- in Environment
A scientific institution founded in the wake of the fatal Scott expedition to Antarctica is “vital” to “our understanding of the global climate”.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his four companions died returning from the South Pole in 1912.
Money poured in after his last written words were revealed to be “for God’s sake look after our people”.
Cambridge University founded the Scott Polar Research Institute 100 years ago using £6,000 of the £76,000 raised.
Captain Scott’s failed attempt to lead the first team to reach the South Pole, only to be beaten by a Norwegian team, is well known.
But the 1910-1913 Terra Nova expedition was also the largest-ever research mission to the pole, involving 12 scientists.
Scott chose four companions to accompany him on the South Pole attempt – and several pounds of geological samples and scientific notebooks were found beside their bodies.
“Their observations are a century-old baseline against which contemporary change can be measured,” said institute director Prof Julian Dowdeswell.
The institute was the base for scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic in the 1930s and, during World War Two, it was the government’s centre for research into cold weather warfare.
After the war it became an international centre for research in a variety of fields related to the polar environment.
Institute associate Brian Roberts helped found the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, under which the continent can be “be used for peaceful purposes only”.
Its scientists invented radio echo sounding in the 1960s to measure the depth of ice – an invention now used by space missions to measure ice on Mars.
Most recently, researchers are using drones designed and built at the institute for a project in Greenland measuring ice sheet melt.
Prof Dowdeswell said: “The institute’s scientific work on the icy world provides a vital component of our understanding of the global climate.
“And it continues to inspire next generations of polar researchers.”