Obituary – J. Ross Mackay

Ross_MackayProfessor Emeritus J. Ross Mackay (University of British Columbia, Canada) passed away peacefully on October 28, 2014, just short of the start of his 100th year. He was a seminal figure in geocryology and his publications will undoubtedly remain critical to permafrost science for many decades to come. He was among the most prominent and one of the last living representatives of the early international researchers in the field, such as Roger Brown, Arturo Corte, Alfred Jahn, Pavel Melnikov, Siemon Muller, Troy Péwé, Link Washburn, and Shi Yafeng.

Ross Mackay’s findings, published in a total of 201 papers and two memoirs, covered all aspects of geocryology, including the active layer, the formation of ground ice, slope movements, pingos, thermal contraction cracking, ice wedges, and frost heave. They impacted the entire international community of researchers. His favoured methodology, based on carefully considered hypotheses, meticulous field observations year-round, and fully supported answers, is a model for all earth and environmental scientists. His long-term studies of conditions in the western Canadian Arctic, particularly the Mackenzie Delta area, represent a baseline against which environmental changes have been evaluated and will continue to be measured. His contribution to founding the International Permafrost Association, and his service as Secretary-General of the IPA for 13 years helped bring the organization to where it is today and remains as a further legacy.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (the pre-eminent academic body in Canada) and received numerous other awards, including the Order of Canada, the Massey, Miller, Vega, and Logan medals, five honorary doctorates, including from the University of Helsinki, and election to the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. He was the inaugural recipient of the IPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Third European Permafrost Conference on Svalbard in 2010 to which he sent greetings by video.

The Canadian permafrost community was fortunate to have had Professor Mackay in its midst for so many years. The Canadian Geomorphological Research Group’s young researcher award is entitled the J. Ross Mackay Award in his honour. All those receiving it know that they are following in the footsteps of a scientific giant.

Ross Mackay’s 90th birthday celebration in 2006 brought together permafrost researchers from across Canada and internationally, including some of his former PhD students, to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, his academic home for more than 50 years. A special issue of Permafrost and Periglacial Processes (volume 18(1)) was subsequently published in his honour.

Professor Mackay continued to travel to his field sites, with the assistance of his long-term collaborator, Chris Burn, until 2011. His remarkable longevity and activity is shown by two co-authored papers that are planned for posthumous submission. A special symposium in his memory is being organized at the Seventh Canadian Permafrost Conference in September 2015.

J. Ross Mackay was a brilliant scholar, a real gentleman, and a role model for generations of geocryologists. We are truly fortunate to have had him as a leader in our field of earth sciences.

A detailed obituary can be downloaded here:

Antoni Lewkowicz

President, International Permafrost Association

Chris Burn

Editor, Transactions of the IPA