PSC lost a dear friend, Andy Heiberg (1938-2021)


The APL family lost a dear friend and a key figure in our success in polar oceanography when Andy Heiberg passed away at home with his family on February 17, 2021 after short struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Andy was an internationally known expert in  operations and logistics for scientific fieldwork on sea ice. His career at the APL Polar Science Center (PSC) began before PSC was part of APL and even before PSC was created. He was born near Stavanger, Norway, studied mechanical engineering in Switzerland, and came to work at Boeing  in Seattle. Perhaps as a foretelling of his future, at Boeing he designed patented devices to allow Boeing 737s to be operated off gravel runways in Alaska and other remote locations. When Boeing virtually collapsed in the early 1970s, Andy began working at the Arctic Ice Dynamic Joint Experiment (AIDJEX) office at UW, and he was put in charge of the logistics for the AIDJEX Lead Experiment in 1974 working out of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory(NARL) in Barrow, Alaska. During the 1975-76 AIDJEX Main Experiment, Andy moved to NARL with his family to coordinate the day-to-day logistics operations. These logistics kept dozens of scientists working successfully at up to four ice camps in the Beaufort Sea through the Arctic winter  bracketed by two Arctic summers. Operations included multiple C-130 supply flights to sea ice runways, handling the break-up of the main camp in the fall of 1975, and the relocation of most of the science party. The end result of AIDJEX was an unprecedented leap in our understanding of how sea ice deforms and moves in response to the atmosphere and ocean, knowledge that forms the basis for sea ice models we still use today.

When AIDJEX ended, the team that had been assembled , including Andy, was in demand for continued research on Arctic sea ice, and the team consequently founded the Polar Science Center. In the late 1970s the Office of Naval Research High Latitude Program tapped  Andy and his PSC logistics team to carry out sequence of experiments focused variously on air-sea-ice interaction and under-ice acoustics. These included four “Fram” ice camps in the springs of 1979 to 1992 and the 1989 Eurasian Basin Experiment. All were aircraft operations staged from Station Nord, Greenland.  In 1983 and 1984, Andy coordinated the logistics for the multi-ship, international Marginal Ice Zone Experiments (MIZEX) in the marginal ice zones of Fram Strait and East Greenland. In addition to his technical talents, Andy’s ability to speak English, Norwegian and German, made him uniquely qualified for this job.

Around the time of MIZEX, the Polar Science Center became part of APL and moved from offices on Roosevelt way into Henderson Hall. ONR projects continued with the 1985 Arctic Internal Wave Experiment in the Beaufort Sea, for which Andy coordinated logistics out of Deadhorse, Alaska. It was marked by the introduction of several renowned internal wave experts, including the APL Ocean Physics Department’s Eric D’Asaro, to life on the ice and the construction by hand of perhaps the last sea ice runway for C-130 aircraft.

In 1987 Andy helped coordinate logistics for the joint Canadian DREP and US NORDA Iceshelf project out of Canadian Forces Station Alert, and in 1988-89 it was back to the Eurasian Basin with the ONR-sponsored Coordinated Eastern Arctic Experiment. Continuing the AIWEX trend, CEAREX included many physical oceanographers formerly from outside the polar research community, and Andy showed his expertise in ship and ice camp logistics coordination because CEAREX involved both a 1988-89 winter drift ship component and two spring 1989 ice camps supported by aircraft out of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway.

In 1991 and 92 Andy did the logistics for the LEADEX pilot and main experiments, which was operationally and logistically complicated in the sense that it required staging two helicopters to transport multiple huts from a central camp to newly formed leads in a matter of a few hours, essentially multiple min-camps staged from a central base camp. At essentially the same time Andy advised on the ice camp logistics of the 1992 US-Russian joint Ice Station Weddell in the Weddell Sea. The Sea Ice Mechanics Initiative followed these in fall 1994 and spring 1995.

Then in 1995 to 96 planning started for the Surface Heat Balance of the Arctic (SHEBA) yearlong experiment to be conducted in 1997-1998. Andy’s roll in planning SHEBA was absolutely pivotal because we essentially had no idea how we were going to support  a year around operation on sea ice that was already growing thinner due to climate change. Andy investigated various options including ice camps, ships from various nations, and even a specially fitted barge. Significantly based on his assessments, the decision was made to use the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker De Groseilliers with transport to and from the ship by the CCG Louis St Laurent, USCG icebreakers Polar Sea and Polar Star, and in winter and spring by Twin Otter aircraft. Again Andy’s logistics successfully introduced many new young scientists to working on sea ice and SHEBA produced a quantum step in our understanding of air-sea-ice interaction.

From 2000 to 2015 Andy did the logistics and operations for the North Pole Environmental Observatory (NPEO). NPEO was a virtual observatory meant to track atmosphere, ice, and ocean changes at one of the remotest places on earth. It included annual deployments to camps near the North Pole by aircraft with an airborne hydrographic survey, deployment of automated drifting buoys, and service of a 4,000-m oceanographic mooring at the North Pole. It included an international cast of investigators, and support through Canada and Norway and use of the Russian Barneo base camp. Year after year, in the face of changing ice conditions and changes in support companies, Andy was able to get investigators in the field and bring back vital data year after year. These data are still giving us insights into interannual to decadal scale changes in the Arctic Ocean.

Andy’s contributions to our science are widely recognized. Many investigators express how often he got them out of a tight spot or had an answer for a seemingly impossible problem. Most of all we have to marvel at how successful his operations always were. In 1992, Andy received a Meritorious Public Service Award from the Office of the Chief of Naval Research in honor of his 20 years of service in support of arctic research. In 1999 he received the National Science Foundation Arctic Service Award for his contributions to SHEBA.

I think there are several things beyond his intellect and technical knowledge that have been the key to Andy’s success.  First is his humility in the face of the ever changing environment, our science and technology. He often used to say that there are two kinds of Arctic experts, those who have been on one expedition (and think they are an expert) and those who have been on more than 20 expeditions (and maybe are experts but will never claim so).  In planning and executing an operation, ego was not a factor with Andy. He never wanted to pretend he had all the answers ahead of time, but he was confident that he could find an answer whatever nature threw at us, and he loved the challenge of coming up with new solutions.

Second, Andy prepared like crazy. His friendly, seemingly casual and easy-going personality may have hidden it, but he thought about everything way before anybody else. NPEO operations were typically in April every year, but as soon as one operation ended he would start thinking about the next year’s operation and begin contacting our Russian, Norwegian, and Canadian contractors.

Finally, it was his way with people all over the world. He enjoyed meeting new people and communicating with them particularly in one of the languages he didn’t know. He would delight in having to learn Russian using an impromptu sign language or pictographs scribbled on a napkin. He was always friendly and helpful to people new to polar research and exploration. As a result he had friendly contacts all over the polar centered world. We use to joke that the key to Andy’s success was his Rolodex File, but that file was full of those contacts, his professional friends, and whenever we needed some help he knew somebody that could provide it. We can replace the Rolodex file. We are unfortunate to lose the person who could use it so seamlessly.

The family has created a online memorial for Andy. You can find additional information and also leave tributes and pictures there:

by Jamie Morison with help from Andy’s friends and fans around the world.