Tag Archives: Southern Ocean

Microbes in Antarctic Waters Below Australia

2 Oct

When Douglas Mawson led his expedition from Australia to Antarctica in 1912, he travelled through oceans that were virtually unknown. Few ships had navigated those seas below latitude 55 S.  Mawson thought he was in ‘an ice age in all earnestness.’  He was fascinated by the possibilities of Antarctica. His expedition studied all aspects of the seas as well as the continent.

He would have devoured the discoveries relating to marine microorganisms – those essential components of the sea that absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen – in the Southern Ocean. Samples across a 3,000 km stretch between Antarctica and Western Australia and difficult to obtain, showed the important discovery that the microbial communities are connected significantly by ocean currents. DNA examination showed that microbes geographically close to each other can be dissimilar, whilst those far apart are similar if connected by currents.

Mawson would have rejoiced in the baffling complexity and fascination of nature.

Wreck of ‘Terra Nova’ found off Greenland

20 Aug

It is great to hear that the wreck of the trusty ‘Terra Nova’ has been found . She was the wooden whaling ship that carried Robert Scott and his team to the Antarctic on Scott’s second expedition in 1910. Although the British reached the South Pole, they were about five weeks after Amundsen. The British team all died on the return journey. The expedition was known as the Terra Nova’ Expedition.


‘Terra Nova’ started her Antarctic journey from Cardiff. This was because of the huge backing given to the expedition by the people of Wales. Funds were short and the Welsh gave money and resources to an extent that exceeded any other town or group in the United Kingdom. Scott was initially initially dubious but he became so appreciative of the Welsh support that he announced that Cardiff would be the return port of call from the South. This happened, but sadly without Scott and his four brave companions, amongst them Chief Petty Officer Edgar Evans, a man from nearby Gower, who had given a rousing speech at the farewell banquet in the Royal Hotel in Cardiff. ‘Terra Nova’ sailed with the Welsh flag, plus a couple of large leeks, proudly hoisted at the mizzen.


She nearly came to grief before she reached the far South. She was very  over-laden and the Southern Ocean is amongst the stormiest in the world.   Engulfed by force 10 gales, ‘Terra Nova’ pitched and plunged for three days, as waves broke with increasing fury over her decks washing all before them. The pumps failed and the engines were shut down as the ship drifted at the mercy of the elements. Her survival owed much to the sturdy construction of the Scottish whaler.


When she had disembarked her cargo of men, animals and equipment, ‘Terra Nova’ returned to New Zealand, sailing back to Ross Island in early 1912 carrying relief supplies (which included dogs and fourteen mules). The final relief voyage was in early 1913 when she was decked out for a joyful celebration. When the tragic news was transmitted, the flags was hauled down and mail, which had been eagerly sorted for the returning heroes, was quietly sealed.


After her return, ‘Terra Nova’ was re purchased by her former owners. She making a quiet and lonely departure from Cardiff in August 1913; no cheering crowds, just huddled groups of onlookers. She recommenced sealing duties. In 1918 she was transporting coal and in 1942 she was charted to carry supplies to base stations in Greenland.


Her end came in September 1943.  A report in the Lloyd’s Weekly Casualty Reports of August 1943 stated that she was extensively damaged (by ice) and repairs were impossible. There was a fire on board. ‘Terra Nova’ sank. Her crew was saved and her figurehead was sent to the National Museum of Wales.


Now a crew from the Schmidt Ocean Institute has located her with their echo-sounding equipment. It is wonderful that she has been located; a century after the Pole w