Virtual Challenger

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps has an Oceanographic Exhibit called “Exploring The Blue Planet." The goal of this exhibit is to introduce the oceans in terms of their formation and importance to life on earth. The exhibit experience emphasizes that understanding the oceans is key to understanding our planet as a global system. The first section of this exhibit is History of Oceanography and one component of this features the 1872-1876 voyage of the HMS Challenger .

The Birch Aquarium has been developing a virtual Challenger exhibit and creating accompanying web based educational materials. The exhibit depicts a scientific lab that was set up just below the upper deck in the Challenger . Highlights in the exhibit include: specimen bottles and reagents showing that creatures were brought back from the ocean saved in "spirits of wine," and Challenger discovered 4,417 new species of living things; two specimen jars with the same fish from markedly different ocean locations demonstrating what scientists noticed for the first time, that animals and plants from water of the same temperature were very similar even if they were collected thousands of miles apart; a sample of a "weird" fish showing scientists that fish could live in almost total darkness and that some fish glow in the dark; manganese nodules, something scientists had never seen before, taken in a bottom sample at a depth of nearly 5 km.; a microscope showing that plant and animal life was abundant in many surface waters, and samples from sea floor sediments revealing microscopic skeletons allowing Challenger to collect and identify 3,508 new species of radiolaria; newspaper clippings showing the public curiosity and pride in this voyage very similar to the USA Apollo landing in 1969; a map showing details of one of the 360 stations where a standard set of data was collected, the data being water depth, temperature at various depths, weather conditions, water currents at surface, seafloor samples, water samples, samples of plant and animal life at various depths; a map showing the distance traveled by Challenger entering all the oceans except the Arctic.

Another part of the exhibit displays the work that had to be done after the voyage to analyze and publicize the results and bring this new knowledge to the scientific community and the general public. The studies were summarized in the 50 volumes of the Challenger Reports and one of these original volumes is on display. The Scripps Library has all 50 volumes of these reports. Scripps also has letters from a 19-year-old seaman Joseph Matkin, who wrote to his family describing the entire voyage. One of these is displayed showing the "cross writing" style of the day used to save paper. These letters provide important insights about working techniques and shipboard life during the voyage. Web based educational materials for this portion of the exhibit will be based on selected digitized material from the Challenger Reports.


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