23 November, 1999
Imagine the abject shock and despair that Robert Falcon Scott and his companions Edward Wilson, Lawrence Oates, Edgar Evans and Henry Bowers experienced on January 17, 1912 when they arrived at the South Pole, the ultimate prize in Antarctic exploration, only to find a Norwegian flag placed there by Roald Amundsen and his party 33 days earlier. This was Scott's destiny, to be the first to reach the South Pole. His fellow explorer, Ernest Shackleton, had almost snatched the prize from him three years earlier, but came up 97 miles short. Now with the pinnacle of his career within reach, it was lost and lost, worst of all, to a non-Englishman. Is there any doubt that in returning from the pole that the parties' emotions would be at low ebb? The winds and cold of the Antarctic conspired against Scott as well. All five members of the party died before they could return to the shelter of the hut at Cape Evans.
Scott, Wilson, Evans, Oates, Bowers. These names read like a list of place names of Antarctica. Mountains, glaciers and entire coasts are named for these intrepid explorers. Scott left from Lyttelton, New Zealand in November, 1910 in the ship Terra Nova. Following a harrowing southern ocean crossing, he found the ice of the Ross Sea made it impossible to reach Hut Point, the location of the hut he used on his previous trip to Antarctica. Instead he landed at Cape Evans, also on Ross Island, located about half way between Hut Point and Cape Royds, site of Shackleton's hut. At this site the expedition erected a prefabricated hut to serve as the base camp for his attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole.
When I visited Scott's hut at Cape Evans you could almost feel the sense of history and fate. The hut is larger than Shackleton's but is still quite small (48' by 24') to accommodate 25 men for the winter. Around the hut there are many remains of Scott's and later expeditions. I often wonder when a piece of trash crosses the invisible line and becomes a historic artifact. The extant that the cold, dry conditions preserve things in the Antarctic is made evident by the remains of a dog, still lashed to his collar, lying outside the hut. Inside the stable area, there are piles of seal blubber and sealskins left by previous expeditions. They give off a musty odor, but are not deteriorated to the extent you might expect of flesh many years old. The real experience is when you first walk into the main room of the hut. It is low and dark. Various items such as clothing, sledges, and boots are hanging from the walls and ceiling. Food stores line the walls. There, in the middle of the room, is the table the men sat to eat, read and talk. The same table at which Scott celebrated his last birthday party with his fellow explorers. The same table that Apsley Cherry-Garrard sat at with his two companions when they returned from the trip to Cape Crozier, a trip chronicled in the book "The Worst Journey in the World" by Cherry-Garrard. I can see the photo of those men in my mind and can almost envision them sitting at the table with those blank stares. I am very humbled standing in this spot at this time. I am also feeling very, very fortunate.
If you are unfamiliar with the exploits of Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Douglas Mawson, Richard Byrd and other Antarctic explorers, I encourage you to find one of the many narratives of their exploits. They make riveting reading.
Today's featured CRP Team Members are Woody Wise of Florida State University in Tallahassee and Dave Watkins from The University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Dave and Woody study calcareous nannofossils, which are the remains of microorganisms. These fossils are made up of calcium carbonate (limestone) and are very small, less then 25 microns. These fossils make up the chalk deposits found around the world including the famed "white cliffs of Dover" in England. Nannofossils are important to study because they are very common in some rocks and can be used to determine the time and environment when the rocks were deposited. Below is a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of a type of nannofossil (Braarudosphaera bigelowii) found in the Cape Roberts Project core.
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