Moira Dunbar broke ground as first woman ice researcher in Canada’s High Arctic

March 8, 2023 - Defence Stories


Dr. Susan Rowley, Mr. John Weaver, Ms. Janice Lang during the Moira Dunbar Conference Room commemoration ceremony on February 9, 2023.

On International Women’s Day, DRDC is celebrating the distinguished scientific career of the late Moira Dunbar, who was the first woman ice researcher in Canada’s High Arctic in the 1950s and the first woman researcher to use airborne radar to study ice in Canada’s High Arctic.

Moira Dunbar joined the Defence Research Board (DRB) in Ottawa in 1952, a time when scientific work in the North was just starting.  She was able to overcome the attitudes of the day regarding the inclusion of a woman on military aircraft and icebreakers, and traveled north with the crews, becoming a recognized expert on sea ice and its movements.

She served on numerous icebreakers and spent 560 hours on Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircraft, studying ice formations in the High Arctic and pioneering the use of sideways-looking radar to support her analysis. The combined knowledge and experience she gained enabled her to publish numerous papers on Arctic sea ice, including ‘Arctic Canada from the Air’, the 1956 book she co-authored with RCAF navigator Keith Greenaway, which is still considered essential material in the fields of Arctic and sea ice science.  Moira Dunbar received many honours during her career, including the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Massey Medal in 1972, her election as a Fellow within the Royal Society of Canada in 1973 in recognition of her scientific leadership, and her appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1976.

DRDC Ottawa Research Centre (ORC) renamed its largest Conference Room as the Moira Dunbar Conference Room during a dedication ceremony on Thursday, February 9, 2023 as part of celebrations for DRDC’s 75th anniversary and the International Day for Women and Girls in Science. The staff of ORC was privileged to be joined virtually by Moira Dunbar’s goddaughter, Dr. Susan Rowley, from the University of British Columbia. Dr. Rowley spoke eloquently of Moira Dunbar’s enthusiasm for excellence in science, her dedication, and her scientific leadership.

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