Ian Mulvany

March 8, 2023

The Challenger Expedition - 1872

I listened to the episode about the 1872 four-year long Challenger expedition to investigate the oceans of the earth. I’d not known much about this before listening to the episode. 

In 1870, Charles Wyville Thomson (right), Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University, persuaded the Royal Society of London to ask the British Government to furnish one of Her Majesty’s ships for a prolonged voyage of exploration across the oceans of the globe. On the 7th December 1872, the expedition put to sea from Sheerness aboard the corvette H.M.S. Challenger

There is a very cool web portal where you can dig into the expedition - https://challenger-expedition.sams.ac.uk/. It includes a data API and this awesome map - Oceans 1876 Portal. You can download a JSON file for each location that the expedition stopped, with a list of species that was found at that location. That’s amazing! 

I learnt a few things from this episode.

  • It was a lot easier to get major grant funding in 1872 than now, if you were a member of the British scientific establishment. 
  • There used to be a theory that no life could exist below 300M. Some evidence emerged against this theory before this expedition, but this expedition truly put a nail in the coffin of this idea. 
  • A fact I think I maybe knew in the past, but think I’ve forgotten, they discovered that one source of iron in the ocean came from tiny meteorites. 
  • This mission helped develop the idea of “one ocean”, that the earth truly has one interconnected vast oceanic ecosystem. 
  • They are still going through data collected during this mission. 
  • The techniques used them - mass dredging of the ocean floor - cannot be used now, but now we have many other tools at our disposal.
  • They were the first to discover polymetalic nodules - Manganese nodule - Wikipedia - which are cool. 

If you want to dig into in our time episodes more there is a fantastic site that allows you to explore the archive in all sorts of ways:  https://genmon.github.io/braggoscope/

About Ian Mulvany

Hi, I'm Ian - I work on academic publishing systems. You can find out more about me at mulvany.net. I'm always interested in engaging with folk on these topics, if you have made your way here don't hesitate to reach out if there is anything you want to share, discuss, or ask for help with!