Monday, 4 February 2013

Sad time of reflection at SAMS

Two tragic deaths have stunned the staff and students at SAMS. Just a week after we were trying to come to terms with the loss of one of our bright PhD students, Christopher Bell, we received the news of another loss, the researcher in Physics, Sea Ice and Technology, Dr Tim Boyd. Chris and three other friends were killed by an avalanche in the Glencoe Mountains and Tim by a lightning strike while walking his dog on a coastal boardwalk.  These were freak events, both Chris and Tim were very competent and experienced outdoors people and the deaths were an awful coincidence.

Chris was a second year PhD student working on the physics of narrow tidal straits and how they contribute to larger scale ocean processes in western Scotland. In particular, he had been working on the infamous Corryvreckan and its extraordinary tidal race. He had already made major advances in his studies. Chris also made a big contribution to the social life of SAMS and the Oban region, particularly in his prowess as a mountain biker, climber and runner and for his practical encouragement of his peers in these activities.

Tim was a physical oceanographer who came to SAMS from Oregon State University with a long track record in Arctic science. He had been at SAMS for a year when I joined and was quick to catch up with me (almost literally, he was on his bike) to make sure that I knew about his endeavour to purchase an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) for SAMS. His friendly persistence worked! Tim used the same gentle persuasion to encourage the US and UK navies and others to continue to measure sea ice thickness from their submarines and to cooperate in Arctic oceanography. Tim was a popular lecturer and a great team worker and will be sorely missed.

This double tragedy was stunning for the SAMS community as students and staff struggled to comprehend the disappearance of two popular and respected colleagues from the same Physics, Sea Ice and Technology Department under such awful circumstances. There was particular compassion for Chris and Tim’s families whose lives have been instantly changed. As a caring and supportive community, my colleagues in SAMS neither hid their grief nor shied away from comforting those closest to them. Over fifty student and staff travelled to Blackburn to attend Chris’s funeral and there will be a memorial service for Tim in Oban on Thursday Feb 7th. A book of tributes was opened for Chris and website has been set up to gather tributes for Tim. To contribute, please go to

Grief should not be confused with despair. As Chris and Tim are mourned, their close colleagues have appreciated how much their lives were enriched by them and feel the need to celebrate their work and friendship. The pain and solemnity of loss is accompanied by the feeling that their work and enthusiasm should continue and we will certainly do our utmost to make that possible.

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