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edog2009


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24th Jul 2017
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 22.58hrs on Fri 24 Jan 14
In Martin Kirkbride's paper, it is 'suggested' that (quoted from the paper) "the period ad 1650-1790 was the most conducive time for glacier formation during the last c. 2.8 kyr".

In Stephan Harrison's paper, the only time period discussed for these 'late Holocene' glaciers is the Little Ice Age, which is generally accepted to be from about 1550 to 1850 AD.
firefly


Posts: 2149
Joined: May 2006
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 09.32hrs on Sun 26 Jan 14
I've been asked to post this on Chionophile's behalf, inserting photographic references. It's a fairly comprehensive rebuttal of the recent papers. I've taken the liberty of linking to some photographs within the text, which illustrate the points that are being made.

"I have read the full papers by Kirkbride et al. and Harrison et al., kindly sent to me by both these first authors. As I wrote in my book A Snow Book, Northern Scotland, the evidence at Garbh Choire Mor, the snowiest site in the Cairngorms, is that the supposed moraine ridge is a protalus rampart, fed annually by boulders, soil, vegetation and other debris coming down in avalanches. Other gravel etc comes down in flash floods down the gullies. In recent years I have not been fit enough, due to illnesses, to reach Garbh Choire Mor and check for myself. However, I wrote some suggestions for fieldwork, which were checked and agreed by Sandy Walker of Grantown, the pre-eminent expert on the soils of the Cairngorms and the Spey and Findhorn catchments.

I gave these suggestions to Attila Kish. As I explained in my book A Snow Book, Northern Scotland, Attila dug with a trowel to expose the upper soil, described the ridge's features, and took photographs. The 12-15 inches thickness of dark organic 'topsoil', in fact, mainly aerobic humus and not peat (peat would not develop on such a freely drained ridge), was far too great for a moraine, and clearly was due to continual accretion of organic material such as vegetation and upper soil horizons from the corrie behind, transported mainly by avalanche, but with flash floods and debris flows providing some extra material. After the book was published, Iain Cameron did the same and confirmed the same, with photographs and a video. Such a thick dark horizon would be regarded as unusually thick even for a moorland or woodland soil that had been cultivated.

In areas of acidic bedrock, such as the granite of the Cairngorms, a moraine has a clearly defined soil profile with different soil horizons. These include very thin acidic dark horizons (humus and A1) above a dark greyish horizon or A2 (all these combined often called ‘topsoil’ by laymen), above a strongly coloured orange-brown sandy or gravelly B2 or ‘subsoil’. Other glacial deposits, till or sometimes called boulder clay under the glacier, and fluvio-glacial deposits washed out by glacial rivers, have their own characteristic horizons. This differentiates them more clearly and reliably than any surface measurements by geomorphologists. The paper by Kirkbride et al. mentions moraines and till sheets, but describes no back-up checks using soil pits. In their reply to me in the MCofS website, it is stated that I was incorrect in saying they had dud no soil pit. Well, if they did dig one or more, why were these not mentioned in their paper, which gives only the briefest description of the soil and vegetation?

Both the 2014 papers are typical studies of geomorphologists who fail to dig a single soil pit and ignore fundamental principles of soil science. This failure includes Sugden, who made the priginal proposal of glaciers in several corries of the Cairngorms in the 1700s and one in Garbh Choire Mor in the early 1800s. Kirkbride et al. stated that the ridges in Coire an Lochain of Cairn Gorm, which he called moraines, 'contain angular granite clasts, up to boulder size' (undefined), 'in a matrix of coarse sand and grit'. Hence there was no soil profile in the ridges that he described. This rules out moraines without further ado. The Harrison et al. paper was more reprehensible in omitting to make any description of the below-surface material in the ridge that he studied. However, it should have been an elementary precaution and common sense to dig a pit to examine whether there was a soil profile and to describe it or the lack of it, as well as the vegetation in some detail.

