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John (Johan) Booth (1965–2022)

John (Johan) Booth was an electronics technician in the U.S. Antarctic program who spent 20 winters supporting U.S. polar science programs.

Published onDec 31, 2022
John (Johan) Booth (1965–2022)
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Johan Booth

Photo credit: Gathering Us (courtesy of David Booth)

Updated Feb. 2, 2023

John (Johan) Booth died on Wednesday June 29, 2022, of brain cancer. He was 57.

John (Johan) Booth was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on June 4, 1965. He studied computer science and astronomy at Wesleyan University and the University of California Santa Cruz. He found his life’s work in the U.S. Antarctic program where he came to be called Johan. He worked at Palmer and South Pole Stations as a science technician (another term was "research associate") meaning that he was an employee of the support contractor tasked with operating various year-round experiments for different principal investigators. During his years with NOAA at Pole his official title was both "Physical Scientist" and "Electronics Engineer." As such he was usually an assistant to the NOAA chief of station who was usually but not always a NOAA Corps officer. He also worked for NOAA at Summit Camp in Greenland during part of the 2009-10 boreal winter, and at their Barrow laboratory in the boreal 2017 summer.

Johan did not pursue a traditional academic track in astronomy because he wanted to have his hands on more projects. He was able to do that as a "research associate," more than he would have done as an investigator/grantee. He delighted in keeping many experiments going at one time. A few of his areas of interest included:

  • upper atmospheric space physics

  • ozone, his favorite topic (column ozone Dobson measurements and the balloons)

  • atmospheric water vapor

  • Greenhouse gases and halocarbons

  • aerosols

  • UV monitoring

  • surface radiation / albedo

  • seismology

  • snow chemistry

  • snow accumulation

  • ocean tides

Johan also loved the social life of the South Pole, where a small staff community would fend for itself during the long isolation of dark months. He loved the physical beauty of the South Pole, where the aurora danced overhead. He loved the varied science conducted at the Pole, where his intelligence, meticulousness, and curiosity found purpose. He loved mentoring others in that science. He loved sharing about Antarctica through countless visits and slide shows in schools and community settings, and through a celebrated email correspondence chronicling both the social and the scientific aspects of life on the ice. Mount Booth (5170 ft / 1575 m), in the Dry Valleys area of Antarctica, was named for him in January 2004.

By the time his Antarctic career concluded, Johan was among a short list of the people who had wintered-over 20 times in Antarctica: 14 at the South Pole and 6 at Palmer Station. Among his many technical duties, he often launched multiple weather balloons to measure the ozone hole over the South Pole. He was Station Chief for the NOAA South Pole Observatory in 2006-7.

In the northern hemisphere Johan cultivated a community of companions from every chapter of his life. He loved the mountain West with its vistas, its histories, and its opportunities for hiking and biking. He loved reasoned arguments. He respected statistics and probability. He applied his intelligence happily to baseball, the economy, politics, human behavior. He was a faithful and generous friend who gave freely of his attention and his resources. He was great at helping you puzzle out a life problem.

Johan left us at about 1:20 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, surrounded by friends. He had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021. He died on his own terms, in accord with Washington state’s enlightened Death with Dignity Act. He is missed by parents, siblings, stepsiblings, nieces, a nephew, and cousins. He is also missed by the grand community of his friends and colleagues.

To this day, the South Pole Station sports multiple tie-dyes and Red Sox paraphernalia, both of which were Johan’s trademarks.

Adapted and reproduced with permission from obituaries posted by David Booth, William Spindler and George Wortley.

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