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First Person

1,800 miles to go

Anthony Goddard, a software developer in Woods Hole, is providing the science know-how to two British explorers aiming to copy Robert Scott’s century-old foot trip across Antarctica.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

I don’t know how many in the scientific community would see [Scott’s fatal Terra Nova expedition] as any sort of failure. They collected the longest unbroken record of meteorological observations from down there to date. And because it was such a long unbroken record, it was used for years to come.

The main experiment that [the current expedition is] doing is rerecording the measurements that were taken in 1911 and 1912. We chose a lightweight weather station for them to use: During the day, they pull this unit out and set it to record for as long as they can. That will capture a whole host of meteorological recordings, like wind speed, windchill, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure — there are about 15 different measurements.

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I’ve written this suite of software tools that captures all the position data, and we do things with it like determine distances to way points or show their current position. Also, there’s data transfer stuff I’ve had to work on, because they have such low bandwidth with their satellite phone. It’s like going back to the mid-’90s to use a dial-up modem.

The coldest number they’ve actually seen is -46 C [-50.8 F] windchill. But there may have been two minutes earlier, or an hour later, when it was much colder.

What we’re hoping isn’t to make any statements or do science on that data ourselves, but to get this data and provide it to the specialists, who are going to know exactly where its value is.

Places like Antarctica hold scientific value because they’re so isolated and the environments are so extreme. And this is a place where, if enough of the ice melts, everyone in New England probably has to find a new place to live, right?    

— As told to Jeff Harder (Interview has been edited and condensed.)

UPDATES The four-month trip — equivalent to about 69 back-to-back marathons — should conclude this month. To track the team’s position, go to scottexpedition.com.

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