A Memory of Ice: the Antarctic Voyage of the Glomar Challenger

Abstract: The ocean drilling ship Glomar Challenger left Fremantle on 20 December 1972. It was the start of Leg 28, the first of a number of ‘legs’ of the Deep Sea Drilling Project planned for high southern latitudes. Largely it was a test of drilling operations in waters close to Antarctica, with severe weather and the ever-present danger of icebergs. I was fortunate to be a young scientist on that expedition. During the voyage of the Glomar Challenger, in the best tradition of Antarctic explorers, I kept a diary, written on a flimsy foolscap pad. Now these many years later and much tattered, it has served as the basis of a book shortly to be published. This records the daily activity associated with drilling, the anticipation of steaming to new sites – to un-signposted spots in a blank grey ocean - the nervous waiting for cores to come up and the frenzy of activity when they do. I have set the story in its historical context as far as possible.


Our departure took place 100 years – minus just one day – after the first ocean cruise dedicated wholly to science, that of our namesake vessel, HMS Challenger. She weighed anchor from Portsmouth, England on 21st December 1872, at the beginning of what was to be a four-year, 130,000 kilometre voyage sampling and dredging the world’s oceans. The Royal Society sponsored that expedition. Its aims were to investigate the physical conditions of the deep sea, as far south as the Great Ice Barrier, now the Ross Ice Shelf; to investigate the chemical composition of sea water; to examine the physical and chemical character of deep sea deposits; and to investigate the distribution of organic life at different depths and on the sea floor. The scientific aims of our own cruise were to explore the history of the polar icecap and the changing environments of seas surrounding Antarctica and to investigate sea-floor spreading between Australia and Antarctica.


The outcomes of our voyage were outstanding for the time, and have been well documented in the scientific literature. Less well known, however, are the historic aspects; the encounters with those who have gone before into these inhospitable regions. Our link with HMS Challenger was clear on departure, that vessel serving as a kind of spiritual ancestor to the Glomar Challenger. But sailing south, between two drill sites on the South East Indian Ridge, we crossed the track of James Cook’s vessel, HMS Resolution, a little over 200 years ago, sailing east on the first circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent. Close to Antarctica, we drilled off the coast of Wilkes Land, named for Charles Wilkes, the commander of the US Exploring Expedition of 1838-42. Later, we sailed and drilled at sites in the Ross Sea, where James Clark Ross, commanding the Erebus and Terror, charted much of the coastline, naming it for Queen Victoria. The young botanist Joseph Hooker – a father of Australian botany - was a naturalist on that voyage.


Bio: Elizabeth Truswell was born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.  She has spent much of her working life as a geoscientist, with an Honours degree from the University of Western Australia and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. After post-doctoral study in the USA, she worked as a palaeontologist and environmental geoscientist with Geoscience Australia. In the scientific literature she has published papers dealing with geological timescales, the reconstruction of past vegetation and environments in Australia and Antarctica, and the evolution of the Australian flora. She was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1985,  and a Fellow of the Geological Society of Australia in 2009. In 1997, in response to a long-held interest in drawing and painting, she enrolled in Visual Arts at the Australian National University, graduating with Honours in painting in 2000. She has held a number of solo exhibitions since then, and her works are held in Australia, the USA, France and Italy. Her interests lie in the relationship between art and science. In art history they include the art of the early voyages of discovery to Antarctica and the role of visual artists and poets in communicating the landscapes encountered to a wider public. She has recently been a Visiting Fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University, dividing her time between ongoing scientific research and making art.