Sunday, June 9, 2013

Flash back to 1949 - Global Warming, Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica and a Young Australian

From The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) Tuesday 15 February 1949

World May Be Getting Warmer

Australian Associated Press

LONDON, Mon. - Britain, Norway and Sweden are organising a joint Antarctic expedition this year to investigate whether the world is getting warmer.

Two British scientists and a young, Australian, Mr. G. Robin, who is Lecturer in Physics at the Birmingham University, have been appointed to the expedition. They will be absent for 2 1/2 years.

The expedition will explore the snowy wastes of Queen Maud Land, untrodden by man, and the strange warm "oasis" amid the mountains 200 miles from the coast.

The Director of the Royal Geographical Society (Mr. L. P. Kirwan) said today: "Evidence has 'been found that the Arctic is becoming warmer, lt is important, therefore, to see if the same is happening in the Antarctic and a world-wide climatic change is occurring."

Gordon de Quetteville Robin (1927-2004)

Source: Farthest south during the seismic journey.
L to R: Charles Swithinbank, Gordon Robin, Kernek with Peter Melleby stand in front of one of their ‘weasels’.
Photo: Charles Swithinbank.

Gordon Robin at Maudheim, 1950.
Photo: Valter Schytt. Source
Gordon de Quetteville Robin was a renowned glaciologist and the longest serving director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge to date (1958-1982). He was the first person to produce reliable and accurate measurements of Antarctic ice sheet thickness using seismic sounding and in 1963, together with Stan Evans, developed a radio-echo sounding system, which allowed continuous profiling of ice sheets and glaciers. This technology is still the best available for measuring ice thickness and other glaciological investigations. Robin made numerous other highly significant contributions to glaciology including a better interpretation of climate records within ice sheets and the dynamics of ice shelves and ice formation and structure.

Immediately after completing his Master's Degree in physics in 1942, Gordon de Quetteville Robin joined the Royal Australian Naval Voluntary reserve and was appointed to antisubmarine duties. He soon lost interest in the work and moved to England. During World War II, Robin took up anti-submarine duties again and was sent to the Jahore Straits and Singapore. Back in England after the war, he enrolled in nuclear physics studies at Birmingham University and worked on the cyclotron project. However, Robin had always had a desire to go to Antarctica, so contacted the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) at Cambridge University. He accepted an almost immediate posting to join the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey as their base commander at Signy Island in the South Orkneys (1947-1948).

When the twelve month position ended, Robin returned to the cyclotron project at Birmingham University, where he also gained a lectureship in 1948. The following year he joined the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition and was put in charge of the seismic survey to measure ice thickness. The expedition finished in 1952 and he returned to Birmingham University. There he undertook postdoctoral studies in glaciology, which provided new discoveries relating to ice shelf thickness and subglacial topography. In 1957 Robin decided to change his research focus again, and went to the Australian National University to study ocean waves. Within a few months of arriving, he was offered the first full-time directorship of the SPRI. He returned to England in 1958 to take up the position and this was the start of an outstanding twenty-four years of ground-breaking research.

As director, Gordon de Quetteville Robin oversaw the growth of the SPRI into one of the world's leading polar research institutes. He fought hard for and achieved greater cooperation and collaboration between all nations involved in polar research and between the research wings of the Navy's of the world and the broader research community. He also established a twelve-year collaboration with the US National Science Foundation which resulted in the mapping of around 50% of the continent.

Robin's own contributions to polar research were just as remarkable. These include at least five field expeditions to the Antarctic and arctic regions; co-production of the radio-echo sounding system which resulted in the first reliable measurement of ice thickness, the discovery of Lake Vostock under the Antarctic Ice Sheet; the identification and definition of ice streams flowing into the Ross Ice Shelf, large scale ice dynamics, and many other significant finds; the principal of using satellites to observe Earth from space; and the discovery of some of the mechanisms behind ice core temperature records. Even after official retirement, Robin continued to work at SPRI for many years as a senior research associate.

Robin held many other key positions, including Permanent UK Delegate to the world's coordinating body of Antarctic research, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research from 1958 to 1984; director of the British Antarctic Survey in 1993-1994; and a founding Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge (1964). He received the top prize in glaciology - the Seligman Crystal, as well as numerous other honours and awards from all over the world for his outstanding contribution to glaciology and geophysics.
View the full record at Encyclopedia of Australian Science
View a short summary with notification of his death from SCAR

Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition, 1949–52

G. De Q. Robin
After loading stores at Göteborg and Oslo, the expedition sailed from London on 23 November 1949 in the chartered Norwegian sealing vessel Norsel, G. Jakobsen, master. After calling at Cape Town, where P. G. Law of the Australian Department of External Affairs and J. A. King of the Union Weather Bureau of South Africa joined the vessel as observers, the Norsel headed south on 27 December to meet the Norwegian whaling factory Thorshovdi, which was carrying an advanced party of five men, with sixty dogs and some heavy equipment. An unexpectedly wide detour had to be made across the South Atlantic as the Thorshevdi was at that time in the Scotia Sea.

It was a very productive expedition but not without tragedy.  An excerpt from the Scott Polar Research Institute:
The Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition (NBSAE) of 1949-52 was the first expedition in Antarctica involving an international team of scientists. Their main objective was to explore whether the climatic fluctuations observed in the Arctic where also occurring in Antarctica. The party was led by the Norwegian Captain John Giaever, with each country in charge of a different aspect of the expedition: Britain geology, Sweden glaciology and Norway meteorology and surveying.
They expedition left London on 23 November 1949 on board the Norwegian ship the Norsel. As this vessel was not very big it could not transport all the men, equipment, supplies and dogs. Five of the team, the dogs and some of the heavier equipment sailed on a large whaling factory-ship, the Thorshovdi. As well as taking dogs for transport they also took aircraft, and amphibious tracked vehicles, weasels, which could pull sledges carrying over three tons and
would make depot lying much simpler....

...On 23 February 1951 the expedition was hit by tragedy when three of the expedition died. Poor weather had caused the party in one of the weasel tractors to misjudge their position and they plunged over an ice cliff into the sea. Only one of the four occupants was able to swim to safety reaching an ice-flow from which he was rescued thirteen hours later. 
...This expedition had managed to survey a huge area of Antarctica, 60,00 square km was mapped by ground survey, and in using aerial photography this area can be extended to 100,00 square km in total. Significantly this expedition paved the way for internationally run efforts, showing scientific cooperation was possible between nations.

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