Science, Politics and Adventure in Antarctica

Jonathan Walton
Wednesday, 2 June 2021 - 6:30pm


Humans have messed up six of the world’s seven continents. At the height of the Cold war, in 1961, 12 powerful nations signed a major treaty: the Antarctic Treaty. It has withstood 60 years of political pressure and indeed now has 48 signatories. The treaty aims to look after Antarctica for all mankind, maintaining it primarily as an international scientific laboratory. It has generated major scientific breakthroughs and that continent has seen some wonderful examples of true International Scientific Collaboration.

While astoundingly beautiful, the Antarctic is a hostile environment to humans. Temperatures rarely rise above freezing and have dropped as low as -89C. The sun is sometimes absent for months on end. Gathering information in these conditions is never easy. The first scientists to attempt serious work on the continent were there in 1901, less than 120 years ago. They very quickly realised the difficulty of their endeavours and there are many fabulous and well known tales of hardships and human endurance as a result.

Less known are the experiences of many adventurous young men (almost entirely men!) over the years doing their bit to add to human knowledge. Jonathan Walton’s talk will lift the lid on everyday life in Antarctica, as experienced by him. 99% of humans on the planet know virtually nothing about the continent. It is over three times as big as Europe and during the Winter season has less than 1,000 people living on it.

This presentation will open up horizons and generate curiosity about the past, the present and the future of Antarctica - and perhaps the rest of our planet too.


About the speaker

Jonathan’s Antarctic career started in 1973 when he was employed as a glaciologist/surveyor with the British Antarctic Survey.  Over the intervening years he has spent about 4 years  on the continent including 15 summer seasons and 2 winters.  He has no pretensions to being a cutting edge scientist but has been very happy to gather data for others to make use of. Clearly he has a cold Weather Gene – his father experienced Antarctic winters in the 1940’s and his son has worked on the continent, even driving a vehicle to the South pole to be used as a taxi!  He does not pretend to know all about Antarctica but he does have boundless enthusiasm for everything Antarctic and really enjoys opening others’ eyes to all aspects of Antarctic life and work. 

Jonathan’s main career (mostly in the UK) was as a Land & Engineering Surveyor – or to use the newest term a “Geospatial Engineer”. He is now retired and considers himself the luckiest person in the world as he gets to spend about 5 weeks every year as a member of the expedition staff on a small tourist ship in Antarctica quite literally telling stories about his favourite subject!  In 1986 he was awarded a Polar Medal for his Antarctic work – as was his father in 1949 – thought to be the only father and son to hold this award. 

Jonathan has lived in Shropshire since 1982 and is almost as enthusiastic about that county as he is about Antarctica.



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Event image: Tabular iceberg, the Weddell Sea, Antarctica by 66 north on Unsplash