Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 12th Wave Index Page



History of Polar Expeditions


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Joo Hyung
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2008



Table of Contents


I. Definition
II. Introduction
III. Polar Expeditions
III.1 Methods
III.2 The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration
IV. The South Pole
IV.1 Climate, Flora and Fauna
IV.2 History of Antarctica
IV.2.1 Theories and Sightings
IV.2.2 Discovery of Land
IV.3 Expeditions
IV.3.1 Belgian Antarctic Expedition (Belgica) (1897-1899)
IV.3.2 British National Antarctic Expedition (Discovery) (1901-1904)
IV.3.3 Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1903)
IV.3.4 British Imperial Antarctic Expedition (Nimrod) (1907-1909)
IV.3.5 Race to the Pole (Fram and Terra Nova) (1911)
IV.3.6 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (Endurance) (1914)
IV.3.7 Exploration by Air (1930s-1950s)
IV.3.8 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1956)
IV.4 Recent History
IV.4.1 The Antarctic Treaty
IV.4.2 Politics and Antarctica
V. The North Pole
V.1 Climate, Flora and Fauna
V.2 History of the Arctic
V.3 Expeditions
V.3.1 Early Expeditions
V.3.2 Later Expeditions
V.4 Recent History
VI. Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography



I. Definition
            This paper will cover the history of polar expeditions from ancient Greece to modern times. The 'Poles' referred to are defined as (unless mentioned otherwise) geographical poles, concerning both the North and South extremes of Earth, 90 degrees from the equator and situated on spinning axis of our planet. This paper will discuss mankind's attempts, from the earliest known expeditions to the latest feats, at reaching the Poles and exploring the Arctic / Antarctic region.

II. Introduction
            The Poles have long been a source of mystery and awe since ? and even far before ? their discovery to mankind. Dangerous climates and perilous oceans have hindered Man from reaching the Poles for centuries, and they still do so today. Yet the earliest (estimated) records concerning human exploration into the Arctic Circle reach back to 325 BC, when a sailor named Pytheas, traveling North, allegedly reached 'a land at the edge of a frozen sea,' and described natural effects that can be attributed to the aurora and the midnight sun. Although disputed, it is possible that Pytheas had sailed as far north as Iceland. (1) Since then, Mankind has persistently ? even in the face of failure and death ? pursued the course of adventure and discovery in the Polar Regions.

III. Polar Expeditions

III.1 Methods
            Perhaps the most well-known characteristic of the two Poles is the extreme harsh weather condition. The temperature falls to extreme degrees around the Poles, and explorers have no way to resupply themselves from nature. This naturally leads to a need for faster travel, and a greater number of items to carry.
            In the earliest days, the North Pole was thought to be in the middle of an ocean, and several attempts at reaching the Pole had been made solely by boat. But as land expeditions became inevitable both north and south, people started using all manners of transportation - ranging from horses, mules and sled-dogs to engine-run contraptions. However, most first-time attempts were doomed to fail as explorers lacked the experience to determine whether the animals they brought with them could survive in the harsh environment. Horses and ponies usually died out early. Even machines often failed at first, when technology was not sufficiently developed enough to aid the machines in withstanding the cold. Such failures in choosing the appropriate method of travel eventually led to tragic ends, such as the Scott expedition in 1911. Although nowadays advanced snowmobiles and trucks are being used, sled-dogs are also commonly used as transportation methods. In fact, dogs were the most reliable method of transportation well into the first half of the 20th century. Since then, advances have been made so that some commercial flights to the Arctic and Antarctic are even open to non-expert individuals that are simply willing to pay the fee. The poles have been crossed numerous times by flight, and nuclear submarines and powerful boats reach the continental coasts with much relative ease.

III.2 The Heroic Age of Polar Expedition
            As previously mentioned, the advance of technology in the 20th Century permitted humankind to penetrate into the Polar Regions with much greater ease. Compared to modern days, expeditions operating without radio, Gore-Tex protective clothing or snow-mobiles had to endure much greater obstacles. In such an attitude of nostalgia, the second half of the 19th century ? and even up to the First World War, - has been longingly named the 'Heroic Age of Polar Expedition.' During these times, the Arctic and Antarctic regions spoke to the people as a challenge, stimulating the imaginations of the populace.

