Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Explorer’s Tragic Burden Transformed Geology

By John Long

Scott’s tragic Antarctic expedition sowed the first seeds of Gondwana.

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Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1912 is mostly remembered for its tragic end where Scott, Oates, Bowers and Wilson all perished trying to make it back to their base camp. Some historians criticised Scott for his lack of careful planning, but other theories attribute their demise to an unlikely extreme cold weather event that struck the party’s last march to find their depot.

What few people realise is that as the men weakened from lack of food and the hard work of pulling sledges along, they still carried some 16 kg of rock samples. These were collected on the long march back from the South Pole, near the Beardsmore Glacier. The day was recalled in Scott’s diary with great fondness as a very happy day, a much-needed break from man-hauling the sledges and instead spent “geologising”.

Their return trek became more arduous as food supplies diminished, so they discarded most of their unnecessary gear. But at Edward Wilson’s request they carried the precious rocks with them. When Scott, Bowers and Wilson were found dead in their tents, the rocks were duly collected and eventually made their way back to the British Museum of Natural History.

In 1914 British palaeontologist Albert Seward published a description of fossil plants found in the these rocks. He made the amazing discovery of fossil leaves identified as Glossopteris...

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