Great Britain has a long and storied history of seagoing exploration and the pursuit of scientific research all throughout the globe. Some of the very first studies to be done on the ocean seafloor, its currents and marine life were carried out aboard British ships. These early contributions on the behalf of the British Empire paved the way for future expeditions and greatly broadened mankind’s awareness of the ocean and its forces. The research gathered in these expeditions also gave life to many different scientific fields dealing with various aspects of oceanography and marine biology.
One of the earliest studies of the ocean was also one of exploration and was carried out between the years of 1768 and 1779 with Captain James Cook in command. The first of his three expeditions was to the Pacific Ocean and yielded a great amount of data regarding the formation of reefs. Having traveled as far south as New Zealand aboard the HMS Endeavor, the expedition became the first to chart The Great Barrier Reef when the ship ran aground. Upon Cook’s second expedition aboard the Resolution, Cook became the first to cross the Antarctic Circle in 1773 and continued on with this expedition in an exploration of Antarctica.
Many consider the 1872 to 1876 voyage of the HMS Challenger, a British warship of the era, to be the first true study of oceanography, however. This very well may be the case, as well, considering that it produced fifty volumes of scientific data and knowledge of an additional 4,417 new species that were discovered during the expedition. Sir John Murray was an important part of this voyage, as he became the first to discover the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Murray would also be part of the 1910 North Atlantic expedition which resulted in the literary work “The Depths of the Ocean.”
Both of these early studies yielded vast amounts of information that became of great scientific importance. The understanding of the world’s oceans as a whole was broadened by these expeditions and gave scientists a greater understanding of ocean currents, the composition of the seafloor and, perhaps most importantly, the various types of life that call the ocean home. The study of reefs and their eventual discovery to be self-supporting ecosystems was also spurred on by these voyages. The information gathered, as well as the additional answers that it brought forth, resulted in the immense expansion of the field of marine biology.