Hydrology, Cryosphere & Earth Surface Tribute

Roger G. Barry (1935–2018)

Barry, a giant in climate and cryospheric sciences, pioneered the archival of computer data and traveled the world to share his vision with others.

By Ronald L. S. Weaver, , and Florence Fetterer

Roger G. Barry died in Louisville, Colo., on 19 March 2018 at the age of 82.

Roger’s career spanned more than 60 years, from the International Geophysical Year in 1957–1958 through the fourth International Polar Year in 2007–2009 and beyond. He contributed to widely diverse areas of cryospheric research, from paleoclimatology to the analysis of satellite data and modeling.

One of Roger’s greatest legacies is that he was a key figure in the development of scientific data stewardship, from its first halting steps to petabyte-scale archives at data centers. He also received numerous national and international fellowships and awards over his career and played central roles in major climate programs, including at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and on the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

Early Work and the Power of Computing

Roger began his career in England, receiving a bachelor of arts with honors in geography from the University of Liverpool in 1957. Subsequently, he conducted climatological research in Labrador, Canada, before obtaining a M.Sc. in geography from McGill University in 1959 and a Ph.D. in climatology from the University of Southampton in 1965. He then joined the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), where he served as an associate professor and then as a professor of geography at the university’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research from 1968 to 1980. He served at the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences from 1980 to 2018.

Roger was among the first to recognize the value of computers for processing and storing Earth science data; one of his earliest papers described the potential uses of punched cards for analyzing geographic data. During the 1960s, he was instrumental in bringing scaling concepts into climatology and in defining the new field of synoptic climatology, marking a transition from description to explanation.

Other early work focused on Arctic water vapor fluxes, which Roger later extended to the global hydrological cycle. Scientists recognized the implications of this research for late Pleistocene glaciation, and Roger and colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) were the first to apply a global climate model to simulate ice age climate.

Subsequent work included sea ice–climate interactions and polar amplification (the intensification of climate change effects near Earth’s poles). He also did extensive research on the mountain climates of the Colorado Rockies, tropical New Guinea, and Venezuelan Andes, including modeling the spatial distribution of solar radiation and precipitation at high elevations.

Sharing Cryospheric Data Around the World

Roger was the founding director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) from 1982 until 2008. Ellsworth LeDrew, one of Roger’s students, now at Canada’s University of Waterloo, recalled Roger’s role in establishing this center: “Roger, as one of the pioneers of numerical climatology, had the recording and preservation of data in his DNA, inculcated this in his students, and this ethos found a ‘permanent’ life as the NSIDC.”

NSIDC’s roots were the World Data Center (WDC) A for Glaciology, which moved to CU Boulder in 1976. NSIDC, which grew under Roger’s leadership into a center with a multimillion-dollar budget each year, archives and distribute petabytes of cryospheric data. A major step in this evolution came in 1993 when NSIDC became the host for the NASA Snow and Ice Distributed Active Archive Center, charged with managing cryosphere-related remote sensing data collected during NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) missions.

Even before the EOS missions, Roger had recognized the importance of earlier satellite passive microwave data. This data series, which continues to this day, is the source of time series of sea ice and snow cover and ice sheet surface melt—key indicators of climate change.

Roger promoted collaborative international research and data exchange through founding roles in programs like the WMO Global Digital Sea Ice Data Bank and the World Climate Research Programme’s Climate and Cryosphere project. Early in his career, Roger learned Russian through a BBC radio program. From the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, NSIDC/WDC hosted several Russian scientists. Roger’s numerous visits to Russia during the 1990s paved the way for several data exchange projects. A visit to China helped establish the WDC for Glaciology in Lanzhou. All of these collaborations were aided by his fluency in Russian, German, and French, as well as conversational Chinese, Spanish, and Italian.

Teaching the Next Generation of Scientists (and the Next…)

Over the course of his career, Roger advised more than 50 graduate students (36 received Ph.D.’s) and postdoctoral research scientists covering diverse aspects of the climate system. Many have gone on to distinguished careers. All of his students and colleagues have benefited from Roger’s encyclopedic knowledge. Roger was an ardent supporter of gender equality in science. His recognition and kindness also reassured many starting scientists and support staff that they had made the right career choice.

Beyond his students, postdocs, and support staff, Roger influenced many more researchers through his numerous textbooks on the cryosphere and the climate. His first book, Atmosphere, Weather and Climate, published with coauthor Richard Chorley in 1968, is now in its ninth edition. Other textbooks include Mountain Weather and Climate, The Arctic Climate System (with coauthor Mark Serreze), and, most recently, The Global Cryosphere: Past, Present and Future (with coauthor Thian Yew Gan; the second edition is to be published in 2019–2020).

An Active Late Career

Following his retirement from CU Boulder, Roger remained active, writing, traveling, and contributing to the scientific community. He served as director of the World Climate Research Programme’s International Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) project office from August 2012 to March 2014.

He continued to attend scientific meetings, often using his encyclopedic memory to bring relevant references to the presenter’s attention. In early March 2018, he was still reading proofs of his now-published book Polar Environments and Global Change (coauthored with Eileen McKim).

In one of his last papers, Roger reflected on his more than half century in climate science. Through the paper, he offered this advice to “third-generation” students: “persevere with what you consider to be important; continually retool your techniques; know who is doing what, not only in the English-speaking world, but internationally; network with others of the clan!”

We thank Konrad Steffen, Ellsworth LeDrew, Mark C. Serreze, Mark Parsons, Roger S. Pulwarty, Andrew Carleton, and Jack D. Ives for their contributions to this article.

Ronald L. S. Weaver, Walt Meier (email: [email protected]), and Florence Fetterer, National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, Colo.

Citation: Weaver, R. L. S., W. Meier, and F. Fetterer (2018), Roger G. Barry (1935–2018), Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO107369. Published on 15 October 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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