Curtis Roland Olsen, 71

Dr. Curtis Roland Olsen, age 71, died April 12, 2022, eleven years after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He was born in Portland, Oregon on September 4, 1950, to Roland and Gladys Olsen. He graduated from Portland’s Cleveland High School in 1968. As an undergraduate student at Columbia College, New York, he majored in two Departments: Biology and Geology. He received his Ph.D. in the area of biogeochemistry from Columbia University in the City of New York in 1979. His doctoral research was conducted at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY, and focused on the dispersal and fate of contaminants and particulate matter in the Hudson River watershed and adjacent coastal marine environment. Curtis was awarded his first research grant as a principal investigator while he was at Lamont-Doherty. He authored or co-authored numerous research papers, book chapters, and documents throughout his career, beginning with his first publications in 1978.


In 1980 Curtis joined the research staff in the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). His research at ORNL involved using the distribution of biogeochemical tracers to study the environmental processes linking interactions among atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine systems. He was awarded ORNL’s Author of the Year and the Martin Marietta Jefferson Cup for Excellence for significant new findings on the behavior of particles, carbon, and contaminants at the land/ocean interface.


In 1990, Curtis began working at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Biological and Environmental Research in Germantown, Maryland. As Technical Program Manager, he managed environmental research grants and educational fellowships at universities and research institutions, and Small Business Innovative Research Awards covering five programmatic areas. In DOE’s Ocean Research, he developed and directed the major U.S. integrated multi-disciplinary effort for understanding the role and importance of ocean-margin systems in the global carbon cycle. As part of the international Joint Global Ocean Flux Study and the World Circulation Experiment (WOCE), he directed the U.S. effort to produce a global description of the oceanic carbonate system along the WOCE hydrographic lines, and to quantify ocean-atmosphere interactions and the oceanic sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. He also administered the DOE Global Change Education and Fellowships Program, initiated a Minority College and Universities Faculty/Student Research/Education Awards Program, served as DOE’s representative on nine Interagency Coordination Committees, and organized and conducted external panel reviews and programmatic workshops.


In 1999 Curtis became Chair of the Environmental Earth and Ocean Sciences Department at the University of Massachusetts, Boston (UMASS). He was one of the principle investigators funded by the National Science Foundation to perform exploratory research to determine whether the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center impacted the sediments and sedimentation in New York Harbor. After his term as Chair, he enjoyed overseeing his doctoral students and teaching his undergraduates. His service included being Co-Chair of the Marine Sciences Working Group, a partnership between the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and UMASS, and involvement in the New England Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence.


Curtis returned to Oak Ridge in 2013. He was genuinely enthusiastic about his work and his play. He enjoyed fishing with his dad, picking beans and berries with his mom, summers on the farm with his grandparents, skiing Mt. Hood with his sister, and traveling the world, and learning Tai Chi and various dances, from clogging to tango, with his wife. He was proud of his stepchildren and grandchildren and enjoyed spending time with them. Curtis was hardworking, joyful, kind, compassionate, and generous and he is greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.


Curtis was preceded in death by his parents.

He is survived by his wife, Anna Suttle; sister Dr. Kathie L. Olsen; stepson, Tim Hammons, wife Laura, and their children Lucas and Sarah; step-daughter Dr. Pamela S. Hammons, and wife, Dr. Gema Peréz-Sanchéz; brother-in-law Bruce Suttle and wife Sally; aunt Wilma Loftesness; and cousins Alan, Julie, Randy, Patricia, Joan, Richard, Holly, Erika, Aimee, Dana, James, and Michael.


The family would like to thank the employees at Alexander Guest House and NHC HealthCare Oak Ridge who helped care for Curtis during the final years of his illness. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in honor of Curtis to the Columbia College Fund (college.columbia.edu). the Alzheimer’s Association (alzfdn.org), or to a nonprofit organization of your choice.

The family will host a memorial service will at United Church, Chapel on the Hill in Oak Ridge on July 7, 2022, at 11 am. Online condolences may be left at weatherfordmortuary.com.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Curtis, please visit our floral store.

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