Obituary - Katharine Giles

April 25, 2013

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

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.

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