A Century Later, Two Men Attempting to Complete Failed South Pole Expedition

Nov 18, 2013

Credit Ben Saunders / scottexpedition.com

Why ski to the South Pole and back? In the famous words of mountaineer George Mallory, "because it's there." And as long as we're going, why not do some science?

That's Anthony Goddard's attitude. By day, Goddard is an ops specialist (a.k.a. software developer) for the Encyclopedia of Life. He's also founder of TEDx Woods Hole and a self-described armchair explorer. He loves the idea of using his technical skills to wed adventure and science.

That's exactly what he's been doing as the science lead for the Scott Expedition, an attempt by two men to complete Robert Scott's tragic Terra Nova expedition.

Scott's legacy has long been dominated by the fact that his team came in second in the race to the South Pole, and then all perished on the return voyage. But that misses a big part of what the Terra Nova expedition was really about - scientific discovery. Scott assembled a top-notch scientific team and spent an entire season dedicated to research prior to the South Pole attempt. Indeed, Scott's chief scientist, Edward Wilson, saw the research as foremost:

"We want the scientific work to make the bagging of the Pole merely an item in the results."

The primary goal of the new Scott Expedition is to do something that's never been done before - ski to the South Pole and back completely unsupported. But, as the name makes clear, this expedition is a tribute to Scott and science is a key part of that.

The list of experiments that had to be abandoned because of technological or weight constraints is long. No explosive detonations for seismic research, no drones equipped with atmospheric chemistry sensors, and certainly no mid-winter trips to collect penguin eggs (something Scott's research team did).

Still, what is happening is that explorers Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere are replicating the meteorological observations of Scott's South Pole team. It's not entirely clear what these two snapshots of Antarctic weather conditions - separated by 102 years - will tell us. But Anthony Goddard is working hard to digitize the Terra Nova logs (a copy found in the MBL-WHOI Library sits on his desk) and make the data - old and new - available to scientists, and anyone else, who might have a use for it.

You can help with that effort, and be part of history and science in the making. Goddard has created a website to crowdsource the admittedly tedious process of entering the data from digital images of Scott's logs. You don't have to spend all day at it. It took me less than a minute to transcribe a record.