Exploration Merit Badge – Have you ever wondered about your surroundings and wanted to learn more about them? Have you thought about the natural world and its interactions?
Have you wanted to know why a machine works or how an insect flies, or what triggers some animals to hibernate?
Maybe you are intrigued by the invisible world around us: bacteria, viruses, molecules, wind currents, tides, X-rays.
Perhaps you have taken a walk in the woods just to see what is over the next ridge. If so, then you are interested in exploration.
Exploration is what you do when you want to discover what is out there in and beyond the world.
Exploration Merit Badge Requirements
- General Knowledge. Do the following:
- Define exploration and explain how it differs from adventure travel, trekking or hiking, tour-group trips, or recreational outdoor adventure trips.
- Explain how approaches to exploration may differ if it occurs in the ocean, in space, in a jungle, or in a science lab in a city.
- History of Exploration. Discuss with your counselor the history of exploration. Select a field of study with a history of exploration to illustrate the importance of exploration in the development of that field (for example, aerospace, oil industry, paleontology, oceanography, etc.).
- Importance of Exploration. Explain to your counselor why it is important to explore. Discuss the following:
- Why it is important for exploration to have a scientific basis.
- How explorers have aided in our understanding of our world.
- What you think it takes to be an explorer.
- Real-Life Exploration. Do ONE of the following:
- Learn about a living explorer. Create a short report or presentation (verbal, written, or multimedia slide presentation) on this individual’s objectives and the achievements of one of the explorer’s expeditions. Share what you have learned with your counselor and unit.
- Learn about an actual scientific exploration expedition. Gather information about the mission objectives and the expedition’s most interesting or important discoveries. Share what you have learned with your counselor and unit. Tell how the information gained from this expedition helped scientists answer important questions.
- Learn about types of exploration that may take place in a laboratory or scientific research facility (medicine, biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc.). Explain to your counselor how laboratory research and exploration are similar to field research and exploration.
- Exploration in Lab and Field. Do ONE of the following, and share what you learn with your counselor:
- With your parent’s permission and counselor’s approval, visit either in person or via the internet an exploration sponsoring organization (such as The Explorers Club, National Geographic Society, Smithsonian Institution, Alpine Club, World Wildlife Fund, or similar organization). Find out what type(s) of exploration the organization supports.
- With permission and approval, visit either in person or via the internet a science lab, astronomical observatory, medical research facility, or similar site. Learn what exploration is done in this facility.
- Expedition Planning. Discuss with your counselor each of the following steps for conducting a successful exploration activity. Explain the need for each step.
- Identify the objectives (establish goals).
- Plan the mission. Create an expedition agenda or schedule. List potential documents or permits needed.
- Budget and plan for adequate financial resources. Estimate costs for travel, equipment, accommodations, meals, permits or licenses, and other expedition expenses.
- Determine equipment and supplies required for personal and mission needs for the length of the expedition.
- Determine communication and transportation needs. Plan how to keep in contact with your base or the outside world, and determine how you will communicate with each other on-site.
- Establish safety and first aid procedures (including planning for medical evacuation). Identify the hazards that explorers could encounter on the expedition, and establish procedures to prevent or avoid those hazards.
- Determine team selection. Identify who is essential for the expedition to be successful and what skills are required by the expedition leader.
- Establish detailed recordkeeping (documentation) procedures. Plan the interpretation and sharing of information at the conclusion of the expedition.
- Prepare for an Expedition. With your parent’s permission and counselor’s approval, prepare for an actual expedition to an area you have not previously explored; the place may be nearby or far away. Do the following:
- Make your preparations under the supervision of a trained expedition leader, expedition planner, or other qualified adult experienced in exploration (such as a school science teacher, museum representative, or qualified instructor).
- Use the steps listed in requirement 6 to guide your preparations. List the items of equipment and supplies you will need. Discuss with your counselor why you chose each item and how it will be of value on the expedition. Determine who should go on the expedition.
- Conduct a pre-expedition check, covering the steps in requirement 6, and share the results with your counselor. With your counselor, walk through the Sweet Sixteen of BSA Safety for your expedition. Ensure that all foreseeable hazards for your expedition are adequately addressed.
- Go on an Expedition. Complete the following:
- With your parent’s permission and under the supervision of your merit badge counselor or a counselor-approved qualified person, use the planning steps you learned in requirement 6 and the preparations you completed in requirement 7 to personally undertake an actual expedition to an area you have not previously explored.
- Discuss with your counselor what is outdoor ethics and its role in exploration and enjoying the outdoors responsibly.
- After you return, compile a report on the results of your expedition and how you accomplished your objective(s). Include a statement of the objectives, note your findings and observations, include photos, note any discoveries, report any problems or adverse events, and have a conclusion (whether you reached your objective or not). The post-expedition report must be at least one page and no more than three; one page can be photos, graphs, or figures.
