Challenger expedition, British oceanographic expedition under the direction of the Scottish professor Charles Wyville Thompson and the British naturalist Sir John Murray. Taking place from 1872 to 1876, it opened the era of descriptive oceanography. The team sailed in the converted 18-gun corvette Challenger, the first vessel specifically equipped for general oceanographic research. The expedition cruised almost 69,000 nautical mi (130,000 km) in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Antarctic oceans, gathering data on temperature, currents, water chemistry, marine organisms, and bottom deposits at 362 oceanographic stations scattered over 14 million sq mi (36 million sq km) of ocean floor. Its major contributions, covered in a 50-volume, 29,500-page report that took 23 years to compile, included the first systematic plot of currents and temperatures in the ocean; a map of bottom deposits that has not been changed much by more recent studies; an outline of the main contours of the ocean basins, incorporating the discovery of the mid-Atlantic Ridge and the then record 26,900-ft (8,200-m) Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench; the discovery of 715 new genera and 4,717 new species of ocean life forms; and the discovery of prodigious life forms even at great depths in the ocean.
See H. N. Mosely, A Naturalist on the Challenger (1879); Sir C. Wyville Thompson, Voyage of the Challenger (2 vol., 1877); E. Linklater, The Voyage of the Challenger (1972).