“Geography is a great adventure” is the widely quoted opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s out-going President, Michael Palin. The discipline has long been associated with exploration and expeditions have taken place for hundreds of years in the pursuit of new geographical and scientific knowledge. This association is just as relevant now as it was, for example, in the late 15th Century when Christopher Columbus first sailed to the Americas. December 6th 2012 saw the start of what has been described as “The Last Great Polar Challenge”, an expedition by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and a team of five other explorers who hope to cross Antarctica, a journey of 2,000miles, during the Antarctic winter.
This trip is not simply an adventure and a chance to conquer this polar challenge. The team are also running a major fundraising initiative for the ‘Seeing is Believing’ charity who help fight avoidable blindness across the world. However, perhaps the most important aspect of this event is its scientific potential. As soon as the expedition’s ship left from London’s Tower Bridge bound for Antarctica, data gathering commenced. In the course of the journey the team hope to collect data on oceanography, meteorology and marine biology. On arrival in Antarctica the extreme conditions will test the existing knowledge and scientific expertise that was required to prepare the equipment for this expedition, as the team will experience temperatures as low as -90oC and most of the trek will take place in complete darkness. Yet, the trip also provides a unique opportunity to collect data from locations previously inaccessible to humans and it is hoped the data set will include information on the true surface-shape of the ice sheet, the composition of the snow and ice, atmospheric dynamics over the ice and any bacterial life that exists at the heart of Antarctica.
It is clear that this is very much an adventure, yet one that is accompanied by the opportunity for ground-breaking research. This relationship between expeditions, exploration, science and education is one that has been recently discussed in Couper and Ansell’s (2012) paper in Area entitled “Researching the outdoors: exploring the unsettled frontier between science and adventure”. Fieldwork and outdoor research is likely to continue to be at the forefront of the quest for new geographical knowledge and whilst it may not be possible to classify all fieldwork as adventurous or an expedition, this trip by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his team most certainly is!
Couper, P. and Ansell, L. 2012 Researching the outdoors: exploring the unsettled frontier between science and adventure Area 44 14–21
Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ ‘coldest journey’ begins BBC News 6th December 2012
Viewpoint: The last great polar challenge BBC News 17th October 2012