Failures of the magnetic research on the Discovery Antarctic expedition 1901-1904

Publisher:
Routledge
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
The Polar Journal, 2012, 2 (2), pp. 200 - 218
Issue Date:
2012-01
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The Discovery expedition (19011904) led the wave of Antarctic expeditions at the turn of the twentieth century that mixed geographical exploration with scientific enquiry. The prime scientific activity was research into terrestrial magnetism, so the Discovery was constructed as a magnetic observatory and supplied with the most modern instruments. A scheme for synchronised observing, followed by data sharing, was established with Drygalskis Gauss expedition and various fixed magnetic observatories around the globe. Sir Clements Markham of the Royal Geographical Society successfully promoted and guided what became a joint private venture with the Royal Society. It seemed that all possible preparations had been made to ensure exceptional scientific outputs. On its return to England, the expedition was hailed a scientific success due to the abundance of the collections and data, a view still evident in most literature on the history of Antarctic exploration and science. This research challenges that paradigm. It found that the magnetic science programme was flawed in significant and unexpected ways in spite of the skill and diligence of its physicist. This paper reviews the background, preparations, operations and outcomes of the magnetic science programme and concludes that institutional and management failures led to its shortcomings.
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