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ANTARCTIC EXPLORATION AND ITS IMPORTANCE.

In the Forum for February the importance of antarctic (sic) exploration is forcibly presented by Sir Clements R. Markham, president of the Royal Geographical Society, who shows that it is of practical as well as scientific interest. Little is known of Antarctica, the vast continent that is supposed to cap the South Pole. Unlike the arctic regions, it lies remote from other continental areas and far from the beaten track of commerce. Packed ice, icebergs and fogs hedge it in, moreover, to an extent unknown about the North Pole, so that it is difficult for sailing vessels to penetrate to the land. Captain Cook, in 1772, got as far south as 71 degrees 10 minutes, where he counted 95 icebergs in sight at one time and was stopped by huge masses of ice packed close and tumbling dangerously about with the swell of the ocean. In 1820 a Russian expedition under Bellinghausen first found land within the antarctic circle, north of 70 degrees, in the meridian of the west coast of South America. Eleven years later Enderby Land was discovered by Captain Biscoe and Graham Land in 1832.

The year 1840 was signalized by exploring expeditions send southward by the United States, France and Great Britain. Headlands of Antarctica extending northward toward the Indian ocean were sighted by Wilkes and D'Urville in the antarctic circle, and the French landed on Cote Clarie. Not till 1841 did any one attempt to penetrate within the south polar pack. This was done by Sir James Ross in two bluff-bowed sailing ships, and within the pack the ice was found lighter and more scattered. After some days of thumping from rolling masses of ice the open antarctic sea was reached and Victoria Land was discovered. Ross sailed along this volcanic land 500 miles, in latitude 78 degrees south, finding for 300 miles a line of ice cliffs some 200 feet high. He again passed through the ice pack in the following year. His discovery revealed to the world the Terra Australis which Cook had thought would be forever inaccessible. But no one ever afterward repeated his exploit of venturing among the pack ice in a sailing vessel. Nor was any further discovery of importance made till 1895, when Captain Christensen in a steam whaler passed through the pack and landed in Victoria Land.

The chief object of the Ross expedition was to make a magnetic survey, and this is still the most important work to be done. Since Ross' time great changes have taken place south of latitude 40 degrees south in the magnetic elements, so that fresh observations are required for charts for iron-build steamships. It is very desirable for practical purposes to know the extent of this magnetic variation. Much needs to be learned also concerning the tides and surface currents of the Antarctic ocean and its meteorology. The depths need to be sounded and the bottom should be dredged to bring up material for the naturalist. "All over the floor of the Antarctic ocean, " says Dr. Murray, of the Challenger, "there is a most abundant fauna, more abundant and peculiar than in any other region of the ocean's bed." The antarctic continent itself offers great attractions to the geographer and geologist. For three hundred miles along the coast Ross found a vast glacier, or ice field, pushing out over the low lands into the sea, forming a solid wall of probably 1,500 feet in vertical measure, 200 feet of which were above water. When this vast sheet of ice had advanced into depths of 400 fathoms pieces of it miles in length broke off and floated northward. Beyond the glaciers -- which imply a large land area in their rear -- were lofty mountains. The whole land seemed to be of volcanic formation. Its coast line has not been fully traced around the globe. There are several gaps which require exploration. Fossil pine wood has been found in Graham Land, indicating a different climate at some remote period, but there is at present, it seems, no vegetation there beyond the simplest algae and one cryptogam. The dominating winds are southerly and southeasterly, which fact suggests that an anticyclone or area of high pressure exists permanently over Antarctica. Such an area would produce dry winds. From this it is inferred that the belt of large snowfall is about 74 degrees south, and between that line and the pole the land may be comparatively open. Its fossils and minerals, if any, would be of great interest. At present exploration should be comparatively easy with steamers that can penetrate the ice pack, and President Markham declares it to be the duty of governments to send out vessels well equipped for the work. A party landed on the most southern point, where access could be had to the interior, might in the course of a year or two accumulate information of great value.


Reproduced with permission: L.L. Dyche, Explorations (Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2. University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS.

 

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Original Source:
  {Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, N.Y., Feb. 9, 1898}  
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Transcriber: 
  {Jennifer F. Holvoet, University of Kansas.}  
 
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