IV. The South Pole

IV.1 Climate, Flora and Fauna
            The average high temperature of Antarctica reaches only up to -45 degrees Celsius, attaining a maximum average of -26 degrees only briefly during December to January. The yearly average low temperature is around -51 degrees Celsius, dropping down as low as -63 around July. (2) Being the harsher of the two Poles, the South Pole is not inhabited by any indigenous plant or animal. While a scatter of microbes have been found living under the Antarctic ice, it is unlikely that they have evolved in the region. (3)

IV.2 History of Antarctica

IV.2.1 Theories and Sightings
            Interestingly, references to Antarctica reach long back even before its discovery ? starting with Aristotle¡¯s theories concerning the existence of a "Terra Australis" in the Southern hemisphere, that would ¡®balance out¡¯ the land masses of the already known continents of the North. (4) Although not entirely correct, many explorations would be motivated by such ideas. The notion of a temperate 'Terra Australis' was further enforced with Magellan's discovery of the islands of Tierra Del Fuego, thought to be an extension of the unknown continent that would lie beyond. Of course, this was far north of the Antarctic Circle, and it would take almost another hundred years until it was proved that not even Australia was the southernmost continent. Although various expeditions would head further south, it is thought that no voyagers were able to reach the Antarctic Circle before 1770. The first discovery of land south of the Antarctic Polar Zone was in 1675, when Anthony de la Roche discovered the island of South Georgia. (5)
            Captain James Cook, an Englishman, led an expedition in 1772 with the two vessels Resolution and Adventure, breaching the Antarctic Circle on January 17, 1773. Cook would travel south of the Circle for the third time on January 30, 1774 at 71¡Æ 10¡Ç S by 106¡Æ 54¡Ç W ? the furthest south any traveler would reach in the 18th century. Following his expeditions, it became clear that there was no habitable 'Terra Australis' as it was once imagined, but rather an inaccessible, harsh land mass further south. (6)

IV.2.2 Discovery of Land
            Three men are credited with the 'first discovery' of mainland Antarctica, their sightings all made in only a short interval of time: Captain Fabian von Bellingshausen (Russia), Edward Bransfield (Britain), and Nathaniel Palmer (United States). Fabian von Bellingshausen (1820) reported seeing ice-fields, after approaching 40 km within the Antarctic continent. Bransfield sighted the Trinity Peninsula only two days later. (7) IV.3 Expeditions
            Many expeditions cover the period of the 20th century, from the British National Antarctic Expedition in 1901, which came within 857 kilometers of the South Pole, to the more recent Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1956, which was the first overland crossing of the continent by land through the South Pole. Seven major expeditions/periods are listed below:

IV.3.1 The Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897-1899)
            The expedition had been named after the expedition vessel Belgica, originally built in Norway as a whaling vessel before being purchased by Adrien de Gerlache for exploration. The expedition begins by leaving Antwerp, Belgium on August 16, 1897. Unfortunately, the ship became locked within the ice 70¡Æ30'S off Alexander Land, west of the Antarctic continent. Thus it was forced to become the first expedition to winter in the Antarctic region, with the crew being unable to regain control of the ship for thirteen months. Roald Amundsen was also part of the crew, and was able to receive valuable firsthand experience during the expedition, before launching his own on 1903 and 1910.

IV.3.2 British National Antarctic Expedition (Discovery) (1901-1904)
            The Discovery expedition was the first major British attempt of Antarctic exploration after the Ross expedition sixty years earlier. It was primarily aimed at scientific research and geographic exploration rather than attaining the geographical South Pole. The areas covered by research included biology, zoology, geology, meteorology and magnetism, along with major geological and zoological discoveries such as the McMurdo Valleys and an Emperor Penguin colony at Cape Crozier. (8) The expedition was considered a great success back in Europe, despite several setbacks and later criticisms on the scientific value and validity of some of its research results. The Discovery expedition served as a fuse for launching more expeditions towards the Antarctic region.

