November 29, 2007

A Special Edition Journal Entry...

                        A History of Antarctic Exploration

The Geography course that I teach branches into both the natural and the social sciences.  History is but one of those parts of the social sciences. The history of Antarctic exploration is one based on not just the spirit of human fortitude and invisibility but also on the quest to seek out and to find out more about the world around us among the unexplored, unchartered, unclaimed lands teeming with new discoveries from the smallest of bacterias to the greatest of marine species.   The area around McMurdo on Ross Island was the staging ground for many of the expeditions inland to find the South Pole and to penetrate this frozen landmass.  Therefore, the social science person in me is commanded to bring you a bit of exploration history.  At the end you will find a timeline of Antarctic exploration.  In the following journal entry you will find the story of Scott's *Terra Nova *Hut and the pictures of what it looks like today. 

And the human history of Antarctica begins...... 

Explorers to Antarctic seas made journies for commercial reasons, some of which, made new discoveries. The 19th century was the height of the whaling and sealing industry.  Many of the sub-Antarctic islands were discovered by sealers or whalers and the first landings on half of them were made by men engaged in the whale and penguin oil industry.

The second major exploitation of Antarctic resources began in 1904 with the establishment of the modern whaling industry. At various times shore stations operated in the Falkland Islands, South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Islands, South Georgia, Iles Kerguélen, Macquarie Island and Campbell Island; "floating" factories were moored at these and several other locations.

In July 1895, the Sixth International Geographical Congress was held in London for the primary purpose of rekindling interest in Antarctic exploration. This began the HEROIC ERA of Antarctic exploration, beginning with Adrien de Gerlache's BELGIAN ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION aboard BELGICA in 1897, and ending with Richard Byrd's FIRST BYRD ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION  in 1928. In November 1946 the U.S. Navy launched the largest Antarctic expedition ever organized. Code-named OPERATION HIGHJUMP , Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd led 4700 men, aboard thirteen ships with twenty-three aircraft, on the US NAVY ANTARCTIC DEVELOPMENTS PROJECT 1946-47.…

Sir Ernest Shackleton

    At the beginning of the 20th century, Antarctic exploration was the space exploration of the day.
    Antarctica was (and still is) a distant place visited by few, largely unknown and only recently brought to public awareness. Photographs were rare, moving pictures even more so and radio was in its infancy.
    Exploration of this "Terra Incognita" was at the limit of possibilities, at the limits of logistical support, of physical endurance and technological capability.

 Determined individuals with relevant experience and the ability to generate and draw on support, particularly sponsorship, could mount an expedition. You didn't know what you'd find, but you'd find something, it would be useful to science and probably hitherto unknown.

    The curtain was opened on the "Heroic Age" when in 1895 the Sixth International Geographical Congress meeting in London adopted a resolution:

"That this congress record its opinion that the exploration of the Antarctic Regions is the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken. That in view of the additions to knowledge in almost every branch of science which would result from such a scientific exploration the Congress recommends that the scientific societies throughout the world should urge in whatever way seems to them most effective, that this work should be undertaken before the close of the century."

Adventurous men were drawn to this arena like a magnet and over the period of just a few short years Antarctica was where some of the bravest and most worthy of explorers ever to have lived, met some of the harshest conditions ever endured.

Some of the expeditions succeeded in their aims, some didn't but succeeded in something that they hadn't set out to do. It was also of course the era that popularised the concept of the "heroic failure".

"Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."

The close of the Heroic age is generally taken coming with the death of Ernest Shackleton in 1922 from a heart attack while aboard the ship Quest at anchor at South Georgia. After this time Antarctic expeditions were fundamentally different, usually being much larger in scale and with back up if necessary able to summoned by radio. No longer would men set out completely alone and self contained on their adventure, the tale to be told either on their return or by the finding of their remains by later parties.

    The Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, though it happened a century ago now is still very real and very accessible thanks to the efforts and talents of the men who chronicled and photographed the events as they happened.

