Tag Archives: Sir Vivian Fuchs

The British Antarctic Survey

2 Nov

I did not know, before reading the obituary of Richard Laws that The British Antarctic Survey (of which Laws was Director in the 1970s and 80s), that the successful continuation of this hugely renowned scientific base was indirectly due to the Falklands War.
The Survey was pioneered by Sir Vivian Fuchs who gained government support for the present headquarters in Cambridge as well as research stations based on the Antarctic Peninsula. Fuchs’ work was continued by Laws who consolidated the BAS’s reputation as a multidisciplinary research institute, but had to battle against severe funding cuts by the BAS’s funding body, the National Environmental Research Council.
A new facility at King Edward Point (which had been threatened with closure) had only just been occupied when the Argentines arrived at the Point. The team were interned for a short time.
When South Georgia and the Falklands were recovered, Margaret Thatcher concluded that it was in the British interest to have a continued presence in the South Atlantic and Antarctica and that scientific work there should be supported. Increased funding followed and BAS scientists are amongst the world leaders in Antarctic science. In Halley, they were the first to discover the depletion of the ozone layer over the South Pole, a discovery that informed the world of the potential damage that man could inflict on our world. The peninsula bases and the BAS headquarters in Cambridge continue their international contribution.
The importance of the peninsula had been recognised in W.W.11. Operation ‘Tabarin’ was undertaken by the Admiralty and the Colonial Office in 1943.Its aim,to establish a permanent presence in the Antarctic in response to possible territorial claims by, amongst other countries,Germany and Argentina (the latter country already staffing a base in the South Orkney Islands which was started by the Scottish explorer William Speirs Bruce of the ‘Scotia’ expedition).
The area still remains a source of disagreement between Britain and Argentina

Sir Ranulph Fiennes; His Winter Trans-Antarctic Expedition

27 Sep

 Sir Ranulph Fiennes plans to lead a team across the Antarctic Continent in the coming polar winter. This would be an unbelievable feat, the first winter expedition ever since Edward Wilson’s trek across Ross Island in search of Emperor Penguin eggs in 1911. Like that early venture the expedition will take place in darkness, in temperatures that could reach minus 90 degrees Celsius and will attempt to break new scientific grounds. Unlike 1911, the expedition will take place at elevations of 11,000 feet; a level that can cause altitude sickness and will cover nearly 4,000 kilometers, starting from the Russian base Novolazareskaya and traveling via the Pole to Ross Island.

It is an amazing venture. Can it possibly succeed? The team will have to be self-sufficient, there will be no search and rescue – aircraft can’t fly inland in winter, because of the darkness and the risk of fuel freezing.

Shackleton planned this journey in 1914. His team was caught in the Weddell Sea and although they got tantalizingly close to the continent, ‘Endurance’ was carried onward around the Weddell Sea until finally the expedition famously got back to habitation after grueling and heroic exploits. Sir Vivian Fuchs finally crossed the continent in 1958. Neither of these expeditions was planned for the winter

There are to be six members in the team. Ranulph Fiennes is quoted as saying that this is his greatest challenge to date -and he has had plenty – and that it will stretch the limits of human endurance, a unique opportunity to carry out scientific tasks in the extreme polar environment, which will make contributions to our understanding of polar warming on the Antarctic continent.

Remarkable! It will be wonderful if they pull it off.