Surveying glaciers in the Lake District and Norway spurred the launch of Brathay Exploration Group and led to some vital early work in understanding climate change.

This story will surprise many of you. Over seventy years ago there were members of our Brathay Exploration Group whose work was laying the foundations of our discoveries about how the world climate didn’t just happen; it was something in which we, for better or for worse, were playing a part.

It all began through a meeting at the Cambridge University Geography Department.  A scientist, Vaughan Lewis, wanted more facts about how glaciers worked. And remember the whole of our Lake District was moulded by glaciers. One of his students, Brian Ware, who had already spent time on the Brathay staff, was asked to take teams of young people into our hills to measure the underwater shapes of all the tarns. Glaciers had helped form these tarns and Lewis believed that glaciers did strange things. How come the overflow lips of these basins were so solid? Did those glaciers once move uphill? (For those still wondering, the answer is yes!)

Glaciers left the Lakes long ago but not so in Norway. So, the Brathay Group also went there to study them for real. They not only measured them; they dug holes in them. They tunnelled into them. And they even camped on them. This, in cooperation with the Cambridge University geographers. All challenging stuff and soon also done by the Brathay Group and other young people in Iceland.

That Cambridge connection has now been celebrated back in the University for it is just a hundred years since that Body founded the Department to give degrees in that subject: the Geographical Tripos. As a student of 1950 I was there joining in the fun. And I was able to remind people what a spur they were to the establishment of the Brathay Exploration Group. One of their staff, from my day and now in his nineties, has recorded his life work and in that he glimpses what became the beginnings of our perceptions about Climate Change. 

All will be revealed very soon in part two of this blog!