Students On Ice Antarctic Expedition 2005/06

Antarctica, up close and personal ...

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Exploration of the Antarctic

Captain Robert F. Scott (Great Britain)
From a base established at Ross Island, Scott conducted scientific observations and made several sledge journeys toward the south pole. It was during this expedition that Scott made the first balloon ascent in Antarctica and verified the existence of vast glaciers extending south.

Sir Ernest Shackleton (Great Britain)
From a base at McMurdo Sound, Shackleton and a crew of scientists that included Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson, made the first ascent of Mount Erebus. In an attempt to reach the south pole, Shackleton discovered Beardmore Glacier and found evidence of coal on the continent.

Captain Roald Amundsen (Norway)
Leaving its base at the Bay of Whales on the west side of the Ross Ice Shelf, Amundsen's party made the first successful attempt to reach the south pole on December 11, 1911.

Captain Robert F. Scott (Great Britain)
From the other side of the Ross Ice Shelf, Scott also made an attempt to reach the pole arriving there on January 17, 1912 just five weeks after Amundsen. Scott and his party of four died on the return journey.

Sir Ernest Shackleton (Great Britain)
Setting out for Antarctica to cross the continent coast-to-coast by sledge, Shackleton's Endurance was caught in the ice where they drifted until it was crushed. The crew made it to land while a small party sailed to South Georgia. Everyone was eventually rescued.

Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd (US)
Byrd made the first flight over the south pole to test new techniques in aerial photography which enhanced the ability to survey and map the continent.

Vivian Fuchs (Great Britain)
Following Shackleton's 1914 coast-to-coast plan, Fuchs made the 2,200 mile (3,500) km journey across Antarctica from the Weddell to the Ross Sea via the south pole in 99 days using sno-cats and air support.

Today, scientists travel to Antarctica to study in its unique laboratory. More than 3,000 people each year work on research vessels or at the main stations and field camps throughout the continent as part of ongoing research projects. They study everything from the depths of the oceans to the endless expanse of the universe. Ice core research analyzes the gases and other materials trapped in the ice to tell us about Antarctica's climate and environment during earlier centuries.

An Antarctic Time Line: 1519-1959

It is nearly impossible to exhibit a detailed chronology of exploration in the Antarctic region simply due to the fact that there have been over 300 expeditions to the Antarctic mainland, not to mention the subantarctic islands. Only historical events of major importance are listed here.

1519: In September, Ferdinand Magellan sails from Spain in search of a westerly route to the Indies. Sailing down the coast of South America he discovered the narrow straight passing through to the Pacific Ocean which today bears his name. To the south lies Tierra del Fuego which the early geographers assumed to be the edge of the southern continent.

1578: In September, Francis Drake passes through the Straights of Megellan only to find himself blown significantly southward due to a tremendous storm in the Pacific. This event proved that Tierra del Fuego was separated from any southern continent and the passageway came to be known as the "Drake Passage".

1592: In August, the Englishman John Davis, in the DESIRE, discovered the Falkland Islands. This was a tragic expedition as the crew were forced to eat some 14,000 penguins which they were forced to kill for food. Stored as properly as possible, once they reached the tropics the penguin meat spoiled and subsequently only 16 members of the original crew of 76 ever reached home shores.

1675: In April, Antonio de la Roché is blown south of Cape Horn and experiences the first sighting of South Georgia.

1739: Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Bouvet de Lozier discovers Bouvet. The island is not sighted again until 1808. Due to significant ice packs, the first landing did not take place until the American Morrell landed in 1822.

1722: In February, Frenchman Yves Joseph de Kerguélen-Trémarec discovers the Îles Kerguélen.

1773: In January, Captain James Cook and his crew become the first men to cross the Antarctic Circle.

1775: In January, Captain Cook, on his third voyage, sails past South Georgia and discovers the South Sandwich Islands two weeks later.

1790: This year marks the start of the sealing industry on South Georgia. The sealers are primarily American from New England as the Europeans are involved in war.

1810: In July, Australian Frederick Hasselborough discovers Macquarie Island while searching for new sealing grounds.

1819: In February, Englishman William Smith is blown to the south while rounding Cape Horn and discovers the South Shetland Islands, claiming them for Great Britain in October.

1820: In January, the Royal Navy sends Edward Bransfield, with Smith as pilot, to search the waters southeast of the newly claimed South Shetlands. As a result, it is claimed that he is the first to see the Antarctic Peninsula.

1820: In January, Russian Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen becomes the first person to see the Antarctic continent (January 27).

1820: In November, American Nathaniel Palmer, on the HERO, claims to see the Antarctic Peninsula. Palmer was a member of a sealing fleet from New England. Only 19 years old, he was dispatched from the sealing grounds in the South Shetlands by his commanding officer to search for land to the south.

