Appendix III: Meteorology

J. A. McIlroy, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., and L. D. A. Hussey, B.Sc.

Meteorological observations made at one single station are of little value by themselves. Their full value lies in the possibility of their being correlated with observations made contemporaneously at other stations in neighbouring parts of the world. Particularly is this so where the station is a moving one, as in the case of the Quest. Consequently no attempt can be made here to draw any general conclusions from the observations which were made on the voyage.

The complete meteorological logs have been handed over to the Marine Meteorological Section of the Air Ministry, as, with all the material that they can collect from ships all over the world, that body is in a position to make the best use of our results.

The Island Tree (Phylica Nitida) | Photo: Wilkins
Sea-elephants Among The Rocks
Commander Worsley Taking Observations Of The Sun By Sextant | Photo: Wilkins
Taking Sea Temperatures, Commander Wild And Mcilroy | Photo: Dr. Macklinhussey

At the outset of the expedition the Air Ministry very kindly gave us every assistance, and lent us a great deal of apparatus and many instruments on the understanding that they would be allowed to use the information that we gathered. This arrangement 341 has been carried out, and we hope that among the many scientific results of the expedition we have been able to add one link to the chain of observations which is being made daily all round the world, and so we may have justified our existence.

The instruments used consisted of the following:

(a) Two standard ships’ screens, in each of which were a wet and dry bulb thermometer. These were placed one on each side of the bridge, well exposed and as far as possible away from any draughts and convection currents from galley and engine-room. The readings were taken from the screen on the weather side.

(b) A marine-pattern mercury barometer, hung in the gyroscope-compass room, which was also used to check the ship’s aneroid which was placed in the wheel-house.

(c) A barograph, which was, however, of little use owing to the bad weather that we experienced and the continual rolling and pitching of the ship.

(d) Several sea thermometers and hydrometers for surface work.

(e) Various equipment, such as kites, balloons and meteorographs, which were taken for experimental purposes.

Complete observations were taken every four hours of air and sea temperatures, humidity, pressure, wind, direction and form of clouds, etc., in the usual ship’s meteorological log.

Except when the ship was in port, where permanent stations existed, these observations were carried out continuously during the whole of the voyage, making roughly about two thousand odd sets of observations in all.

Although no general conclusion can yet be drawn from these observations, a general summary of the weather conditions experienced by the Quest may be of interest.

As far as actual wind force is concerned, the first part of the journey, to Lisbon, was uneventful, except for a short but heavy gale when off the Bay of Biscay. This gale lasted at its height for about eight hours, after which it gradually eased off. It was accompanied by a sudden very marked fall in the barometer, but no corresponding change in the wind, which was blowing from the south all the time.

The day after leaving Lisbon, when well out to sea, a large waterspout was observed only about a mile away westward.

From now onwards, until after leaving St. Vincent, the wind was steady but weak, never once approaching gale force. The north-east Trades, even, almost failed us, and were of very little assistance indeed.

This state of affairs continued till we reached Rio de Janeiro, and it was after leaving this port on December 18th, 1921, that our troubles from the weather commenced.

Two days before Christmas, 1921, a very calm sea and still, damp air, with the horizon obscured, gave us fears for the future. 342 That these were only too well founded was proved next day, when, with a steadily falling barometer and an equally steadily rising sea, the wind increased from the south. The sky became overcast and intense squalls followed each other in rapid succession. Conditions became worse during the next three days, and on the following two days, December 29th and 30th, the wind blew with hurricane force. Huge seas threatened to swamp the ship, the helm was lashed, and everyone except Sir Ernest and Captain Wild were sent below. Sir Ernest said that never in all his life had he seen such mountainous seas. Oil-bags were hung out, and we ran before the storm. On the fifth day conditions seemed to improve, but it was only a temporary lull, and a storm of equal violence succeeded this, lasting for two days. This gale lasted in all over seven days, and during most of this time it was rarely possible to cook a proper meal or, indeed, keep one’s balance on deck at all; and the mere taking of the observations under these circumstances entailed a pretty thorough soaking. Fortunately a barographic curve was obtained during the whole of this storm, and it shows in a striking way the sudden rapid fall in atmospheric pressure which occurred during this time.

There was not a dry spot left on the ship, and the hydrograph and maximum and minimum thermometers were encrusted with salt from the seas, which even washed over the upper bridge where these instruments were placed.

January, 1922, gave promise of fair weather, and as far as wind was concerned that promise was fulfilled. The voyage from South Georgia down to the pack was marked by one or two gales of moderate severity, with the sky almost continuously overcast. Close, heavy pack seemed nearly always associated with fine, clear weather and southerly winds, while the reverse obtained as the wind veered to the opposite direction. When actually frozen in and drifting with the pack the weather was generally fine.

The lowest temperature experienced was 6°F. on March 15th in latitude 63° 45´ S. and longitude 45° 12´ W., and again on March 16th and 17th in about the same position. At these temperatures—26° below freezing—the water round the wet-bulb was frozen, and so dry-bulb readings alone were obtainable.

From this time onwards gales generally from the south were of much more frequent occurrence than fine weather or even moderate winds, and Elephant Island lived up to its evil reputation by being the centre of such bad weather as to make landing extremely dangerous.

From South Georgia to Tristan da Cunha—May 8th to May 19th—the journey was marked by such bad weather that winds of under gale force occurred on less than half a dozen occasions only. This can to some extent be accounted for by the lateness of the season and the approach of mid-winter. 343
With the exception of one sharp gale, the weather experienced round Gough Island was a considerable improvement on that which had been our almost daily lot for the previous two months.

Our stay at Tristan was not long enough for us to collect information as to general weather conditions on the island, but the padre who is now there, and who is erecting a meteorological station, will doubtless supply a useful series of observations.

From Gough Island to Cape Town—June 2nd to June 18th, 1922—similar weather was experienced, only about four days not showing gales. Slight, but very slight, improvement in weather conditions occurred on the way up to Ascension from the Cape, but from thence onwards much finer weather was our lot till we were two days off England, when another gale welcomed us home.

As we made clear at first, this memorandum is not intended to be a complete and detailed dissection and analysis of the two thousand odd series of observations that were made during the voyage, but only to indicate how bad weather handicapped all our efforts in the southern hemisphere.

If, when these results come, in the course of time, to be considered in conjunction with others made in those parts, we shall have added our little bit to the present very meagre knowledge of weather conditions there, we shall feel satisfied. For every addition to our knowledge of regional meteorology contributes to our knowledge of meteorology in general, and so helps us to understand the many perplexing problems which meteorologists all the world over are up against.

In conclusion, a word of thanks is due to Captain Brooke-Smith and Commander Hennessey of the Meteorological Section of the Air Ministry, for much valuable advice and assistance, both before we sailed and after our return home.

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