OAKLAND, Calif. / MADISON—Charles R. Bentley, one of the founders of modern scientific exploration of Antarctica, died on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, at age 87, at his home in Oakland, Calif.
At the time of his death, Professor Bentley was A.P Crary Professor Emeritus of Geophysics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Dr. Bentley began his career in polar research as a graduate student at Columbia University where his doctoral dissertation was a seismic study of the Greenland ice sheet. Immediately after his final examination, he responded to a teacher’s call, “Would anyone like to go to the Antarctic?” He bound a ship for Antarctica where he spent two consecutive years as part of the U.S. Expedition during the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958, and the year following, signing up for another year while here. He returned from his first trip to the Antarctic in 1959.
During his time in Antarctica, Dr. Bentley carried out several seismic traverses of the Antarctic ice sheet, including the first such traverse ever conducted by an American team in the 1950s and 1960s, and he pioneered the application of geophysical techniques in a remote and hostile environment.
Dr. Bentley’s work revealed surprises about the structure of the ice sheet and the continental crust underlying it; the bed of the West Antarctic ice sheet lies far below sea level. Concern about rapid sea-level rise from ice-sheet collapse grew out of his early discoveries.
Over the years, he would make 15 trips to the continent, the last in 2009, during which he celebrated his 80th birthday.
After returning from his first trip to Antarctica, Dr. Bentley joined the Antarctic Data Analysis Center at the University of Wisconsin. He remained in the Geophysical and Polar Research Center, in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, for the rest of his professional life.
Under his direction, the University of Wisconsin Geophysical and Polar Research Center set new standards in instrumentation, acquisition, and interpretation of seismic and radar soundings of the ice. He trained a generation of polar research scientists who have continued to build on his early discoveries.
During his travels, Dr. Bentley discovered a mountain range, the Ellsworth Mountains, the highest peak of which now bears his name, Mt. Bentley, and a subglacial trench the size of Mexico. The Bentley Subglacial Trench is the deepest spot on Earth not covered by an ocean.
Dr. Bentley was also a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Age did not diminish the traits that defined his character; supreme generosity, tenacity, kindness, sharp intellect, a dry sense of humor, insatiable scientific curiosity, and humanitarian impulse. He was deeply loved and will be missed.
Charles Raymond Bentley was born in Rochester, N.Y., on Dec. 23, 1929, the son of Raymond Bentley and Janet Everest. His wife, Mary Belle Goode Bentley, died in 2006. Dr. Bentley is survived by his children, two step-grandchildren, and a grandchild.
A memorial service will be at the FIRST UNITARIAN SOCIETY MEETING HOUSE, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison, on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at 10 a.m.