This is the second post in Robin Bell’s description of scientific research in Antarctica in late 2008 and early 2009.
I had read about the one-way British expedition of Robert Scott and his team, but reading about it and coming face to face with it are two very different things. We had the opportunity to venture to Cape Evans where Scott’s hut remains almost 100 years after his departure. I was unprepared for the effect of staring straight into the wooden framed shelter. Here was where the Expedition’s meteorological measurements had been recorded those many years ago. This shelter with the wind rattled planks was much like the image I show in my many talks of the first International Polar Year (1881-1884), with scientists huddled in the doorways collecting data in shelters much like this. I am walking into the history of Antarctic scientific data collection. In some areas we have learned little about this vast continent since then, and in others we have made tremendous advances.
Entering the shelter my breath was taken away. The light streamed in through the East facing windows illuminating the inside where time had stopped moving. The table looked exactly as it does in the photos of the expeditions feasts. Nothing has changed since the hut was abandoned after the loss of life on the return from the Pole. It is much like looking at a photograph. Food stock such as penguin eggs and slabs of blubber, line the entry ready for the team members. Bottles of ketchup and mustard line the shelf as if waiting for the next meal. Shoes, socks and hats rest on the bunk as if they were waiting for the return of their owner. A bicycle hangs on the wall, waiting for its rider, the geologist of the expedition. In the stables in the back hay is waiting for the ponies that Scott chose to bring. A choice that slowed his progress, and perhaps led to the failure of his journey. The pony snowshoes he invented were hanging on the walls.
I stand for awhile and let the history be absorbed. I wonder what Scott was thinking when he last walked from this doorway. Perhaps his thoughts, like mine, were brimming with enthusiasm for an upcoming expedition.
Robin Bell is a geophysicist and research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. She has coordinated seven major aero-geophysical expeditions to Antarctica studying subglacial lakes, ice sheets and the mechanisms of ice sheet movement and collapse, and currently the Gamburtsev Mountains, a large alp sized subglacial mountain range in East Antarctica.
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