Barry. 2003. Late-twentieth century changes in glacier extent in the Ak-Shirak Range, Central Asia, determined from historical data and ASTER imagery. Geophysical Research Letters 30(16), doi:10.1029/2003GL017233.

Barry, R. G. 2003. Mountain cryospheric studies and the WCRP Climate and Cryosphere (CliC) project. Journal of Hydrology Special Issue: Mountain Hydrology and Water Resources 282(1-4): 177–181, doi:10.1016/S0022-1694(03)00253-1.


Barry, R. G. 2002. The role of snow and ice in the global climate system: A review. Polar Geography 24(3) pp. 235–246.


Barry, R. G., and A. M. Carleton. 2001. Synoptic and dynamic climatology. London: Routledge.

Zhang, T., R. G. Barry, D. Gilichinsky, S. S. Bykhovets, V. A. Sorikov, and J. P. Ye. 2001. An amplified signal of climate change in soil temperatures during the last century at Irkutsk, Russia. Climatic Change 49(1–2): 41–76, doi:10.1023/A:1010790203146.


Barry, R. G., and A. Seimon. 2000. Research for mountain area development: Climatic fluctuations in the mountains of the Americas and their significance. Ambio 29(7): 364–70.

Barry, R. G., and M. C. Serreze. 2000. Atmospheric components of the Arctic Ocean freshwater balance and their interannual variability. In E. L. Lewis et al. (eds.) The freshwater budget of the Arctic Ocean. Ed. E. L. Lewis, et al., 45-56. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Zhang, T., J. A. Heginbottom, R. G. Barry, and J. Brown. 2000. Further statistics on the distribution of frozen ground and permafrost. Polar Geography 24(2): 126–131.

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Related Resources

Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)

WMO Climate and Cryosphere (CliC)

Terrestrial Observations Panel for Climate (TOPC)

Russian Academy of Sciences