Thomas Poulter

Last updated
Thomas Poulter
Admiral Byrd admires medal awarded to aide on Antarctic expedition. Washington, D.C., April 27. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd admires the gold medal of the National Geographic Society which LCCN2016877888 (Poulter crop).jpg
Poulter admiring his special gold medal, awarded by the National Geographic Society in April 1937
Born(1897-03-03)March 3, 1897
DiedJune 4, 1978(1978-06-04) (aged 81)
Education Iowa Wesleyan College (BS)
University of Chicago (PhD)
Known for Antarctic exploration
Scientific career

Thomas Charles Poulter (March 3, 1897 June 4, 1978) was an American scientist and antarctic explorer who worked at the Armour Institute of Technology and SRI International, where he was an associate director. [1]


Early career

Poulter taught physics while attending high school (1914-1918), joined the U.S. Navy in 1918 and returned to school in 1921. Poulter received his B.S. from Iowa Wesleyan College (IWC) in 1923; took a position as head of the chemistry division at IWC (1925); and served as head of the math, physics and astronomy divisions with "great creativity and much success" while attending graduate school at the University of Chicago (Ph. D., 1933). [2]

While he was a physics professor at IWS he recognized James Van Allen as a student and put him to work, at 35 cents an hour, preparing seismic and magnetic equipment for the Antarctic Expedition. [3]

He was second in command on the Second Byrd Antarctic Mission to the South Pole with Richard E. Byrd. The Poulter Glacier was named after him by Admiral Byrd. [2] [4] Byrd credited him with saving his life as the expedition leader approached death from carbon monoxide poisoning. [5]

After his first expedition he became the scientific director of the Armour Research Foundation at the Armour Institute of Technology (later Illinois Institute of Technology) where he developed the Antarctic Snow Cruiser (a.k.a. "Penguin 1"). [6] This device was built for and taken along on his second expedition with Admiral Byrd in 1939. [1]

Later career

In 1948 he joined the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California, where he remained until his death in 1978. While at SRI he did research involving dynamic phenomena including explosives, weather and eventually Biosonar. [6] [7] Poulter devised seismic pattern shooting in the 1950s, and according to W. Harry Mayne, Poulter's "method called for a pattern of explosive charges to be mounted on poles (usually 5-6 ft above the surface of the ground, which prevented any significant environmental damage)." [8] He became interested in seals after visiting the elephant seal colony at Año Nuevo Island off the coast of California in 1961. The seal colony there included elephant seals, sea lions harbor seals and many others. He began studying the seal colonies in 1962 and was active in having the island protected as a biological preserve in 1967. [1]

The Poulter Laboratory at SRI International was named after him. After he retired from managing Poulter Labs he founded the Bio Sonar Lab and Marine Mammal Study Center for SRI in the Coyote Hills outside of Fremont CA. [9] There he did research on a number of marine mammals. He was fond of them as he described in a "Note" for the Arctic. [10]

He died on June 4, 1978, in Menlo Park, California, while working in his laboratory. [1]


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Balleny Islands</span> Group of volcanic islands

The Balleny Islands are a series of uninhabited islands in the Southern Ocean extending from 66°15' to 67°35'S and 162°30' to 165°00'E. The group extends for about 160 km (99 mi) in a northwest-southeast direction. The islands are heavily glaciated and of volcanic origin. Glaciers project from their slopes into the sea. The islands were formed by the so-called Balleny hotspot.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ross Sea</span> Deep bay of the Southern Ocean in Antarctica

The Ross Sea is a deep bay of the Southern Ocean in Antarctica, between Victoria Land and Marie Byrd Land and within the Ross Embayment, and is the southernmost sea on Earth. It derives its name from the British explorer James Clark Ross who visited this area in 1841. To the west of the sea lies Ross Island and Victoria Land, to the east Roosevelt Island and Edward VII Peninsula in Marie Byrd Land, while the southernmost part is covered by the Ross Ice Shelf, and is about 200 miles (320 km) from the South Pole. Its boundaries and area have been defined by the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research as having an area of 637,000 square kilometres (246,000 sq mi).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard E. Byrd</span> American naval officer, explorer (1888–1957)

Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr. was an American naval officer and explorer. He was a recipient of the Navy Cross, the second highest honor for valor given by the United States, and was a pioneering American aviator, polar explorer, and organizer of polar logistics. Aircraft flights in which he served as a navigator and expedition leader crossed the Atlantic Ocean, a segment of the Arctic Ocean, and a segment of the Antarctic Plateau. Byrd said that his expeditions had been the first to reach both the North Pole and the South Pole by air. His belief that he reached the North Pole is disputed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">SRI International</span> American scientific research institute (founded 1946)

SRI International (SRI) is an American nonprofit scientific research institute and organization headquartered in Menlo Park, California. The trustees of Stanford University established SRI in 1946 as a center of innovation to support economic development in the region.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marie Byrd Land</span> Unclaimed West Antarctic region

Marie Byrd Land (MBL) is an unclaimed region of Antarctica. With an area of 1,610,000 km2 (620,000 sq mi), it is the largest unclaimed territory on Earth. It was named after the wife of American naval officer Richard E. Byrd, who explored the region in the early 20th century.

USS <i>Bear</i> Dual steam-powered and sailing ship

USS Bear was a dual steam-powered and sailing ship built with six-inch (15.2 cm)-thick sides which had a long life in various cold-water and ice-filled environments. She was a forerunner of modern icebreakers and had a diverse service life. According to the United States Coast Guard official website, Bear is described as "probably the most famous ship in the history of the Coast Guard."

