Kevin Wood, oldWeather’s chief scientist for the last few years, died on Monday February 14th 2022, after a long illness. He was 59.
Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010, was a red-letter day for oldWeather: we were only a few weeks into the launch of the project, but we’d already got some results, and it was clear it was going to be a big success. Along with a couple of colleagues from Zooniverse, I’d come to a conference in Baltimore to present our results – our presentations were very well received, but that’s not why I remember the day so clearly.
Among the other people at that meeting one stood out: a friendly, enthusiastic, slightly scruffy, scientist from Seattle. He seemed, oddly, to be both older and younger than I was – clearly middle aged and experienced, but with the reputation and attitude of a much younger man. I soon learned that this was because science was his second career – he’d spent 25 years as a merchant marine officer before doing a PhD at the University of Washington and joining PMEL. He was instantly keen on oldWeather, and we were delighted to have him on board – we already had some good scientists, but I was very happy to add an actual mariner to the science team – someone with first-hand experience of ships and logbooks. If that had been all he offered, Kevin would have been a great asset, but we got much, much, more than that.
Kevin was a good scientist, an enthusiast for marine history, an experienced manager, and a genius at building support for research programs. I watched with awe as he charmed the National Archives in Washington D.C., raised the money for an imaging program, recruited people to work on it, and started producing the images that we know as oldWeather-Arctic. These rapidly became the main component of oldWeather, and over the years Kevin expanded this imaging program and started others. He became more and more important to oldWeather and eventually took over leadership of the whole project.
Kevin did much more than work on oldWeather. He did a lot of expedition work into the Bering and Chukchi seas: working on RUSALACA, a chief scientist for Arctic Heat, flying missions on NOAA research aircraft, and longer cruises on research ships. He was a producer for Arctic Report Card and did a lot of great outreach work – mentoring junior scientists (and archivists), and communicating science to the press and the public.
But most of all, Kevin was a great guy. He was never a colleague – he went straight to friend, and I delighted in his friendship for more than a decade. It’s more than 7,500km from my home in Exeter to Kevin’s in Seattle, so he visited me only once, and we communicated mostly by internet. But we met, as researchers do, in meetings and workshops all over the world, and I treasure memories of time spent with him in Beijing, and Hong Kong, … Particulaly, perhaps, in Maynooth – where I spent several happy evenings drinking Guinness with Kevin and his wife Kelly; and in Boulder – where he drove me through Rocky Mountains National Park in his MX5, and we would walk (and talk) along the trails behind Table Mesa.
And Kevin did much of this in spite of being seriously ill. He suffered from lung cancer – perhaps a result of all those months spent working in smokey environments on Russian icebreakers. Medical science kept this at bay for several years, and he never complained, or let it stop him – but it was always a matter of time, and his luck ran out last week. He is survived by his wife Kelly, and two sons: Ryan and Galen.
Rest in peace Kevin – I’m proud to have known you.