How to Map the Ocean Floor: The Challenger Expedition 1872-1876

December 2022

On 7 December 1872 the Challenger expedition set sail from Sheerness. It’s purpose was conceived just two years earlier, in 1870, by Charles Wyville Thomson Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University. Thomson had managed to persuade the Royal Society of London to ask the British Government to furnish one of Her Majesty’s ships for a prolonged voyage of exploration across the oceans of the globe….a voyage of deep-sea exploration, unique for its scale of ambition and scope. Their job was to do nothing les than map the ocean floor and search for life in the abyss.

This remarkable expedition was made possible by extraordinary technological and scientific developments, international co-operation on an unprecedented scale and also large-scale co-operation between civilians and naval personnel. Its results did nothing less than change the way that we think about the maritime world.

To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke the with Erika jones, Curator of Navigation and Oceanography at Royal Museums Greenwich. Erika’s work focuses not only on the Challenger expedition but more broadly on nineteenth-century science and the development of modern oceanography.

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