1821: In January, Bellingshausen returns to the Antarctic waters and discovers Peter I Island and the Alexander Islands. He completes a circumnavigation of Antarctica being only the second explorer, after Cook, to do so.

1821: In February, American sealer John Davis arguably becomes the first person to land on the continent. From Connecticut, Davis had been searching the South Shetlands for seals.

1821: In December, Nathaniel Palmer discovers the South Orkney Islands along with British sealer George Powell.

1823: In February, Englishman James Weddell sails to 74 degrees south. This is the farthest south yet reached and the penetrated sea bears his name today. Except for possibly Morrell, no one is able to penetrate this sea again for eighty years.

1831: In February, Englishman John Biscoe, an employee of the British sealing business "Enderby Brothers", discovers Enderby Land, the first sighting of Antarctica from the Indian Ocean zone.

1839: In February, Englishman John Balleny, another Enderby Brothers employee, sails from New Zealand and discovers the Balleny Islands.

1840: In January, Lt. Charles Wilkes, American leader of the United States Exploring Expedition, sights an area now known as Wilkes Land.

1840: In January, Frenchman Jules-Sebastian Dumont d'Urville discovers a stretch of Antarctic coastline which he promptly names for his wife, Adélie.

1841: In January, under Sir James Clark Ross in EREBUS and TERROR, search for the South Magnetic Pole has been ordered by the British Royal Navy. He discovers Victoria Land and enters the sea which is known famously now as the Ross Sea. He discovers Ross Island, Mt. Erebus and the Ross Ice Shelf.

1892: In November, Captain Carl Larsen of the JASON lands near the Antarctic Peninsula on Seymour Island. Discovering a number of fossils, this becomes the first evidence of a prior warmer climate.

1895: In January, Henryk Bull lands in the Antarctic at Cape Adare. A member of the party, Carsten Borchgrevink, finds lichen on an offshore island becoming the first signs of plant life.

1898: In March, Adrien de Gerlache and crew in the BELGICA become trapped in the pack ice off the Antarctic Pensinsula. They drift helplessly for a year becoming the first to survive an Antarctic winter.

1899: In February, Carsten Borchgrevink and crew of the SOUTHERN CROSS land at Cape Adare. They build huts and become the first to winter over on the continent.

1902: In February, a Swedish geologist, Otto Nordenskjöld, and five crew members are left on Snow Hill Island where they spend two winters. It was during this expedition that the first major sledge journey in Antarctica took place; some 400 miles. Unfortunately, their ship Antarctic was crushed in the ice pack after leaving the crew on the island thereby creating two separate groups of explorers. Miraculously, the second crew was able to survive the winter and find their way back to Snow Hill Island where the whole party was rescued in 1903 by an Argentinean relief ship.

1902: In February, German Erich von Drygalski and the crew of the GAUSS discover Wilhelm II Land. Stuck in the ice for a year, the party does extensive scientific research filling 20 volumes of reports.

1902: In November Robert F. Scott, Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton strike out for the South Pole. Leaving McMurdo Sound heading south across the Ross Ice Shelf, two months later they find themselves at 82 degrees south suffering from snow blindness and scurvy. Forced to return home, they nonetheless cover 3100 miles.

1904: In February, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, in the Français, begins his survey of the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The small expedition winters in the ship in an inlet on Booth Island. Over two summers they discover the Loubet Coast, Doumer Island and Port Lockroy. They chart the Biscoe Islands and generally extend Gerlache's survey of the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

1904: In March, William S. Bruce and members of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition aboard the SCOTIA discover Coats Land. This is the first sighting of land to the south of the Weddell Sea.

1904: Carl Larsen builds the first whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia. Before ten years elapse, over 20 stations and factory ships are operating in this region.

1908: In October, explorers Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams attempt to reach the South Pole. Within 30 days they have surpassed Scotts effort in 1903. Reaching within 97 nautical miles, the group is severely ill and undernourished requiring them to abandon their attempt on the pole.

1909: In January, Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Alistair McKay reach the South Magnetic Pole.

1911: In November, the first Japanese Antarctic Expedition sails south led by Lt. Nobu Shirase and lands at the Bay of Whales.

1911: On December 14, Norwegian Roald Amundsen and four team members reach the South Pole. Amundsen discovered a new route which took only 57 days. Letters are left for Scott, a Norwegian flag planted and then they return to the Bay of Whales.

1912: On January 18, Robert F. Scott, Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates reach the South Pole. Unfortunately, Amundsen had already been there and left a flag marking the spot. Terribly discouraged after a tortuous journey, all members perish on the return trip. Scott, Wilson and Bowers die in their tent after using up all fuel and food. The three are not discovered until November.

