A memorial for British scientists who died while on missions to Antarctica was unveiled today in London, casting the spotlight on the history of science at the South Pole.
Since 1948, 29 people have died in the British Antarctic Territory, one of the most extreme, inhospitable and uncharted places on Earth. The memorial plaque in London, which reads, "For those who lost their lives in Antarctica in pursuit of science to benefit us all," will be dedicated in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral. [ Images: Life at the South Pole ]
"I was a surveyor on an expedition from the [British Antarctic Survey] Research Station Halley Bay in 1965, when three of my colleagues were killed when their tractor fell into a crevasse," said Roderick Rhys Jones, chairman of the charity behind the project, the British Antarctic Monument Trust. "I have never forgotten them and wanted to create a lasting monument to them and the others who lost their lives in the pursuit of science in Antarctica."
The first phase of another memorial, The Antarctic Monument, will be installed at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge and unveiled on May 12.
The Scott Polar Research Institute is named afterBritish naval officer Robert Scott, who was in a race against Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen to be the first humans to reach the South Pole. In 1911, the two teams of explorers faced off against punishing weather, vast distances and each other across the last unconquered wilderness.
Amundsen beat Scott by nearly a month, and returned home a hero. Scott never made it back from the South Pole, dying from starvation and frostbite during the trip back to his base camp.
Scott's legacy, however, lives on in the research under way today because of his early pursuits. From drilling into hidden lakes in search of mysterious life to tracking a disappearing population of penguins, Antarctica is bustling with scientific missions today.
Polar living isn't easy, of course. Long hours, isolation and Spartan living are part of the job. Researchers live inside elevated dorms at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, or in huts when the weather warms. Many missions involve grueling treks and battling the extreme weather. [ Extreme Living: Scientists at the End of the Earth ]
Yet living at the pole has come a long way from the early days. The original Amundsen-Scott station was largely abandoned in 1974 ( and recently blown up ) for a newer station nearby, constructed under a dome. That station, in turn, was recently abandoned for a brand new Amundsen-Scott facility, dedicated in 2008 — a gleaming construction perched atop 36 stilts that can be ratcheted higher when the snow begins to encroach.