IV.3.3 Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1903)
            This was an expedition led by William Speirs Bruce, an experienced British polar scientist. It took place concurrently with the Discovery expedition, and was overshadowed somewhat in prestige by it (the Scottish expedition being a privately funded one). However, it accomplished much, such as the establishment of Antarctica's first manned meteorological station, and the collection of diverse biological and geological specimens ? which led to the creation of the Scottish Oceanographic Laboratory three years later. Although it was one of the most carefully planned and cost-effective expeditions, it had to return to minimal reception and a refusal from the British Government to award any honors to the expedition crew despite its efforts. (9)

IV.3.4 British Imperial Antarctic Expedition (Nimrod) (1907-1909)
            The Nimrod expedition was the first of the three expeditions that were to be led by Ernest Shackleton. It was, like the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, a privately-funded voyage. It accomplished a number of feats, such as attaining the (then) farthest south latitude at 88¡Æ23¡ÇS and carrying out the longest southern polar journey made until then. It was publically well-received, and Shackleton would receive knighthood from King Edward VII. The expedition, apart from other scientific studies, carried out an extensive journey southwards on land and discovered many landmarks such as the Beardmore Glacier (10) and contributed largely to the knowledge of local geography.

IV.3.5 Amundsen and Scott (Fram and Terra Nova) (1910-1913)
            Perhaps the most well known of polar expeditions, the Amundsen and Scott expeditions were respectively, a Norwegian and British attempt at reaching the Geographic South Pole.
            The Terra Nova expedition is also known as the British Antarctic Expedition, and was led by Robert Falcon Scott during 1910 ~ 1913. It was, besides its goals at being the first to reach the South Pole, a scientific expedition. The Terra Nova party had to suddenly make haste in heading for the Pole as the Amundsen expedition appeared in the south. On September 13, 1911 Scott had planned for a sixteen-man trip to the South Pole, with an estimated duration of 144 days. Following the example set by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, Scott used motor-sledges, ponies and dogs. Due to several extensive delays, Scott finally reached the South Pole only to discover that Amundsen had already arrived. (11) The men suffered from malnutrition and perhaps even scurvy during the return trip, and died out one by one from injuries, frostbite and other hardships. Their speed was greatly hindered by the hardening snow, as by then the temperatures were falling below -20 degrees Celsius, and their skis and sleds were becoming increasingly inefficient. (12) This slower pace made it harder for them to resupply themselves - each supply depot was 65 miles separated from each other but could only supply them for a week's travels. As the expedition was increasingly sundered and rations were dropping low, one of the expedition¡¯s wounded men, Oates, realizing his incapability uttered the famous words: ¡°I am just going outside and I may be some time,¡± stepped out of the tent and never returned. (13) Yet even with this sacrifice the three remaining men were halted by a blizzard and could no longer advance. Finally having run out of supplies, they supposedly met their deaths on 29 March 1912 ? the date of the last entry in Scott's journal. (14)
            The Amundsen expedition was formed of five men, including Amundsen. Contrary to Scott, the team only used four sleds, pulled exclusively by 52 dogs. On 14 December 1911, the team succeeded in reaching 90¡Æ00'S ? the Geographical South Pole. The expedition had arrived 35 days earlier than Scott¡¯s, with all five men remaining and sixteen dogs left. (15) Their success would be attributed to the superior effectiveness of their high-quality sled dogs, compared to the defective motor-sledges and dying ponies of the Scott expedition. The Norwegians also had the fortune of encountering far less harsh weather, and the overall travel took place comparatively smoothly. Amundsen successfully returned to his initial base after a travel of 99 days, 3000 kilometers. His success was publicly announced on 7 March 1912, but most of the economic gains earned by Amundsen were given to Scott¡¯s family, for him being a "hero." (16)

IV.3.6 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (Endurance) (1914)
            The Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition is considered the last major expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Again led by Ernest Shackleford, the expedition primarily aimed at crossing the Antarctic on foot. He planned the voyage to use two ships ? the Endurance, which would land the expedition party near Vashel Bay, and the Aurora, which would travel to the other side of the continent, and from McMurdo Sound establish a series of resupplying depots for the land team. Yet the Endurance was set in ice early in the expedition and the boat drifted off course until the ice broke and sank the ship, stranding the crew on the surface. It took months of struggling for survival, but the land team was eventually rescued without a single death. (17)

