You are here

Remembering Professor Emerita Estella Leopold - article in KUOW

Thursday, March 7, 2024 - 12:15

Professor Emerita Estella Leopold passed away on February 25, 2024, at the age of 97. KUOW published a story on her legacy.


Seattle scientist and conservationist Estella Leopold has died at the age of 97.

Leopold spent most of her career at the University of Washington, teaching and learning about the distant past through pollen deposits.

A paleobotanist by training, she helped document the earthquake hazard that runs beneath central Puget Sound, now known as the Seattle Fault. A study she coauthored of pollen and other fossils from Bainbridge Island showed that a massive earthquake 1,000 years ago had abruptly lifted the island’s southeast tip as much as 23 feet.

Such a quake today would send a tsunami barreling into West Seattle and downtown Seattle with little warning.

After Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980, Leopold fought a U.S. Forest Service plan to seed the area with exotic grasses. She advocated for the area to become a national monument, which it did in 1982.

She published more than 100 scientific papers over half a century, even after her retirement in 2000, and released her third book in 2023. According to, she also wrote anonymous background papers to help advocates fight projects like damming the Grand Canyon.

Leopold had been hoping to put out a revised edition of her latest book — on her mother, also named Estella — when she died, according to longtime University of Washington colleague, biology professor Dee Boersma.

“She was really not ready to go,” Boersma said.

Boersma said Leopold had incredible determination and optimism.

“She always thought things would get better,” Boersma said.

Estella Leopold was the youngest of five children of author and biologist Aldo Leopold, one of the most influential figures in the American conservation movement.

Read the full article on KUOW.


Fields of interest: