New Zealand's science community is mourning the loss of a renowned glaciologist who did much to document dramatic changes in the Southern Alps over recent decades.

Trevor Chinn, 81, died yesterday in Otago after earlier suffering a stroke.

The glaciologist, geologist and meteorologist had built a reputation as a respected authority on New Zealand's glaciers. He had only recently attended a national meteorology summit.

Much of our understanding of our slowly receding glaciers owed to Chinn's 60-year career, which included stints for the former Ministry of Works, GNS Science and Niwa.

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In 2014, he told New Zealand Geographic how a childhood visit to Franz Josef Glacier inspired his life-long passion for glaciology.

"For the rest of my life I was drawn to that spectacular ice," he told the magazine.

Since his landmark aerial survey in 1977, the South Island's glaciers have shrunk by a third in area – and last year's record-hot summer proved the biggest melt on record.

Chinn was with the group of scientists who conducted the latest survey.

"Trev as a scientist was very innovative, and also had a lot of foresight," long-time colleague Professor Jim Salinger said.

"The snowline programme which Trev instituted in 1977 was well ahead of its time and he managed to go on every flight of the 42 years.

"This was always the climax of Trev's year, and he loved jumping all over the Cessna to take his photos."

Chinn is survived by his wife Barbara, their two sons and three grandchildren.

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