Prominent New Zealand scientist Associate Professor Chris de Freitas has died after a two-year struggle with cancer.

Born in 1948, the Trindad-born scientist held many major roles at the University of Auckland, including Deputy Dean of Science and four years as Pro Vice-Chancellor.

He also formerly served as vice-president of the Meteorological Society of New Zealand, vice-president of the International Society of Biometeorology, co-founder of the Australia New Zealand Climate Forum and editor of the international journal Climate Research.

The recently-retired environment researcher and lecturer was well known for his sceptical views on anthropogenic climate change - frequently arguing that the potential impacts of warming had been misunderstood, misinterpreted and distorted - which often made him a controversial and criticised figure within the science community.

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He was credited with more than 200 publications in the areas of applied climatology, bioclimatology, meteorology, environmental change, microclimatology and general review commentaries, including two recent books, New Environmentalism: Managing New Zealand's Environmental Diversity, and Natural Hazards in Australasia.

De Freitas was three times the recipient of the New Zealand Association of Scientists' Science Communicator Award and wrote many pieces for the Herald, the most recent of which was published in January, calling the state of the country's rivers and lakes an "environmental crisis second to none".

"It is an uncontroversial fact that the state of the country's freshwater resources has for decades been moving towards ecological collapse," he said, calling for better policy and better information.

His students appreciated him for an enthusiastic lecturing style, his high expectations that they should think critically and design their investigations well, and he was known to be generous in support of their research endeavours.

His research and writing continue to have an impact in the fields of climatology, bioclimatology and environmental change through the many journal publications and books he wrote during over his long career.

He is survived by wife Nancy and sons Colin and Andrew.