IV Glacial Ice: The Glacial Theory


A picnic near the Zermatt Glacier, from Louis Agassiz, Études sur les glaciers, 1840 (item 30).

In 1840, the British generally thought of an icy world as something exotic, confined to the nearly inaccessible poles of the world.  No one entertained the idea that Great Britain might once been covered in ice, or that ice might have shaped the very landscape of the British Isles.  But that is what a Swiss geologist proposed in 1840. 

Louis Agassiz’s Études sur les Glaciers, which focused on the glaciers of the Alps, may not have seemed pertinent to the British, even when he argued that glaciers had once covered all of Europe.  But then Agassiz came to Great Britain, toured Scotland, and pointed out, everywhere he went, the unmistakable signs of a glacial past. 

Even Charles Darwin, who had just tried to explain certain features of Scottish geology without recourse to glaciers, had to sit up and take notice.


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