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No Ice Means No Polar Bears!

I first met Seymour and Fiona at Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in 1992, when I joined an ecclectic group of scientists operating out of a prefab hut sited in the grounds of Holmbury House; a stately home located in the heart of the Surrey Hills near the village of Holmbury St Mary. My first impression of Seymour was that he probably was a metal fan. I can’t recall whether it was the long blonde hair or a surname that emblazoned in Gothic font could grace the sleeve of an Iron Maiden album. And Fiona, I guessed she was a Druid. I was wrong about Fiona, but can’t attest to Seymour’s musical taste. I immediately liked them both.

Seymour and Fiona regularly provided me with the lift home to Guildford. I had just passed my driving test, didn’t have a car and in any case was a terrible driver. The road from Holmbury House to Guildford included a long stretch of lightly used dual carriageway. It was here that I realised that Seymour, Fiona and pretty much everyone else at MSSL had aspirations to be Nascar drivers. With Seymour at the wheel, Fiona proved to be a terrible back seat driver. But it was when Fiona had the wheel that I realised that Seymour was even worse. But my overriding memory of the hair raising journey home was that with each criticism leveled at the other, it was returned with a quip that had the whole car laughing.

I last saw Seymour and Fiona several years ago at a party at Duncan and Ivana’s flat in Islington. In conversation I mentioned that I was surprised to see a spate of stories in the press headlining with global warming and the plight of Polar bears. Seymour laughed. It turned out that he was interviewed by a journalist following the publication of a paper concerning the seasonal extent of arctic ice. The paper, which was the culmination of a meticulous analysis of data from three satellites spanning 25 years, pointed to the potential disappearance of arctic ice in the summer months. A stark conclusion. The journalist, not fully appreciating the importance of this finding, quizzically remarked ‘so, no more arctic ice’, and in true laconic style Seymour replied ‘No ice means no polar bears!’. And since that day every time I see the media headline with global warming and the plight of polar bears I say to myself ‘Seymour started that’.

I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Seymour’s death. My thoughts are with Fiona and Imogen at this difficult time. Seymour’s distinguished colleagues have provided clear testament to the significant contribution that Seymour made in an area of research so vital to us all. I am glad to have known him.