Quick update on the HMS Challenger Project and useful resources

Hello all!

Firstly – sorry it has been so long since I have written a post. It has been manic here! Whilst I am trying to get through a lot of data work and disappearing off to Ireland and Cardiff (for the second time), Holly has been starting to write some website content and disappearing to Manchester (also for the second time) to take some more images of their Challenger material. The website is nearly here! Fingers crossed it should go live by the end of the month (but don’t take my word for it!).

For those interested in reading more about the Challenger expedition here are some resources you could use to help you:

The Challenger reports online

This website has been tremendously useful. It contains pretty much all of the Challenger reports, including the narratives. Brilliant for double checking specimen labels.

Informative books

    • The Silent Landscape: In the Wake of HMS Challenger 1872-1876 by Richard Corfield.
The Silent Landscape In the Wake of HMS Challenger 1872-1876 by Richard Corfield

The Silent Landscape In the Wake of HMS Challenger 1872-1876 by Richard Corfield

This book has been great to read up on the voyage – easy, informative read that takes you right the way through the voyage.

    • At Sea With the Scientifics, The Challenger Letters of Joseph Matkin by Philip Rehbock.
At Sea with the Scientifics by Philip Rehbock

At Sea with the Scientifics by Philip Rehbock

This book gives you the voyage from a different perspective. This book is full of letters written by Joseph Matkin, the ship’s steward assistant. He takes us on his own Challenger journey.

    • Notes by a Naturalist on HMS Challenger by H N Moseley.
Notes by a naturalist on HMS Challenger by HN Moseley

Notes by a naturalist on HMS Challenger by HN Moseley

This book is different yet again. Moseley was one of the scientists on board. Rather than concentrating on what was dredged and trawled at sea, Moseley concentrates on the actual land areas the ship anchored at. He talks about subjects such as the landscape, botany, the people they meet and the culture.

These are definitely some of the best resources on a variety of subjects to do with the HMS Challenger voyage.

Going back to talking about the project, I  (Heather) will spend my last day at RAMM next Friday so it is time to say goodbye. It’s been an amazing year and I don’t want to leave! I will be staying in Exeter though – going to study an MSc in Zooarchaeology. So you never know, I could be back to write again! (Don’t worry though, a post will go out when the Challenger site goes live!)

Bye everyone!

Advertisements

The HMS Challenger Project Team visiting museums

Hello! Heather here. Recently Holly and I spent the week at the Natural History Museum in London. This is packed with specimens dredged and trawled by HMS Challenger – most departments will have some sitting in their store cupboards somewhere! NHM (previously the British Museum) took in all the types collected from the expedition before passing off some duplicates to many museums around the world (Sydney, Lisbon, Toronto, Berlin just to name a few of the international ones). They were left with well over 10,000 Challenger specimens. A couple of weeks ago we visited both the life sciences and the palaeontology departments looking at bottom sediments, ostracods, forams, dry corals, echinoderms and sea pens. We found a big starfish…

Holly and Heather with a big starfish collected on the Challenger Expedition

Holly and Heather with a big starfish collected on the Challenger Expedition stored at NHM

A big box of blue mud dredged up from station 45 (3rd May 1873). Dredged from 1240 fathoms…

DSC_0121

Blue mud dredged off the East coast of the United States stored at NHM.

And then we found the sea pen. There was a particular sea pen we were wanting to find for a while. It didn’t come up on the NHM database search but we were determined that it was there somewhere! It is Umbellula thomsoni. It is in the class Anthozoa and the order Pennatulacea. The Umbellula genus was a rare zoological curiosity that was probably one of the first signs of deep-sea life and so it was a very exciting find for the Challenger crew! On top of it being rare, this particular specimen was an amazing example of bright phosphorescence exhibited in some marine life.  We are waiting for the specimen to be professionally photographed so I can’t show it to you yet but hopefully will be able to soon! Once back from NHM I had one week back in the office at RAMM and then disappeared off to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff for 4 days to photograph some molluscs, including lots and lots of tiny shells! The majority of these were 6mm or smaller and so it was quite a fiddly job. We also got to photograph some bigger molluscs though – like octopus and squid.

