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March 4th, 2021

In memoriam: Rolf Kihl

Rolf Kihl works on the Malvern Particle Size Analysis in the Sed Lab while wearing his cherished CU Buffs sweater. Photo courtesy of Wendy Roth.

Rolf Kihl, a meticulous and inventive scientist who established INSTAAR’s Sedimentology Lab and ran it for decades, passed away on January 19, 2021. Kihl left a legacy of procedures for analyzing samples and training students that are still used both within INSTAAR labs and in analytical facilities around the world. Known for his photography, love of Olivia Newton John’s music, and obsession with CU football, he was a friend and mentor to many. The INSTAAR community mourns his loss.

Rolf Kihl came to INSTAAR as part of an influx of scientists from Canada and the United Kingdom in 1968, when INSTAAR was still a small group housed in the Armory. He had been part of a 1963 expedition, led by John Andrews, to the margin of the Barnes Ice Cap on Baffin Island, along with Patrick Webber. At the time, Kihl was a Sedimentology Technician in the Geographical Branch of Canada’s Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources (now Natural Resources Canada). He helped Gunnar Ostrem quarry ice from the ice-cored frontal moraine of the Barnes Ice Cap for radiocarbon dating. Subsequently, when Andrews, Webber, and others moved to the University of Colorado, a position was created for Kihl to establish and run a Sedimentology Lab.

Wendy Roth, who studied as a graduate student with Kihl and now runs the Sedimentology Lab, said, “He pretty much created the Sed Lab methodology. He was very organized and did a lot of analytical testing. He came up with a lot of the procedures in running samples and training students that his former grad students still use today.” She added, “He was just a really nice person.”

The lab flourished, earning an international reputation for precise and accurate analysis. John Andrews said, “He also established protocols for the processing of samples for radiocarbon dating. Rolf was meticulous and he was often sought out by individuals seeking to establish sedimentology facilities at other colleges and universities.” Kihl was also a mentor for many graduate students who passed through INSTAAR.

“He was so deeply invested in accurate analysis,” said INSTAAR Fellow and former INSTAAR Director Jaia Syvitski. “To do the kind of work, he invented things in the lab, he fixed them to make them work better.”

Kihl retired and moved to Florida with his wife, Mary Eleanor Kihl, in spring 1999. More about his life and family can be found in his obituary.

Kihl talks with students about sediment particle size during one of INSTAAR's first open houses for middle school students. Photo courtesy of Wendy Roth.

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