IV.4 Recent History

IV.4.1 The Antarctic Treaty
            Consisting of several agreements, the Antarctic Treaty (System) concerns itself with international relations with respect to Antarctica. Opened to signature on December 1, 1959 and officially put into effect on June 23, 1961, the Treaty now has been signed by 46 countries (Including the United States, United Kingdom, and even the Soviet Union). It basically guarantees the freedom of scientific investigation on Antarctica, and bans any military activity within the region. Furthermore, no territorial sovereignty would be claimed over the continent ? yet it failed to address already-made territorial claims; this might still be amended in 2011. (18)

IV.4.2 Politics and Antarctica
            As previously mentioned, the Antarctic Treaty prohibits any new territorial claims within the Antarctic, along with the expansion of the pre-existent ones. However, it does not prohibit those that already have been established. Seven countries have made eight official claims in the region: France (Adelie Land), Chile ( Commune of Antarctica), Argentina (Argentine Antarctica), Australia (Australian Antarctic Territory), United Kingdom (British Antarctic Territory), Norway (Dronning Maud Land, Peter I Øy), New Zealand (Ross Dependency). Nazi Germany claimed New Swabia, a claim which failed to achieve international recognition, as do current. claims by Brazil.
            Peru, Ecuador, Russia, Spain, Uruguay and the United States have expressed their territorial interests within Antarctica. Each year, 1000 to 4000 scientists from over 27 countries, such as meteorologists, astrophysicists, geologists, oceanographers, glaciologists and many more, conduct various experiments irreproducible in any other place than Antarctica. (19)

V. The North Pole

V.1 Climate, Flora and Fauna
            The Climate at the North is significantly less harsh than the South Pole, which has permitted the growth of several local animals, such as the polar bear, ringed seals, Arctic foxes and some birds that have been sighted. Small numbers of fish have also been found in the Region. Although the temperature might descend to as far as -43 degrees Celsius during January, (monthly average minus 34¢ªC) summer temperatures (July - August) normally average around 0 degrees Celsius. The Climate of the whole Arctic region is consistently getting warmer, with various plants forming tundra, and far more diverse animals populating the Arctic. (20)

V.2 History of the Arctic
            As mentioned above, there are theories on Pytheas¡¯s travels, on whose recounts some scholars expect him to have gone as far as Iceland. However, his voyages were cast away as fabrications by later scholars in Greece and Rome, and it would not be until the Middle Ages when recorded attempts at sailing further north were made. The very first attempt was made by Irish monks seeking a sanctuary isolated from society. (21) Since then, several attempts would be made to penetrate the Arctic Circle, yet none would prove truly successful. The North Pole was the subject of simple speculation until the advent of the Industrial Age.

V.3 Expeditions

V.3.1 Earlier Expeditions
            For quite some time, and even leading into the 19th Century, the North Pole was believed to be in the middle of a sea and therefore reachable by crossing through the ice that blocked the way. German geographer August Petermann was the main proponent of this idea. (22) Although the theory was proved to be incorrect, it influenced the launching of several expeditions that were made during 1853 to 1876 ? mostly carried out by whaling ships. The first organized expedition with the explicit intention of reaching the North Pole was a British one, and reached latitude 82¡Æ45¡Ç North in 1827 under the command of William Edward Perry.
            The beginning of the 20th century marks more serious and successful attempts at attaining the North Pole. Frederick Albert Cook, an American explorer claimed to have reached the geographic North Pole, accompanied by two Inuits, on April 21, 1908. Yet he only returned to his base on April 18, 1909 ? he also failed to produce enough evidence to support his claims, and his accomplishments are not generally accepted. (23) In a similar time period, Robert Peary, another American, set out to reach the North Pole and claimed to have attained it on April 6, 1909. However, it seems almost certain today that Peary was wrong, and he had only reached a point around 40 kilometers from the Pole. He was reproached by his contemporaries for having failed to carry out any confirmations of his team¡¯s position during the last 200 kilometers of his expedition. Another point that further weakens his claims is that the average travel speed he purportedly maintained during his return trip is considered humanly impossible ? it has never been equaled ever since, and even today. (24)

V.3.2 Later Expeditions
            The first men whose travels to the North Pole have been relatively undisputed are: James Clark Ross, who reached the magnetic North Pole on 1831, Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile who flew over the North Pole (geographic) on May 12th, 1926. The Russian Papanine landed on the Pole after flying by plane on May 21st, 1937. Wally Herbert reached the North Pole by sled-dogs on the 5th of April, 1969.

