W. Brian Harland

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W. Brian Harland
Born Walter Brian Harland
(1917-03-22)22 March 1917
Scarborough, United Kingdom
Died 1 November 2003(2003-11-01) (aged 86)
Cambridge, United Kingdom
Residence United Kingdom
Nationality British
Fields Geology
Institutions University of Cambridge
Alma mater Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge
Notable awards Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society (1968)
Lyell Medal (1976)

Walter Brian Harland (22 March 1917 – 1 November 2003) was a geologist at the University of Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences, England.[1] In 1968, he was honoured with the Royal Geographical Society Gold Medal for Arctic exploration and research.

Personal background[edit]

Harland was born 22 March 1917 in Scarborough, the son of Walter Ernest Harland (1880-1947), auctioneer and estate agent, and his wife, Alice Marian, nee Whitfield (1883-1954). He was educated at Bootham School[2][3] in York and Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated in Geological Sciences and took his PhD. He was deeply interested in the interactions between science, philosophy, and religion, and for most of his life was a Quaker.,[2] Harland married Elisabeth Lewis in 1942 and they had one son and three daughters. Brian Harland died in Cambridge 1 November 2003.

Professional background[edit]

Harland spent much of the Second World War teaching at West China University, now known as the Chengdu University of Technology, and later in life would become a trustee of the Needham Research Institute and a fellow of Caius.[citation needed]

Brian Harland spent 43 field seasons in the geological mapping of the Polar archipelago of Svalbard, beginning in 1938 and ending in the 1980s, leading 29 expeditions. The ice field "Harlandisen" on the main island of Spitsbergen is named in his honour.[citation needed] The University retains a collection of some 70,000 specimens collected over these years as well as the documentary archive.[citation needed]

Harland played an early role in the avocation of the theory of continental drift and making the first observations of the global occurrence of glaciation, which were to form the foundations of Snowball Earth theory. He was also a figure in the ongoing maintenance of the International Geologic timescale.[citation needed]

Brian was a Demonstrator in the Department of Geology (later Earth Sciences) Cambridge University 1946-48, Lecturer 1948-66, Reader 1966-84 and Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge 1950-84 (life Fellow 1984-2003). He was instrumental in the establishment of the Cambridge Arctic Shelf Programme (CASP).[citation needed]


In 1968, Dr. W. Brian Harland received the Royal Geographical Society Founders Gold Medal for Arctic exploration and research.[4]


The records of the Cambridge Svalbard Exploration Collection (ref. CSEC) are at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. The collection contains accounting records, administration files, expedition notes, and equipment records which all relate to work undertaken in Svalbard (Spitsbergen) from 1949 until 1992. Much of this material includes far more information than has been previously published about the expeditions or the work undertaken. Most of the expedition records are organized on the twinlock system – and include administrative papers, logs of each party, bulletins, accounts, as well as specimen, station, negative, and photograph catalogues, and copies of field notes. Individual field notebooks include diary entries, observations, details of specimens, and sketches. These were written and maintained by each individual and later amalgamated by Walter Brian Harland (1917-2003) after each expedition (and its subsequent research) was completed. The collection also includes glass plate photographs, miscellaneous tapes, photograph albums, offprints of articles, maps and plans, index cards & notes (specimen catalogues), curation reports (1990s), and some objects. There are also a series of records (reports) of the Norsk-Cambridge Svalbard Expeditions (NCSE) and Cambridge Archive Shelf Programme (CASP). A collection-level description is available to explore on Archives Hub


  1. ^ "W. B. Harland - Obituaries, News". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  2. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. ^ Woodland, Jenny, ed. (2011). Bootham School Register. York, England: Bootham Old Scholars Association. OCLC 844773709. 
  4. ^ Gold Medal recipients Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., Royal Geographic Society. Retrieved 2011-02-02.

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