2018 News & Events

Remembering Walt Harrop

24 August 2018

We are saddened to learn that Walter J. Harrop (1938-2018), an original member of our laboratory passed away August 21 in Boulder.

David Fahey, CSD Director

Walt was a scientist in the Aeronomy Lab and later CSD, starting in our earliest days (1960s) and retiring decades later (2004). During that time, he supported many of our early experiments such as sampling the stratosphere in-situ using balloon-borne instrument payloads. For example, we were one the first labs to document the presence of CFCs in the stratosphere. CFCs deplete stratospheric ozone and cause the Antarctic ozone hole, and are now phased out of global use by the Montreal Protocol. In those early days, there were no instrument computers, as we know them now, that controlled field instrumentation and recorded data. As Tom Thompson narrates below, Walt (and Tom and Dick Winkler) developed instrumentation computers when microprocessors first became available. I remember using hand-wired computer systems from the stratospheric group for the world's first measurements of NOy with a Au-catalyst on Niwot Ridge in the 1980s.

Walt guided CSD into our modern world as the first personal computers became available. [I remember the day he brought a newfangled Apple computer to my lab and said this is your future.] He formed the Computing and Networking Resources Group (CNRG) when there was no 'IT' and hired Jenny Fox and most of the CNRG staff. See Jenny's narrative below. These were formative days during which our entire business model for doing science inside the office and lab changed enormously and is still changing.

It is hard to overstate the importance of our technical, engineering, and IT staff in leading us over decades to the next generation of instrumentation and analysis tools. Our technical progress leads our scientific progress. Walt was exemplary in this respect. Whether we were there in those early days or now benefit from the groundwork and culture he fostered, we owe him much regard and appreciation.

Tom Thompson, Retired CSD Electronics & Computer Engineer

Walt played a key role in the development of our balloon program. He was was responsible for obtaining our rubber balloons. As our payloads got heavier, we switched to plastic balloons. Walt took on the responsibility of researching and obtaining the large plastic balloons. Toward the end of the program, we were flying 3000 cubic foot balloons with 100-lb payloads. As the balloons and payloads got larger, explosive devices were used to terminate the flights. These devices required careful inventory and storage, for which Walt took responsibility. Walt, also, was a proficient seamstress, sewing the control wiring for the flight termination devices into the parachutes.

Walt Harrop at DSRC March 1999
Walt Harrop during network integration in the new David Skaggs Research Center, March 1999. Photo: C. Burgdorf, NOAA / CIRES

When small microprocessors started to appear on the market, Walt took on the task of learning how to program them. We developed a control package that was so versatile that, when we flew payloads at the National Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, we used our own package rather than relying on the generic package the balloon base provided. Walt wrote all the software for this control device.

When the balloon program came to an end in the early 1980s, we switched from balloons to aircraft for our atmospheric measurements, Walt moved on to provide the early network capability for the entire Aeronomy Laboratory.

Jenny Fox, Computing and Networking Resources Group (CNRG) Leader

In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Walt founded the Computing and Networking Resources Group. He started this work in the 80s, before "Information Technology" was recognized as a separate business need. He was just good with computers and understood networking, so he created and supported it all on his own for what was then known as the Aeronomy Laboratory. Eventually he hired Cathy Burgdorf Rasco to assist him, then Jenny Fox, Ken Jamieson, Sarah Thompson (who is now a Vice President of Systems Operations for SpotX Corporation), Rick Tisinai, and Gabi Accatino (who has since retired). He had great faith in people's ability to learn - even though none of us were computer experts when we began, we quickly became so under his tutelage. CNRG and CSD owe the success of our computing infrastructure, including the majority of the staff, to Walt Harrop. He was a mentor, a teacher, an innovator, and also a bit of a maverick.

Walt Harrop obituary
Crist Mortuary Obituary