The Scientific Urge
For commerce this continent offers poor prospects. So expensive and unreliable is the transport link through the world's worst seas and most hazardous ice that a mineral find would need to be of extraordinary value to warrant its exploitation. Coal and radioactive ores can be more readily and cheaply obtained elsewhere. Justification for Antarctic exploration and settlement, then, is scientific curiosity and a determination to explore the world's last frontier. Strategic reasons have been cited and tourism suggested, but the scientific field is the major justification. This continent, together with its fringing oceans, represents some 10 per cent of the global surface, and it is as yet improperly known or understood.
The understanding of world radio transmission, of global earthquake shocks, and of world wind and water circulation, as well as the possibility of predicting southern hemisphere weather, are all aided by the stationing of scientists in this hitherto uninhabited spot. The list of disciplines requiring complete world coverage–which includes the Antarctic–is growing apace with the expansion of the sciences. Projects such as world magnetic and gravity surveys, and the study of climatic cycles and past and future ice ages (if the Antarctic ice were to melt, the oceans of the world would rise 200–300 ft) must be based in part on the work of Antarctic scientists. New Zealand is aware of its obligation in this respect, and its scientists in the Ross Dependency are making a small but effective contribution to world knowledge.
In 1965 more than 50 New Zealanders will proceed with various research projects, with parties at Scott Base and Hallett Station. The research programme will include further studies in upper-atmosphere physics, aurora, ionospherics, geomagnetism, and seismology.
by Ralph Hudson Wheeler, M.A., Senior Lecturer in Geography, Victoria University of Wellington.
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- Antarctic Today, Simpson, F. A. (ed.) (1952)
- Provisional Gazetteer of the Ross Dependency, Helm, A. S. (1958), Suppl. (1960)
- Polar Record (1931– ), Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England
- Antarctica, Quarterly Bulletin of the New Zealand Antarctic Society
- Antarctica, Helm, A. S., and Miller, J. H. (1964).