Picture of Antarctic Landscape ©Axel Fassio

Meet the Expert: Geologist Tom Sharpe

Zegrahm Expeditions|May 20, 2020|Blog Post

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Have you ever found yourself fascinated by an unusual rock? If so, you most definitely have something in commom with Geologist Tom Sharpe. Even if you've never found a rock very fascinating,Tom's in-depth knowledge and unique way of sharing his love of geology captures the attention of rock enthusiasts and rock novices alike. 

We recently had the opportunity to do a quick Q & A with Tom to learn more about his background, interests, favorite expedition moments, travel bucket list, what he loves about Zegrahm, and more. We hope you enjoy discovering more about one of our expert expedition team members! 

Where are you from and where have you lived?

I’m from Glasgow in Scotland, but I lived in Wales for many years.

Tell us about yourself—what path led you to becoming a Zegrahm Leader? 

Chance. I was teaching a course at a university in England in 2007 when an email came round the internal system looking for a geologist to stand in for a colleague who had had to pull out of a cruise around the UK. I was free and knew the sites, so I signed up. It wasn’t a Zegrahm trip, but there was a staff member on board who did work for Zegrahm and she booked me for a Zegrahm Antarctic trip the following season. That first Zegrahm trip was in January 2009, and I’ve worked with Zegrahm ever since.

What other jobs, positions, or credentials do you have? 

I was curator of paleontology at a national museum for 35 years and taught geology courses at several universities for about 30 years (these were concurrent, not consecutive appointments!). Now I no longer work full time but am trying to catch up on writing.

Picture of Tom Sharpe on Petermann Island Antarctica ©Jim Wilson

What other fields are you passionate about? 

Er… rocks. Just rocks. And landscapes. And the history of my subject. Lots of really interesting characters played a part in the developing science of geology in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I like using their stories to personalize what can sometimes be a difficult subject to get across. 

Any awards, publications, and/or television appearances you’d like to share? 

I’ve produced various publications over the years, ranging from single page leaflets and handouts for fieldtrips to 150-page field guides, magazine articles, museum webpages, conference papers, and academic publications. The usual kind of stuff. I was part of a team of three some years ago who produced a field guide to the geology of South Wales which won an award. I’ve popped up from time to time on telly (television) in the UK in programs about the countryside and about fossils.

What organizations are you a part of?

I’m a member of assorted geological and polar societies such as the Geological Societies of London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow; the Geologists’ Association; the South Wales Group of the Geologists’ Association; the Geological Curators’ Group; the History of Geology Group; and I’ve served in various positions in some of these. I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a member of the South Georgia Association, the James Caird Society, and the Captain Scott Society. 

What do you enjoy about working for Zegrahm?

The Zegrahm team is just a pleasure to work with. A great bunch of experts and professionals who are friendly, welcoming, and supportive. 

Picture of Inside Scotts Hut Cape Evans Ross Island Antarctica

What is your favorite Zegrahm memory? 

Standing in the Cape Evans Hut on Ross Island in Antarctica, the hut used by Scott’s last expedition to the South Pole in 1910-13. To stand in the building that Scott and his companions had set out from and would never return to was immensely moving. The thing that struck me most was that it was in color. That might sound a bit strange, but I was so used to studying the black and white photographs taken on the expedition a hundred years ago, that when I saw interior of the hut for myself I somehow wasn’t expecting to see color.

I was working at the time on a centenary exhibition about the expedition and planning a reconstruction of part of the hut occupied by the expedition’s geologists. This we did and it was all the better because I’d been in the hut itself. In fact, the granddaughter of one of Scott’s expedition geologists visited my exhibition and told me that her grandfather would recognize his bunk and workspace, which was very gratifying. 

Picture of Great Rocks in Greenland

Can you tell us about a time that you were on an expedition that took an unexpected turn or you made an unexpected discovery? 

On a Zegrahm expedition cruise on the East Greenland coast—one of my first visits, I think—we had made some itinerary changes and had been exploring a fjord with glaciers feeding into it from the Inland Ice. On the way out of the fjord I was on the bridge and happened to notice a name on the chart that seemed familiar as a geological locality. The Expedition Leader took me ashore and it was what I thought it was—a remote site of wonderful geology, first explored in the 1930s and again in the 50s that is in every geology textbook. So we got all our guests ashore, and I attempted to explain the site’s significance from what I had been taught 30 years before by a professor who had been on one of the early expeditions. The geology is a bit esoteric, but it is a key site in our understanding of magma chambers. 

You never know who is going to be amongst the guests; on a subsequent visit we had four geology professors with us and it was wonderful to visit the site with them and see that they were as excited as I was to be in such a famous (to geologists) and remote site. 

What non-for-profits or causes do you support or feel strongly about?

I support several charities, both national and local which work to protect historic and natural landscapes. 

Picture of Tom Sharpe on Petermann Island Antarctica ©Jim Wilson

What are your top three countries or regions in the world to explore?

Antarctica, Antarctica, and Antarctica. And Iceland. 

What’s left on your explorer’s bucket list? Why there? 

I’d like to see more of the Transantarctic Mountains and visit the South Pole. The mountains have some great rocks and the Pole is the Pole. No rocks, other than a lot of ice, but it’s just such an iconic place, even though it’s now rather developed. 

What does being a part of the Zegrahm family mean to you? 

It’s wonderful to be with a bunch of people with the same goals: to enjoy the places we visit, to understand them, and to share them. And the way everyone supports one another is just so refreshing when compared with most jobs and the office politics that come with them. 

Who is the Zegrahm Explorer/Traveler?  

Always interesting people. And interested people. Curious and inquisitive about the places we visit. And relaxed and flexible, willing to go with the flow when the flow doesn’t quite go in the direction we’d hoped.