Weather at the ends of the Earth

The Met Office and the Scott Polar Expedition

See some of our 'Terra Nova' expedition logs

Exp Anta Scott Last Expidition 1910-1912 Ship The "Terra Nova"LIFE Photo Collection

The Terra Nova Expedition

From 1911 - 1913 Robert Falcon Scott lead a team of explorers and scientists to learn more about Antarctica, then often known as the Unknown Continent. After completing the scientific part of their work some of his team were also hoping to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Exp Anta Scott Last Expidition 1910-1912 Ship The "Terra Nova"LIFE Photo Collection

A wealth of scientific research

The expedition team spent many months, and two Antarctic winters, studying the unknown continent. An important part of their investigations was to make a detailed record of the weather and climate. The work was led by meteorologist George Clark Simpson.

George Clark Simpson at Terra Nova base (1911) by Met OfficeMet Office

George Clark Simpson

Simpson led the collection of weather and climate records during the expedition and ensured they were analysed and published. The Terra Nova observations still provide crucial baseline data for climate scientists studying climate change in the antarctic regions.

Record of 112 hours continuous sunshine from British Antarctic Expedition (1911) by Met OfficeMet Office

24 hrs of daylight

The expedition collected all of the standard weather observations including sunshine data. During the Antarctic Summer, when there is 24hrs of daylight, they recorded 112hrs and 10 minutes of continuous sunshine!

Scott's 'Terra Nova' hut

The Expedition Base hut, on the north shore of Cape Evans, has been preserved. The hut was prefabricated in England and brought out by ship. It was designed for maximum insulation and included sleeping and working areas. A stable for the expedition ponies was added later. 

The hut went on to save the lives of ten members of Ernest Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic expedition, who sheltered there from 1915 to 1917. The hut was put in order and locked up when they left and remained untouched and buried in the snow until 1957. It has since been restored.

LIFE Photo Collection

Captain Scott at work in his quarters at Hut Point

Map of stations (1911) by Met OfficeMet Office

Observation stations

This map shows some of the points from which weather was observed. Expedition parties took observing equipment wherever they went including when setting up the supply depots ready for the attempt on the south pole.

Observation stations

The map shows 'Hut Point' where the main base was located but some of the party spent a gruelling Antarctic Winter at Cape Adare in East Antarctica where they continued to make weather observations in 24hr darkness and extreme weather.

Cape Adare Log - Dante (1911) by Met OfficeMet Office

Cape Adare

At Cape Adare the wind was hurricane strength (force 11-12) for days at a time and there was virtually no sunshine or daylight. Many items of equipment, including the anemometer for measuring wind speed, were broken by the extreme winds. 

Conditions were so extreme that  observer Raymond Priestley commented that it was 'blowing like hell' and referenced a phrase from Dante's Inferno.

Cape Adare Log - Carusophone (1911) by Met OfficeMet Office

The Carusophone

The Northern Party at Cape Adare devised an alarm clock made from a gramophone which enabled them to make night time observations. A thread was attached to the gramaphone needle and a candle which would burn at a set rate. 

The Night Watch

When the flame burned through the thread it would allow the needle to drop onto the gramaphone record and start playing. When it worked this woke everyone up but the log records many occasions when it didn't. They called their alarm clock the 'Carusophone'. 

Poem to the Meteorological Alarm. (1911) by Met OfficeMet Office

The Meteorological Alarum

One of the party penned this poem in the back of the weather log noting the challenges of observing in darkness and how little they liked their home made alarm clock.

Terra Nova coldest temperature (1911) by Met OfficeMet Office

Cape Crozier Journey

Another gruelling winter journey was made by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers who trekked to the Emperor Penguin colony at Cape Crozier. They experienced the lowest temperature of the entire expedition -77.5 degrees Fahrenheit which is -60.8 degrees Celsius.

British Antarctic Expedition Terra Nova Logo (1911/1913) by Met OfficeMet Office

The 'missing link'

At the time of the expedition scientists believed that emperor penguin embryos might help them to understand more about evolution. The three men braved horrific conditions to collect eggs for the benefit of science. Bowers and Wilson would later perish on the journey to the pole.

Exp Anta Scott Last Expidition 1910-1912 Ship The "Terra Nova"LIFE Photo Collection

Cherry-Garrard brought the collected eggs back to the UK. Recognising what the men endured for science, one egg is now displayed in the Natural History Museum Treasures Exhibition, which houses the greatest items in their collection. He also wrote 'The Worst Journey in the World'

Last observations Polar Log (1912) by Met OfficeMet Office

The South Pole Trek

Scott and his team eventually lost the race to the pole. On their return trek they struggled against hunger, exhaustion and unusually extreme weather. Their last observations were made on 11 March 1912. Trapped in his tent by blizzards Scott's last diary entry was dated 29 March.

George Clark Simpson at Terra Nova base (1911) by Met OfficeMet Office

After the Terra Nova Expedition

George Clark Simpson, the expedition meteorologist, analysed all of the data. He realised that Scott and his companions had experienced especially low temperatures but also that there is no Spring or Autumn in the Antacrtic. This new knowledge greatly helped later explorers.

You can find out about the continent of Antarctica and another famous Antarctic Explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, in this video

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Met Office
Demystifying the science behind the weather and why it matters
View theme
Google apps