DSC_0102

Shells found off of the Azores, Portugal stored at NMW

Some squid caught at station 313, by Argentina

Some squid caught at station 313 by Argentina stored at NMW.

DSC_0041

Some true whelks found off of Brazil stored at NMW.

Next stop is Dublin in 11 days time to visit the National Museum of Ireland. We are keeping busy here on the Challenger project!

April’s Anemones

April’s anemones!

Sea anenomes are in the phylum cnidaria, like jellyfish. Sea anemones attach themselves to rocks with their adhesive foot, attacking prey as they go past with their stinging tentacles. Their tentacles have cells that contain toxins that, when touched, shoot out venom that paralyse the prey. The anemone then uses its tentacles to bring the prey into its mouth.

With over 1000 species of sea anemone, they range from 1/2 inch across to 6ft!  They can be found all over the oceans.

On the HMS Challenger expedition, several species of sea anemone were dredged and trawled. Take a look at some of the plates found in the reports below..

DSC_0056

Plate 1 from the Challenger Actiniaria report. Showing genera such as Porponia, Cercus and Paractis.

DSC_0059

Plate 2 from the Challenger Actiniaria report. Showing genera such as Corallimorphis, Polysiphonia and Bunodes

DSC_0063

Plate 3 from the Challenger Actiniaria report. Showing genera such as Stephanactis, Amphianthus and Ophiodiscus

One species of anemone found on the expedition was Calliactis polypus. They were found on station 208 on January 17th 1875 at 18 fathoms and also at St Vincent, Cape Verde. They were all found on gastropod shells that hermit crabs were living in. This is because the anemone gets to live and feed on the shells in return for protecting the crab. The anemone isn’t naturally attracted to the shells but the hermit crab will persuade the anemone to fix itself on to the shell by tapping on the shell so the anemone relaxes.

Project update!

We are moving a long at a nice pace with the Challenger Project – with the help of many museums we are starting to collect a large amount of Challenger material which I am currently sorting to go on our database. If all deadlines are stuck to, the website/database should go live at the end of September this year. Keep  your eyes peeled!

Me at Bristol Museum photographing Challenger material

Me at Bristol Museum photographing Challenger material

In next month’s blog I will be reading up on the narratives and diaries of HMS Challenger and will be looking in to the dark side of the voyage where all was not going well..

The Sladen collection from HMS Challenger

The Percy Sladen Collection

Here at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum we are lucky enough to have the Percy Sladen collection, part of which was collected on the HMS Challenger throughout the exhibition. Percy Sladen was a scientist born on 30th June 1849 who grew a good reputation as a biologist.

Percy Sladen portrait

He was presented the starfish material to identify after the exhibition was over. He was the only person Thomson and Carpenter (who led the expedition) could find that would be capable of managing to analyse the starfish. The ship had covered about 70,000 nautical miles and over the 354 stations sampled the crew had collected a lot of starfish! Sladen travelled all around Europe to speak to and gain connections with specialists that could help him a long the way. It is said that his hard work and dedication to the project could have been linked to his early death. He died in 1903 and his wife gave the whole collection to RAMM to make sure it was kept together.

Parts of the Percy Sladen Collection from the HMS Challenger

Take a look at a few of the pieces he studied…

263-1903-I-250263-1903-I-236

The picture on the left shows a small starfish whose latin name is ‘Lophaster stellans’. This little star doesn’t seem to have a common name. As you can see, the starfish was found south of Wellington island (off of Chile). We also know that is was found on ‘blue mud’. As far as we know, blue mud is so called because of the blue colour caused by organic material and iron sulphide. It is made up of silt and clay. Another thing to notice on the label is that it is from station 308 so we know that it was found in January 1876.