    Four names are pre-eminent in this era representing adventures that at times would be discounted as too fantastic if they had been written as works of fiction.  They are:

Roald Amundsen
Douglas Mawson
Robert Falcon Scott
Ernest Shackleton

The Exloration of Robert Falcon Scott:… 

The story of Scott’s expeditions in search of the South Pole is so wonderfully explained that there is no reason to rewrite it but only to give credit where credit is due!.  Here is his story:

 Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912)
The Discovery Expedition 1901 - 1904

"Scott of the Antarctic" is the most famous of all the Polar explorers. He is best known for his legendary and fatal attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole. His team succeeded in reaching the pole, though did so a month after the Norwegian Amundsen and his party. It is less well known that Scott's expeditions were far ranging and achieved much in the fields of science and exploration beyond the fateful polar trek that he is best known for.

After 18 years in the Navy Scott was beginning to feel rather restless and wanted to expand his horizons.  He was chosen as leader of a joint Royal Society and Royal Geographical Society Antarctic expedition, receiving news of this appointment in 1900. This was to become the "Discovery Expedition" of 1901 - 1904

The British National Antarctic or Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904

The ship "Discovery" was built especially for this expedition, a wooden sailing ship with auxiliary engines. She was 172 feet long, 34 feet wide and was 485 tons unladed. She left Dundee where she had been built on July 31st 1901 sailing south to Antarctica.

Among the crew on this expedition was Ernest Shackleton engaged as third lieutenant in charge of holds, stores, provisions and deep sea water analysis.

On reaching Antarctica and after some initial explorations along the coast, the Discovery made its way to McMurdo sound where winter quarters were to be established. Many trips were made by manhaul and dog sledge parties in the remaining months before winter darkness fell. Scott and his men engaged on a very steep and uncomfortable learning curve in an unforgiving environment, a "school of hard knocks" and cold knocks too.

The expedition was made of many "projects" both scientific and exploratory performed by various combinations of the personnel. The centrepiece of the expedition was an attempt to reach the South Pole or at least to explore further South than anyone had managed to do previously.  The core party was of Scott, Wilson and Shackleton supported by others who were to lay food and supply depots for the team to use particularly on the return journey. In this way the men would only need to carry enough supplies as to last them as long as the next depot rather than for the whole outward and return journeys.

In addition to this, Shackleton began to suffer from the effects of scurvy and all of the men were suffering from a lack of food. Wilson, the doctor suffered from snow blindness and at one point hauled his sledge blindfolded. They turned back on December 31st 1902 having reached 82°17'S. They had travelled 300 miles farther south than anyone before them and were only 480 statute miles from the Pole. It took them just over another month before they reached their base, as Scott put it "We are as near spent as three persons can be". They had been gone for ninety-three days and had covered 960 statute miles.

The expedition however continued. A support ship the "Morning" had arrived from New Zealand to bring extra supplies and exchange some of the personnel including Shackleton who was still recovering from the effects of scurvy. The Morning left again on March 1st 1903 leaving the party to another Antarctic winter and to carry on their scientific and exploratory work.

The "Morning" returned in 1904 this time accompanied by another ship the "Terra Nova". The government in England had decided that the Antarctic party might be having too good a time of it! relieved once a year by a hugely expensive relief ship and wanted them all brought back whether or not the Discovery had to be abandoned in the process.

For a while it looked like the Discovery might well be abandoned as there was 20 miles of ice between it and open water. With much hard work, explosives, the wind eventually in the right direction and finally the two relief ships breaking their way through the remaining ice, the Discovery was released and all three ships were under way heading back north.

By early 1907,  Scott had made up his mind to lead a second expedition to the Antarctic.

Great God! This is an awful place.
- Robert Falcon Scott, 1912

The Terra Nova Expedition 1910-13

Scott wanted to use the Discovery again for this second expedition, but the admiralty had sold it to the Hudson's Bay Company some years before, and they refused to sell her back. After considering several others, Scott purchased the Terra Nova, which had been used for whaling and sealing since her return from the Discovery expedition.

