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Trevor J. ChinnTrevor Chinn

In early January a large crowd gathered at the Hawea Community Centre in Central Otago, New Zealand, to celebrate the life of Dr Trevor Chinn, who died on the 20th December 2018 following a recent stroke. Specialising in glaciology, hydrology and geomorphology, Trevor’s scientific career spanned more than 60 years, leading him to be regarded as the ‘godfather’ of New Zealand glaciers.

Trevor was an integral part of snow and ice research in New Zealand. His knowledge of the New Zealand and Antarctica cryosphere was immense, he had an impressive publication record, and undoubtedly the best known knowledge of glaciers large and small across the entire Southern Alps. His passion for the mountains, and drive to better understand snow and ice processes, meant that Trevor spent many hours in the field. He was a key player in the initiation of New Zealand’s first glacier monitoring programmes on Tasman and Ivory Glaciers, and later pioneered a scheme to photograph 50 Southern Alps glaciers from an aircraft at the end of summer every year. This photographic monitoring programme has become one of the most comprehensive glacier data sets in the Southern Hemisphere. The photographs are used to assess glacier mass balance, providing valuable information about how New Zealand glaciers are responding to climate change. Trevor leaves a legacy of over 16000 photographs of New Zealand glaciers, which are being archived by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), so that future generations of scientists can benefit and continue to add value to his work.

Growing up on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, it was clear that Trevor has an enquiring mind (aka mischievous), which lead him to have many childhood adventures. His interest in rain and rivers saw him working for the North Canterbury Catchment Board, and later the Ministry of Works where he got into snow and ice monitoring. In addition to working in the Southern Alps, Trevor made 20 trips to Antarctica conducting research in the Dry Valley region. Trevor’s impressive scientific career continued during his employment with the New Zealand national science agencies: GNS Science and then NIWA. In his later years, the glacier snowline flights became his main focus; even after his retirement, Trevor continued to organise and participate in the flights, and analyse and publish the results.

Trevor had an energy and spark that was contagious. He loved to engage with students and delighted in encouraging the next generation of scientists – especially with a cheeky challenge to their hypothesis or interpretation. Trevor’s outgoing personality meant that he was not only good at doing science but great at communicating science. He was the go-to person for media and education. His ability to take complex scientific processes and explain them to a general audience was legendary, especially the way his animated explanations were often accompanied by one of his original glacier-cartoons!

Trevor was awarded a Doctor of Science from the University of Canterbury in 2007, having completed a Masters in Geology there back in 1975.

In 2016, in recognition of his outstanding service and contribution to glaciological research in New Zealand and Antarctica, the International Glaciological Society awarded Trevor with the prestigious Richardson Medal.

In amongst doing all this amazing science Trevor still made time to be an active member of the communities where he lived (most recently Hawea, located on a moraine from the Last Glacial Maximum), and enjoyed many adventures with his wife Barbara, sons Warren and Derek, grandchildren Sylvia, Georgia and Alexander. Trevor is greatly missed by many.

Heather Purdie on behalf of the New Zealand snow and ice community

Please also see this online tribute to Trevor