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Of the two opposite ends of the earth's axis, the North Pole has always monopolized consideration. In science, literature, adventure and popular interest it is the Arctic that has held the first place, while the Antarctic has been allowed to go uncelebrated and unexplored. This comes about naturally in an earth built as ours is and populated as ours is. The great continents heap themselves together in the northern hemisphere, clustering abut the Arctic and pushing up into its ice. The great oceans spread over the southern hemisphere, with only a few capes pointing toward the Antarctic and a few islands scattered further toward the South Pole. The mystery of the south is surrounded by inhospitable seas separating(sic) it from human approach (missing word) the mystery of the north lies in a cup encircled by populous continents.
There is the further, and perhaps the controlling, fact that all the great civilizations since prehistoric times have had their origin, growth and development in the northern hemisphere. The progress of the race has all been on this side of the equator. The North Pole has been the neighbor; the South Pole -- since men came to know that there was a region of ice on the other side of the world -- has been an unconsidered stranger. With the Arctic close at hand, commerce, trade, the fishing and other industries, accompanied by missionary effort, have pushed across its boundaries. Centuries before the landing of Columbus, Spitzbergen had prosperous colonies, and there were churches and convents in Greenland. Within the present century, the discovery of a northwest passage for commerce was the purpose of extensive explorations.
The Antarctic, separated from all the great movements of civilization, has held an isolated position. While the problems of the north have inspired adventure and discovery, the problems of the south have hardly been recognized. What Wilkes and D'Urville and Ross found in the Antarctic and told to the world nearly sixty years ago is practically the last word that has been spoken on this subject.
Here, then, is a gap in the basis of terrestrial science which the new century will have to fill. The knowledge to be gained by exploration of the Antarctic region has no possible direct commercial value. Its scientific importance, however, is great. "Every department of natural knowledge," said Dr. Murray in his recent address before the Royal Society, "would be enriched by systematic observations as to the order in which phenomena coexist and follow each other in regions of the earth's surface about which we know very little or are wholly ignorant. It is one of the great objects of science to collect observations of the kind here indicated, and it may be safely said that without them we can never arrive at a right understanding of the phenomena by which we are surrounded even in the habitable part of the globe."
Indirectly, the possession of this knowledge would have a distinct material as well as scientific value. The science of meteorology has of later years attained great commercial importance; and, while the Antarctic remains a sealed book, the data on which this science is based must be incomplete. One of the most remarkable features in the meteorology of the globe is the low atmospheric pressure at all seasons in the southern hemisphere south of latiture (sic) 45 degrees south, with the accompanying strong westerly and northwesterly winds, large rain and snow fall all round the south polar regions.
Is there, then, a great permanent anti-cyclonic area existing at the South Pole? From many points of view, also, it would be important to learn something about the condition of distribution of Antarctic sea ice during the winter months, and especially about the position of the huge table-shaped icebergs at this and other seasons of the year.
Science is today, more than ever before, the handmaid of material progress, and in establishing the basis of knowledge on which science rests we by so much aid this progress. The Antarctic continent -- for everything indicates that the great ice-cap of the South Pole covers land and not sea -- presents attractions to no one but the scientific observer. There is no life there, either human or beast, no vegetation. Penguins have their rookeries at some points where the stupendous wall of glacier is interrupted, and that is all. There are no fisheries. It is a region of ice and volcanic fire and desolation; but the secrets which it holds for terrestrial science are of the first 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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