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The HMS Challenger; One of the Earliest Scientific Expeditions That Changed the Course of Scientific History


HMS Challenger Anatomy of a penguin

"Anatomy of Penguins" The Voyage of HMS Challenger

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The HMS Challenger set sail on December 21, 1872, from Portsmouth, England, containing an impressive crew of physicists, chemists, biologists, artists, and expert navigators, all of which shared the common goal of circumnavigating the globe while studying the flora and fauna that live within our oceans. On its 68,890-nautical-mile-voyage, the Challenger obtained 492 deep-sea soundings, 133 bottom samples, 151 open-water trawls, and 263 serial water temperature readings. It is estimated that on this voyage nearly 4,700 new species of marine life were discovered. Among some of the instruments used during this voyage were a shallow-water dredge, a deep-sea trawl (that had no closing device), specimen jars containing alcohol for preservation, thermometers and water sampling devices such as the Buchanan water sampler, 144 miles of Italian hemp rope, and 12.5 miles of piano wire for sampling gear, as well as many microscopes and instruments for the on-board laboratories. The ship contained a natural history laboratory where specimens were examined, identified, dissected, and drawn, and a chemistry laboratory containing a (then) state-of-the-art boiling device called a carbonic acid analysis apparatus, used for analyzing carbonic acid contained in samples.


  1. Oceanography: An Introduction to the Marine Environment (Peter K. Weyl, 1970)
  2. Rice, A.L. (1999). "The Challenger Expedition". Understanding the Oceans: Marine Science in the Wake of HMS Challenger. Routledge. pp. 27–48


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