History of antarctic ozone research

année géophysique internationale

Dobson spectrophotometers were installed in Antarctica since 1956 at the insistence of the Secretary General of the International Geophysical Year, Professor M. Nicolet and of Professor Dobson himself. The purpose of this operation was to complete the study of Antarctic meteorology using stratospheric ozone as a circulation tracer.

The longest continuous series are those of the British Antarctic Survey bases and of the Japanese Syowa base.  One of the first surprises1  of these first observations were very low values at the return of the Sun in October and a November maximum exhibiting an asymmetric behaviour compared to Northern hemisphere Spitzbergen values.

Dobson (1968) explained these low October values (in October 1956 and 1957, about 150 Dobson units lower than expected) by dynamics: "It was clear that the winter vortex over the South Pole was maintained late into the spring and that this kept the ozone values low".

These anomalous 1956 and 1957 values led to special care and monitoring of the instruments stationed in Antarctica and in particular of Dobson instrument n° 51 at the British base of Argentine Islands.

This particular instrument belongs to the International Ozone Commission and was in use from October 1957 to December 1961 in Antarctica, after this date, the instrument was fully recalibrated and it was later used for the Belgo-Dutch expeditions.


chapman nicolet dobson


Professor Chapman and Nicolet at an igy meeting (BIRA-IASB document) Professor Dobson (Oxford document)   A meeting of the Igy executive concil at the Royal meteorological institute Brussels chaired by M. Nicolet (LIFE photographs)
Professors Chapman, Dobson and Nicolet were the funders of ozone science.

The ozone data of "Base Roi Baudouin" were reported in the “Ozone Data of the World”. After 1967, the instrument was recalibrated in the Netherlands and sent back to WMO in Switzerland which lent it to the Polytechnical School of Zurich in order to transform it into an automatic instrument.  

The instrument was then decommissioned and unfortunately, its latest calibration reports were lost. However, it can be stated that if the Dutch observers had seen a difference justifying a reanalysis, they would have done it. The present digitization of the original notes would make this process very easy if these reports were to be found again.


1Dobson, G.M.B., Forty years research on atmospheric ozone at Oxford, a history, Appl. Optics, 7, 387-405, 1968.

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