- Career Opportunities. Identify three career opportunities in exploration. Pick one and explain to your counselor how to prepare for such a career. Discuss what education and training are required, and why this profession might interest you.
History of Exploration
Human beings have a natural tendency to explore. Every generation produces people who crave movement, change, and adventure. To help satisfy their curiosity about the world, these people seek new places, ideas, foods, and other experiences.
This innate or instinctive urge to explore is one reason human ancestors left Africa in prehistoric times to eventually populate the rest of the planet.
Also since the beginning of recorded history, various peoples and groups have gone exploring. The ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, and other Mediterranean civilizations explored at least as far as Britain and northern Africa.
More than 2,000 years ago, Chinese voyagers explored the eastern parts of the Northern Hemisphere, describing several countries that were then unknown to them, including places in northern India.
Later, the Chinese also made extensive voyages to explore Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent and went as far as the eastern African shore.
Around A.D. 1000, Viking explorers roamed throughout the western Northern Hemisphere and likely were the first Europeans to arrive in the New World.
Much of the Pacific was explored, with its islands settled by seafaring Polynesian people over a few thousand years. Their explorations lasted into the Middle Ages, about A.D. 1300.
1. The Age of Discovery
In European history, a period of long-distance exploration began in the 15th century with the first Portuguese discoveries of scattered islands in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the 1492 discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, funded by Spain.
This “Age of Discovery” (also known as the Age of Exploration) continued into the 17th and 18th centuries, with European naval expeditions crossing the Atlantic and later the Pacific Ocean.
During this time, Europeans explored large areas of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the islands of the tropical Pacific.
After this age, further explorations brought knowledge of some of the remaining unknown areas of the world, including remote Pacific islands and the regions of the North and South Poles.
2. Modem Exploration
The history of exploration up until the early 20th century focused largely on geographical description: finding, exploring, mapping, and giving an account of unknown regions of planet Earth.
Then came the explorations of the Space Age, which were made possible by the development of rocket-ship technology during World War II and which took humans to the moon (1969-1972).
Today, explorers are expanding on these earlier ventures and are also exploring new frontiers like the deep ocean and molecular biology.
New technologies have spurred and are contributing to these 21st-century efforts. As you will see in the next section of this pamphlet, there is still much to explore.
Diversity of Exploration
Exploration happens everywhere on Earth and beyond, in a wide variety of subjects, specialties, environments, and circumstances.
Actual exploration might be limited by cost, technology, or the environment, but the concepts are limited only by your imagination and curiosity.
Many areas remain to be explored, whether you are interested in subatomic particles or invisible life such as viruses, or you long to discover new planetary systems or travel beyond our solar system and out into the universe.
1. Space Exploration
Space explorers discover new celestial bodies-including stars, planets, moons, asteroids, and comets, and observe the known ones.
New technologies for human spaceflight and robotic probes are constantly expanding the possibilities for the physical exploration of space.
2. Subterranean Exploration
Below ground, discoveries of new animals and microscopic life-forms are helping us understand the complex interactions of living things underground and how species adapt to lower levels of light and oxygen.
Physical exploration is extending our knowledge of large underground cave systems, some of the newly discovered.
3. Polar Exploration
Polar exploration of both the Arctic region and Antarctica has a long and exciting history and continues today. Environmental science studies are being done in both polar regions.
Permanent international research stations in Antarctica study marine life, environmental changes, the effects of ocean currents, and other topics and sciences including weather, geology, and paleontology (fossils).
Antarctica has nearly 400 lakes trapped under its ice, and its unique ecosystems are being explored. Nearly 4,000 new bacterial species have been discovered in just one subglacial (below-the-ice) lake.
4. Tropical Exploration
Up to two-thirds of all known plants and animals live in the lush rainforests of the tropics. Tropical rain forests are the world’s most diverse and interdependent ecosystems. (Interdependent means the living things rely on each other for survival.)
New discoveries are constantly added to the millions of species that are known to live in rainforests. The rainforest canopy (treetops) is an area of tremendous biological activity.
Increasing deforestation, or the destruction of forests, poses problems that require significant research and exploration to understand the effects of the destruction and to find practical solutions to balance or prevent such loss.
Bioprospecting is the search for plant and animal species from which commercially valuable and marketable new products can be obtained.
Bioprospecting also includes the search for previously unknown compounds in organisms that have never before been used to make medicinal drugs.
6. High Altitude Exploration
High-altitude explorers may identify and analyze mineral resources in the mountains, weather patterns and their effects on the environment, or better methods for growing crops and livestock in high-altitude climates.
