News & information on Antarctica & the Southern Ocean

Dispatches from Continent Seven - the writings of Antarctic scientists

Podcast episode 09 - Published 24 August, 2017 by Nicholas O'Flaherty

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Captain James Cook reaches farthest South 

“As we drew near this ice, some penguins were heard but none seen, and but few other birds, or any other thing that could induce us to think any land was near. And yet I think there must be some to the south behind this ice. Since we could not proceed one inch farther to the south, no other reason need be assigned for my tacking and standing back to the north, being at this time in the latitude of 71 degrees South…..”  

That was Captain Cook, recording that historic moment when he reached his most southerly latitude, having already crossed the Antarctic Circle. It was the farthest south any human had reached in recorded history.

Forty eight scientific writings from 1773 to today

Those lines from his book are from the first of 48 extracts in a major anthology of original writings from Antarctic scientists. 

This week on The Antarctic Report podcast, we speak to the author of that major anthology, Rebecca Priestley. She’s a New Zealand writer, educator, and academic who specializes in science communication, with a particular focus on Antarctica. She teaches at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, where among other things, she leads the free open online course on Antarctica, which is in partnership with the US-based non-profit edX.  

In 2016, Rebecca wrote “Dispatches from Continent Seven, An Anthology of Antarctic Science”. While there have been many collections of writings of explorers, this is the first serious attempt to link scientists of Antarctica, from the log book of Cook in the 18th Century through to contemporary scientific writing today.

From the first explorers to the heroic age

After Cook, we hear from Russian explorer Bellingshausen. In 1820, he describes the best way to prepare penguin meat for cooking - soaked in vinegar for a few days, if you want to know!

In D’Urville’s expedition of 1840, Charles Jacquinot recalls the fine taste of the bottle of Bordeaux opened especially to toast the tricolor at the flag raising ceremony in Adelie Land.

From American explorer Charles Wilkes, we learn that icebergs carried rocks and dirt, proving a continent lay just beyond the horizon, even though he was unable to see it.

James Clark Ross, in Antarctica around the same time, writes in awe of the perpendicular cliff of ice he discovers, the front of the ice shelf that today bears his name.

Among the heroic age of polar exploration, we read passages from Frederick Cook, Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and later still Richard Byrd.

Contemporary scientists  

But there are also milestones from modern science. Jonathan Shanklin writes of his discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica,  Robin Bell surveys the buried Gambertsev Mountains.

We read too from scientists who are diving in saline lakes, hunting for meteorites, drilling for ice cores. They include marine zoologists, biologists, geologists and astronomers.

The scientists try to better understand the universe we live in, uncover the complexities of climate change, and learn how a land covered in forests became a frozen desert.

Rebecca Priestley's book “Dispatches from Continent Seven, An Anthology of Antarctic Science”, is available on Amazon.  

For more information on the online Virtual Field Trip to Antarctica available at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, go to Antarctica: From Geography to Human History   


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