Sir Ranulph Fiennes shown in 2003. The explorer recently had to quit an attempt to ski across Antarctica due to frostbite.
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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Seasoned adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has had to quit his attempt to be the first person to cross the South Pole on skis during the brutal Antarctic winter.
Fiennes, who has abundant experience in harsh environments, will be evacuated from the coldest continent after developing a case of frostbite, according to a blog post on the website of the expedition, called The Coldest Journey. Fiennes and his team made the decision to have him evacuated while it was still possible before the beginning of the formidable winter, with its near-permanent darkness and temperatures as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius).
"This decision has not been taken lightly and it is, naturally, a huge disappointment to Fiennes and his colleagues," the post said.
Fiennes will be driven by Ski-Doo, a type of snowmobile, some 40 miles from his team's current location to Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Station, located near the coast of East Antarctica, according to the blog post. From there, he will make his way by plane to Cape Town, South Africa.
The evacuation plan is currently being hampered by a blizzard at the team's location.
Once Fiennes is evacuated, the rest of the team has elected to carry on with the journey. They are still slated to begin their crossing on the originally planned date of March 21. The full crossing route will take them from Princess Elisabeth through the interior of the continent to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (named for the two explorers that raced to be the first to the South Pole), then over the Transantarctic Mountains onto the Ross Ice Shelf and to the United States' McMurdo Station, situated on the shore of the Ross Sea. In total, the trek will cover more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) and take six months.
Fiennes has gone on previous Antarctic and Arctic excursions, climbed to the summit of Mount Everest and run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, according to his expedition biography.
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