The paper by Harrison et al. is uncritical in dismissing the possibility of a protalus rampart at Garbh Choire Mor on the basis of personal opinions on the unlikelihood of boulders and other debris travelling so far in avalanches (one also needs to take into account other mass movements such as in flash floods and debris flows). This signifies that they have never witnessed avalanches in these corries or their aftermath that can be seen readily in photographs showing a spread of debris down the snowfield below the gullies and cliffs, all the way down to the ridge in Garbh Choire Mor. Kirkbride et al. did not cite my Snow Book of 2011 and hence ignored its evidence. Harrison et al. did cite the book, but dismissed the hypothesis of a protalus rampart because they stated that the distance was too far from the bottom of the cliffs (in fact, the debris comes down from the top of the cliffs, via the gullies especially and also the cliffs themselves during cornice collapse, not just from the bottom of the cliffs). This again shows the lack of experience of Harrison et al. in field observations of debris crossing the snowfield and coming from the tops of the gullies and cliffs..

The claim in Kirkbride et al. about moraines in Coire an Lochain of Cairn Gorm is particularly unlikely. A snow patch survives till winter during very few years in that corrie, whereas in Garbh Choire Mor the patches almost always survive till winter, and hence this is the most likely site for a glacier in Scotland.

At Coire an Lochain I suggest that the ridges in the paper of Kirkbride et al. are a result of debris flows coming down the gullies during intense rainstorms . Such flows gouge deeply into the unstable pink scree and sand and boulders of the gullies, depositing it into fans that reach the lochans below, as well as ridges at the side of the flow where the force is less great. The authors described sharp-angled pink-coloured boulders in a matrix of coarse sand and grit, contrasting with the grey, weathered, more rounded boulders on slopes nearby. The grey colour is due to rock lichens, not mentioned by the authors, whereas the rock lichens cannot grow on loose boulders below the surface in the gullies, owing to lack of light, so one then sees the pink colour of pristine Cairngorms granite. The descriptions by Kirkbride et al. fit exactly with debris flows. In the early hours of 4 July 1976, a severe thunderstorm knocked out the electricity supply at Coire Cas and intense rain caused scores of debris flows in the Lairig Ghru, and some above Loch Avon and in Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain of Cairn Gorm. (Photograph links 1, 2, 3). These occurred within a few hours, and were there when I climbed to the plateau before dawn. In the afternoon I took a few photographs. There were marked ridges in Coire an t-Sneachda and smaller ones but a bigger fan in Coire an Lochain. The tops of the ridges began at about the level of the foot of the cliffs, where the gradient eased. Photographs of the boulders, smaller stones, and sand and gravel showed pink material with no rock lichens.

Both papers are uncritical in not stating the authors’ null hypotheses, and also omitting explicit statements of their alternative or working hypotheses (their favoured ideas). The essence of reliable scientific progress is to search for evidence against one’s working hypothesis. It does not matter how experienced or famed a scientist is, or how many colleagues combine in a paper, if a different person comes up with a better and more reliable story, preferably if it is replicated, or even comes up with a flaw in the arguments. The best practitioners are well aware that this is the case and that their precious conclusions may not stand the test of time and new fieldwork. In consequence, they tend not to be defensive of their conclusions. Strong defensiveness or even anger are natural human traits, but in scientists, though all too common, they signify a less deep experience and indeed immaturity.
Adam Watson"

Stephan


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28th Feb 2014
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 17.26hrs on Mon 27 Jan 14
Dear All
We have presented a statement on this debate on the Dundee University website (link below).



[www.dundee.ac.uk]

Thanks,
Stephan Harrison
moffatross


Posts: 1525
Joined: Mar 2006
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 23.44hrs on Sat 1 Feb 14
[www.edinburghgeolsoc.org]

The Edinburgh Geologist Issue no 43


Mountain Geology
Starting at the Top – Ben Nevis by Suzanne Miller

Introduction

Ben Nevis is one of Britain's most famous natural tourist attractions, one of 284 Munros, and Britain's highest mountain, the summit standing at 1344m. It has recently been bought by The John Muir Trust and forms part of the Nevis Estate which, at 1700 ha (4158 acres), covers roughly the summit and southern slopes of Ben Nevis itself and a string of other peaks to the east with their slopes down to the Water of Nevis. The summits to the east are Carn Mor Dearg (1223 m), Aonach Beag (1234 m), and Sgurr Choinnich Beag (963 m). The area represents a huge volcanic complex, now eroded to its granite roots, that has given rise to the dramatic scenery which harbours glaciers in its north facing corries.

moffatross


Posts: 1525
Joined: Mar 2006
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 23.48hrs on Sat 1 Feb 14
^

All that loo paper and those banana skins must have had quite some albedo effect. winking smiley

Glacier or not, the observatory and hotel would have been amazing places to stay.

