The Polar Science Center lost one of its founders: Alan Thorndike

Alan Thorndike died on Jan 8, 2018  from an aggressive pneumonia.  He was 72 years old. For those of you who don’t know, Alan was one of the original AIDJEX gang and founding PIs of PSC. Working with Drew Rothrock, he developed the concept of the thickness distribution that is at the heart of most sea ice models. He always seemed focused on distilling the physical and mathematical essence of our science without too much concern for the politics. When he left PSC it was to take a position on the physics faculty at the University of Puget Sound, where he loved to teach, but he continued to work on ice and climate related projects. In addition to being a sea ice genius, he was very clever with his hands and loved to work in his home workshop making fine furniture, clocks, and even a replica of the Antikythera mechanism ( It was a privilege to know Alan and we will miss him. At Alan’s request there will be no services. In lieu of flowers, those interested in charitable contributions are urged to consider making monetary donations to the American Parkinson’s Disease Association or simply doing something kind for someone in need, as he so often did. An obituary can be found here. 

We invite you to leave a comment below to share a memory or thought about Alan.

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Wenli Zhong
6 years ago

It is sad to just know such a great polar pioneer after he passed away who inspired so many researchers for their studies. I looked at every email that you shared for the memory of him. And deeply touched by the details you shared. I think the greatest compliment for a man is he is an interesting man. He was fascinated in so many things with a great passion and so handy to make interesting stuffs. I try to imagine the situation in those early period of Arctic exploration for these polar pioneers who were overcome the harsh environment to… Read more »

John Nye
6 years ago

From John Nye I first met Alan Thorndike at a Summer School, held on the Juneau Ice Field, Alaska in 1967. The camp was perched on a rocky outcrop above the Vaughan Lewis Icefall at the bottom of which could be seen a magnificent example of Forbes Bands. Alan and I, and one or two others decided to climb down to inspect them. I was a novice climber but Alan seemed quite experienced. When I slipped going down a steep snow slope, Alan held me on the rope, and kept it tight while I slowly clambered back up again. The… Read more »

pat martin
3 years ago

In the AIDJEX years Alan and I worked and lived closely together. His willingness to collaborate changed my intellectual life. There were plenty of risks, known and otherwise. We had each other’s backs, home and away. Post-AIDJEX our paths diverged; his with Louise to my hometown at UPS, mine to fishing and research in Alaska, living in Montana. I cherished our visits and especially sailing with him on Commencement Bay, a brief dance together on the waves, savoring the moment. Nansen would have jumped at the chance to have him along. Miss you, brother.

Beth Fishburn
9 months ago

I took Professor Thorndike’s class, “Physics for Poets”. He was a phenomenal teacher, and over 30 years later this class I still remember his lessons, his kindness, his connection with students, and his love of science.