The choices for transportation made by Scott were to have profound effects on the final results of the expedition. He didn't take dogs, perhaps influenced by his experiences on the Discovery expedition. Instead he had motor sledges which were experimental, since none had ever been used before, (and motor transport technology was still in its infancy), and ponies. Ponies had been used before by Shackleton, but not successfully.

Scott planned to use the motor sledges as far as possible, establishing depots along the way. The ponies would then take over and haul the sledges to the foot of a glacier, the next major obstacle, when the south pole party would begin to manhaul their sledges.

The journey to Antarctica on the Terra Nova was eventful and losses of ponies, a dog, coal and other stores occurred during a storm. On December 8th 1910 the first iceberg was spotted and on the following day, in latitude 65°8'S, the Terra Nova entered the pack ice. The ship continued to encounter heavy pack ice for the next three weeks, consuming a great deal of precious coal in the process.

On December 30th Scott wrote, "We are out of the pack at length and at last one breathes again". On New Year's Day, 1911, Mount Erebus came into view. They attempted to land at Cape Crozier, where they had planned on setting up winter quarters, but the seas were too rough. So, McMurdo Sound was their next option. On January 4th 1911, the Terra Nova anchored to the ice and the unloading began. The ponies were especially happy to finally be on firm ground as they rolled and kicked in the snow.

The motor sledges began well, they were unloaded and immediately put to work hauling stores to the new camp. The third and largest sledge however broke through the ice to the sea and sank in sixty fathoms of water as it was being hauled by twenty men towards the shore.

The hut was erected quickly, it measured fifty feet by twenty-five and was nine feet to the eaves. It was insulated with quilted seaweed, lined with matchboard, lit by acetylene gas, provided with a stove and cooking range and divided into two by a partition made of crates (including the wine) to separate the men's from the officers' quarters. Within two weeks the hut was built and occupied.

It was only after arriving at their winter camp and erecting the hut that Scott found out that the Norwegian Roald Amundsen had arrived at the bay of Whales and he too was planning to reach the South Pole the following summer. Amundsen had more dogs and better trained dogs, what was more, he and his men were experienced in using them efficiently. Many of Scott's party were unhappy at the arrival of Amundsen, his arrival was thought to be an unsporting and previously unannounced attempt at beating Scott and his team to the pole.

Had we lived, I should have a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.
- Robert Falcon Scott, 1912

The Journey to the Pole

A party set out first with supplies with the motor sledges while the others with ponies and dogs followed behind. One machine soon gave out while the other was abandoned shortly afterwards.

On November 1st 1911, twelve men, each with a pony and sledge, left Cape Evans in detachments. This included the final party of five that would push on towards the pole. The other men were not to reach the pole, their role was supportive in helping transport supplies for the polar party and establishing depots for the polar party to use on the way back. They would then return to the winter quarters at Hut point.

The distance from the winter quarters at Hut Point to the Pole and back was 1766 statute miles (further than Land's End to John O'Groats and back again, (or from New York city to Wyoming, Chicago or Denver).  Every step of the way had to be marched on foot, with or without skis.

Fighting constant snowfalls, the team reached One Ton Camp on the fifteenth day. There was a constant worry that the ponies would not be able to keep going and upon reaching Camp 20 on November 24th, the first pony was killed. Four camps later, on December 1st, the second pony was shot. Depots were made at regular intervals of roughly seventy miles, each containing food and fuel for a week for the returning parties.

Scott and the others followed Shackleton's route, on January 6th they crossed the line of latitude where Shackleton turned back and were farther south, 88°23'S, as they believed, than any man had been before.  They were now 97 miles from the pole, but this took them ten days to cover this due to the weather conditions and state of the snow and ice that they were pulling across.

January the 17th was "....a horrible day..." , a strong headwind and temperatures of -30°C giving three of them frostbite. Scott's journal records "Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority".

They reached the pole on January 18th to find a small tent supported by a single bamboo flying a Norwegian flag. Inside was a record of the five who had been the first to reach the pole;

Roald Amundsen    Olav Olavson Bjaaland
Hilmer Hanssen    Sverre H. Hassel    Oscar Wisting

There was also a letter to be delivered to King Haakon of Norway.

