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RAMM delves into deep-sea data

24 April 2014

A new £91,000 grant from the John Ellerman Regional Museums and Galleries Fund will allow RAMM to re-unite material from the HMS Challenger voyage that laid the foundation for the science of oceanography.

Setting off in 1872, chemists, physicists and biologists embarked upon a 70,000 nautical mile journey of global exploration, systematically surveying the geology, topography, biology and chemistry of the deep sea. They returned four-years later with a mass of data and thousands of specimens, many of which were sent to leading scientists across the globe. Over 4,000 new species were described and the reports written filled 50 volumes and nearly 30,000 pages.

Many of the specimens are held in national museums like the Natural History Museum (NHM), London. These are reasonably well documented but many of the smaller collections of HMS Challenger specimens, scattered throughout regional and university museums, are less well documented. They form an important but little-known and under-utilised resource that RAMM plans to research and make globally available on a searchable, online database.

W. P. Sladen was a major contributor to Challenger reports and his collection of Echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins and their relatives) includes 300 specimens from the HMS Challenger. These are now part of RAMM’s collections and will be added to the new database.

Rosie Denham, Exeter’s Lead Councillor for Economy and Culture, commented “We are very grateful to the John Ellerman Regional Museums and Galleries Fund. RAMM continues to bring some of the country’s best exhibitions and collections to Exeter and pioneer research, but maintaining such a broad reach and high levels of excellence wouldn’t be possible without support like this. This grant will make it possible for RAMM to share its expertise and take a leading role in making the scattered HMS Challenger material available for research.”

Camilla Hampshire, Museum Manager, added: “The voyage of HMS Challenger is of great historical significance and the data from it forms such a rich source of baseline information. With increased scientific monitoring and accelerated environmental change this information has continuing and increasing relevance today.”

Supported with expertise from the Natural History Museum, London, RAMM can now invite national, regional and university museums to join the project, researching their HMS Challenger collections then streamlining and sharing their information. A museum trainee will also be recruited for the duration of the project which will run from 2014 to 2016.

John Ellerman Foundation

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