Dr. Mike W. Smith (1944-2022)

On 12 May 2022, Mike W. Smith passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home in Picton, Ontario. He is survived by his wife Pauline and four children.

Mike graduated from the University of Liverpool (1966) with a BSc in Environmental Studies; his thesis research focused on deglacial landforms in Scotland. He subsequently studied meteorological drought for his MA (1968) as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Georgia. His PhD (1973) on ground temperature variability in the Mackenzie Delta, Canada, marked the beginning of decades of independent and collaborative research on permafrost, climate change and northern development in the Canadian Arctic.

  • Smith, M.W. (1975). Microclimatic influences on ground temperatures and permafrost distribution, Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 12, 1421-1438. DOI: 10.1139/e75-129.
  • Smith, M.W. (1976). Permafrost in the Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories. Geological Survey of Canada, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa, ON, Paper 75-28, 34 p. DOI: 10.4095/102593.

Mike sparked a new generation of northern science during the 1970s, a time when only a few environmental scientists prioritized cold regions. His appointment at Carleton University in 1972 launched a research career lasting over 30 years, during which Mike became an internationally-recognized expert in climatic, geotechnical, and geothermal issues in cold regions. He was an innovator in developing and testing instruments that could measure liquid water content in frozen and saline soils, and in measuring soil heave and heaving pressures. Much of this work included a dedication to long-term studies and the training and involvement of students in his research. For example, soon after joining Carleton he established an extensive network of permafrost monitoring sites in Yukon, which continue to be monitored by IPA President Chris Burn, who at the time was starting his Master’s degree under Mike’s supervision.

Mike’s research also had many practical implications, and his many governmental, industry, or community organization research partners had strong interests in his findings. His focus on permafrost and northern development evolved into frequent participation in environmental assessments, and he provided expert testimony at the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline enquiry, and environmental reviews of the Alaska Highway Gas Pipeline, Arctic Pilot Project, Norman Wells Oil Pipeline, and the Beaufort Sea Hydrocarbon Development Proposal. He also delivered many public lectures about climate change and permafrost through his career.

The profound legacy of his work is highlighted by The Frozen Earth: Fundamentals of Geocryology co-authored with Peter J. Williams in 1989, which remains one of the most renowned texts within the international permafrost community and has undoubtedly inspired generations of researchers.

Emma Stockton
IPA Secretariat

Modified from In Memoriam: Mike Smith by the Department Geography & Environmental Studies, Carleton University.