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THE UNKNOWN ANTARCTIC.
The cable received last week from Dr. Frederick A. Cook, announcing the arrival of steamer Belgica at Montevideo, on her return from her voyage of Antarctic exploration, followed by the announcement from London of the subscription of funds for the purpose of equipping an expedition to the same region next year, serves to bring this subject prominently into notice. The Antarctic, in fact, is now, and will be still more next year, the field in which scientific exploration is most active. The southern cap of this globe is practically the only region remaining unknown. At the other pole, science and adventure have been closing in upon the mystery for a century past, until today the unknown territory in the Arctic is no greater in extent than European Russia; whereas, in the Antarctic, the unknown expanse is twice as large as the whole of Europe. It is a vast field, of which the president of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain said, in his recent address, that " the exploration of the Antarctic region has become the most important geographical work of our time."
The most immediate interest attaches to the cable message of Dr. Cook, the Brooklyn physician who, after accompanying Peary on his earlier Greenland expedition, attached himself to the party sent out by the Belgian government to the Antarctic. His despatch is so short as to be tantalizing by reason of the expectations which it arouses. It tells of much new land discovered in Middle Sea, of open water to the far south, and of active volcanoes seen. The importance of this is found in the fact that no new land has been discovered in the Antarctic for more than half a century. the new discoveries of land have been made southeast of the termination of South America and at least 1500 miles from Cape Horn. The new lands may be still more distant from South America. As for the volcanoes reported in action, the only other Antarctic volcano in eruption that has heretofore been seen was Erebus on Victoria Land. It is not known whether the companion peak, Terror, is in an active state.
The Belgica sailed from Antwerp in August, 1897. It was not the intention of Lieutenant Gerlache, in command of the expedition, to remain through the winter in the Antarctic, and the absence of all reports from the party have caused some solicitude regarding its fate. Now that word has come, it is seen that this expedition has spent two summers and a winter in the heart of the great unknown and will bring home the first records of South polar phenomena in the winter months, as well as adding to our geographical knowledge through the discovery of new land in that region.
There is today another party of explorers in the Antarctic, of which news would be welcome. It is the expedition organized by Sir George Newnes and equipped throughout at his own expense, for the purpose of exploring Victoria Land, which was discovered by Sir James Ross in 1841, was never reached again till the whaler Antarctic sighted it on Jan. 16, 1895, and is thought by many to be a part of the supposed great Antarctic continent. This party is in charge of the young Norwegian, C. E. Borchgrevink, who attained celebrity a couple of years ago as the first man who ever set foot on Cape Adare (sic), the nearest known land to the South pole. If Mr. Borchgrevink's plans have not miscarried, he has made a sledge journey over the great Antarctic ice cap and is getting ready to return.
The knowledge which the Belgica will soon bring to civilization, and that which we may expect in case Borchgrevink returns, will be of value in directing the explorations of the two great expeditions which start for the Antarctic next year. There is a German expedition, now in course of preparation, which has a fund of $200,000. That which is proposed under the auspices of the British Royal Geographical Society has already a subscribed fund of $175,000, which will probably be increased to equal that of the Germans. Working together, as these two strong and well supported expeditions will do, there is reason to expect that the mystery of the Antarctic will be approached, if not entirely fathomed, perhaps before that of the Arctic is laid bare.
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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