This Week in Antarctic History

We are reaching the height of the Antarctic summer, the solstice, in approximately three weeks. What that will mean for us is an ambient temperature of about 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The air is already warming up quite a bit—yesterday the ambient temperature was only –26 F, and windchill was –42. Walking in to station from summer camp, I wore boots and overalls and normal face coverings, but only a t-shirt, two sweatshirts and a down vest. The barometric pressure is fluctuating down, causing the physiological altitude to go up. The actual altitude is 9,300 feet, and we are presently experiencing an altitude of 10,647 as you can see from the weather scroll. Higher altitude means more strenuous work and exercise, a longer moment to catch your breath after ascending the 92 stairs of the “beer can” stairwell, and sometimes trouble sleeping.

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The warmest part of the season means the middle part of historical and present-day expeditions.

Here is what was happening this week in 1911, 1929 and 1959; we got this little history lesson from Comms and I thought you might be interested, too.

On November 28, 1929, Byrd and three others took off in their Ford Tri-motor and headed south. After a harrowing climb over the Transantarctic Mountains, Byrd and his crew became the first to fly over the South Pole at 1:14 in the morning on November 29, 1929.

The Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959 and came into force on June 23, 1961. Among other provisions, this treaty limits military activity in the Antarctic to the support of scientific research. In essence, this treaty (ratified by all parties in 1961) set the continent of Antarctica aside for peaceful, scientific purposes and placed all territorial claims on hold.

100 Years ago…


Notes from Amundsen:


“On December 1 we left the glacier in high spirits. It was cut up by innumerable crevasses and holes. We were now at a height of 9,370 feet. In the mist and driving snow it looked as if we had a frozen lake before us; but it proved to be a sloping plateau of ice, full of small blocks of ice. Our walk across this frozen lake was not pleasant. The ground under our feet was evidently hollow, and it sounded as if we were walking on empty barrels. First a man fell through, then a couple of dogs; but they got up again all right. We could not, of course, use our ski on this smooth-polished ice, but we got on fairly well with the sledges. We called this place the Devil’s Ballroom. This part of our march was the most unpleasant of the whole trip.”

“On December 2 we reached our greatest elevation. According to the hypsometer and our aneroid barometer we were at a height of 11,075 feet — this was in lat. 87º 51′.”

Notes from Scott:

Thursday, November 30.—”Camp 26. A very pleasant day for marching, but a very tiring march for the poor animals, which, with the exception of Nobby, are showing signs of failure all round. We were slower by half an hour or more than yesterday. Except that the loads are light now and there are still eight animals left, things don’t look too pleasant, but we should be less than 60 miles from our first point of aim. The surface was much worse to-day, the ponies sinking to their knees very often. There were a few harder patches towards the end of the march. In spite of the sun there was not much ‘glide’ on the snow. The dogs are reported as doing very well. They are going to be a great standby, no doubt. The land has been veiled in thin white mist; it appeared at intervals after we camped and I had taken a couple of photographs.”

Friday, December 1.—”Camp 27. Lat. 82° 47′. The ponies are tiring pretty rapidly. It is a question of days with all except Nobby. Yet they are outlasting the forage, and to-night against some opinion I decided Christopher must go. He has been shot; less regret goes with him than the others, in remembrance of all the trouble he gave at the outset, and the unsatisfactory way he has gone of late. Here we leave a depot [31] so that no extra weight is brought on the other ponies; in fact there is a slight diminution. Three more marches ought to bring us through. With the seven crocks and the dog teams we must get through I think. The men alone ought not to have heavy loads on the surface, which is extremely trying.”

“Nobby was tried in snowshoes this morning, and came along splendidly on them for about four miles, then the wretched affairs racked and had to be taken off. There is no doubt that these snowshoes are the thing for ponies, and had ours been able to use them from the beginning they would have been very different in appearance at this moment. I think the sight of land has helped the animals, but not much. We started in bright warm sunshine and with the mountains wonderfully clear on our right hand, but towards the end of the march clouds worked up from the east and a thin broken cumulo-stratus now overspreads the sky, leaving the land still visible but dull. A fine glacier descends from Mount Longstaff. It has cut very deep and the walls stand at an angle of at least 50°. Otherwise, although there are many crowns on the lower ranges, the mountains themselves seem little carved. They are rounded massive structures. A cliff of light yellow-brown rock appears opposite us, flanked with black or dark brown rock, which also appears under the lighter colour. One would be glad to know what nature of rock these represent. There is a good deal of exposed rock on the next range also.”


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