Scotland’s Oldest Snow Patch May Not See Another Sunrise

By Amy Klinkhammer | September 20, 2017 3:50 pm

(Credit: Iain Cameron)

Resting beneath the 1,000-foot cliffs of Scotland’s Aonach’s Beag mountain range, The Sphinx –one of the country’s proudest snowcaps—is on its deathbed.

“It’s a very sorry sight,” says Iain Cameron, a leading snow expert and arguably one of Edinburgh’s most dedicated “snow patchers,” a group of people who seek out and track the changes in the island’s coldest landmarks. These patches “tend to sit in the little gullies and corries below the peaks,” Cameron told Atlas Obscura. The Sphinx, which dwells between the higher points of the Garbh Choire Mor in the Cairngorms, is not only Scotland’s oldest snow patch, but is typically its most vigorous.

The island’s craggy and dynamic slopes offer a place for snow patches to nestle throughout the warmer spring months. Some, like The Sphinx, have even been known to endure until the end of summer. On average, there are nearly 100 patches left come September. These numbers, sadly, have plummeted in recent years, and continue to do so at a chilling rate.


In 2016 there were approximately 82 patches remaining by the end of summer. This year, only two remain.

Cameron, who has been dutifully tracking the Sphinx’s final hours, is keeping vigil over the once proud patch, which could already be gone by the time of this writing. Should Cameron’s predictions hold true, this will be the first time in over 11 years that Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain range, is completely snowless.

As sad as it is to see these snow pockets circling the drain, their demise has led to an increasing level of awareness regarding these subtle but potent changes in climate. Cameron explained to The Guardian that, “a multitude of people are now aware of what I do.” His enthusiasm has also inspired a group of volunteers to conduct annual surveys, which have been providing the scientific community with valuable data since 2008.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
MORE ABOUT: climate change
  • Uncle Al

    Does it have a Medical Directive? Emergency medevac to Greenland, then do an allograft. After it has grown large and strong, frozen transport to IceCube observatory in Antarctica to be, ah, observed.

    It also happened in 1933 and 1959, long before an Al Goreithm describing the half man, half bear, half pig cryptid. Youtube v=xf69EEL3WBk

  • kapnlogos

    Snow patches are a function of many variables, as are glaciers. One of the most important is how much snow falls on it during the winter, and secondly how warm it gets during the next summer. Dry ( snow free) winters might be caused by lack of humidity in the air, and since the whole island is surrounded by an ocean heated by the sun. Warm water gives off more water vapor as it’s vapor pressure goes up, warm air loaded with more water vapor (higher partial pressure of H2O) weighs less than air without water vapor and given a chance will rise. Also what must be accounted for is to be the increased greenhouse effect of water vapor and the reflective nature of clouds that work to attenuate heating. I understand some of the basics, but I’ve yet to see any explanations of all these factors. Other factors include cosmic rays impacting our upper atmosphere during our sunspot free sun cycle, which impact our weather. Inquiring minds want to know.

  • OWilson

    Seems like no Scottish Glen will be too remote for our intreoid global warmers to measure, but only IF it looks like it might be evidence of impeding doom.

    They’ll just ignore all other signs of the times, like the two main Poster Child Greenland glaciers, the Petermann Glacier, and the Jakobshavn Glacier, which are actually growing yerar to year over the last few years.

    Likewise, the other AGW Poster Child, Glacier National Park in Montana, has photoraphic proof of recent year over year glacier growth.

    Balanced MSM news, is a terrible thing to waste, and this is at least one area, where “more study is needed”. :)


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