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October 6th, 2016

In memoriam: John Trevor Hollin, 1930-2016

We are deeply saddened by the loss of John Hollin, who passed away on October 3, 2016.

John was a glaciologist and paleoclimatologist. He was at Wilkes Station in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year in 1958, and a small Antarctic island is named after him. He joined INSTAAR in the 1970s. Here he researched the history and extent of fluctuations of the Antarctic ice sheet and related sea-level changes in connection with past climates, especially during the last interglacial. He was a core member of the Amino Acid Lab.

John was fiercely independent despite living 45 years with multiple sclerosis. We remember John as a skiier and hiker who loved the mountains, a strong rock climber, an omnivorous reader, a dry wit, and a generous mentor and colleague. Almost every day found him in his INSTAAR office, where he was an active audience member at graduate student talks and Monday seminars. He was sure to arrive with the latest issue of Science or Nature in hand, asking if his neighbor had seen the latest article about their particular interests.

A remembrance and celebration of his life was held on Thursday, December 1, 2016, at the SEEC Building. A few recollections from friends and colleagues are below.


by Scott J. Lehman and John T. Andrews

reprinted from Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 287-289. doi 10.1657/AAAR0049-2-Memoriam

John Hollin died on 3 October 2016 after a long and courageous battle with multiple sclerosis complicated at the end by cancer. John was born in 1930 in Derby, England, and lived there until he was evacuated as a result of intense bombing during World War II. He was reunited with his family following their move to Halifax in Yorkshire, England, in 1943. He attended Nunthorpe Grammar School in York and after the war joined the Royal Air Force; while stationed in Austria he learned German and how to ski. After completing his military service John attended Oxford University (1950–1954) to study in the Geography Department, while also earning a Diploma in Education. However, the direction of his scientific career was decided by his involvement in student-led expeditions to Spitsbergen in 1951 and 1955. On the 1951 expedition John was already tagged as a “glaciologist” and a report on the expedition noted, “The expedition made a most successful but adventurous [7-day] open-boat journey of 120 miles from Mosselbukta in Vestspitsbergen, down Hinlopenstretet, and so to the south coast of Nordaustlandet.”

After graduation John headed to Eskdale, England, where he was an Instructor and then Chief Instructor at the Outward Bound Mountain School. The combination of his glaciological experience and climbing and survival skills resulted in his appointment (1957–1959) as Chief Glaciologist to the U.S. Wilkes Station in Antarctica as part of the International Geophysical Year.

Between 1959 and 1963 John served as a research associate at the Institute of Polar Studies (later to become Byrd Polar Research Center) at The Ohio State University and at the Swiss Federal Institute of Snow and Ice Research. He then went to Princeton University (via Yale University) for his dissertation studies (Hollin, 1971), earning the PhD degree in 1972. George Denton, a fellow graduate student during John’s time at Yale, recently recalled, “He [John] taught all of his fellow graduate students a great deal about Quaternary problems and it was almost as if there as another faculty member in the student group, one with a great insight into how the ice-age world worked.” John was appointed as an Associate Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Maine, Orono, in 1971 and he continued this association until 1976 when he moved to Boulder, Colorado, as Senior Resident Research Associate at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1979 he moved to his long-standing academic home at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), University of Colorado, Boulder.

John Hollin in 1975.

John began publishing a decade before he received his PhD. These early works include his largely theoretical paper in the Journal of Glaciology on the interaction of sea level and ice sheet grounding and stability (Hollin, 1962) and papers in Nature laying out tests of the new idea that northern hemisphere ice ages might be triggered by sudden surges of Antarctic ice into the oceans (Hollin, 1964, 1965). In his 1964 paper he wrote: “…the ice shelf theory for glaciation involves so many glaciological, oceanographical and meteorological assumptions that it may be impossible to justify all of them. It is the purpose of this communication to suggest how field evidence may be used to test the theory. Really convincing tests will probably require contributions from field workers in every part of the world.” This statement heralded a life’s work studying interglacial deposits with collaborators around the world, during which John became a widely recognized expert on U-series dating, amino acid geochronology, and littoral and reef stratigraphy. Field studies included his pioneering dissertation work on the marine deposits of the Thames Estuary, reefs of the Caribbean, and shorelines of the Mediterranean and southeast United States. John’s field efforts continued well into the 1980s and ceased only due to increasing limitations of multiple sclerosis. Following his last years at the University of Maine in the late 1970s, John (with Dave Schilling) collated and modeled data on the extent of global valley glaciers and small ice caps for the seminal work The Last Great Ice Sheets edited by his University of Maine colleagues George Denton and Terry Hughes (Hollin and Schilling, 1981; Schilling and Hollin, 1981).

During his nearly 40 years at INSTAAR, John was especially beloved by graduate students. Free of the obligations of a regular faculty post, John was always available and eager to share his encyclopedic knowledge of the literature of interglacial climates and sea level. A quick stop by John’s office almost always produced multiple, neatly annotated pages from obscure journal articles, some to be found in your mailbox months after you thought you had moved on. Google was not yet available nor, seemingly, necessary… If John had a shortcoming, it was perhaps that he was too comprehensive and uncompromising. In his last decade, John worked daily on his Last Interglacial “double sea level jump” opus, but sadly it never made it out the door.

John’s move to INSTAAR in the late 1970s coincided with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. It was clear that this would be life changing, but John remained positive and highly engaged in his work, and several times stated that he felt “lucky” to have the slowly progressive rather than the suddenly degenerative form of the disease. With the discipline of his early fell running days, John did his utmost to stay ahead of the disease, walking to work from his home in north Boulder. On difficult days and increasingly in later years, John rode the bus for part of the journey, disembarked, and resumed on foot. He was determined. The unfinished opus and keeping an eye on the INSTAAR Reading Room and the librarians motivated him until the end and very likely contributed to his longevity.

John never complained about his circumstances. Rather, he was charming, witty, interested in science, politics, oddities of all kinds, and in others. INSTAAR and the Quaternary community have lost a good and thoughtful friend.

Chronological list of references cited

Hollin, J. T., 1962: On the glacial history of Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology, 4(32): 173–195.
Hollin, John T., 1964: Origin of ice ages: an ice shelf theory for Pleistocene glaciation. Nature, 202: 1099–1100.
Hollin, John T., 1965: Wilson’s theory of ice ages. Nature, 208(5005): 12–16.
Hollin, John Trevor, 1971: Ice Sheet Surges and Interglacial Sea Levels. Ph.D. thesis, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Hollin, John T., and Schilling, David H., 1981: Late Wisconsin-Weichselian mountain glaciers and small ice caps. In Denton, George H., and Hughes, Terence J. (eds.), The Last Great Ice Sheets. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 179–198.
Schilling, David H., and Hollin, John T., 1981: Numerical reconstructions of valley glaciers and small ice caps. In Denton, George H., and Hughes, Terence J. (eds.), The Last Great Ice Sheets. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 207–220.

Recollections from friends and colleagues

John Hollin with his cousin, Heather Maven, in his office at INSTAAR.

John T. Andrews

Janet Swan Bush

Peter Clark

George Denton

Áslaug Geirsdóttir

Joan Lagoe

Vera Markgraf

Mabel Maven

Miles Rucklidge

Shelly Sommer

Peter Worsley

Film from 1958 International Geophysical Year, Wilkes Station, Antarctica

Film from Wilkes Station, Antarctica, 1958, during the first International Geophysical Year.