Katharine Giles, 1978-2013

A talented young academic who carried out groundbreaking research into global warming has died

April 25, 2013

Katharine Giles, who was born on 22 March 1978, held a Natural Environment Research Council scholarship at University College London and was due to take up a lectureship in its department of earth sciences in October.

Dr Giles died only three months after Seymour Laxon, the UCL professor under whom she completed her PhD between 2000 and 2005.

Sinead Farrell, assistant research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington DC, was a contemporary of Dr Giles during her doctoral years. She said her former colleague was “a wonderful role model” and “an excellent scientist and public speaker”.

“She was also a bit of a trendsetter. Katharine had a keen eye for fashion - a trait not usually associated with physical scientists,” she added. Before completing her PhD, Dr Giles graduated from UCL in 2000 with a first-class degree in earth and space science. She went on to visit the Arctic and the Antarctic, where she performed some of the first ground- based experiments to show how satellite altimetry could be used to accurately measure the thickness of sea ice. She solved a series of problems in polar oceanography, becoming the first person to appreciate that altimeter observations could show how winds affect the increasingly exposed Arctic Ocean.

Christian Haas, professor in the earth and atmospheric sciences department at the University of Alberta’s Earth Observation Systems Laboratory, led a 2011 Arctic visit of which Dr Giles was a member. He remembers one incident when the vehicle he was driving tipped over in deep snowdrifts, with Dr Giles sat in the back.

“I remember how she held on to me not to be thrown off, without saying a word. I’m never sure to this day if she was just scared or really fed up with my careless driving,” he said.

A tribute written by Duncan Wingham, former head of UCL’s department of earth sciences and now chief executive of Nerc, and Andrew Shepherd, a member of the Nerc National Centre for Earth Observation, said they “greatly admired the bravery and sense of purpose with which [Dr Giles] took on the many commitments following Seymour’s demise”.

“It was clear that she was ready to provide the next generation of leadership in our field,” they add.

Dr Giles died in a collision with a lorry in central London as she cycled to work on 8 April. She is survived by her mother, father and sister.


Reader's comments (2)

What a sad tragedy, when are cyclists going to realise that riding a bike in London is signing your own death warrant......condolences to her friends and family.....
Its a real shame. I come from Germany, and my mother used to cycle almost into her seventies. I used to cycle to school. Lots of kids do. Go to Holland, and there you see how good it could be. Here I cycle as well, but boy is it different. No cycle paths. Drivers who don't see you as they don't seem to know that you may be there. There are so few of us. No rules that would protect cyclists. Roundabouts as death traps. As a result, an over-representation of yellow-clad male road warriors, all in their prime age, all full of testosterone and full of aggression towards car drivers who are making a point. The result is culture of aggression and spite and negligence. Brutal.

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