Antarctic Exploration, a History:


350 BC: The Ancient Greeks first hypothesised the existence of Antarctica based on the notion of symmetry. They knew about the existence of the northern arctic area and thus inferred that there should be an equal but opposite such area in the south. This they called Ant-arctic which then became Antarctica. They never made it even close to Antarctica, it was just a lucky guess, made by philosophers rather than scientists!

1773: James Cook (British) crossed the Antarctic circle and circumnavigated the ice mass. Cook didn't see land, but he found rock sediment in the ice and theorized the existence of another continent.

1819-1821: Several explorers, Russian then British, claimed title of first to 'discover' Antarctica and see the land mass that is the continent. This is the first and only TRUE discovery of a continent, meaning that there are no native peoples of Antarctica. Later in 1821 the first landing on Antarctica occurs by American, John Davis.

1840's: British James Clark Ross took two ships, Erebus and Terror, to the massive ice shelf later named for him. A scientist on the ship identifies 145 new species of fish.

Exploration continued, using wooden ships (photo left), which would flex slightly when rammed into and through the heavy icebergs of the Antarctic ocean and in cases where landing was desired the ships would ram directly into ice shelf's, like the Ross Ice Shelf.

1902: Captain Robert Falcon Scott set up lodging on the coast (photo right) and attempted to reach the South Pole using a sledge party. Scott traveled with Shackleton, Wilson, and horses. The use of horses was the downfall of Scott's first expedition. Horses consume an enormous amount of food (all of which had to be brought from Europe) and when they die due to cold they do not cannibalize, because they are of course herbivores. Scott's company was forced to turn back after reaching the 82nd parallel due to snow blindness and scurvy. *Snow blindness occurs because of to the intensity of the reflected glare off snow, scurvy is a condition which sets in due to lack of fresh fruit and meat.

RACE to the POLE...

Roald Amundsen (left)
Robert F. Scott (right)

Norwegan Roald Amundsen deeply desired to beat the British Scott to his goal of reaching the South Pole. Though Amundsen told everyone publicly that he was heading for the North Pole he secretly knew the intended destination long before he began preparations for the trip. When Amundsen finally announced his plan to beat Scott, to his crew and the world, Scott became deeply distressed.
The pressure lead to Scott's decision to prepare food, fuel, ponies, sledges, and the ship in one week, a job which Amundsen did over the course of a year.

Differences that made the Difference:

Amundsen started on the Ross Ice Shelf which decreased the total distance marched by 80 miles. (see map below; A-red, S-blue)

Amundsen had 5 men and 52 dogs; Scott had 5 men and ponies, which only lasted 4 weeks.

In the days and months before starting Amundsen left depots of food and supplies so they only had to pack enough to arrive to the South Pole on their sledges, everything else they would pick up upon return.

On Friday December 14, 1911 Amundsen (right) and crew reached the South Pole. They were so keen to ensure they had really reached the pole that they calculated for 3 days and skied in a 10 mile wide circle around the area just in case. Then they stood up a Norwegian flag and left a note for Scott when he arrived.
Scott arrived 33 days later on January 17, 1912. They began dying a month later and all perished in an 8 day long blizzard that caught them when they were only 11 miles from the next deposit of food. They had run out of oil because the lids of the cans leaked and they were suffering of scurvy and fatigue.
detailed history

The difficulties of travel for both parties were tremendous, and much of the difficulty was increased because of the time period the exploration was occurring in. First of all, the voyages started on ship. All materials, food, water, animals, ect. had to be packed onto the ship and survive for the voyage through choppy waters and cold winds. When the ship finally arrived at the Ross Ice Shelf the only way to land was to ram the ship into the ice. Sometimes the winter and summer would be so cold that even when the crew needed to set off they could not remove the ship from the surrounding ice, so they had to be prepared for anything. The clothing was another problem all together. At that time the warmest clothes were fur based. When they would sweat the fur held excess moisture and would freeze the clothes at night. Even worse the moisture would freeze the fur sleeping bags and each night the men would be forced to worm their way into frozen bags, sleeping became torture, and the bags were very heavy to pull. The worst disaster occurred when one of Scott's men got frostbite on his feet. When the feet became blackened walking was agony and returning from the pole was impossible. Scurvy (caused by a lack of Vitamin C) left men feeling weak, tired, and achy. One of Scott's men suffered from the appearance of big red blood-blisters which grow into larger purplish blotches on the skin of the legs and feet, which also made walking excruciating.

Roald Amundsen
and dogs (left)
Robert F. Scott
and team(right)


Anonymous said...

Cool I had no idea that the real stuff explorers used is still in Antarctica! The new movie is great too :)

Librarian Chris said...

Great site. Thank you for sharing all this information. I hope you have a wonderful, stimulating adventure in Antarctica!

joan said...

This information is so interesting and so exciting that I know someone going to this amazing place. I feel like I am going to BE there!

Shawn said...

I really like this informative topic about antartica, i beleave that you must enjoy yourself while encountered all this, i must suggest all of my friend's to come on this portal and share their view with all of us.


Amena said...

Good words.