[ben-nevis.com]

[ben-nevis.com]







Edited 2 times. Last edit at 00.42hrs Sun 2 Feb 14 by moffatross.
David Goldsmith


Posts: 1283
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6th Nov 2018
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 09.40hrs on Sun 2 Feb 14
Fantastic images, moffatross. Have never seen those. Wonderful!
edog2009


Posts: 146
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24th Jul 2017
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 10.36hrs on Thu 27 Feb 14
I wrote an entry about this issue on my blog if anyone wants a read:

[www.edwardboyle.com]

Any comments welcome!
HTH


Posts: 3210
Joined: Nov 2005
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20th Feb 2018
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Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 21.09hrs on Thu 27 Feb 14
Fascinating debate. I cannot access the full papers (yet) by the Exeter & Dundee authors. But a few thoughts, based on what I've been able to gather...

Stephan (Harrison) probably doesn't want to continue posting on this, but I hope he/they will find perspective from various comments on this thread.

My broad view is that both teams of authors have done substantially remote analysis, using data to develop a model & infer historical events. - That is a valid scientific work, for sure.

Effectively proposing a hypothesis for events on the ground. - But not progressing in any substantive way to use observations to test the hypothesis. (apologies if I'm mistaken)

I have to say that I disagree with the position that Stephan has posted. i.e. he says it behoves an objector to produce evidence to refute the papers' speculation. - That is because I think morally in science, it is accepted that if you propose a hypothetical scenario, then it is your task to continue the work & find the supporting evidence. - I mean experimental/observational work, not just a computer model. Scientific models are validated generally by gathering observations. Weather/Climate models in particular are constantly validate & updated this way.

For me it's a weakness that the papers don't take advantage of the readily available record of observations for these locations including the period speculated, which in itself could have been obtained by contact with active data gatherers. Thus not greatly burdening the original authors to find it. - But by neglecting to take this into account, it has left the door open to this entirely foreseeable argument.

In a nutshell, the person who opens the can of worms has a duty to help tidy the mess. - I'd be delighted if the authors continued working, to make observations & gather data to test the proposition that glaciers occupied those locations at the times suggested. It's not really ideal to make controversial speculation, then leave it hanging there.

firefly


Posts: 2149
Joined: May 2006
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 22.36hrs on Thu 27 Feb 14
When researching Cool Britannia, Adam and I found many references to long-lying snow in the Cairngorms in the 18th to 20th centuries. However, not one of them specifically mentions Coire an Lochain. This is odd, given its very clear visibility from Speyside. It seems, at least to me, curious that Garbh Choire Mor and Ciste Mhearad (both invisible from Speyside, and indeed many places) are mentioned by writers in the 18th and 19th centuries as places where snow is known to persist from year-to-year, yet no record of a larger, more permanent, snow-field or glacier in Coire an Lochain. Some excellent observers documented snow patches (e.g. Sarah Murray-Aust) at this time, but failed to mention Coire an Lochain. Indeed, Murray-Aust records going to the 'snow house' (Ciste Mhearad) in the 1790s. Strange that she would go there, and not to a glacier (if one was present at this time).

In Kirkbride et al, this statement appears: We suggest here that the period ad 1650–1790 was the most conducive time for glacier formation in Scotland during the last c. 2.8 kyr, when the North Atlantic Oscillation was dominantly in negative mode (Luterbacher et al., 2002)..

It is my belief that this date-range can be discounted purely on the grounds given above. Namely, if there had been a glacier there during that time then someone would have mentioned it.
HTH


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20th Feb 2018
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Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 08.40hrs on Fri 28 Feb 14
It would be a significant piece of information relevant to visitor appreciation of the CNP if glaciers had so recently occupied those corries. So you'd expect people to be interested to gather evidence for this being the case.

But I think you're right that the absence of reports during a period when human written history is so well established, is a real & obvious challenge to the hypothesis. As you say, these areas are visible & accessible. They would have been noticed & recorded.

