Published: Aug. 11, 2020 By
Konrad Steffen

Konrad Steffen, former CU Geography Professor and Director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), has died following an accident in Greenland this past weekend. With Koni Steffen's death, the ETH Domain has lost an extremely prominent researcher who was also a uniquely kind and committed man. He was a pioneer in research into climate change who regularly took part in research projects in the Arctic and Antarctic. The ETH Domain expresses its sincere sympathy to his family.

Konrad Steffen, who had been conducting research into climate change – notably in the Arctic and Antarctic – for over 40 years, died at the weekend following an accident in Greenland. As Director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), he was regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities in this field.

“With Koni Steffen's death, we have lost a uniquely kind and committed colleague. Everyone in the ETH Domain is greatly saddened by this loss”, said ETH Board President Michael Hengartner. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends, to whom we send our heartfelt condolences”. 

Born in 1952, Konrad Steffen was a dual Swiss and American citizen. He had headed the WSL since 2012. Having studied natural sciences, he gained a doctorate from ETH Zurich in 1984. In 1990 he was appointed as Professor of Climatology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, USA, where he subsequently headed the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). As of 2012, he was also Professor for Climate and Cryosphere at ETH Zurich and at EPFL in Lausanne. 

Also see:
WSL Director Konrad Steffen fatally injured in Greenland accident (Original article​) 
Former CIRES Director Konrad Steffen Dies in Greenland Accident (CIRES tribute)

Quotes from Colleagues

"We are all very shocked and deeply aghast. With Koni we are not only losing our director, but above all a unique, generous and committed friend. We would like to express our deepest sympathy to his family and friends and wish them much strength and confidence for the coming time." 


Dr Charles Fierz
Physicist Research scientist
WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF Research Unit Snow and Permafrost
Team Winter Sports and Climate

"For those who knew Koni, you will appreciate at least he was in a place he loved, doing exactly what he loved. The first time I went to Greenland with him as a graduate student, I remember when the helicopter landed, and he got out.  He leaned back with arms oustretched, smiling up at the sky, as if he was just drinking in and savoring the cold Greenland air. He will be missed."  

Waleed Abdalati ​
CIRES Director
Professor of Geography

"This is utterly heart-breaking. I had the honor of spending two years working with Koni as a post-doc and spending one month at Swiss Camp with him as well. He loved that place and I learned so much from him. He did so much for CU and WSL. I recall that in Greenland while on traverse to maintain some remote weather stations I was dumping the spent coffee grounds into a crevasse and the screen filter on his espresso maker fell down the crevasse – gone forever. He looked at me with utter disdain and lack of understanding as to how a mistake of this magnitude could be made; he loved espresso more than life itself.  But it was part of his charm and wit. The mistake did not compute with his precise mind.  We all had a good laugh about it, and his reaction later. I will miss his incisive mind and infectious deep laugh." 

Noah Molotch
Director, Center for Water Earth Science & Technology (CWEST)
Professor of Geography