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Notable oceanographic expeditions

This is a list and brief synopsis of notable expeditions that have in some way benefited the field of oceanography. It covers the years 1657 to 1933, and is (for now) directly pinched from Seas, Maps, and Men: An Atlas-History of Man's Exploration of the Oceans (1962), a book edited by G. E. R. Deacon (and which is reviewed elsewhere in these pages). Eventually I hope to have these more fully explained as well as referenced and illustrated, but for now it's just a brief and a bit dry history of significant oceanographic expeditions. I also want to extend this beyond 1933. Enjoy.


Edmund Halley (1657-1742)
A British astronomer, Halley (of comet fame) made probably the first primarily scientific voyage--to study the variation of the magnetic compass--sailing as far as 52 deg. S in the Atlantic Ocean in 1698-1700. On a previous expedition to St. Helena, he made an important contribution to knowledge of the trade winds. He realized more than anyone the value of Newton's Principia and arranged for it to be printed at his own expense.
James Cook (1728-1779)
On his three great voyages between 1768 and 1780, Cook carried naturalists in his ships and made careful observations of winds and currents. During the second voyage the Forster brothers measured subsurface temperatures and found a warm deep layer below the Antarctic surface water.
Francois Peron (1775-1810)
A French naturalist and physicist, Peron accompanied a French circumnavigation of the globe in 1800-1804. He was able to make only a few rather uncertain deep temperature measurements, but was much impressed by the importance of oceanic research adn maintained that it had received too little attention.
Ivan F. Kruzenstein (1770-1846)
He commanded a Russian circumnavigation in 1803-1806 and was accompanied by Dr. J. C. Horner and with him made a number of deep sea temperature measurements in the tropical Pacific and the Sea of Okhotsk.
William Scoresby (1789-1857)
An English whaler and scientist, Scoresby made many surface and deep observations in the seas around Spitsbergen adn off the coast of Greenland between 1810 and 1822.
Fabion G. von Bellingshausen (1779-1852)
He circumnavigated the Antarctic continent in 1819-1821, much of the voyage being south of 60 deg. S. He was bitterly disappointed in having to sail without a naturalist. "In this way our hopes of making discoveries in the field of natural history were dashed to the ground," he wrote. Nevertheless, he made many valuable observations, and his artist Paul Mikhailov painted a fine series of pictures of marine animals.
Otto von Kotzebue (1787-1846)
This Russian admiral made two circumnavigations in 1815-1818 anda 1823-1826, primarily for scientific purposes. Many deep-sea temperature observations were made, and Emil von Lenz, physicist on the second voyage, recognized that a surface flow of water from low to high latitudes must be supplied by a flow from the poles at great depths.
Jean S. C. Dumont d'Urville (1790-1842)
A French admiral, he made three circumnavigations in 1822-1825, 1826-1829, and 1837-1840. He made many deep-sea temperature observations, but because of the effect of pressure on the thermometers he concluded that in the open oceans the temperature of the water below about 500 fathoms was uniform at nearly 4.4 deg. C. He wrongly concluded that somewhere between 40 deg. S and 60 deg. S, ocean water was at a uniform temperature of 4.4 deg. C from the surface to the bottom.
Sir James Clark Ross (1800-1862)
He made the first extensive series of deep sea soundings during his voyage to the Southern Seas in 1839-1843 in H. M. S. Erebus and Terror. He made comprehensive studies of the Earth's magnetism, many deep-sea temperature measurements and extensive biological collections. Dr. J. D. Hooker, who went on the voyage as surgeon-naturalist, published his well-known Botany of the Antarctic, voyage of the Erebus and Terror. Ross also studied the effect of variations of atmospheric pressure on sea level. He had the same ideas as Dumont d'Urville about temperature of the deep water. Dredgings were made at depths down to 400 fathoms but the collections were subsequently neglected and lost to science.
Charles Wilkes (1798-1877)
He commanded six ships taking part in the U.S. expedition of 1838-1842. Although the scientific staff, under the direction of the famous naturalist J. D. Dana, did not go south of Sydney, Australia, extensive natural history collections were made. Scientifically the expedition is best known for Dana's description of Crustacea. What must have been an enormous collection of fishes was never properly reported on.
Robert Fitzroy (1805-1865)
This British admiral commanded the Beagle during her famous voyages of 1826-1836. Charles Darwin, who sailed in her from 1831-1836, added much to our knowledge of natural history, especially on the structure and origin of coral reefs and islands. Only two sets of temperature observations were made.
Matthew F. Maury (1806-1873)
An officer in the United States Navy, he sailed around the world and his sea experience taught him the critical need to increase the efficiency of shipping through better navigation and safety at sea. He was successful in convincing the world of the value of more systematic study and charting of winds and currents. He also produced the first bathymetric chart of the North Atlantic Current.
Edward Forbes (1815-1854)
He studied the fauna of the Aegean Sea and did much to stimulate interest in marine biology, partly, perhaps, by promoting an active study of depths greater than 300 fathoms, below which he believed that animal life ceased to exist.
William B. Carpenter (1813-1885)
Sir Charles Wyville Thomson (1830-1882)
Gwyn Jeffreys (1809-1885)
They made dredging expeditions in H.M.S. Lightning, Porcupine, and Shearwater in the eastern North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. They found many new species of animals and made enough temperature observations to show that there was an active circulation of the water below the surface. They dredged at depths down to 2000 fathoms.
H. M. S. Challenger (1872-1876)
This research ship carried five scientists, under the direction of Wyville Thomson, and made extensive biological, chemical, geological and physical observations, mainly in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and across the Indian Ocean south of 40 deg. S. The extensive biological collections, together with soundings, bottom samples, and chemical and physical observations, presented the first broad view of the character of the oceans.


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Last checked or updated: Jan. 20, 1996

S. Baum
Dept. of Oceanography
Texas A&M University

baum@astra.tamu.edu