I was sitting in the Royal Geographical Society lecture theatre listening about Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. Gazing up at the immaculate panelling adorning the auditorium I notice a band of names written in gold. Livingstone. Darwin. Speke. Burton. Stanley. Shackleton. Scott. The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I wonder if this is perhaps the most inspiring moment of my life; almost all my heroes have been in this room, they have all walked these corridors and studied the same maps in preparation for their own voyages of discovery. I can feel their personalities, their energy and determination pushing me on. Don’t stop; keep exploring.
Earlier this year I was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the UK’s learned society for geography. A learned society is one that promotes a discipline; for the RGS-IBG it’s geography – the study of people and places. And there has never been a more pressing time to do so. Climate change, overpopulation, competition for scarce resources and extreme weather are just some of the challenges facing us in the twenty first century. And to adapt we must first learn. This is role of the Royal Geographical Society and its work is as important today as it was when founded in 1830.
The Royal Geographical Society’s strategy on climate change almost perfectly mirrors that of my Turning Tides voyage; to better understand what’s happening and explore solutions to the challenges. In preparation I’ve been using the societies’ Reading Room with its collection of 2 million maps and books. Scanning through the database for information on the Gulf Stream I find a chart from the 1800’s. The attentive librarian disappears into a side room and emerges a few minutes later. I open the document and read the writing on the side, signed Matthew Fontaine Maury, the 'father' of modern oceanography. I feel a jolt of adrenaline; after reading so much about this man it makes my fingers tingle to be holding the same piece of paper he wrote on nearly two hundred years ago.
The librarian is on a roll. He brings out a book from 1790 with a feature from Benjamin Franklin advising how sea captains can use thermometers to gauge water temperatures in the Atlantic and help chart the Gulf Stream. This technique is still relevant today and we’ll be doing the same on our voyage, collecting water samples and sending them to labs in the UK and US to help scientists better understand the chemistry of our oceans in this time of unprecedented climate change. Warming water, melting ice, changing currents, ocean acidification – these are all effects of global warming and we still don’t fully know what the impacts are. More research is needed. Much more.
Help us contribute to this research through the Turning Tides voyage; become a Patron today.
*The RGS-IBG actively welcomes new members; join now and enjoy the world-class library, working facilities, expedition support and inspiring ‘Monday Night Lectures’. See more at www.rgs.org
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