Women on tall ships (part 1)

Were there women on tall ships when they were the biggest vessels afloat? The wooden world is often seen as totally masculine, full of Russell Crowe types with their supporting cast of thugs and young gentlemen. Son of a gun It depends rather on both the work of the ship … Continue reading

Sobbing and bravery: Lewis, Aston and Macarthur

Ellen MacArthur smashed the records for sailing single-handed round the world in 2005. She was 29 and she took the 23m trimaran B&Q round in just 71 days. She did not have a safety boat trailing along to pick her up, or helicopters on stand-by, though I’ve heard people mutter … Continue reading

Ice and the Sky: bubbles of  fossilised time

Garlanded with honours and academic recognition, French paleo-geologist Claude Lorius still says towards the end of this film that he wonders whether his life will make a difference. He wanders elegiacally through rocks only half covered in ice and stands in the rising tide on some distant atoll, emphasising the ice … Continue reading

COP15 and Antarctica: how soon, how fast, how deep?

Torrents of bandwidth have been dedicated to the Paris climate change conference (COP15). I am not an expert, a scientist or diplomat so I’ve focused on one small question. What about Antarctica, the warning canary of climate change? The standout headline is the commitment to keep global temperatures ‘well below’ 2° … Continue reading

Darkness in the abyss

Glacial melt isn’t only about sea-level rise. It’s about mud. Sediment to be precise. As old ice melts into the sea it brings down all that stuff it’s been sitting on, the mud it has scraped up and absorbed over decades and centuries. Newly exposed, ice-free beaches deteriorate too, putting … Continue reading

The Enduring Eye: Hurley’s record of the Endurance

Ernest Shackleton decided that he wanted a professional photographer with him on the grandly named Imperial Trans-Antarctic Exhibition which left England in 1914, receiving the message that war had broken out shortly after steaming out of port. He chose Frank Hurley, a young Australian. Hurley had a great commitment to … Continue reading

Crab Attack: the ground-hunting rats of Antarctica

  The isolated, unique ecosystem of the New Zealand islands lay undisturbed for millennia with no ground-based predators. Flightless birds evolved, laying eggs in safe nests like this sweetly curled kiwi. Then humans turned up, along with rats: ground-based omnivores which have had a massive impact on all sorts of species. I … Continue reading