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To give an intelligent review of the various expeditions of discovery and research in the Arctic regions would require a considerable volume. It is possible, however, in comparatively short space to present a general survey of similar efforts to increase the sum of human knowledge concerning the Antarctic regions. The reasons for the preponderance of attempts to the north is found in the fact that the civilized and progressive nations are in the northern hemisphere, and the land of the earth widens northward and tapers southward. Peoples are naturally most interested in that which is near and presents larger possibilities in the way of interesting discovery.The Antarctic regions, however, have not been utterly neglected, nor is the story of discovery devod (sic) of interest. Antarctica as the south polar region is now called, was, of course, entirely unknown to the ancients and to the early navigators of modern Europe. The spirit of adventure which followed the discovery of America led Lope Garcia de Castro, the Governor of Peru, to send his nephew Alvaro Mendana, in search of it, who sailed from Callao in 1567. another expedition under Pedro Fernandez de Quives left Callao in 1605, and discovered land in April, 1606, which he called Australia del Espiritu Santo, now known to be one of the New Hebrides group. These are recognized as the first regular expeditions in search of the supposed southern continent.
The first ship that ever approached the Antarctic circle was one of a fleet which sailed from Rotterdam under the command of Jacob Mahu as admiral in June, 1598. She was called the Good News, a yacht of 150 tons, with Dirk Gerritz as her captain. He discovered land, which appears to have been that afterward named the South Shetlands. In 1671 La Roche discovered South Georgia, a solitary island in the South Atlantic, but north even of the latitude of Cape Horn. Where so little was known and where there is so little land any discoveries within a few hundred miles of the Antarctic circle were spoken of as south polar.
In January, 1773, Capt. Cook sailed southward from the Cape of Good Hope in the Resolution with the Adventure in company, and after passing much ice crossed the Antarctic circle on the 17th of the same month. Sighting many icebergs and his progress being impeded also by much loose ice Cook did not think it prudent to advance farther south and bore up for New Zealand. In December, 1773, he made another attempt to discover the supposed southern continent and again crossed the Antarctic circle on Dec. 20. Cook's farthest point was 71 degrees 15 minutes S. on the meridian of 106 degrees 54 minutes W. He made the circuit of the southern ocean in a high latitude, twice crossing the Antarctic circle, and besides discovering and naming a number of islands established the important fact that, if there was any extensive south polar land, it must be south of the parallels along which he sailed. A number of expeditions were sent out in the early part of this century, notably those of the Messrs. Enderby from England, the French expedition under Dumont d'Urville and the United States expedition under Commander Wilkes, but without startling results.
The most important effort was that of the English Antarctic expedition of 1839-43, undertaken mainly with a view to magnetic observations and the determination of the south magnetic pole. Two old bomb vessels, the Erebus and Terror, were fitted out under the command of Captain, afterward Sir James Ross. In 1840 Kerguellen Island was reached and carefully surveyed. On New Year's Day, 1841, the Antarctic circle was crossed, and on Jan. 11 land was sighted and the highest latitude reached by Capt. Cook was passed. On a nearer approach to the land there was a clear view of a chain of mountains, with peaks rising to 10,000 feet and glaciers filling the intervening valleys and projecting into the sea. Landing with great difficulty on a small island near the shore inconceivable myriads of penguins covered the surface, but no vegetation was seen. On the 23d they were in 74 degrees 24 minutes south latitude, and passed the most southern latitude previously reached by Capt. Waddell (sic) in 1823. On the 27th they came in sight of a mountain 12,400 feet above the sea, which proved to be an active volcano, emitting fire and smoke in great profusion. It was named Mount Erebus, and an extinct volcano to the eastward, 10,000 feet high, was named Mount Terror. Along the coast as far as the eye could reach, there was a perpendicular cliff of ice from 150 to 200 feet high, perfectly level at the top, and without any fissures or promontories on its smooth seaward face. This ice barrier was followed eastward 450 miles without discovering a break until at 78 degrees S. the approach of winter compelled a return of the expedition. The whole of the great southern land discovered by Sir James Ross was named Victoria Land.
In November, 1841, Capt. Ross once more turned his vessel southward. The great icy barrier was sighted after numerous perils on Feb. 22. Nothing, however, was accomplished in this voyage beyond the further examination of the barrier and attaining a latitude of 78 degrees 11 minutes S., the highest ever reached. The explorations of H.M.S. Challenger in 1873 and 1874 were important for the surveys made of islands, the discoveries of naturalists and the deep sea soundings accomplished. Other voyages before or since have given to the world nothing more than confirmation of the reports by earlier navigators. Since the Challenger expedition, for nearly twenty years, while at time attempts were made to reawaken interest in Anarctica (sic), nothing has been attempted of special importance. In 1891 the International Geographical Congress at Berne warmly advocated the renewal of south polar research as the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken and interest was aroused in England.
Most important as adding to the sum of knowledge of practical value was the work of the Norwegian explorer, C. E. Borchgrevink, in 1895. While he did not reach higher latitude than 74 degrees 10 seconds his expedition was first to put foot on the mainland, Jan. 23, 1895. This was accomplished at Cape Adare (sic), and the opinion was formed that a future scientific expedition might stop safely there even during the winter months. There were several accessible spurs found leading up to the top of the Cape, and there a gentle slope runs on to the great plateau of Victoria Land. The presence of the penguin colony, their undisturbed old nests, the vegetation and the flat table of the Cape above, were all evidences that Antarctic forces are not so severe there as elsewhere. Neither ice nor volcanoes seemed to have raged on the peninsular (sic) at Cape Adare, and there is ample room for house, tents and provisions. Borchgrevink, although finding no whale valuable for bone, discovered immense guano beds, which he regards of great commercial importance. The greatest value, however, of the expedition was in lighting upon a spot so favorable for the starting point of explorations to the interior of this vast and as yet unknown territory.
These experiences and discoveries of Borchgrevink awakened new interest in Anarctica (sic), and several expeditions were at once projected. The first of these to materialize is under Belgian auspices. It has already sailed from Antwerp under Lieut. Adrien de Gerlache, with a company of thirty-three men skilled in polar research. Our own country will be represented by Dr. Frederick A. Cook, the well-known Arctic explorer, who, as already stated in The Commercial Advertiser, expects to leave this country next Monday, Sept. 20, to meet the expedition at Rio Janiero (sic). Cape Adare will be the objective point from whence the continent will be explored. The work cut out for the expedition includes observations and researches in oceanic hydrography, in terrestrial magnetism, in atmospheric electricity and in meteorology. It is a particular aim also of the voyage to find proof for Antarctic prenomena (sic) which hitherto have rested solely on theory and hypothesis.
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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