Working at great heights is physically challenging. Researchers in this field study the effects of thin air on the human body and brain to discover how physical and mental performance is affected by low levels of oxygen and reduced atmospheric pressure.
The knowledge gained from high-altitude research can medically benefit “lowlanders” as well as members of the military.
7. Geological Exploration
Early geological explorers were mostly interested in describing geographic features and searching for riches. The emphasis now, however, is on a greater understanding of our world and more efficient, sustainable use of natural resources.
Oil and mineral exploration continues to be of vital importance, and more exploration is happening in developing countries.
Learning about plate tectonics (how Earth’s crust moves), searching for groundwater, studying glaciers for environmental clues, and searching for alternative energy sources all fit under the wide umbrella of geological exploration.
Also Read: Geology Merit Badge
8. Anthropology and Exploration
Anthropology is the study of humans, both ancient and modern. Anthropology connects to the social and biological sciences and commonly is divided into broad categories of cultural anthropology, biological or physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics.
Cultural anthropologists examine social patterns and how people live together in particular places and study differences and similarities of race, class, gender, and nationality.
This type of research and exploration often involves living among the group being studied and observing their practices in everyday life.
Biological (or physical) anthropologists are interested in how humans adapt to various environments, how biological and cultural processes shape human behavior, and what causes disease and early death.
They are interested in human biological origins, evolution, and variation. They study other primates (primatology), fossils (paleoanthropology), prehistoric people (bioarchaeology), and biology and genetics of living populations,
Archaeologists study past peoples and cultures through the artifacts and architecture the people left behind.
Pottery, stone tools, animal bones, and remains of structures are evaluated to learn about and understand the cultures of those ancient civilizations.
Linguistic anthropologists study how language reflects and influences social life. Language and communication affect a wide variety of cultural behaviors and activities.
9. Exploration Technology
New technologies give explorers state-of-the-art tools to study existing data or to search for fresh information in new ways. For instance, the latest imaging technology may be used remotely and in the field at exploration sites.
Laser surface scanning allows sites to be rapidly mapped, and thermal scanning is used to detect animal migration patterns in remote areas.
Lidar (the word that combines “light” and “radar”) is similar in operation to radar but uses reflected light from a laser with radar to make high-resolution maps. Lidar is used in archaeology to detect sites for exploration.
It is also used for geography. geology, seismology, forestry, atmospheric physics, airborne laser swath mapping (ALSM), laser altimetry, and contour mapping. Small lidar units using optical coherence tomography (OCT) can map ancient human and primate teeth.
10. Molecular Exploration
Exploration in molecular sciences is a rapidly growing area of scientific discovery.
Molecular biology deals with biological interactions at the molecular level biochemistry studies the chemical processes in living organisms. Together they provide the tools to study our molecular living environment.
The continued development and improvement of technology to probe biological and chemical systems has unlocked many mysteries of how cells function and interact and what happens with abnormal function, known as disease.
Molecular exploration has led to the production of vaccines, provided ways to rapidly make large amounts of drugs needed to treat illnesses, and allowed the creation of tests to detect diseases. can now use molecular techniques to identify victims of disasters as well as criminal suspects.
Applying the molecular sciences to discoveries in the field is a huge area of exploration that continues to grow.
For example, molecular biological techniques are used to evaluate samples from teeth to determine the diet of early humans and to study the blood cells found in the bone marrow of dinosaurs.
Remember the story of Jurassic Park, where dinosaurs were created from prehistoric DNA? Though fictional, it may not be as far from the truth as we first believed.
Also Read: Camping Merit Badge
Going on an Expedition
In working to earn the Exploration merit badge, you will prepare for an expedition (requirement 7) and then go on the expedition (requirement 8). You are to make an expedition to an area you have not previously explored.
Whether you choose a remote area or someplace nearby, plan and prepare carefully and thoroughly, using the steps and the skills you have learned in completing requirements 6 and 7.
Your expedition must be supervised by your merit badge counselor or by a counselor-approved person.
Qualified expedition advisors might be recruited from the ranks of school science teachers, museum educators, park rangers, nature instructors, and others with scientific knowledge as well as outdoor skills and expertise.
Several organizations make exploration a key part of their function and membership. Studying their websites and perhaps contacting the organization may give you insights into your expedition and also connect you with people who can serve as resources for information.
A good way to begin your efforts in exploration is to volunteer with one of these organizations or to get to know scientists within your community.
Become acquainted with museums, local high school science teachers, the science departments of community colleges or universities, and the local chapters of organizations that have exploration interests.
These scientists often can serve as mentors and consultants to an exploration project. Some of the best known exploration-related organizations are:
- National Geographic Society
- The Explorers Club
- Alpine Club
- Smithsonian Institution
- World Wildlife Fund
- National Science Foundation
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)