The picture on the right shows a couple of starfish – a different species ‘Chaetaster longpipes’. These were found off Bermuda at station 36 on some coral- so a few years earlier in April 1873.

263-1903-I-234

Another starfish from Sladen’s collection

All the collection is catalogued – he had a lot of specimens that aren’t Challenger specimens too. We are in the process of putting the Challenger data in to a suitable format for our new database. I just realised I haven’t updated you on that yet! We are speaking to museums around the country and also abroad at the moment to talk to them about the project. We are slowly getting our data and data from the Natural History Museum together. We are using this to create fields for the database and to start designing the website. Once we have a secure design and the initial data is uploaded and tested, we will be moving on to further museums to add their collections.

For anyone that has clicked on this post and is not aware of what the project is about, click here!

Speak to you all soon!

A bit of background for you

The HMS Challenger scientific expedition is fascinating to hear about. For those of you that don’t know much about it and want to know more than what is in the About the Project page then do read on!

DSCF3622

Why search for deep-sea life?

Scientists started looking for deep-sea life to challenge Edward Forbes’ ‘azoic’ theory: The idea that life did not exist below 300 fathoms (about 1800 feet or 549 metres). Forbes was professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh and a very influential man, so his theory was accepted by many. But not by  Charles Wyville Thomson! Thomson worked with his friend William Carpenter to commission the voyage of HMS Lightening that successfully found life at 600 fathoms. This, and the voyages of HMS Porcupine and HMS Shearwater, set the scene for HMS Challenger to explore deep-sea life.

What did HMS Challenger aim to study?

There were four main scientific areas that Wyville Thomson and Carpenter wanted to study:

  • The physical conditions of the sea – What was the temperature of the deep sea? The depth? How far would light travel through the water?
  • The life in the sea – What life is there? At what depths is there life? How is it spread through different areas?
  • The sediments in the sea – What are they and where has it come from?
  • The chemistry of the sea – What is the seawater made of? Does it change at different depths?

These questions had never been answered before. The answers could also add support to the theory of evolution if living creatures were discovered that had previously only been found as fossils on land. Just try to even imagine back in time when none of this was known (hard isn’t it?)…this was a huge investigation which meant an awful lot of work!

The ship and the start of the voyage

Let me tell you a little bit about the ship itself. What was it like? Well, the ship itself was a royal Navy vessel launched in 1858. For the expedition, all but two guns were removed from the ship so there was room for storage of equipment, a dark room for photography, cabins for the crew and laboratories to work in (click on the picture above to see a bigger, annotated version of the layout of the main deck – there is also a top deck, lower deck and a hold on the ship). It wasn’t an overly big ship – there was not much room at all for the 269 crew on board (including 6 scientists) who set off from Portsmouth on 21st December 1872.

Annotated main deck plan

Annotated main deck plan   It wasn’t a fantastic start either – with very stormy weather that made the men seasick and struggle to sit down to eat. However, once they left Gibraltar, things started to look up. They found a sea pen. This was great news as they believed that this was evidence to back up Darwin’s theory of evolution as until now these had only been found on land as fossils. The crew now had hope again. Life on board was certainly not lovely and cosy though – the crew had a very tough time. The cabins for the crew to sleep in were small. Some crew members even had to live below decks in a space only big enough for a chair. Most of the seaman at some point of the voyage got a disease called dysentery, where bacteria causes damage to the large intestines, causing dehydration and diarrhoea. Not a pleasant experience! This was no easy voyage.   DSCF3742-001   I won’t carry on and tell you the whole story right now. The voyage travelled around the globe and will take a long time to tell. So keep an eye out for future posts from myself and the project team where we will continue this fascinating tale of exploration, tell you about the crew the collections of material found, the scientists involved in analysis and more. If there are any particular parts of the voyage you want to know about (or anything else Challenger related for that matter) then do let me know. RAMM has all 50 volumes of the Challenger report (yes, they did take a long time to write – 19 years to publish in fact!) which have a lot of information in. Of course, I will be letting you know all about the progress of the project too!