Climate change talk launches new Fraserburgh science series

What do the north-east whalers of the 19th century and hydrogen bomb-testing by the Soviet Union in the 1960s have in common?

Both have revealed major clues to scientists about the impact of climate change.

They will also be among the topics explored in the first of a new series of free public events launching in Fraserburgh next week.

Dr Douglas Mair from the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Geography and Environment has spent 17 years working on glaciers in the Alps, Arctic Canada, and Greenland.

He will discuss evidence he has gathered in his career for the impact of climate change on ice sheets and rising sea levels on Monday September 20 at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.

Dr Mair will also reveal unique research methods used by scientists to study the effects of climate change in his talk, which begins at 12.30pm.

These methods include “chasing the bomb layer”, where measurements of radioactivity left in ice caps by large scale hydrogen bombs, exploded during testing by the Soviet Union in 1962, helps us to understand how quickly the ice caps in the Canadian High Arctic have shrunk over a 40 year period.

Dr Mair will also discuss the north-east whalers who made some of the earliest observations about climate change in the 19th century.

The men - who set off from the ports of Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen - were among the first to chart the changes occurring to sea ice during their excursions to search for whales in the Arctic and off Greenland.

Dr Mair’s talk is the first event in the new Café Light series which will be hosted by the University of Aberdeen once a month until December at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.

The aim of the Café Light series is to provide a relaxed forum for the discussion of science and technology.

The event is also part of the Techfest In September programme - Aberdeen’s annual festival of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which is supported by joint principal funders BP and Shell

Dr Mair said: “My talk will give an outline of the research efforts I have been involved in over the last 17 years to understand the impact of climate change on glaciers and ice sheets predominantly in Arctic Canada and Greenland.

“Scientists face great challenges when trying to understand climatic changes as we are working in a constantly changing natural environment which is very different to a laboratory where we can control conditions.

“I’ll be outlining some of the research techniques I have used in my career during research expeditions. These techniques include the use of microscopic light sensors in the rivers which flow out from glaciers to help understand the water drainage system underneath ice sheets.

“Different types of water drainage under the ice can control how fast the ice sheets will move which is important because the faster they move, the faster they will decay and ultimately, the quicker sea levels will rise.

“I’ll also discuss the early observations of climate change made by whalers from Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen in the 19th century.

“One of the most famous examples is whaler, David Gray who hailed from Peterhead, who published a major paper in a geographical journal in the1880’s charting changes he had witnessed to sea ice extent.”

Dr Ken Skeldon from the University of Aberdeen’s Public Engagement with Science Team who developed the Café Light series said: “Café Light will provide the public with the chance to experience a slice of science over lunchtime once a month until December.

“Dr Mair’s talk will be a fascinating opening to the series of talks which will each relate to the theme of the sea or marine life in some way.

“Other topics set to be covered include the discovery of 10 possible new rare marine species by University of Aberdeen scientists on a recent expedition to the Atlantic Ocean, and an insight into research which reveals why fishermen could have the healthiest bones.”

 Dr Mair’s talk – Climate Change in the Spotlight – takes place on Monday September 20 at 12.30pm in the café area of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh.

The talk is free to attend and advance booking is not required.

Visitors to the Café Light event will also receive discounted admission to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses on the day.

For the full programme of Café Light events visit  

For more information on the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses visit

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