Moira Dunbar | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Moira Dunbar

Isobel Moira Dunbar, OC, FRSC, public servant, ice research scientist (born 3 February 1918 in Edinburgh, Scotland; died 22 November 1999 in Ottawa, ON).

A graduate of Oxford University, where she studied geography, Moira Dunbar immigrated to Canada in 1947 after seven years in professional theatre. She joined the Arctic Section of the Defence Research Board (DRB) at a period when scientific work in the North was growing. Collaborating with K. R. Greenaway, she produced the work Arctic Canada from the Air (1956). Consisting of text and aerial images, the book was many Canadians’ first thorough introduction to Arctic landscapes. The project led to Dunbar’s interest in arctic exploration.

She later specialized in sea-ice research, particularly the climatological aspects, and was the first woman to join summer cruises on Canadian government icebreakers. Observations on these cruises and on reconnaissance flights over the arctic islands led to her analytical studies of ice conditions and work on the standardization of ice terminology.

Like many women scientists of her time, Moira Dunbar faced gender-based discrimination in her career. She was initially barred from participating in traditionally all-male air and sea expeditions, despite her qualifications. She persevered, however, and managed to gain access to both.

Dunbar was active in evaluating remote sensors for collecting ice data and pioneered sideways-looking radar for airborne reconnaissance. She also visited the Soviet Union and Finland in 1964 to study icebreaking practices, worked as ice adviser on the DRB’s hovercraft trials from 1966 to 1969, and observed the cruise of the Manhattan in 1969 to test supertankers in ice. Author of many scientific articles, she received the Massey Medal in 1972, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1973 and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1976. She retired in 1978. Her brother was arctic oceanographer Maxwell John Dunbar.

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