On This Day In History: HMS Challenger Begins Scientific Exploration Of Oceans – On Dec 21, 1872

On December 21, 1872 the HMS Challenger sailed from Portsmouth, England, in the first scientific voyage, which would last almost three and a half years.

This scientific expedition was organized to examine the deep-sea floor and shed more light on the unknown the ocean environment.

The expedition covered 69,000 miles (about 130.000 km) and gathered data on currents, water chemistry, temperature, bottom deposits and marine life at 362 oceanographic stations.

During the long sailing, researchers discovered more than 4700 new species of marine animals; many of which were found on the seafloor – an environment that scientists originally believed to be too inhospitable to support life.

In 1868, British naturalist William B. Carpenter and Sir Charles Wyville Thomson, Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University convinced the Royal Society of London to sponsor a prolonged voyage of exploration across the oceans of the globe.

A ship for global ocean exploration was needed to organize this expedition but it was not until 1872 that Royal Society of London obtained the use of the HSM Challenger from the Royal Navy.

A steam-assisted three-masted square-rigged wooden sailing vessel, HMS Challenger, was modified for scientific work with storage space and indispensable laboratories for natural history and chemistry.

The data collected by researchers were invaluable and filled a 29,500-page report – with written descriptions of animal life encountered on the voyage – that took 23 years to completely compile.

The expedition returned on 24 May 1876, after visiting 362 different locations.

The route went south from England, around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Indian Ocean past Australia and into the Pacific, around Cape Horn and back to England.

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