The return trip started out fairly well but the weather would inevitably become more severe and there was no incentive of being the first to reach the pole to cheer them and spur them onwards. Scott wrote on the 21st of January "Oates is feeling the cold and fatigue more than most of us" and on the 23rd of January "Wilson suddenly discovered Evans nose was frostbitten - it was white and hard. There is no doubt that Evans is a good deal run down".

The men were becoming tired now and injuries were increasing, Wilson suffered snow-blindness, Oates had frostbitten feet. Frostbite also affected Evans' fingers and nose. They had many falls, Scott damaging his shoulder in one. Evans had a bad fall on the 4th of February suffering concussion - he was never to really recover.

They became lost at one point while descending the Beardmore glacier and had a nightmarish two days in badly crevassed and broken ice not knowing in which direction to head and becoming more despondent. They were down to their last meal and unable to find the food depot until at the last they did so. "It was an immense relief and we were soon in possession of our three and a half days food. The relief to all is inexpressible.......... Yesterday was the worst experience of the trip and gave a horrid feeling of insecurity".

February 16th - "Evans has nearly broken down in brain, we think". The next day he started reasonably well but soon left his sledge traces to walk alongside. He fell further and further back and was soon out of sight. By lunchtime the others went back to find him. He was on his knees, clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten and with a "wild look in his eyes". He was placed onto a sledge and taken to the camp they had set up, he was comatose by the time he was placed in the tent. He died quietly at 12.30 a.m.

The weather continued to be against them, particularly intense cold down to -40°C and the surface bad beyond their worst fears. On March 5th Scott records "Oates' feet are in a wretched condition... The poor soldier is very nearly done." Despite the cold and awful surfaces Oates kept going attended to by Wilson the doctor, but on March the 16th he proposed that his companions leave him in his sleeping bag and continue themselves. A request they could not grant and induced him to join the afternoon march when they made a few extra miles. He was worse that night and went to sleep hoping not to wake, he did wake however to find a blizzard blowing. His last words were "I am just going outside and may be some time." He walked out to his death so that he would no longer be a burden to his friends who themselves were in worsening physical condition. His feet had been so bad and the process of putting his boots on so painful that he didn't go through this torture and walked out to his death in his socks.

The last camp was made on March 19th only 11 miles from the next depot. They woke on the 20th to another raging blizzard. Scott was suffering badly from a frostbitten foot and Wilson and Bowers were to go to the depot for fuel. By the 22nd they still had not been able to set off, the blizzard was as bad as ever. They never left this final camp having run out of food and fuel, eventually being too weak, cold and hungry to attempt the march. On the 29th of March 1912 Scott made his last diary entry;

"Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far.

It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more."

The tent and the three frozen bodies were not discovered until nearly 8 months later on November 12th that year. A great cairn of ice was raised over their bodies surmounted by a cross made from skis, a sledge was stood on one end in a smaller cairn nearby.

A search was made for Captain Oates' body, but it was never found, only his discarded sleeping bag, cut open for much of the length to enable him to enter it with badly frostbitten feet.
A cairn was placed at the scene of the search with a note that began "Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman...."

Later at hut point a cross was erected to the memory of :

Lieutenant H. R. Bowers
Petty officer Edgar "Taff" Evans
Captain L. E. G. Oates
Captain R. F. Scott
Dr. E. A. Wilson

Timeline of Antarctic Exploration

In the winter of 1821, for the first time ever a party of men spent a winter in Antarctica. An officer and ten men from a British sealing ship the Lord Melville had to spend the winter on King George Island - part of the South Shetlands group, north of the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship had been driven offshore and did not return to pick them up again. They were rescued the following summer.

Whales weren't keen on Antarctica being explored either. British whaler James Weddell discovers the sea named after him and then reaches the most southerly point at that time 74° 15' S. No one else manages to penetrate the Weddell sea again for 80 years.

