Dec. 12, 2011
- In two days, the 100th anniversary of the day Norwegian Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole for the first time, beating Englishman Robert F. Scott by more than a month, will be celebrated. Scott's heroic tale of perseverance, determination and the death of both him and his four team members is the stuff of legend. But what's forgotten when the tale of his journey is told are the scientific discoveries that Scott's larger expedition made -- discoveries that shaped our understanding of the Antarctic continent. Here's a look at some of the most important ones. Photo: Captain Robert Falcon Scott, leader of the Terra-Nova-Expedition (1911-1913), in polar gear.
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Marine Currents & the Antarctic Shipboard oceanographic measurements aboard Scott's ship, the Terra Nova, led to the discovery that marine currents circle the Antarctic continent, much colder than the water further north. Since then, scientists have concluded these currents form a natural barrier that has allowed Antarctic marine life to develop along their own evolutionary path. Scott's scientists at both the winter quarters on Ross Island and on ship voyages also pulled up dozens of examples of strange new sea life. They discovered new species of benthic organisms like brittle stars, mollusks, crustaceans, worms corals and sponges that hadn't been seen before, as well as new kinds of fish. The Terra Nova expedition in total brought back 40,000 new specimens to England, (including rocks and animal life). PHOTO: Steam Yacht 'Terra Nova' with dogs and men standing on ice near by, by Herbert Ponting
The Science of Weather Weather balloons launched daily by meteorologist George Simpson and other members of Scott's expedition recorded temperature, wind and barometric pressure data that scientists are still using today to form a baseline to measure climate change. These balloons and cloud formations from the Mt. Erebus volcano on Ross Island also measured high-altitude winds that circle the Antarctic continent, and were later found to affect weather around the globe. To get the temperature data, Simpson assigned a night watchman to take readings at midnight as well as noon. PHOTO: Sir George Clarke Simpson
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How Snow and Ice Form Physicist Charles Wright made detailed studies of Antarctic ice sheets, how sea ice forms and how the air and snow together form ice crystals on different structures. He also examined the nature of icebergs and how they break off from glaciers moving slowly from the polar ice cap toward the ocean. PHOTO: Sir Charles Seymour Wright
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Emperor Penguins & an Extinct Fern Scott's decision to send three men to retrieve Emperor penguin eggs during mid-winter of July 1911 -- an epic journey that zoologist Cherry Apsley-Garrard titled "The Worst Journey in the World" -- helped biologists figure out the life cycle of this rugged animal. Years later, the findings also disproved a Victorian-era theory that the development of the penguin's embryo explained its evolution, and that these primitive birds were related to lizards. As Scott and four of his men were returning from the South Pole to their base at Cape Evans, 800 miles away, they stopped to pick up some unusual rocks at Mount Buckley, along the Beardmore Glacier. The rocks later turned out to be fossils of Glyssopteris, an extinct fern that had also been found in India, South America, Africa and Australia. Scott's find later proved that that Antarctica was once part of a giant super-continent that broke up 160 million years ago. The fossils were found inside a tent alongside the frozen bodies of Scott and his men. PHOTO: The South Pole team hauling their sleds full of supplies on the way back to the base camp at the Cape Evans.
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