Antarctica: 90 Degrees South Western Reserve Public Media


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About 350 BC, the ancient Greeks came up with the idea of Antarctica. They knew about the Arctic and thought that there had to be a balancing southern landmass. The name Antarctica is derived from "ant" which means opposite and arctic which comes from "arktos" or Greek for arctic. Some believe that this was a "lucky guess" on the part of the Greeks.


The Golden Age of Exploration

The “Golden Age of Exploration” took place from 1492 (when Columbus discovered America) to about 1800. During that time, several trips were made in the area of Antarctica but no one actually arrived at the continent. In 1599, Dirk Gerritsz (Dutch) was rounding Cape Horn and was blown off course. He reported seeing ice-covered mountains about 500 km (300 miles) south of South America. It is thought that these were the South Shetland Islands. In 1606, Dutch explorers believed they found this southern continent, but it was later proven to be Australia. In 1642, Abel Tasman (Dutch) proved that Australia was what was found. He also discovered New Zealand and thought that this was the southern continent. Tasmania, off the southeast coast of Australia, was named for this explorer.

In 1773 (about the time America was declaring independence from England), James Cook crossed the Antarctic circle and circumnavigated Antarctica. While he didn't actually sight land, he did sight rock particles in the icebergs, which led him to believe the southern continent exists. He is often quoted as saying, “I make bold to declare that the world will derive no benefit from it.” Cook did report huge populations of fur-bearing seals and sea lions in the region.


The Age of Discovery

The years 1800 to 1900 were called “The Age of Discovery.” It was the ever increasing hunt for fur that brought other adventurers who finally discovered Antarctica. Between 1800 and 1822 more than 150 ships harvested seals and their oil. In 1820 British naval officers William Smith and Edward Bransfield were the first to sight the continent. In 1821, John Davis, an American sealer, became the first person to set foot upon the Antarctic continent. In 1822, the continent of Antarctica was officially discovered. Thaddeus von Bellingshausen (sometimes called Fabian von Bellingshausen), a Russian naval officer, was the second to circumnavigate Antarctica, going farther south than Cook. He also discovered offshore islands. In 1823, British whaler James Wendell discovered the sea that would be named after him and reached the most southerly point. No one traveled as far south as he did for the next 80 years.

In the 1840s separate British, French and American expeditions established the status of Antarctica as a continent. In 1840 British naval officer and scientist James Clark Ross traveled to within 80 miles of the coast and was stopped by massive ice barriers (now called the Ross Ice Shelf). He also discovered the active volcano and named it Erebus after one of his ships. In 1848 Adrien de Gerlache and his crew became trapped in pack ice off the Antarctic Peninsula and became the first scientific expedition to survive an Antarctic winter.


The Heroic Age

The years 1900-1916 became known as “The Heroic Age.” In 1902 Captain Scott (British) led the first Antarctic expedition to get very close to the South Pole. They reached 82 degrees south but were forced to turn back because of snow blindness and scurvy (a disease marked by spongy gums and loosening teeth caused by lack of vitamin C found in citrus fruit). In 1907-09, Ernest Shackleton returned to lead an expedition to within 97 miles of the South Pole. He turned back because his supplies were depleted. In 1909, Australian Douglas Mawson reached the magnetic South Pole. In 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen, along with his five-man team, were the first expedition to reach the South Pole, on December 14, 1911. Amundsen returned to Norway to a triumphant welcome. A team led by Robert Falcon Scott all perished on the return trip. They were only 11 miles from a supply station. In 1915, Shackleton returned to Antarctica to complete the first crossing of the continent. What resulted was an incredible adventure.


The Age of Science

“The Age of Science” is considered to have begun in 1917. In 1928, Richard Bird and three others flew over the South Pole. In 1935, Caroline Mikkelsen of Norway was the first woman to set foot on Antarctica. She was part of a whaling expedition with her husband.

In 1947, Operation Highjump was undertaken by the United States. It was the largest expedition ever with 13 ships, 23 airplanes and 4,700 men. Their goal was to photograph the coast for map making. In 1956, the US landed an aircraft at the South Pole.


International Geophysical Year

The 18-month period from July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958 is named the International Geophysical Year. Twelve nations established over 60 stations in Antarctica. Also, British geologist Vivian Fuchs and New Zealander Edmund Hillary made the first successful land crossing.

In 1961 the Antarctic Treaty went into effect. Boerge Ousland (Norway) became the first person to cross Antarctica unsupported. It took him 64 days, towing a 400-pound sled and using skis and a sail.



Make a timeline showing the exploration of Antarctica. You can do this by hand, use a Timeliner program or use this site on the Web:





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