Study to unearth historic Antarctic weather data
8 October 2012
Weather data recorded by early explorers in the Antarctic will be the focus of a year-long research project by UC’s Dr Ursula Rack.
Dr Rack, adjunct fellow in Gateway Antarctica, is undertaking the project after being awarded a COMNAP (Council of Managers of National Antarctic Program) Antarctic Research Fellowship for 2012-2013. The fellowship will provide her with US$12,000 in funding to carry out her work.
“I’m very excited about this fellowship as my PhD was on the social conditions experienced by early polar explorers and this funding will allow me to carry out further research in this area,” Dr Rack said.
“As a historian this is going to be a very interesting project for me and I’m really looking forward to getting started.”
The Executive Secretary of COMNAP, Michelle Rogan-Finnemore, said the organisation was delighted that Dr Rack was the recipient of the fellowship “in particular, because it is the first time that the fellowship has been awarded outside one of the more traditional science disciplines”.
“Dr Rack's research, in a humanities discipline, is significant and demonstrates the breadth of Antarctic research being undertaken within our Antarctic research programmes."
Dr Rack said the aim of her project would be to reconstruct historic Antarctic climate data recorded by expeditions during the Heroic Age (1899-1920) of polar exploration. This will involve transcribing, translating and analysing archival material – ship logbooks, diaries and meteorological records – held by the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, where she will work with the institute’s Director Professor Julian Dowdeswell, as well as material held in archival collections in Germany.
The expeditions Dr Rack will focus on for this project are those of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, particularly the Discovery Expedition of 1901–04, and German polar scientist Erich von Drygalski, who led the German South Polar expedition from 1901 to 1903 to Wilhelm II Land.
However, Dr Rack said, with further funding she would also eventually like to study archival material from the expeditions of William Spiers Bruce, who led the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition from 1902–04 to the South Orkney Islands and the Weddell Sea; the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904 led by geologist and geographer Otto Nordenskjöld and explorer Carl Anton Larsen to the Antarctic Peninsula; and the French expedition of 1903 to 1905 to the Antarctic Peninsula led by Jean Baptiste Charcot.
Dr Rack said the archival material from these expeditions offered a unique source of historic weather data which could be of use to climate change scientists.
“They also provide interesting social data on how the explorers were affected by the extreme weather conditions in terms of the impact it had on their work, their interactions with each other and on their mental health,” she said.
However, Dr Rack said this rich source of information was not easily accessible and her ultimate goal was to make the historic material available to the wider research community in digital format. She is currently working with UC’s Dr Adrian McDonald (Physics and Astronomy) to develop a suitable computer program for the material.
“It is crucial that this information is preserved for future generations as these documents are deteriorating and will not always be available to researchers.”
Dr Rack begins work on her project at Cambridge University this month.
For more information please contact:
University of Canterbury
Ph: + 64 3 364 2984