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Department of Geography, University of Cambridge


Sea Monster to Sonar: Charting the Polar Oceans

Sea Monster to Sonar: Charting the Polar Oceans

Polar Hydrography from ancient imagination to modern science

Wednesday 5 March - Saturday 31 May 2014

Sea monster Ziphius eating a seal (courtesy

This exhibition traces the development and use of maps of the Polar oceans and coastlines. Hydrography, the mapping of the seafloor and coast, has been an essential aspect of humanity's engagement with these hostile and frequently contested regions during times of exploration, speculation, science and the pursuit of economic resources.

Maps are crucial tools for survival. For this exhibition the gallery space will be transformed into a trail of discovery revealing imagined and established trade routes, and journeys made for scientific discovery. Objects of significant interest on display include replica Greenlandic driftwood maps, a life-size submarine control room, hand drawn charts produced at the cost of many lives, electronic charts in the modern era and an original 16th century atlas depicting fictional Arctic islands.

This exhibition includes objects of significant interest including replica Greenlandic charts made of driftwood, hand drawn and electronic charts, a life-size submarine control room and an original 16th Century atlas by Gerardus Mercator displaying fictional Artic islands.

Arctic Dome painted by MacDonald Gill at Scott Polar Research Institute

Exploring imagined and established trade routes and journeys made for scientific discovery this exhibition highlights how maps are used as crucial tools for survival. It explores the history of how we mapped the Polar regions, how they were utilised in conflicts and in times of cooperation and encounters a world where sea monsters were thought to live.

The historically important role of Great Britain is highlighted through the great journeys of Captain Cook, Captain Scott, Sir John Franklin RN and those who searched for the Arctic. It commemorates the efforts, successes and sacrifices made by scientists on foot, paddling canoes, sailing boats and flying aircraft to learn ever more about the frozen ends of the Earth.