Moira Dunbar

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Isobel Moira Dunbar

Isobel Moira Dunbar

(1918-02-03)3 February 1918
Died22 November 1999(1999-11-22) (aged 81)
EducationCranley School for Girls
Alma materSt Anne's College, Oxford
Known forArctic Canada from the Air
AwardsMassey Medal
Meteorological Service of Canada Centennial Award

Isobel Moira Dunbar FRSC OC (3 February 1918 – 22 November 1999) was a Scottish-Canadian glaciologist and Arctic ice researcher.

Early life[edit]

Moira Dunbar was born in 1918 in Edinburgh, Scotland. She grew up in Stornoway, Strathpeffer, and Kilmarnock, and attended Cranley School for Girls.[1] Dunbar studied geography at St Anne's College of the University of Oxford, completing her Bachelor of Arts in 1939.[2] During World War II, she travelled around the United Kingdom with a theatre troupe as an actor and stage manager.[1]


Dunbar emigrated to Canada in 1947 and found work with the Joint Intelligence Bureau, where she studied Arctic ice movement. In 1952 she joined the Defence Research Board in the position of Scientific Staff Officer in the Arctic Research Section.[2][3] She specialised in sea ice and navigation through frozen Arctic waters. In 1954, she applied to join the crew of scientists on a Royal Canadian Navy icebreaker travelling to the Arctic, but her request was denied as women could not be posted on naval vessels. She continued making requests until she was given permission to join an icebreaker with the Department of Transport in 1955.[1][2] She thus became the first woman to conduct scientific research from Canadian icebreakers.[4] She served on numerous icebreakers and spent 560 hours on Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft, studying ice formations in the High Arctic.[2] She was among the first women to fly over the North Pole.[1][4]

Dunbar published numerous papers on Arctic sea ice, and in 1956 she co-authored Arctic Canada from the Air with Keith Greenaway, a navigator with the Royal Canadian Air Force.[3] Dunbar and Greenway's book was an early work in the field of observing sea ice through airborne photography. In her other papers, Dunbar studied the use of radar remote sensing in sea-ice research, promoted the standardisation of sea-ice terminology, and wrote historical accounts of Arctic exploration.[2] She investigated icebreaking methods in the Soviet Union and Finland in 1964, and was an adviser to Arctic hovercraft trials in 1966–1969.[5]

In 1971, Dunbar won the Meteorological Service of Canada's Centennial Award.[3] In 1972 she was awarded the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Massey Medal for "her excellent work in arctic geography and sea ice";[6] she is the only woman to have won the medal.[4] She was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1977.[3] She also served as governor of the Arctic Institute of North America and director of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.[1]

Dunbar retired in 1978 and died on 22 November 1999, at the age of 81.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Moira Dunbar". The Herald. 11 December 1999. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hulbe, Christina L.; Wang, Weili; Ommanney, Simon (2010). "Women in glaciology, a historical perspective" (PDF). Journal of Glaciology. 56 (200): 944–964. Bibcode:2010JGlac..56..944H. doi:10.3189/002214311796406202.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Moira Isobel Dunbar". 22 June 2015. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Vincent, Mary. "Northern exposure". Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  5. ^ Rowley, Diana (10 June 2008). "Isobel Moira Dunbar". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Massey Medal". Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Retrieved 1 November 2015.