Former University of Maine geology professor Harold W. Borns Jr., who has a glacier in Antarctica named after him and founded what is now known as UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, died on March 17.
Borns, known to friends as “Hal,” retired from UMaine in 2004 after teaching there for 50 years. According to his family, Borns died at age 92 after several months of declining health.
Borns joined the faculty at UMaine in the 1950s, after having served in the Coast Guard during World War II and then enrolled at Tufts University to study electrical engineering. While at Tufts, an elective course on geology grabbed his fascination and changed his projected career path, according to an article on UMaine’s website.
At UMaine, Borns helped establish the institution as a modern research university. In 1960, he became the first Maine scientist to receive a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. And in 1972, after four years of planning and with the support of the university’s administration, he established the first multidisciplinary research institute in the country dedicated to studying Earth’s long-term climate variability.
The research organization, first known as the Institute for Quaternary Studies, is now called the Climate Change Institute.
Borns was an expert in glacial geology, and especially the glacial history of Maine. His geological fieldwork took him to sites on all continents except Australia, including 28 field seasons in Antarctica, where the Borns Glacier was named for him.
In a 2012 interview with the Bangor Daily News, Borns said he was “captivated” by the landscape of the polar continent.
“It’s an exciting, unique part of the world. In a lot of cases, you put your foot down and know that no human has ever stepped there before, maybe has never even seen it. …There’s no noise. It’s so quiet. You just eat, sleep and work, and of course there’s an element of danger,” he said. “I’d go back in a minute.”
From 1988 to 1990, Borns served as director of the Polar Glaciology Program for the U.S. National Science Foundation.
In 2006, Borns and cartographer Michael Hermann produced “Maine’s Ice Age Trail: Down East, Map and Guide” a detailed map and subsequent phone app that highlight nearly 50 unique glacial landscape features left behind in the state as the Laurentide Ice Sheet retreated northward 16,000 to 13,000 years ago.
“His internationally and nationally recognized research put the University of Maine on the global map, and impacted the state’s understanding of its ice age history,” UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said in a statement. “He was an educator at heart, widely sharing his expertise for glacial and ice age geology with students of all ages, colleagues and the community. We will miss his passion for learning and science.”
George Jacobson, former director of the Climate Change Institute, said Borns was a “friend and mentor” to many people over the years, and that his interest in learning more and sharing his knowledge about the planet’s history never waned.
“His own great enthusiasm for science continued to the end, and even in the last few months of his life he mentioned plans for next summer’s fieldwork in gravel pits in Down East Maine,” Jacobson said.