Estonian academia has suffered a heavy loss. Rein Ahas, professor in human geography at the University of Tartu, passed away on Sunday, February 18 at the age of just 51.
Professor Ahas was an embodiment of the ideal geographer. He graduated in physical geography and nature conservation at the University of Tartu in 1991. He continued his studies in the Master’s degree programme, from which he graduated in 1994, before continuing on the Doctoral programme. He defended his PhD thesis “Spatial and temporal variability of phenological phases in Estonia” in 1999. This study contributed substantially to the Green-Wave theory that bases itself on the annual flux of plant phenophases across the Northern Hemisphere. The article published from this thesis is the most cited paper in its field. It has become a classic study that was awarded the “John Russell Mather Paper of the Year” by the Association of American Geographers’ Climate Specialty Group. Professor Ahas was also awarded the distinguished “Junior Prigogine Medal” for his contribution to the study of the phenological development of ecosystems.
After his PhD defense, Professor Ahas fundamentally switched his research field from physical geography to human geography and achieved even more success. Regardless of the short time that he had to develop this new line of research, he was elected Professor of Human Geography at the University of Tartu in 2006. Professor Ahas was appointed as a Research Professor at the Academy of Sciences of Estonia during 2013–15.
Professor Ahas and his team established a methodology based on mobile phone positioning. It provides a more comprehensive way to measure the behaviour of society and personal activity space, in order to find solutions for many planning tasks and practical decisions. He successfully organised several international research meetings and conferences.
The Smart City real-time geographical approach created in collaboration with world-leading centres of excellence (Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Switzerland, Ghent University in Belgium, Tsinghua University in China and many others) is applied increasingly all over the world. Professor Ahas introduced “Smart Cities” as a lecture series whilst working as a visiting professor in many worldwide locations. Several foreign PhD students and postdoctoral researchers have come to study and develop the topic in Tartu.
An unexpected and inexplicably painful blow of fate interrupted the success story, which now has to be continued by Rein Ahas’ students and colleagues. A wise and poised conservationist, Ahas was a president of the Tartu Students’ Nature Protection Circle in the 1980s and a member of the Estonian Green Movement in the early 1990s. Rein was an enthusiastic cross-country skier, snowboarder, fisherman and an activist of local life in the village of Kooraste. The symbiosis of nature and culture that Rein fostered expressed itself in his poems and lyrics. Many of them will keep haunting us.
Rest in peace, Rein.
You will be mourned by colleagues and friends from the Department of Geography, University of Tartu.