Even the Loch Ness monster has more recorded sightings.
jabuzzard


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22nd May 2020
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 10.42hrs on Fri 28 Feb 14
firefly Wrote:
It is my belief that this date-range can be discounted purely on the grounds given above. Namely, if there had been a glacier there during that time then someone would have mentioned it.


Devils advocate, would those that observed the snow patches that survived from year to year know the difference between those and a glacier? Also without actually visiting them how would one know whether they where a snow patch or a glacier? During the period 1650-1790 the highlands of Scotland where visited by three major armed conflicts and their aftermath. One presumes that as a result spare leisure time to visit these "snow patches" was rather very limited.

I would note that glaciers can form very quickly

[en.wikipedia.org]

So the period 1650-1790 is more than enough for them to form, and if certain snow patches did not melt in that period it is not unreasonable to assume they had made the transition to a glacier.

Also what is the difference between a persistent snow patch that turns to ice but is insufficiently large to actually start sliding down the mountain and a proper glacier that does move?
firefly


Posts: 2149
Joined: May 2006
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 11.08hrs on Sat 1 Mar 14
jabuzzard Wrote:
Devils advocate, would those that observed the snow patches that survived from year to year know the difference between those and a glacier? Also without actually visiting them how would one know whether they where a snow patch or a glacier? During the period 1650-1790 the highlands of Scotland where visited by three major armed conflicts and their aftermath. One presumes that as a result spare leisure time to visit these "snow patches" was rather very limited.

The point I was making, jabuzzard, is that it seems to me highly unlikely that travellers would mention Ciste Mhearad (the snow house) by name, and go to the bother of visiting it. Why would they do such a thing, and why was it (Ciste Mhearad) called 'the snow house in the 1700s? My contention is that if there were a glacier/large snow-patch existing in Coire an Lochain during the 1700s then - surely - it would have received the sobriquet 'snow house' instead? It is a logical and reasonable inference that it was called this because it held the longest lying snow in the area. This supposition is backed up by the fact that you can't see it from Speyside, whereas Coire an Lochain you can.

jabuzzard Wrote:
So the period 1650-1790 is more than enough for them to form, and if certain snow patches did not melt in that period it is not unreasonable to assume they had made the transition to a glacier.

I disagree. Just because a snow-patch doesn't melt, and becomes larger year-on-year (as undoubtedly happened at periods during the LIA), doesn't mean it's a fait accompli that it'll become a glacier.

jabuzzard Wrote:
Also what is the difference between a persistent snow patch that turns to ice but is insufficiently large to actually start sliding down the mountain and a proper glacier that does move?

Hydrologically speaking, glacier ice has to have a density of 0.85g per cubic centimetre. There is also a perception, so I'm told, that a glacier only becomes such when it starts to move, and affects the surrounding landscape (such as the glacier postulated in the paper). So in theory a snow-patch could be older than a glacier, if that criterion is applied. An example of this is the fascinating Kuranosuke snow patch in Japan, estimated at 1700 years-or-so old. [www.seppyo.org]


firefly


Posts: 2149
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Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 18.39hrs on Thu 6 Mar 14
An interesting little snippet from the SAIS today.

[2.bp.blogspot.com]

Massive block of avalanche debris in Coire an t-Sneachda. Quite a way from the back wall of the cirque, and about the same distance (looking at the map and image) as the boulder ridge is from the back wall of Garbh Choire Mor. Avalanche debris sometimes can and does travel much farther than expected.
HTH


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20th Feb 2018
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Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 19.23hrs on Thu 6 Mar 14
That is massive. Is that Jacob's in background? If so, it's filled pretty full.

As for the giant snowball.... If only Tunnocks did them that size!
firefly


Posts: 2149
Joined: May 2006
Re: Scotlands last glacier....18th Century
Date Posted: 08.21hrs on Tue 6 May 14
As a post-script to this, I was reviewing some photographs at the weekend and happened across an interesting image from Chionophile. Significant avalanche debris in August 1975, right by the boulder ridge. This boulder ridge is the one stated as being 'too far' away from the coire headwall to be affected by avalanches.

Garbh Choire Mor - 12.8.75





Edited 1 times. Last edit at 08.21hrs Tue 6 May 14 by firefly.
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