V.4 Recent History
            Nowadays, the North Pole is far easier to access than it had been several decades ago. Planes and icebreakers make regular trips to the Arctic, and even tourists are able to arrive. Ice caps and glaciers have been reported to be melting at a great pace, causing general concern. Such changes in Arctic climate, along with the melting of ice during the summer has brought attention to the natural resources and exploitable navigation routes in the area¡¯s vicinity.

VI. Conclusion
            It is fascinating to realize that polar expeditions are the second most expensive voyages undertaken by man ? overshadowed only by space travel. Despite being on land, the Arctic and Antarctic have long been a source of mystery, as well as a symbol of challenge and purity to mankind. Perhaps this is why it has been in the middle of so many scandals and controversies, that often taint the bold spirit of explorers who had set foot on the Poles solely for the sake of adventure and discovery. To add as a separate comment, it was interesting ? and somewhat disturbing ? to find that different sources, especially those from different countries, listen the facts differently, and in some cases even contradictorily. Even the English and French Wikipedia versions had completely different information, which made it rather difficult to sort out the speculative and exaggerated from what seemed closest to the truth.


Notes

(1)      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pytheas#Discovery_of_Thule
(2)      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antarctica
(3)      BBC, Monday, 10 July, 2000, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK Snow microbes found at South Pole
(4)      Baud 2001. This "Terra Australis" was thought to be of temperate, or even tropical climate, habitable by man.
(5)      Article: Polar Expedition, from Wikipedia
(6)      Baud 2001
(7)      Article: Pole Sud, from Wikipedia French Edition
(8)      Article : Polar Expedition, from Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2004
(9)      Article: South Pole, from Wikipedia. The team, backed by some elements of the scientific community, tried hard to earn recognition from the government. Their efforts, however, were to no avail.
(10)      Ibid. As previously stated, this was a privately funded expedition, and the Glacier was named after the expedition's largest sponsor
(11)      Baud 2001. 35 days earlier.
(12)      Amundsen 2007
(13)      Ibid.
(14)      Ibid. It must be noted that Scott had lost track of time for quite a while, and the dates are merely speculative.
(15)      Ibid.
(16)      Baud 2001.
(17)      Ibid. However, the sea team also faced numerous hardships, and three of the Aurora's personnel died during the expedition.
(18)      FPI 2006. By then, the treaty will have been in place for 50 years, after which amendments would be made available to the original document.
(19)      Article : South Pole, from Wikipedia
(20)      Article : Pole North, The, from Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2004
(21)      Article : North Pole, from Wikipedia
(22)      Latreille 2006
(23)      Ibid.
(24)      Ibid.


Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in November 2008.
1.      Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. NY : Columbia UP (2004).
2.      Henderson, Bruce. True North: Peary, Cook, And The Race To The Pole. NY : W. W. Norton, 2005
3.      Latreille, Francis. White Paradise: Journeys to the North Pole. Harry N Abrams 2006
4.      Article : North Pole, from : The Canadian Encyclopedia (2006). Retrieved on 2006-10-20.
5.      Article : North Pole, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Pole
6.      Article : Pole Nord, from Wikipedia French Edition, http://www.wikipedia.fr/Resultats.php?q=pole+nord
7.      Article : Pole Sud, from Wikipedia French Edition, http://www.wikipedia.fr/Resultats.php?q=pole+sud
8.      Article : South Pole, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pole
9.      Baud. Histoire Geographie 2e, edition 2001. Hatier, 2001
10.      Article : Polar Exploration, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_Exploration
11.      AECO. Polar Geography: Overview (2008). http://www.quarkexpeditions.com/travel-resources/polar-geography/overview
12.      BBC, Monday, 10 July, 2000, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK Snow microbes found at South Pole. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/827063.stm
13.      Amundsen, Roald. Race to the South Pole. White Star, 2007
14.      Delobe, Karine, Les expeditions polaires. PEMF, 2006
15.      FPI, Dossier pedagogique realis? par la Fondation Polaire Internationale. 2006 http://www.educapoles.org/docs/dossier_pedago/exploration_fr.pdf



Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 12th Wave Index Page