America's close-knit team of Antarctic researchers is mourning a colleague who died in one of the continent's most dangerous areas. Climate scientist Gordon Hamilton, a 50-year-old Scotsman, died Saturday when his snowmobile plunged into a crevasse in an area known as the "Shear Zone," 25 miles south of the McMurdo research station, according to the National Science Foundation, which describes the area as a "three-mile wide and more than 125-mile long swath of intensely crevassed ice" where two ice shelves meet. Hamilton and his colleagues spent years trying to map the region, using robots and ground-penetrating radar, the Washington Post reports.
Hamilton fell 100 feet into the ice after hitting a crevasse that may have been covered in snow and hard to spot. When he wasn't carrying out research in frozen parts of the world, Hamilton was a research professor at the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute, specializing in glaciology. His work, which focused on the contribution of ice sheet shifts to sea level rise, "was second to none," university president Susan Hunter said Sunday in a statement, per the New York Times. Hamilton's body was recovered and will be returned to his wife and two children in Maine. Kelly Falkner, director of polar programs for the NSF, called the death a "tragic reminder of the risks we all face" in field research. (A worker at the South Pole needed to be rescued a few months ago.)