Product has been added to the basket

Geoscientist Online

Frederick W Harmer - a scientific biography

etyuMany of the fundamental principles and concepts that underpin geology were given to us a long time ago and when we use or refine them we usually don’t remember, let alone give credit to, their originators.  In the last couple of years we have celebrated 'The Father of English Geology', William Smith, but what of the other pioneers?  John Kington sets out with the express purpose of reminding us of the importance of Frederic Harmer (1835-1923). The style of Kington’s narrative is very much 'matter of fact' and there are no revelations to excite the tabloid press; but Peter Norton’s excellent Foreword is more open and  launches the subject into its historical and socio-economic context.

Harmer is most commonly remembered for his studies based on East Anglian Crag molluscs.  Kington takes us through this work and describes how Harmer established a biostratigraphy, identified a cooling trend and expanded on Searles Wood Sr’s monograph.  But Kington rightly reminds us that Harmer investigated the post-Crag Quaternary.  There is particular reference to collaboration with Searles Wood Jr in identifying different ice-sheets from the composition of their tills and in the production of what these collaborators considered to be the first drift map.  The author also takes us through what were early discussions on phenomena of recent research importance viz: a pre-glacial River Thames, glacial lakes, post-glacial fluvial misfits and gaps and differential tilting of the landmass.  It was Harmer who introduced the concept of glacial Lake Oxford, an oversight that is firmly redressed.  

The author is an expert on historical meteorology and he comes into his own in demonstrating that Harmer was ahead of his time in modelling climate change.  Drawing on work that has virtually been overlooked, there is commemoration of the recognition of the importance of global wind patterns, and especially the role of anti-cyclones, in controlling climate.  Kington also recounts how the modelling progressed to account for climatic changes that accompanied changes to the landmasses. Personally, I am grateful to Kington for resurrecting Harmer’s assertion of the increased significance of easterly gales in Crag times.

The book includes a useful list of Harmer’s published and draft works.  Among the illustrations are two detailed geological maps and 39 photographs but the quality of their reprographics is disappointing.  Despite this and a couple of minor errors, this is the most comprehensive and authoritative account of Harmer’s life and work and it achieves its goal of recollecting Harmer’s pioneering achievements.

Reviewed by Howard Mottram

FREDERIC W HARMER: A SCIENTIFIC BIOGRAPHY (SPRINGER BRIEFS IN ENVIRONMENT, SECURITY, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE, VOL 19) by JOHN A KINGTON, 2014. Published by: Springer-Verlag  ISBN 9783319077031: 97pp (sbk): List Price £44.99.