The Soviet Antarctic Expedition was part of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute of the Soviet Committee on Antarctic Research of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">West Antarctic Rift System</span> Series of rift valleys between East and West Antarctica

The West Antarctic Rift System is a series of rift valleys between East and West Antarctica. It encompasses the Ross Embayment, the Ross Sea, the area under the Ross Ice Shelf and a part of Marie Byrd Land in West Antarctica, reaching to the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. It has an estimated length of 3,000 km (1,900 mi) and a width of approximately 700 km (430 mi). Its evolution is due to lithospheric thinning of an area of Antarctica that resulted in the demarcation of East and West Antarctica. The scale and evolution of the rift system has been compared to that of the Basin and Range Province of the Western United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antarctic Snow Cruiser</span> Vehicle intended to facilitate transport in Antarctica

The Antarctic Snow Cruiser was a vehicle designed from 1937 to 1939 under the direction of Thomas Poulter, intended to facilitate transport in Antarctica during the United States Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–41). The Snow Cruiser was also known as "The Penguin," "Penguin 1" or "Turtle" in some published material.

Thomas C. Hanks is an American seismologist. He works for the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, California. Dr. Hanks is a member of the Seismological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Geological Society of America, the Peninsula Geological Society at Stanford, and many related geological societies. Dr. Hanks has authored dozens of scholarly papers in strong-motion seismology and tectonic geomorphology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Queen Maud Land</span> Norways territorial claim in Antarctica

Queen Maud Land is a roughly 2.7-million-square-kilometre (1.0-million-square-mile) region of Antarctica claimed by Norway as a dependent territory. It borders the claimed British Antarctic Territory 20° west and the Australian Antarctic Territory 45° east. In addition, a small unclaimed area from 1939 was annexed in June 2015. Positioned in East Antarctica, it makes out about one-fifth of the continent, and is named after the Norwegian queen Maud of Wales (1869–1938).

Ross Stein is a scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California. Stein is also cofounder and CEO of Temblor, a startup enabling people to learn their seismic hazard and determine steps to reduce their risk.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">International Weddell Sea Oceanographic Expeditions</span> Series of scientific research expeditions to the Weddell Sea

The International Weddell Sea Oceanographic Expeditions or IWSOE are a series of scientific research expeditions to the Weddell Sea began in 1967, involving cooperation among Norway, Canada, Chile and the United States.

Clarence Samuel Clay Jr. (1923–2011) was a geophysicist specialized in oceanography. He was known for his contributions in acoustics. Although he signed most of his papers, "C.S. Clay", he was called simply, "Clay" by his friends, students, and colleagues. He was also known as "Clay Clay".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal</span> Award

The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal was established by Act of Congress in 1936 to commemorate the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition.

The Poulter Laboratory is a research lab within SRI International's Physical Sciences Division known for experiments relating to explosions, impacts, and fire. The lab is named for Thomas Poulter, who gained initial fame as an arctic explorer, and later as an expert in explosives and biosonar at SRI from 1948 until his death in 1978. Their recent projects include improving the safety of hydrogen as a transportation fuel, and the safe disposal of unused ordnance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Walter D. Mooney</span> Research seismologist and geophysicist

Walter D. Mooney is a research seismologist and geophysicist at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Menlo Park, California (1978–present). He was Chief of the USGS Branch of Seismology from 1994 to 1997.

Richard Wesley Konter (1882–1979) was a Chief Radioman in the U.S. Navy, member of the Byrd Arctic and Antarctic Expeditions and a musician.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bruce P. Luyendyk</span> American geophysicist and oceanographer (born 1943)

Bruce Peter Luyendyk is an American geophysicist and oceanographer, currently professor emeritus of marine geophysics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His work spans marine geology of the major ocean basins, the tectonics of southern California, marine hydrocarbon seeps, and the tectonics and paleoclimate of Antarctica. His research includes tectonic rotations of the California Transverse Ranges, participation in the discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, quantitative studies of marine hydrocarbon seeps, and geologic exploration of the Ford Ranges in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marine geophysics</span>

Marine geophysics is the scientific discipline that employs methods of geophysics to study the world's ocean basins and continental margins, particularly the solid earth beneath the ocean. It shares objectives with marine geology, which uses sedimentological, paleontological, and geochemical methods. Marine geophysical data analyses led to the theories of seafloor spreading and plate tectonics.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Nielson, Donald (2006). A Heritage of Innovation: SRI's First Half Century. Menlo Park, California: SRI International. pp. 11–2–11–4. ISBN   978-0-9745208-1-0.
  2. 1 2 Poulter, Thomas (1977). Over the years. Menlo Park, California: Stanford Research Institute.
  3. Sullivan, Walter (2006-08-10). "James A. Van Allen, Discoverer of Earth-Circling Radiation Belts, Is Dead at 91". New York Times . Retrieved 2012-04-08.
  4. Into Little America documentary film (1935)
  5. Byrd, Richard Evelyn. Alone . p. 295.
  6. 1 2 Mills, William James (2003). Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN   1-57607-422-6.
  7. "Thomas C. Poulter". History for Sale. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
  8. Mayne, W. Harry (1989). 50 Years of Geophysical Ideas. Tulsa: Society of Exploration Geophysicists. p. 27. ISBN   0931830737.
  9. "Thos. C. Poulter". SRI International . Retrieved 2012-02-11.
  10. Poulter, Thomas (December 1969). "The affectionate walrus". Arctic . 22 (4): 438. doi: 10.14430/arctic3234 .