Over the last couple of weeks I have been watching the BBC documentary, “Men of Rock” (Part 1, Part 2), which details how some of the key ideas in modern geology were formulated, either by Scotsmen or by other geologists working in Scotland. The third and final episode, “The Big Freeze” focuses on the discovery that ice ages have occurred in the past. The program begins by examining the contributions of the Swiss geologist, Louis Agassiz, who was able to link the landforms of the Scottish highlands with those in the Swiss Alps, particularly in relation to glaciers; it also includes great footage of the presenter, Iain Stewart, climbing down a crevasse in a Swiss glacier to examine the changes in ice structure.
The next topic is the development of climate cycles by James Croll, a self-taught scientist, who was one of the first to reconcile changes in the orbit of the earth with climatic variations and also recognise albedo. These ideas were further developed by a Serb, Milutin Milankovitch, and as such as known by earth science students around the world as Milankovitch Cycles. Nerilie Abram, a research fellow at RSES, makes a cameo in her former role at the British Antarctic Survey, explaining how they have used ice cores from the Antarctic to examine and date these climatic cycles.
Overall the episode gives a good explanation of how the concept of ice ages, so crucial to our understanding of the modern Earth, was developed. I enjoyed this series as it involves a bit of everything, genuine science and the history of its development, the people involved, spectacular scenery, particularly of the Scottish Highlands as well as looking inside laboratories.