Polar

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Theme Conveners: Quintin Riley and J.L.P Macnair ◦ Display Designer: Jock Kinneir

Of all regions of the Earth, the Arctic and Antarctic have offered the most persistent lure to our spirit of adventure and discovery.

The British started to sail the Arctic seas more than four hundred years ago, searching for a quick way to the markets of the East. It was soon established that if such passages did exist they would never be practicable as sea routes; nevertheless we continued to frequent these seas, first of all hunting the whales that abounded there, and then for discovery for its own sake. In summary, what we know now of the Arctic regions between West Greenland and the Behring Strait is almost entirely the result of British exploration in the course of many voyages and journeys over land or ice – an heroic backcloth against which to view contemporary knowledge and achievement.

The assault on Antarctica followed different trends, for it is a continent and not, like the regions around the North Pole, an archipelago of islands and ice into the heart of which ships can penetrate. It is here that recent British Polar effort has been particularly concentrated in the permanent Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. It is on the experience of this Survey, which covers a number of sciences, that many of the displays in this section are based. A full-scale Base Hut, for example, shows something of the modern polar way of life.

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Science

Polar exploration, then, is more than ever a serious though exhilarating business and takes all possible advantage of new developments, for example in transport, nutrition and equipment, to improve its efficiency and value to the world. The meteorological observers in the Falkland Islands Dependencies provide data essential to the accuracy of forecasts for the whole of the Southern Ocean. Studies of the rocks here, or in the North Polar regions, are vital to the understanding of the past history of the Earth. Details about the structure and behaviour of the ice caps have an important bearing on new knowledge about the past, and possibly the future, trends in the climate of the world.

Travel

To give an impression of the conditions of travel and of equipment now used, a theatre has been included in this section where men with polar experience are giving demonstrations. One of’ the most modern means of transport – the snowmobile – can be seen in action; but in many types of terrain the dog-drawn sledge is still indispensable. An essential part in these displays, then, is played by husky dogs, most of them born and trained in Antarctica, sent here for this precise purpose by His Excellency the Governor of the Falkland Islands.

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