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The Silent Landscape

Chapter 2. The Desert under the Sea

Lisbon, Portugal, 3 January 1873, 38o44'N, 09o 08'W

The Lost Empire

On January 3, 1873 Challenger entered Lisbon Roads, the anchorage on the river Tagus, arriving at the city of Lisbon at midday...

...Just before departure, the King of Portugal, an enthusiastic natural historian, paid a visit to the ship, where Nares and Wyville Thomson, impressed with the king's knowledge of biology, took great delight in introducing him to the cutting edge of Victorian technology.

After being detained in Lisbon for two days longer than planned because of bad weather, on January 12, Challenger made all plain sail for the most southerly of Victoria's possessions in Europe, Gibraltar.

Night of the Living Dead

Soon after leaving Lisbon, in water 2,000 fathoms (6,000 feet, a little more than a mile) deep, they dredged a sea lily.

The Scientifics' recovery of the crinoid was significant because it proved that the Challenger expedition was fulfilling one of its primary roles: testing Darwin's theory that the bottom of the ocean was a haven for life forms that were extinct on land.

The Echo of an Idea

Sounding and dredging were the two techniques at the heart of Challenger's enterprise; sounding to measure the depth of the ocean over which the ship passed and dredging to bring up material for study.

Today these seem incredibly primitive, just throwing a string over the side of a boat. But in fact they represented the cutting edge of Victorian remote sensing technology.

Now click here to enter Chapter 3. The Restless Earth...



Richard Corfield 2003 in association with pedalo.co.uk