Brian Sissons obituary

Other lives: Leading earth scientist who studied the effects of the Ice Age on the Scottish landscape

Brian Sissons, who has died aged 91, mapped and interpreted the effects of the Ice Age on the Scottish landscape. From the late 1950s until his retirement in 1982, Brian transformed the understanding of the evolution of Scotland’s scenery.

As a fieldworker, Brian surveyed the ways in which the landscape had evolved under glacial and post-glacial conditions. His two books, The Evolution of Scotland’s Scenery (1967) and The Geomorphology of the British Isles: Scotland (1976), provided a synthesis of the current knowledge. He also inspired scores of researchers, including 30 of his own PhD students, of whom I was one.

Brian was born in Batley, West Yorkshire, son of Jack Sissons, a headteacher, and his wife, Elvena (nee Tilley), who had been a local government clerk before her marriage. At Batley grammar school, Brian developed an enduring interest in geomorphology. In 1944 he won an open exhibition to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, but after only three weeks was called up to serve in the Royal Navy. After returning, he graduated with a first in 1950 and stayed in Cambridge to complete his PhD.

In 1953 he was appointed assistant lecturer in the department of geography at Edinburgh University, and apart from a year (1957-58) spent at McGill University, in Canada, remained there until he retired. He earned a DSc from Edinburgh University in 1972 and was awarded the Clough medal of the Edinburgh Geological Society, the research medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and the Back award of the Royal Geographical Society.

Brian’s contributions included assessment of the evidence for the extent and disintegration of the last Scottish ice sheet, deciphering the sea-level changes that accompanied and postdated this, and mapping the extent of the last glaciers to advance in Scotland and the Lake District about 12,000 years ago. At the age of 90 he published two final papers interpreting the evolution of the ice-dammed lakes in the Glen Roy area of the western Highlands.

Brian greatly enjoyed walking in the course of his fieldwork and on holiday in the Lake District, as well as several miles a day around Edinburgh. He played the organ, followed Test cricket matches with avid interest (especially when Yorkshire players were involved), and was a formidable opponent at bridge and Scrabble.

His wife, Betty (nee Thornton), whom he married in 1950, died in 2003. He is survived by his daughter, Jane, his grandchildren, Kate, David and Alastair, and four great-grandsons. His son, Andrew, predeceased him.

Murray Gray

The GuardianTramp

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