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Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Memoriam: Bo Bodvarsson (1952-2006)

Gudmundur Svavar Bodvarsson, known to most on the Hill as “Bo,” director of the Earth Sciences Division (ESD) since 2001, and a Berkeley Lab scientist since 1980, has died. He passed away yesterday (Nov. 29) at Kaiser Oakland Hospital, where he’d been hospitalized since Nov. 16 for testing. He was 54.

“We are all saddened by the untimely loss of Bo Bodvarsson,” said Berkeley Lab Director Steven Chu. “His energy, enthusiasm and commitment to the Earth Sciences Division and to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at large were a wonderful example for the entire Berkeley Lab family. He was a pioneer in many aspects of the management of the division, from the promotion of a safety culture to the strengthening of the intellectual depth and reach of Earth Sciences. On a personal note, I especially admired his honest and straightforward way of dealing with all people and how he was carrying out his vision for the Division.”

Said Ernie Majer, a long-time colleague and ESD deputy director, “Having known Bo for nearly 30 years I am deeply saddened by his passing and aware of the tremendous loss at a professional as well as personal level. There was not a person I know who was a stronger advocate for his people and who fought harder for what he believed. He almost single-handedly elevated the quality of the science and work within ESD. His vitality, insight and personality will be sorely missed.”

In 2001, Bodvarsson became the first native of Iceland to hold a division director appointment at this laboratory or, in all likelihood, any other DOE national laboratory. He was appointed by then Lab director Charles Shank, who praised Bodvarsson for his “creativity and insights.” 

Bodvarsson was born on Nov. 11, 1952, in Ljosafoss, Iceland, a town of about 100 people. He came to this country in 1972 to attend Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics in 1974 – graduating Summa Cum Laude. He earned a Master’s degree in civil engineering at North Carolina State University in 1976 and his Ph.D. in hydrogeology in 1981 from UC Berkeley.

Bodvarsson joined the ESD staff in 1980 while he was still a graduate research assistant at Cal. Prior to that, he’d worked as a research engineer at the Icelandic Building Research Institute.

Said Paul Witherspoon, the retired ESD scientist who brought Bo to this Lab and was his mentor, “Bo was a gifted individual and one of the hardest working graduate students I ever had at Berkeley. He carried this approach with him in pursuing his career at the Lab and developed into a disciplined scientist. No problem in his field was too tough to handle. The growth and success of ESD stands as a tribute to his remarkable abilities.”

As a scientist, Bodvarsson made his mark by leading the development of a 3-D site-scale model of Yucca Mountain
in Nevada, the proposed site of a permanent underground repository for high-level radioactive waste. This model was used to characterize hydrogeologic conditions inside the mountain under a wide range of different scenarios.

Bodvarsson and his research group also helped develop a hydrological model of Yucca Mountain that worked on a much finer scale than the original site model. This hydrological model could accurately calculate seepage into waste emplacement tunnels under various hydrogeologic conditions.

Said Sally Benson, who was Bodvarsson’s predecessor as director of ESD, “Bo was an outstanding leader of the Yucca Mountain Project. His passion, drive and scientific leadership made his team of hydrologists, geochemists and geophysicists star performers. That had to be one of the most challenging earth sciences problems to work on in the world, and no one did it better than Bo and the team he led.”

Bodvarsson is survived by two sons, Daniel Bodvarsson, 28, who lives in North Carolina, and Erik Ma, 7, who lives in Berkeley. Information on funeral arrangements and/or memorial services will be forthcoming. 


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