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Ice Age discovered in Scotland
11/09/2003
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The theories of a continental-scale Ice Age were first tested in Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the British Geological Survey will explain today at the start of Rock On: the 4th Scottish Geology Festival. The festival runs between 13th– 28th September and focuses on the theme of ice.

The 15-day festival, which includes more than 100 events throughout Scotland, will begin with the opening of Witch Craig viewpoint, a new geological viewpoint in West Lothian where ice played a major role in carving out the landscape. As part of the celebration school pupils will create a 21st century ice sheet at Witch Craig.

Although the idea of continental scale glaciation was developed by the Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz, he first tested it during a tour of the west Highlands in 1840 where he found abundant traces of former glaciers, notably in Glen Roy and Glen Spean. The results of his discovery were published in The Scotsman on 7 October 1840.

John Markland, Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage said: “Scottish Geology Festival is a chance for everyone to discover something about the turbulent history of the ground beneath their feet. Scotland’s unique rock formations and landscapes have made it one of most important centres of geological study and innovation in the world and are a key part of our natural heritage. The ice age in particular, this year’s theme for the festival, left its mark throughout the country and helped geologists throughout the world understand the processes of glaciation.

“There is an exciting range of events, including talks, walks, and exhibitions, going on around the country which we hope will encourage people to learn something about Scotland’s geological history. There were times when dinosaurs roamed the landscape of Skye, when the Moray Firth was a dusty desert, when Fife and Ayrshire were swamps like the Florida Everglades and when ice sheets and glaciers helped carve out and shape the landscape of today.”

The opening of Witch Craig Viewpoint, which has been organised by landowners Elspeth and Andy Gibbs, is the first event in Rock On, a celebration of geology for the people of Scotland from Shetland to the Borders. The lookout wall and resting place includes 43 special rocks collected from Central Scotland, and interpretation information of the landscape seen from this point. Ice sheets covered Scotland until as recently as 15,000 years ago, and in West Lothian they helped form many of the area’s most distinctive features, such as the long oval ridges (crag and tail landforms).

Nick Golledge, geomorphologist at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh said:
“Scotland displays a wonderful diversity of glaciated landscapes, from the
jagged peaks of the Western Highlands to the rolling plateaux of the
Cairngorms, 'U'-shaped troughs such as the Great Glen and smooth foreland
areas like North-East Scotland. It was these landforms that helped Louis Agassiz prove his theory of an ice age that affected much of present-day Northern Europe. Later, officers of the Geological Survey such as Archibald Geikie were the first to systematically describe the 'glacial drifts' of Scotland, back in 1863. Scottish scientists now link the land-based glacial deposits with those found offshore, and by comparing the data with ice core records from around the world continue to
unravel the way our climate has changed over the last tens and even hundreds
of thousands of years.”

West Lothian Council Leader Graeme Morrice said: “We are delighted to have supported this important project. Geology is probably the least known natural heritage feature of West Lothian. A lot is known about its wildlife and the landscape but what underlies it is a mystery to most of us. We would like to congratulate Elspeth and Andy Gibbs for their contribution in raising the awareness and understanding of the local geology by the construction of this innovative viewpoint. With its proximity to Beecraigs Country Park it is hoped that many people will visit it and enjoy the magnificent view, but also use the interpretation leaflet to understand the wealth of the geology around us.”

Scottish Geology Festival is held biennially and is organised by National Museums of Scotland, Hunterian Museum, British Geological Survey, Dynamic Earth, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Earth Science Education Forum and the Open University and Glasgow geological societies. The Scottish Geology Festival is supported by Scotrail and Quarry Products Association Scotland.
For more information on events around the country click on: www.scottishgeology.com or call Tel: 0131 446 2270.

Journalists are invited to attend the start of Scottish Geology Week and the launch of the Witch Craig Geological Viewpoint on Thursday 11th September at 11am. To reach the viewpoint follow signs for Beecraigs Country Park, near Torphichen, off the B792, and park at the Scottish Korean War Memorial car park. The viewpoint is signposted from here. Speakers will launch the new viewpoint and there will be a photo opportunity of local children building a 21st century glacier with blocks of ice at the viewpoint.

For media information contact: Sarah Roe, National Press and PR Officer Tel: 0131 446 2270 mobile: 07787 836010
Notes to editors
· In 1842 Louis Agassiz wrote: 'It was in Scotland that I acquired precision in my ideas regarding ancient glaciers. The existence in that country of so considerable a network of these traces, enabled me to appreciate better the geological mechanism of glaciers and the importance of many facts of detail observed in the neighbourhood of those which now exist'.
· Scottish Natural Heritage is the Scottish Executive’s statutory advisor on the conservation, enhancement, enjoyment, understanding and sustainable use of the Scotland’s natural heritage.