All Journeys Begin With a First Step

By Matthew Wood 18/01/2010

’Great God! This is an awful place…’Man and Iceberg

So wrote Robert Falcon Scott in January of 1912 upon discovering that the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, had beaten him to the South Pole.

A rather unfair review you might say, but then again, Scott was about to find out just how unforgiving a place the white continent can be. From the stoic characters of the heroic age of exploration through to the scientists and support staff of modern Antarctic programs, those who seek to work on the ice quickly learn that Antarctica can be a place of both serene beauty and uncompromising harshness.

While Antarctica’s capacity to pitilessly claim the lives of the unfortunate or unprepared has long been understood and respected, it is only recently that we have begun to appreciate the extent to which mankind’s collective actions have put this delicate environment in grave danger of collapse.

The global implications of rapid environmental change at the poles make Antarctic science, in my opinion, one of the most important endeavours of the modern world.

So, why make a podcast? After flirting with work in academia and industry I recently found myself wanting to try my hand at science media and communication. I guess I realised that I had become more comfortable as an ‘armchair’ scientist, fervently enjoying the works of popular science writers like Richard Leakey, Simon Singh, Richard Dawkins and many others. I’m also a big fan of the podcasting format and an avid listener of shows like Philosophy Bites, by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton, and Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American, hosted by Steve Mirsky — shows that I highly recommend and that have clearly influenced the style of Journeys. In order to bring the stories of any specialist discipline to the masses there is a clear challenge to strike a balance between maintaining the interest of both the layman and those with existing knowledge. I hope this podcast will succeed in distilling the essence of each science story, but I would of course recommend any referenced source material to those seeking further information.

I first worked with the Antarctic Research Centre (ARC) as a field assistant on the Victoria Land coastal glaciers in late 2003, following my undergraduate study in geology at Victoria University of Wellington. After this unforgettable experience I maintained a keen interest in what happens on the ice and continued to work closely with colleagues in the ARC through research and teaching.

The man at the helm of the ARC is Professor Tim Naish, a man well known in geological circles for his application of cyclostratigraphic principles, developed in the Wanganui basin and the Canterbury coast of New Zealand, to the ice sheet fluctuations across the continental margin of southern Victoria Land in Antarctica (the Cape Roberts Project and more recently ANDRILL). In this first episode Professor Naish recounts his early impressions of Antarctic fieldwork, outlines the history of the ARC to date and considers the direction in which it is currently heading.

Photo (c) Matthew Wood 2003

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