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Showing posts from September, 2013

The Start of the Antarctic Science Season

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On 11 February 1913 England woke to the Daily Mail headline ‘Death of Captain Scott. Lost with four comrades. The Pole reached. Disaster on the return.’ Just a day before, the press had reported that the British Antarctic expedition leader was back in New Zealand after succeeding in his goal to reach the South Geographic Pole; the Royal Geographical Society had even prepared a telegram congratulating him on his success. The palpable sense of anticipation and excitement now turned to despondence.
A few days later a hastily organised memorial service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. The numbers attending were staggering, exceeding those at the service for the 1500 lives lost on the Titanic in the same year. ‘The presence of the king,’ The Times declared, ‘conveyed a symbolism without which any ceremony expressive of national sentiment would have been inadequate.’ The Empire grieved and in response, clock towers were raised, streets renamed and monuments erected. Statues crafted b…

The Science Program of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014

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The original Australasian Antarctic Expedition produced the first comprehensive study of the vast region south of Australia and New Zealand. The three years’ worth of observations gleaned by Mawson and his men provide a precious dataset we can compare against today. Yet, in spite of a century of research, major research questions remain. Weighty policy documents highlighting the key science questions in the region are regularly prepared by national governments and institutions. But the combination of extreme conditions and vast distances involved make the Australasian sector of the Antarctic one of the most problematic to study. With the dramatic environmental and climatic changes seen across the region, the need is an urgent one. 
Last week we had two brilliant days planning the science programme with the Australian and New Zealand teams at the University of New South Wales and Landcare Research. It was pretty intense. Although Chris and I knew everyone, some were complete strangers t…

Fantastic response to call for Antarctic expeditioners

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The Antarctic expeditions of old would routinely advertise for applicants to join them in the south. Exciting – and often wonderfully sensational – proclamations would be placed in the broadsheets, appealing to national sense of duty to scientifically explore the newly discovered continent in the Southern Ocean. Posting calls in the press helped team leaders fill key positions in their party while also maintaining a high public profile, crucial for raising much needed funds. Mawson was no exception in this regard. Adverts for the original Australasian Antarctic Expedition included open meetings in state capitals and an appeal by Shackleton in the British newspapers. The public responded enthusiastically to the scale of the expedition: four bases spread out along a near-unknown Antarctic coastline. Here was a venture everyone could get involved in, either directly as a team member or by sponsoring essential supplies and equipment.
Inspired by the efforts of Mawson and his men to commun…

PhD volunteers sought for Antarctic science and adventure

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In 1913, the Anglo-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton allegedly ran the following advert in The Times newspaper:

Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.
Although it seems unlikely this call was actually ever made, it is very much in the spirit of the great Antarctic explorer. Inspired by the likes of Shackleton and Mawson, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014 is making a similar call for volunteers. In this more enlightened age though, we’re looking for volunteers of either gender to join us on our journey south. To be eligible you must be a registered student working towards a PhD and be able to place your studies on hold for a minimum of 3 weeks between the 23 November 2013 and the 6 January 2014. 
Sadly this will not be a holiday or go towards supporting your own research programme.  Instead, you will be working closely with the science le…

Finding a path

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Mawson’s expedition was a complete scientific exploration of what many suspected to be an entirely new continent, lying in the ‘Australian quadrant’. While exploring on the ice, the expedition vessel, the Aurora, would traverse the Southern Ocean collecting ocean and biological samples alongside depth soundings. Mawson was in no doubt about the importance of his mission: ‘The early glimpses of the Antarctic continent, and its history, illustrate how little is yet revealed of the wealth of scientific data locked up within its icy ramparts, and calls for the united efforts of scientific bodies throughout the world to banish this ignorance, which stands as a reproach in this enlightened twentieth century.’
The continent might be better placed on the world’s maps today but many of the same issues remain. Just as Mawson recognised 100 years ago, the Antarctic region south of Australia is of global significance and a number of vital scientific questions remain unanswered.How quickly is the S…