The Cairngorms glacier controversy: where now?

There has been considerable interest in the recent publication of two papers (Harrison et al., 2014; Kirkbride et al., 2014) which each, in very different ways, present evidence that a glacier or glaciers formed in the Cairngorm Mountains during in the “Little Ice Age”. These papers have attracted criticism from Dr Adam Watson, a highly-respected retired scientist, author, campaigner, and commentator on Cairngorm affairs, and someone who I have always held in high regard. It is of course, anybody’s right to criticise scientific ideas, and I and my co-authors have no issue with the fact that our work is open to criticism and debate.

Slide2-500.jpgHowever, our professional competence and credibility is being called into question without these criticisms being subject to peer review.  This statement is our final response to Adam’s latest comments, but we are not using it to add to the debate. Enough has been said, and it’s for others to form their own views based on the evidence and arguments already presented from both sides.

We stand by everything in our paper (Kirkbride et al., 2014) because there isn’t a single piece of evidence that we present that has been refuted. Please note that we weren’t working in Garbh Choire Mor, so this whole discussion is tangential. We don’t present detailed soil data, so this evidence is neither here nor there until such data become available (once someone obtains permission to dig soil pits in this sensitive location).

The two papers are quite separate studies which were published side-by-side. Kirkbride et al. present field evidence for a small glacier in Coire an Lochain (see photographs), and make a glaciological analysis to test the viability of the glacier reconstruction. Harrison et al. present a computer model whose primary value is to show that only a small shift towards snowier climate was needed to create glaciers. It is primarily a sensitivity test. We hope readers will read the original papers before forming a view (Kirkbride et al. will be available in open access later this week).Slide3-940.jpg

For the record, here are links to the original BBC report (with its completely inappropriate photograph!), and the various items which Adam has uploaded, in the order they appeared.

“Scotland had a glacier up to 1700s, say scientists”

“Glacier claim challenged”

(Mountaineering Council of Scotland website, with my first reply appended)

“Doubt cast on Cairngorm glacier”

(The same item on both sites)

“Cairngorm glacier: a reply to Adam Watson”

(My second reply to the above)

“Re. Scotland’s last glacier: 18th century”,160860,160987#msg-160987

The way forward now is surely for our critic to submit his comments to the journal The Holocene in which the work was published, and to which we would have a right to reply. Both would be peer-reviewed by fellow scientists. Clearly there is plenty of scope for more research to be done.

Dr Martin Kirkbride

Dr Jez Everest

Dr Stephan Harrison

Prof Neil Glasser

 On behalf of their co-authors



Harrison S., Rowan, A.V., Glasser, N.F., Knight, J., Plummer, M.A. and Mills, S.C. (2014): Little Ice Age glaciers in Britain: Glacier–climate modelling in the Cairngorm Mountains. The Holocene 24 (2), 135-140. doi:10.1177/0959683613516170

Kirkbride, M., Everest, J., Benn, D., Gheorghiu, D. and Dawson, A. (2014) Late-Holocene and Younger Dryas glaciers in the northern Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland. The Holocene 24 (2), 141-148.


Both can be found at:

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