Science in Antarctica

10 Jan

I am giving a number of talks on Antarctica this year; obviously a most important year in relation to the commemoration of the deaths of the British Polar Party in 1912.  People remain fascinated by the achievements of the early twentieth century explorers.

But history is only a part of Antarctica; scientific advances on the continent have focussed the world’s attention on it as a platform for pivotal new information about the universe.

Since the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58 (when scientists from many nations cooperated for the first time on scientific projects) and the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 (which set aside territorial claims and ensured the freedom of scientific projects), a vast amount of information has been gathered: weather balloons floating above the continent raised the first concerns about global warning, the South Pole telescope will survey thousands of galaxies. ‘Ice Cube’s a powerful telescope that searches for dark matter and is collecting information on neutrinos, Ice Cores (which retrieve a core of ice from deep below the Antarctic surface), give us information about the geological conditions existing hundreds of thousands of years ago. Antarctic lakes have been found deep below the ice with living creatures in them.

Truly a place of important ongoing possibilities, potential and fascination.

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6 Responses to “Science in Antarctica”

  1. F.M. McEwen January 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    A most interesting book and extremely well written.

    • isobelpwilliams January 18, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      The more you learn about a subject the more interesting it becomes and the more involved you get.
      I really admired Wilson and, I have learnt. I am only one of very many who have become fascinated by the way he conducted his life and his Christian beliefs.

  2. Adrian Raeside January 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Congratulations, Isobel! I’m delighted that you’ve finally finished your book on PO Edgar Evans and am very much looking forward to reading it. Evans was an amazing man and his accomplishments have been overlooked by polar historians for far too long. My Grandfather, Sir Charles (Silas) Wright spoke often of how Evans was invaluable on the first Western Party and the evenings they would spend enthralled by Evans inexhaustible supply of yarns.
    Although Scott seems to get all the attention, it was in fact men like PO Edgar Evans who enabled Scott to get to the Pole. Your book will go a long way in making sure that Evans and those who were with Scott will not be forgotten.

    • isobelpwilliams January 18, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      It is wonderful to hear from the grandson of Wright who knew Edgar so well. All the diaries say how he ‘kept them in stitches’ every evening. His humour never failed, even when they they were in very dangerous and difficult circumstances. Interestingly he never swore in the presence of (three) officers and it came as a surprise to them to hear him through the wooden partition, giving free vent to his feelings when they returned to Base.

  3. DAVID MARSLAND February 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    With Scott in the Antarctic: Edward Wilson by Isobel Williams

    This is a very interesting and very valuable book. It is a biography of Edward Wilson, doctor, scientist, explorer and artist. It is, however, a biography with a special focus, as indicated in the book’s primary title – “With Scott in the Antarctic”. For Wilson was with Scott on his first journey south in 1901 and he died with Scott on the return journey from the Pole in 1912.

    Drawing on intensive original research, Williams tells the story of the most complex and least well understood of Scott’s heroic companions. Quiet, reflective and religious, Wilson was loved by all who worked with him. His influence over Scott himself was considerable.

    It seems to me that even without his close and crucial involvement with Scott, Wilson would have led a remarkable life. His combination of creativity as a Ruskinian artist of nature, of medical and scientific curiosity and skill, and of adventurous determination to explore the unknown regions of our world was very unusual. When these remarkable talents were put at the service of a man as special as Scott, the effect was bound to be uniquely powerful.

    Williams’ interest in Edward Wilson was stimulated by his medical illustrations and Antarctic landscapes displayed at St George’s hospital, where Williams was a student. My interest in Wilson, Scott, Bowers, Oates and their companions was initiated when I was even younger by that wonderful film “Scott of the Antarctic”. I remember vividly now, decades later, how I wept in a cinema full of weeping young people as we watched the team struggle in adversity towards an unattainable goal and die with rare courage and dignity.

    Since that time, our public understanding of Scott’s glorious expedition has been muddled and mis-led by cynical anti-British sentiment. Without intending it, Williams’ careful, balanced scholarship restores these remarkable men to their proper status. They were British heroes and heroes of mankind in its progress from ignorance to understanding of the world and its awesome mysteries. This is a book to enjoy and to treasure.

  4. isobelpwilliams March 9, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    That film made a deep impression on a huge number of people at the time. But many of the younger generation have not even heard of Scott and Shackleton, leave alone Wilson and his companions.I find it unexpected, when I talk to sixth formers, or even medical students, that stories of the Antarctic Heroic Age have not filtered through to them. I hope that all the exhibitions and events about the 1912 expedition, a hundred years after the deaths of the explorers, will do something to remedy this.

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