Separate British, French and American expeditions establish the status of Antarctica as a continent after sailing along continuous coastline.

In 1840, British naval officer and scientist James Clark Ross takes two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, to within 80 miles of the coast until stopped by a massive ice barrier - now called the Ross Ice Shelf. He also discovers the active volcano that he names after his ship Erebus, and identifies 145 new species of fish (not personally you understand - a scientist on the ship did that bit).

Late 1800's to early 20th century. Many expeditions largely by sealers and whalers to all parts of Antarctica. Mainly marine exploration and exploration of the sub Antarctic islands.

March. Adrien de Gerlache and the crew of the "Belgica" become trapped in pack ice off the Antarctic Peninsula in the first scientific expedition to the continent. They become the first to survive an Antarctic winter (involuntarily!) as their ship drifts with the ice (they didn't enjoy it).

Carsten Borchgrevink leads a British expedition that landed men at Cape Adare and built huts. This was the first time that anyone had wintered on the Antarctic landmass. Believed by some historians to be the first confirmed landing on continental Antarctica.

Captain Scott, UK, leads his first Antarctic expedition to reach the South Pole, with Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson. They are forced to turn back two months later having reached 82 degrees south, suffering from snow blindness and scurvy.

Several other publicly and privately sponsored expeditions around this time. By now, these are driven by science, geography and exploration - less by the exploitation of resources such as seals and whales.

If we sail over there, we'll see some particularly fine plankton...

1907 - 1909
Shackleton leads expedition to within 156km / 97mls of the South Pole, turns back after supplies are exhausted.

January, Australian Douglas Mawson reaches the South Magnetic Pole.

December 14th. Norwegian Roald Amundsen leads a five man expedition that reaches the South Pole for the first time.

Scott and his men manhauled all of the way to the pole and back again. January 18th. Britain's Captain Robert Falcon Scott reaches the South Pole to discover he has been beaten by Amundsen. All of the five man team (Scott, Bowers, Evans, Oates and Wilson), are to perish on the return journey only 11 miles from supply depot. Bodies are not discovered until November.

December. Douglas Mawson begins his trek across George V Land back to his base at Commonwealth Bay. His two companions had died, and against the odds he makes it home. A new section of coast is discovered and described, and radio is used for the first time in Antarctica.

October. Shackleton returns to Antarctica in an attempt to complete the first crossing of the continent. The goal is not attained, but one of the greatest adventures of all time follows. Their ship is crushed in the sea ice and a small party sets out for South Georgia and the whaling station. The party is eventually rescued in 1917.

The beginning of large-scale factory ship whaling in the Ross Sea.

Australian Sir George Wilkins and American Carl Benjamin Eielson are the first to fly over Antarctica around the peninsula region.

Richard E. Byrd and three others - US - become the first to fly over the South Pole.

Lincoln Ellsworth - US - flies across the continent.

Caroline Mikkelsen, Norway,  is the first woman to set foot on Antarctica when she accompanies her husband, a whaling captain.

Operation Highjump - US - sends the largest ever expedition of over 4700 men, 13 ships and 23 airplanes to Antarctica. Most of the coast is photographed for map making under the direction of Rear Admiral R.E. Byrd

US aircraft lands at South Pole. First people there since Scott and his team in 1912.

1st July 1957 - 31st Dec 1958
International Geophysical Year (IGY) 12 nations establish over 60 stations in Antarctica. The beginning of international cooperation in Antarctica and the start of the process by which Antarctica becomes "non-national".

The first successful land crossing via the South Pole is led by British geologist Vivian Fuchs with New Zealander Edmund Hillary leading the back up party, over 40 years after Shackleton's expedition set out with the same aim.

Antarctic treaty comes into effect.

Boerge Ousland (Norway) becomes first person to cross Antarctica unsupported. Taking 64 days from Berkner Island to Scott base towing a 180kg (400lb) sled and using skis and a sail.

March 2007 - March 2009
International Polar Year - Actually Spans two years in order that researchers get the opportunity to work in both polar regions or work summer and winter if they wish.

Timeline sources:…