47) Allan Cox is one of the scientists who proved that continental drift existed. Very few other scientists believed in it at the time, despite evidence dating back 50 years. In an article I wrote back in 2013 called “Rock Solid Couple” I mentioned that Allan Cox was lucky to be mentored by one of the few scientists in the 1950s who believed in continental drift. Looking back on that article I don’t think I properly explained the process, but Allan proved that the changing magnetism preserved in rock proved that the earth’s crust was splitting apart. Once scientists began to realise that Allan and other continental drift supporters might be on to something they began research into plate tectonics.
Before Cox published his research palaeontologists had long recognised that fossils of the same species of animal were found on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Originally they believed there was an ancient intercontinental landmass over which the animals travelled which had long since been submerged, not unlike Atlantis (thus science suggesting its possible existence).
The evidence of plant species evolving on continents that may once have been connected was suggested by a British botanist called 48) Elke Mackenzie (1911-1990). Although not explicitly expressed Mackenzie noted that the same species of lichens existed on different continents in her 1942 doctoral thesis which dealt with lichens from the Antarctic and South Atlantic. Her massive contribution to the study of lichens is marked in the botanical names of several species that are named after her, including Buella lambii and Verrucaria Mackenzie-lambii.
You’ll notice that these species are called “lambii”. This is because they were named before Elke began to transition to female in 1971. She was baptised Ivan Mackenzie Lamb. During her career Elke was Assistant Keeper at the British Natural History Museum, Professor of Cryptogamic (i.e. spore-reproducing) Botany at the National Institute of Tucumán (Argentina), and Director of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany at Harvard, among other appointments. Elke retired from her Harvard post in 1973 and turned to translating German botanical texts. She died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1983.
Elke’s work on lichens could fill several articles but it is her Antarctic studies which takes us on our next path of connections.
During World War II there were fears that Nazi u-boats were targeting shipping in the southern hemisphere. The British government were also worried that there were signs that neutral Argentina was sending ships to uninhabited South Atlantic islands that were recognised in international law as British territories.
The British response was to launch a secret expedition to reassert British sovereignty of those territories, disguising it behind a real scientific research expedition called Operation Tabarin. The ship had a crew of 27 Canadian Arctic seaman, and among the handful of scientists was botanist Elke Mackenzie. Once in the South Atlantic Operation Tabarin proceeded to establish bases on several islands to deter Argentine settlement, carrying out their scientific research all the time. Elke wrote a book about the operation and her part it in called “The Secret South”.
Operation Tabarin succeeded in deterring Argentinian reprisals for the time being, but once the war was over Argentina and Chile signed a defence agreement over Antarctic land claims. From Operation Tabarin came the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, now called the British Antarctic Survey.
|Antarctica (the continental ice shelf) showing the disputed territories. The area within the pie segment is the British Antarctic Territory. The area in pink is the region claimed by Chile, and area in red in claimed by both Chile and Argentina|
Gustavo Mellela’s full title (in English) is Governor of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and the Southern Atlantic Islands. Although this province is the least populated in Argentina it covers the largest area, the majority of it being in the Atlantic Ocean. Its Antarctic territory covers most of the British Antarctic Territory (the rest is claimed by Chile, who also claims most of the Argentine territory).
Gustavo is not the first openly gay governor in that particular part of the world. In 2016-17 the Commissioner (governor) of the British Antarctic Territory was John Kittmer, also openly gay.
Gustavo Melella was elected Governor of Tierra del Fuego in June 2019, taking up office in December. He didn’t run for office as an openly gay candidate, and came out publicly shortly afterwards. He had previously been Mayor of Rio Grande.
I don’t think Gustavo has a very high opinion of us Brits. In 2014 when he was Mayor of Rio Grande he signed a twinning agreement with Algeciras, the city which faces Gibraltar across the Bay of Gibraltar. Now, I’m sure you’re aware that Gibraltar is another British possession. In a very undiplomatic move Gustavo signed the twinning agreement on the anniversary of the 1982 Argentine occupation of the Falklands.
Until Gustavo came out publicly a year ago the most recent openly gay provincial or state governor was the Governor of Colorado in the USA, 50) Jared Polis (b.1975).
Next time on “80 More Gays”: We discover that being in the governor’s mansion is truly iconic, which leads us to some really smashing Byzantines.