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Open Right

Chris Turney: 1912: The Year The World Discovered Antarctica

Session Info:

‘Conquest of the South Pole!’ newspapers declared in March 1912: Amundsen had won the race. Yet, behind all the headlines, there was a much bigger story. Antarctica was awash with expeditions. In 1912, five separate teams representing the old and new world (Robert Falcon Scott for Britain, Roald Amundsen for Norway, Douglas Mawson for Australasia, Wilhelm Filchner for Germany and Nobu Shirase for Japan) were diligently embarking on scientific exploration beyond the edge of the known world. Their discoveries not only enthralled the world but changed our understanding of the planet forever.

During this incredible year at the height of the Heroic Age of Exploration, the limits of our planet were pushed all the way to the South Pole and the door to Antarctica flung wide open. A frozen continent shaped by climatic extremes and inhabited by wildlife and vegetation unknown to science was being uncovered. Tales of endurance, self-sacrifice and technological innovation during 1912 laid the foundations for modern scientific exploration and inspired future generations.

To celebrate the centenary of this groundbreaking work, 1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica revisits the exploits of these different expeditions. Looking beyond the personalities and drawing on his own polar experience, I show how their discoveries marked the beginning of the end for traditional exploration. Making use of original and unpublished archival material and weaving in the latest scientific findings, I reveal why 1912 marked the dawn of a new age in understanding of the natural world, and show how we might reawaken the public’s passion for discovery and exploration.

I am passionate about communicating the value of science and believe this can be best achieved by telling stories of some of the great characters from the history of science and their discoveries. My aim is to excite the public about science and inspire the next generation of scientists.


  • Why is Antarctica so special
  • History of discovery and some basic facts (size, height, amount of snow and ice)
  • Why did so many expeditions headed south in 1912?
  • Setting the scene: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s nearly successful effort to claim both the south geographic and magnetic poles in 1909.
  • Tales from the five 1912 expeditions and the science they achieved, including the ground breaking observations they made, the tragic deaths, the attempted murders, newly unearthed facts about Scott of the Antarctic’s death and of course, punching penguins in the face.
  • Depending on the audience, the talks will be supported by props, including clothing, scientific gear and antique cameras.

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