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Obituary: Mark Wellington Williams


For The Madera Tribune

Mark Wellington Williams.

 

Mark Wellington Williams was a pioneer in the study of climate change and professor emeritus whose work and studies took him across the globe.


A football standout at Madera High School, Class of 1969, he channeled his athleticism into rock climbing and cross-country skiing. His passion for the beauty and complexities of snow-covered mountains fueled his studies and discoveries throughout his life. Mark passed away June 6 at his home of 32 years in Boulder, Co. He was 72.


Mark was a founder of the Critical Zone Observatory program at CU Boulder. He was twice a Fulbright Scholar and was appointed Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. An avid skier, he owned Rock Creek Winter Lodge in Mammoth Mountain, Ca., before joining the faculty at CU Boulder. He taught and researched there for 27 years.


Mark saw the early signs of climate change affecting our mountains and focused on the hydrology and biogeochemistry of Alpine watersheds. He was one of the first to recognize that alterations in nitrogen cycles could disrupt ecosystems, spurring studies that are still ongoing. He also recognized fracking’s impact on groundwater and contributed to a state-of-the-art assessment. Mark and his students monitored snowpack around the world with a particular focus in Colorado, California, China, Central Asia and South America.


Prior to blazing trails in the scientific world, Mark’s drive for adventure and problem solving led him to build trails in the high Sierras. He was also a park ranger in Alaska, Wyoming and California and a wildland firefighter. While growing up in Madera, he spent his summers picking grapes in the heat of the Central Valley, and in his 30’s, he conquered an aggressive form of cancer.


Mark shared his love of the outdoors with his sons, Tye and Kaelen, introducing them to climbing and mountain biking and putting them on skis as soon as they could walk.


His home in Boulder is a reflection of his lifelong studies and curiosity about the world. He spent long hours on his deck, enjoying a view of the Front Range of the Rockies with the Grateful Dead playing in the background. A longtime fan of the Denver Nuggets, they won their first championship just days after he passed.


Mark was a storyteller committed to the truth, equality for all and the welfare of animals. In the halls of academia, he eschewed formal attire in favor of Hawaiian shirts and could be counted on to always have a pair of sunglasses on his head. His siblings remember an indestructible big brother, the eldest of five, who had a preference for ponytails and was never without a book in his hand. He became a motorcycle-riding, first-generation college student who would build a legacy that includes sponsorship of 35 graduate students and four postdocs.


Mark is survived by his wife and partner of 41 years, Claudia; sons, Tye of Castle Rock, Co. and Kaelen of Boulder, Co.; and grandsons, Bode and Tiger. He is preceded in death by his parents, Ralph and Aurelia Williams of Madera, Ca., and his brother, Eric. He is also survived by his siblings, Randy Williams of Fresno, Ca., Lisa Lopez Williams of Madera, Ca., and Sarah Lopez Williams of Las Vegas, Nev. A celebration of life will be held at a future date.

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