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WONDERS OF THE ANTARCTIC.
Nothing short of authentic news of Prof. Andree's expedition is calculated to excite so much interest as the return of an expedition from a research of the Antarctic regions, writes W.H. Gilder in the New York "Journal." When, therefore, Dr. Cook's cable dispatch from Montevideo was received here announcing that the voyage of the Belgica had been a complete success, the news was exceedingly gratifying, particularly to students of polar exploration.
The arrival of the British steamship Coya in this port yesterday with more detailed news as to the mission of Dr. Cook aroused much more interest in the field of Antarctic exploration.
Dr. Cook says that much new land was discovered in Weddell sea, and open water was seen far to the south. This shows that the great wall of ice, some 250 feet high, reported by early explorers was a myth. Icebergs and fog banks, when seen from the deck of a ship, have often misled navigators, and they have claimed to have discovered land where really no land existed. Even the best charts of the present day bear the names and location of islands and coast lines that whalers who frequent the unknown seas around the poles declare they have sailed right over, and no land was to be seen even from the masthead on a clear day. But mirages and fog banks will in the future, as in the past, present their fantastic and deceptive forms to fool the skippers who sail on unknown seas.
As illustrating this fact, some recent navigators claim to have sailed right over the extensive land marked on the charts of the Antarctic regions as Wilkes Land, in honor of Admiral Wilkes, of the United States navy, who claimed to have made the discovery in the early part of the present century.
Fifteen months ago Dr. F. A. Cook, of Brooklyn, joined the Belgian South Polar expedition, on the steamer Belgica, under command of Lieutenant De Gerlache, of the Royal Belgian navy, as physician and ethnologist. Dr. Cook had for several years endeavored to secure the necessary funds to enable him to lead an expedition of discovery toward the South Pole, but was unsuccessful. That he was in earnest in his determination to work in that direction was shown by his joining an expedition from a foreign country for that purpose, and every one will be pleased to learn of the successful work of his party.
Every (sic) since the early explorers reported the desolate condition existing in that terra incognita named Antarctica, there has been a feeling of dread accompanying the slightest allusion to that strange and forbidding region. It was said to be entirely devoid of animal or vegetable life; it was entirely surrounded by an impenetrable wall of ice; its mountains were volcanoes, and the climate intensely cold. But as the commercial sailors followed in the wake of the explorers they found that the conditions around the South Pole were not so bad as they had been painted.
On some of the islands in that region they found fur seals whose pelts rivalled (sic) those of the Behring (sic) sea rookeries. In the open water leads through the ice fields whaling skippers killed whales of prodigious size. The islands along the coast of the Antarctic continent are covered deeply with vast deposits of guano, rich with ammonia, and of inestimable value.
Then, a few years ago, a whaler approached Graham Land, and on an island near the mainland found fossilized roots and branches of trees in such a position as to preclude the possibility of their having been thrown up by the action of waves. This was indubitable evidence that at one time trees were indigenous to that soil. But that Norwegian skipper found something still more startling. About 50 balls made of clay and sand were seen by him on a plateau about 40 feet above the sea level, and as if still more positive proof that people had at some previous period occupied the land, a number of those balls were perched upon columns of similar material, also fashioned by the hand of man.
The explorer of Antarctica therefore has a much more agreeable and interesting task before him in the light of recent discoveries than was formerly believed to be the case. For it is certainly much pleasanter to follow up evidence of the previous existence of human beings in an unknown land than to trace geological periods through the fossils of extinct reptiles.
It would be very interesting to see a photograph of the balls and pillars, as seen by Captain Larsen, the Norwegian whaler, but he was equipped solely for a whaling voyage, and not for exploration. He was ashore only two hours or less, and during that short period disproved the theory that neither animal nor vegetable life had ever existed in Antarctica.
If so much could be discovered in such a brief visit to the shores of that continent, by untrained men unequipped for scientific observation, what might we not expect as the result of the careful research of skilled observers, thoroughly equipped for the purpose, during a stay of several months in that part of the world where every observation would be a discovery, inasmuch as it is still a veritable terra incognita?
Dr. Cook will certainly bring home a valuable collection of photographs, all of which will be intensely interesting, for all the present illustrations of the South Polar region are from imaginative drawings or from crude sketches by unskilled draughtsmen.
With the very meagre existing information concerning the South Polar regions, imagination has run riot and theorists have explained their belief in many varied things. Some have proven, at least to their own satisfaction, that the Garden of Eden was at the South Pole; others have declared that there would probably be found there an entirely new race of human beings, maintaining an agreeable existence, upon abundant animal life to be found on the land and in the sea.
Recently some mad Frenchman has astonished the gay Parisians with stories of his shipwreck in the Oregon, on the shores of the Antarctic continent, in the year 1863, and says he found there a colony consisting of the descendants of French refugees who left France at the time of the Napoleonic wars. They had established a kingdom on the continent and named it "Adelia."
This shipwrecked nobleman, who calls himself "Marquis de Dangley" says that three times he accompanied parties from the kingdom of "Adelia" to the South Pole, and that they found it to be a huge volcano. It is not likely that the Belgian explorers found this or any other colony during their 15 months' stay in Antarctica, for Dr. Cook would certainly have mentioned any such important discovery in his cabled dispatch.
It would appear that most of the work of the Belgian explorers was done nearly due south and southeast of the southern point of South America, chiefly in Weddell sea, where they found much new land. Discovering new land is next in importance to finding a new race of human beings, and it is about the conditions existing in these lands that the civilized world is anxiously awaiting further information from the Belgian explorers.
The unexplored region at the South Pole is equal to about one-fifth of the entire known land on the globe. This is a large field for discoveries, and there is no doubt that it will be well worked in the near future.
In the meantime, news has come that the English explorers sent out with Borchgrevink on the ship Southern Cross, by Sir George Newnes have landed in Cape Adair, in Victoria Land. This is on the opposite side of the pole from Graham Land, and Weddell sea, where the Belgians were at work, and not far from the place established by Sir James Ross in 1841 as the probable position of the South Magnetic pole.
It is more than likely that an effort will be made to reach that interesting spot and to establish by actual observation the southern pole of verticity. This alone would be of sufficient scientific interest to justify the cost of the Borchgrevink expedition.
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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