Trevor Chinn (glaciologist)

Trevor James Hill Chinn (9 August 1937 – 20 December 2018)[1][2][3][4] was a New Zealand glaciologist, who conducted extensive surveys of the glaciers of New Zealand's Southern Alps.[5]

Early lifeEdit

Growing up near the town of Te Taho (about eight kilometers from Whataroa) in South Westland, near the Franz Josef Glacier, Trevor Chinn was fascinated by water and glaciers at an early age.[6] While at the University of Canterbury Chinn joined the tramping club, and graduated with a BSc in geology.[7] Trevor was the second of four children to Alfred and Myrtle (née Sweney) Chinn.


During the early 1960s Chinn worked for the North Canterbury Catchment Board, near Christchurch. In his role as field hydrologist, Chinn quickly learned the elements of river gauging and meticulous record keeping. Following a training period with the Ministry of Works, Chinn was invited to apply for a field role carrying out snow surveys on the Tasman Glacier and in the wider Mackenzie Basin. This new job was with the Ministry of Works, based in Timaru, South Canterbury. The Ministry of Works[8] were primarily interested in water resources for hydroelectric power schemes in the Mackenzie Basin. A major source of stored water for power generation existed in the form of the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand's longest body of ice (28 kilometres (17 mi) as of 2018). From 1965 to 1970 Chinn, along with several others carried out a series of mass balance estimates of the Tasman Glacier, using traditional snow accumulation and ablation poles.[9] In 1965 UNESCO coincidentally established the International Hydrological Decade (IHD)[10] which aimed to quantify the water resources of contributing nations. The IHD criteria stipulated each nation establish a 'basin analysis' for water resources. Basins could be shallow river catchments or alpine glacier cirques, either way, measuring the water volume into and out of, a basin was the metric to yield information on the earth's stored water. In 1965 New Zealand was invited by the IHD to participate in the programme. By 1967 Chinn identified the small Ivory Glacier as an ideal candidate to carry out mass balance studies. Located at the head of the Waitaha River, Westland, the Ivory Glacier[11] is now a mere remnant of its former cirque basin status. Between 1968 and 1985, the Ivory Glacier programme generated several reports and numerous papers on the mass balance, meteorology and glacial erosion rates[12] During the 1970s Chinn also established a series of rain gauges across the width of the Southern Alps. The rain gauge 'transect' produced a remarkable rainfall profile across the alps with a maximum of 18 metres (59 ft) of rain per annum near the Ivory Glacier.[13][14] By 1975 Trevor Chinn had completed an MSc thesis on the glacial geomorphology of the upper Waimakariri River catchment.[15] In 1977, Chinn also took part in the 'World Glacier Inventory', documenting 3140[16] glaciers in New Zealand's South Island. Given this high number of glaciers, Chinn could see that to calculate the volume of glacial ice in the Southern Alps, it was impossible to measure every glacier. By taking a sub-sample of 51 'index glaciers' Chinn could estimate their ice volumes from aerial photographs of the end of summer snowline (EOSS) elevation. This pioneering method meant that Chinn and colleagues could provide an annual summary of ice volume. Today, the snowline data set consists of 41 years of climate data and climbing.[17] In 2008, Chinn co-authored a paper noting that - since this initial survey - New Zealand's glaciers had lost 15 percent of their total volume.[7][18] A subsequent publication in 2014 noted that the loss of ice had now grown to 34 percent.[19]

Chinn's career spanned more than 60 years, working in New Zealand and Antarctica,[20] and included work at the Ministry of Works and Development, DSIR Geological Survey (which became GNS Science in 1992)[21] and NIWA.[2] From the early 2000s Trevor Chinn became a consultant under the name Alpine and Polar Processes Consultancy, working from his home[4] at Lake Hawea township, Central Otago.

Awards and honoursEdit

Chinn was awarded a Doctor of Science (DSc) degree in 2007 from his alma mater and in 1998 a small glacier in Antarctica was named Chinn Glacier in his honour. In 2016 The International Glaciological Society awarded Trevor Chinn the Richardson Medal.[22]


  1. ^ "Trevor CHINN". The Press. 22 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Pioneering NZ scientist Trevor Chinn dies". The New Zealand Herald. 21 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Pioneering NZ scientist Trevor Chinn dies". NZ Herald. 2018-12-21.
  4. ^ a b "Life story: Trevor Chinn, the man who saved glaciology".
  5. ^ Chinn, Trevor J.H., (1988), Glaciers of New Zealand, in Satellite image atlas of glaciers of the world, U.S. Geological Survey professional paper; 1386, ISBN 0-607-71457-3.
  6. ^ Otago Daily Times Saturday, February 16, 2019
  7. ^ a b Frankham, James (June 2014). "Living Ice". New Zealand Geographic. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  8. ^ "Ministry of Works and Development staff".
  9. ^ Chinn, T.J.H. 1972. Snow Hydrology - what is it? Soil and Water. September–December 1972.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Ivory Lake Hut: Remote Huts".
  12. ^ Anderton, P.W. and Chinn, T.J. 1978. Ivory Glacier, New Zealand, an I.H.D. Representative basin study. Journal of Glaciology, 20(82):67-84.
  13. ^ Chinn, T.J. 1979. How wet is the wettest of the wet West Coast? NZ Alpine Journal 32: 85-87
  14. ^ Griffiths, G.A. and McSaveney, M.J. 1983. Distribution of mean annual precipitation across some steepland regions of New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Science 26:197-209.
  15. ^ Chinn, T. J. H. (1975). "Late quaternary snowlines and cirque moraines within the Waimakariri watershed". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ Chinn, T. 2004. Glaciers - perennial snow and ice. In: Freshwaters of New Zealand. NZ Hydrological Society and New Zealand Limnological Society
  17. ^ "End of Summer Snowline Survey". 2018-05-03.
  18. ^ Salinger, Jim; Chinn, Trevor; Willsman, Andrew; Fitzharris, Blair (September 2008). "Glacier response to climate change". Water & Atmosphere. 16 (3). ISSN 1172-1014. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  19. ^ Salinger, Jim; Fitzharris, Blair; Chinn, Trevor (July 29, 2014), "New Zealand's Southern Alps have lost a third of their ice", The Conversation, retrieved 27 December 2018
  20. ^ McSaveney, Eileen (24 September 2007). "Glaciers and glaciation - Glaciers in New Zealand". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  21. ^ "Crown Research Institutes Act 1992 No 47 (As at 12 November 2018), Public Act Contents – New Zealand Legislation".
  22. ^ "The Richardson Medal".