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The great American scientist Carl Sagan once remarked ‘If we teach only the findings and products of science—no matter how useful and inspiring they may be—without communicating its critical method, how can the average person possibly distinguish science from pseudoscience?’ Forty years after these words were penned, Sagan’s concerns could not be more prescient. Over the last two decades many countries have reported an alarming fall in the number of students taking science. As scientists we need to do a better job communicating the excitement of discovery.

 

The Antarctic remains one of the last great unexplored regions on Earth. In spite of a century of discovery, the southern continent and vast surrounding ocean remain a unique place to learn about how our planet works. Iced In (Kensington Publishing, North America) and Shackled (Penguin Random House, Australia) tells the story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (2013-2014), a privately-funded expedition that aimed to extend over a hundred years of scientific endeavour in the region and communicate the value of science and adventure in this remote and pristine environment.  Here I describe the latest scientific thinking from the frozen continent and our entrapment by a major breakout of decade-old sea ice. We were extremely fortunate to have an amazing team of people on board. Chronicling our discoveries and experiences, I revisit famed polar explorer Ernest Shackleton's harrowing Antarctic expedition almost a century before when his ship, Endurance, was trapped and ultimately lost to the ice, forcing his team to fight for survival on a vast and treacherous icescape for two years.

During the height of the Heroic Age of Exploration, the limits of our planet were pushed all the way to the South Pole and the door to Antarctica flung wide open. A frozen continent shaped by climatic extremes and inhabited by wildlife and vegetation unknown to science was being uncovered. Tales of endurance, self-sacrifice and technological innovation during 1912 laid the foundations for modern scientific exploration and inspired future generations. To celebrate the centenary of this groundbreaking work, 1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica revisits the exploits of these different expeditions. Looking beyond the personalities and drawing on my own polar experience, I show how their discoveries marked the beginning of the end for traditional exploration. Making use of original and unpublished archival material and weaving in the latest scientific findings, I reveal why 1912 marked the dawn of a new age in understanding of the natural world, and show how we might reawaken the public's passion for discovery and exploration.

 

1912 was runner-up for 2013 The Bragg Prize Prize. Many thanks to the Skelton family estate and the University of Cambridge (Scott Polar Research Institute), for granting permission to use additional material in 1912. Click here to download a list of resources.

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