1912: In January, Wilhelm Filchner in the DEUTSCHLAND discovers the Luitpold Coast.

1912: In April, Scott's Northern Party give up hope of the TERRA NOVA arriving to pick them up before winter sets in. The six men must dig a cave out of a snow bank where they live for six months on penguin and seal meat.

1912: In December, Douglas Mawson must begin his lone trek across George V Land back to his base at Commonwealth Bay. Mawson's two companions had died and despite the tragedy, he makes it home. A new section of coast is discovered and radio is used for the first time in Antarctica.

1915: In October, Ernest Shackleton has a plan to cross the continent but is forced to abandon this idea as his ship, the ENDURANCE, is crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea after drifting for nine months. The 28 men must camp on the floating ice for five more months before an opening in the ice allows them to take to the boats for Elephant Island in the South Shetlands. Meanwhile, members of Shackleton's Ross shore party lay depots for the ill-fated group, depots expected to be used by Shackleton and his party on their trek across the continent. Three members die but the rest were eventually rescued in 1917.

1916: In April, Shackleton and five of his men leave Elephant Island in the lifeboat JAMES CAIRD. In 15 days they arrive at South Georgia. Unfortunately, they made land on the wrong side of the island and Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley had to cross the island through difficult terrain to reach the whaling station at Stromness.

1916: On his fourth try, Shackleton reaches Elephant Island in the Chilean ship YELCHO and rescues the 22 survivors from the ENDURANCE. They survived by turning the remaining life boats upside down and setting up living quarters beneath.

1922: In January, at the age of 48, Ernest Shackleton dies of a heart attack. On board the QUEST at the time, Shackleton is buried at South Georgia.

1928: In November, Hubert Wilkins makes the first flight in the Antarctic region, flying from Deception Island in the South Shetlands in a Lockheed Vega monoplane.

1929: In October, The British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition establishes itself under Douglas Mawson over two summer seasons discovering MacRobertson Land and charting much of the adjacent coastline.

1929: On November 28, after a ten hour flight from their base at the Bay of Whales, Richard E. Byrd and three others become the first to fly over the South Pole.

1929: On December 1, Norwegian expedition leader Lars Christensen lands on and claims Bouvetøya Island.

1935: In November, American Lincoln Ellsworth is the first to successfully fly across the continent.

1947: In January, OPERATION HIGHJUMP is organized by the US Navy. A total of 4700 men, 13 ships and 23 aircraft are involved. A base is set up at Little America. Extensive mapping of the coast and interior is accomplished. Over 70,000 aerial photographs are taken.

1947: In December, as a follow up to Highjump, OPERATION WINDMILL begins.

1947: In December, Finn Ronne, leader of a private American Expedition, is based on Stonington Island. Flying over the southern shores, he is the first to see the mountains of the western edge of the Filchner Ice Shelf.

1950: In February, a multinational expedition is set up in Dronning Maud Land, by Sweden, Great Britain and Norway.

1957: In July, the International Geophysical Year begins with Antarctica the main effort of scientists from 67 countries over the next 18 months. Twelve new bases are constructed with the Amundsen-Scott base at the South Pole (American) constructed for the OPERATION DEEPFREEZE expeditions.

1959: In December, the twelve leading nations participating in the IGY sign the "Antarctic Treaty" in Washington, DC. The treaty was framed as an agreement so the continent "shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes". The treaty came into effect in 1961 and guarantees access and scientific research in all territory south of 60° latitude.


While the existence of Antarctica was not confirmed until the nineteenth century, early Greek geographers believed there must be a large land mass around the south pole to balance the known land in the northern hemisphere. They named it opposite of the Arctic: the Anti-Arkitkos or Antarctica. Throughout the age of exploration, the search for Antarctica was perhaps the greatest adventure of all.

Captain James Cook (Great Britain)

During his voyage through the Pacific Captain Cook made the first circumnavigation of Antarctica and crossed the Antarctic Circle in three places. Although he penetrated to the farthest south latitude known at the time (71° 10' S, 106° 54'W), Cook never spotted the continent.

Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer (US)

As captain of the Hero, Nathaniel Palmer made the first sighting of the Antarctic continent just below South America. This area later became known at Palmer Peninsula.

Captain James Weddell (Great Britain)

Captain Weddell cruised around the South Orkneys and South Shetland islands and found a deep bay east of Palmer Peninsula now known as the Weddell Sea.

Sir James Clark Ross (Great Britain)

In searching for the south magnetic pole, Ross found and named Cape Adare and the huge ice shelf that now bears his name.

Carstens Egeberg Borchgrevink (Norway)

This party went ashore at Cape Adare and is credited with making the first landing on the Antarctic mainland.



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