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100 years of Antarctic Science

The Science of Conservation
Sea Ice Science Today

Antarctica has a long history of adventure and science. Science in Antarctica began over 100 years ago when Antarctica was first explored.

For a long time Antarctica has been a place of wonder and adventure. Legends say a Māori fleet of waka sailed into the Southern Ocean in the 1600s, and sealing and navy ships first saw Antarctica in the 1800s.

By the end of the 1800s, people from all over the world were interested in exploring and studying Antarctica.

The first explorers in Antarctica did important science work and this work continues today. Science from over 100 years ago is helping scientists to understand our climate and the world around us. 

Then and now 

Scientists today are still using recordings made over 100 years ago. Some examples include:

  • Recordings of weather made on Scott and Shackelton’s trips are used to show how Antarctic weather has changed over time.
  • Measurements of sea water, sea ice and glaciers are helping scientists understand climate change.
  • Rock samples have helped scientists to understand how Antarctica formed and how it has changed over time.
  • Some sea animals collected during Scott’s expedition have since been compared with new samples to show changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and sea.

Today computers and other technology help scientists to do more work in Antarctica.

Some methods of recording have changed very little since Scott’s first expedition. One example is sampling sea water. Nansen bottles were first made in 1894 and they are still used today. These bottles are lowered into the sea, each end of the bottle is open and has a cap which can be triggered to close at a certain depth. You can see an old Nansen bottle being used during Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition here.

Today many scientists are looking at climate change and asking:

  1. How will Antarctica be impacted?
  2. How will change in Antarctica effect the rest of the planet?

Antarctica is changing. Within fifty years the size of Antarctica’s ice sheets and ice shelves will be smaller.

Antarctica's ice changes the way the ocean and air moves around our planet. This means that changes in Antarctica will be felt around the world. Changes in the amount of ice in Antarctica will affect sea level.

Scientists think that, once they understand how things work in Antarctica, they can use this knowledge to better understand how other areas will be effected by climate change.


Ready for a quiz?

100 Years of Antarctic Science quiz


Audio Māori keywords: 

What do you think makes working in Antarctica challenging and what do you think makes working there rewarding?

Cellarinella is a bryozoan which builds a skeleton with tree-like growth rings which can be measured to find out about growth patterns due to changes in CO2 levels. Image: Public Domain. 

An emperor penguin remains in Terra Nova Hut as evidence of some of the scientific work that was done during Scott's expedition. Image: LEARNZ.

A scientist prepares a ROV - Remotely Operated Vehicle to send below the sea ice to collect samples. What other methods do scientists use to collect samples below sea ice? Image: LEARNZ.

Scientists use a Niskin bottle similar to what was used 100 years ago to collect samples of sea water. Image: LEARNZ.

The Science of Conservation
Sea Ice Science Today