Polar exploration

Polar exploration

Polar exploration is the physical exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the Earth. It is also denotes the historical period during which mankind most intensely explored the regions north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle. Humankind has explored the north and south extremes since 325 BCE,Cite web|url=http://www.questia.com/library/encyclopedia/arctic_the.jsp|title=ARCTIC, THE|accessdate=2006-10-19|publisher=Columbia University Press|year=2004|work=Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition] although physical contact with remote areas, including much of the Antarctica continent, has only occurred since 1900. Dangerous oceans and weather conditions often fetter explorers attempting to reach polar regions and journeying through these perils by sight, boat, and foot has proven difficult.

First attempts

Ancient Greece

Some scholars believe that the first attempts to penetrate the Arctic Circle can be traced to ancient Greece and the sailor Pytheas, a contemporary of Aristotle, who, in c. 325 BCE, attempted to find the source of the tin that would sporadically reach the Greek colony of Massilia (now Marseilles) on the Mediterranean coast. Sailing past the Pillars of Hercules, he reached Brittany and even Cornwall, eventually circumnavigating the British Isles. From the local population, he heard news of the mysterious land of Thule, even farther to the north. After six days of sailing, he reached land at the edge of a frozen sea (described by him as "curdled"), and described what is believed to be the aurora and the midnight sun. While some historians claim that this new land of Thule was the Norwegian coast or the Shetland Islands, based on his descriptions and the trade routes of early British sailors, it is possible that Pytheas reached as far as Iceland.

While no one knows exactly how far Pytheas sailed, he may have been the first Westerner recorded to penetrate the Arctic Circle. Nevertheless, his tales were regarded as fantasy by later Greek and Roman authorities,Fact|date=February 2007 such as the geographer Strabo. It was impossible, according to their perception of the world, for man to survive in these 'uninhabitable reaches'.Fact|date=February 2007

The Middle Ages

It was not until the Middle Ages that Europeans again began to sail north to the boundaries of the Arctic circle.Fact|date=February 2007 The first group were Irish monks, who sailed as far north as Iceland in their currachs, which are a type of boat. Their motive was apparently the search for more isolated areas where they could lead a contemplative life, far from the influence of society. It is likely that they followed the geese,Fact|date=February 2007 flying north to breed during the summer months. By the time the Vikings reached Iceland, they found Irish monastic communities there.

The first Viking to sight Iceland was Garðar Svavarsson, who went off course due to harsh conditions when sailing from Norway to the Faroe Islands. This quickly led to a wave of colonizationFact|date=February 2007. Not all the settlers were successful however in the attempts to reach the island. In the tenth century, Gunnbjörn Ulfsson got lost in a storm and ended up within sight of the Greenland coast. His report spurred Erik the Red, an outlawed chieftain, to establish a settlement there in 985. While they flourished initially, these settlements eventually floundered due to changing climatic conditions (see Little Ice Age).Fact|date=February 2007 They are known to have survived until at least 1492, the year Christopher Columbus sailed for the Americas, because of a letter issued by Pope Alexander VI described the miserable conditions of Greenland's Christian community.

Greenland's early settlers sailed westward, in search of better pasturage and hunting grounds. Modern scholars debate the precise location of the new lands of Vinland and Markland that they discovered.Fact|date=February 2007 At least one Norseman, Thorfinn Karlsefni sailed past the northern reaches of Labrador and Quebec to the coast of Helluland—modern day Baffin Island.

The Scandinavian peoples also pushed farther north into their own peninsula by land and by sea. As early as 880, the Viking Ohthere from Hålogaland rounded the Scandinavian peninsula and sailed to the the Kola Peninsula and the White Sea. The Pechenga Monastery on the north of Kola Peninsula was founded by Russian monks in 1533; from their base at Kola, the Pomors explored the Barents Region, Spitsbergen, and Novaya Zemlya - all of which are in the Artic Circle. They also explored north by boat, discovering the Northern Sea Route, as well as penetrating to the trans-Ural areas of Northern Siberia. They then founded the settlement of Mangazeya east of the Yamal Peninsula in the early 1500s.Fact|date=February 2007 In 1648 the Cossack Semyon Dezhnev opened the now famous Bering Strait between America and Asia.

Russian settlers and traders on the coasts of the White sea, the Pomor's, had been exploring parts of the northeast passage as early as the 11th century. By the 17th century they established a continuous sea route from Arkhangelsk as far east as the mouth of Yenisey. This route, known as "Mangazeya seaway", after its eastern terminus, the trade depot of Mangazeya, was an early precursor to the Northern Sea Route.

Ming China

The author of the controversial 1421 hypothesis Gavin Menzies claims that Ming sailors were early explorers of the polar regions, an idea which has found little scholarly backing and much criticism. Menzies theorizes that expeditions under the command of Ming China explorer and admiral Zheng He, along with sailing around the globe, reached both the continent of Antarctica and the South Shetland Islands. After navigating around the Eurasian continent, he returned to Beijing from the North by way of the Arctic Ocean.

The theory is based mainly on new interpretation of contemporary European maps, which are supposed to have originated from China, guiding the fifteenth and sixteenth century European explorers in their own discoveries, as well as purported physical evidence. Sometimes credited with the first sighting of the Antarctic continent is Hong Bao's expedition in January 1422. Zhou Wen expedition reached and nearly circumnavigated Greenland, approaching it by following the North American east coast upwards, sighted Iceland, and then continued home along the north coast of Eurasia. [Menzies.]

While widely read, the book "1421: The Year China Discovered The World" is a New York Times bestseller and has been credited as an 'international bestseller'. However, the author Menzies, trained as a naval officer and not a historian, has been criticized for amateurish research and unfounded speculation. "1421" was not a peer reviewed work. Most aspects of the 1421 hypothesis continue to have little to no support in the academic community. Scholarly critics like Robert Finlay, professor of Chinese history at the University of Arkansas have denounced the work as deeply flawed and dubious: "Menzies flouts the basic rules of both historical study and elementary logic. He misrepresents the scholarship of others, and he frequently fails to cite those from whom he borrows. He misconstrues Chinese imperial policy, especially as seen in the expeditions of Zheng He, and his extensive discussion of Western cartography reads like a parody of scholarship."cite journal | last=Finlay | first=Robert | title=How Not to (Re)Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America | journal=Journal of World History | volume=15 | year=2004 | doi=10.1353/jwh.2004.0018 | pages=229 ] .

The Renaissance

of their journeys to that region, which were published by their descendants in 1558.Fact|date=February 2007.

, when he was forced to turn back because of icy conditions.

A more scientific approach to exploration was inspired by the fascination with Greek scholarship that was characteristic of the Renaissance. Aristotle postulated a symmetry of the earth, which meant that there would be equally habitable lands south of the known world. The Greeks suggested that these two hemispheres, north and south, were divided by a 'belt of fire',Fact|date=February 2007 but in 1473 Portuguese navigator Lopes Gonçalves proved that the equator could be crossed, and cartographers and sailors began to assume the existence of another, temperate continent to the south of the known world. Ferdinand Magellan, who passed through the Straits of Magellan in 1520, assumed that the islands of Tierra del Fuego to the south were an extension of this unknown southern land, and it appeared as such on a map by Ortelius: "Terra australis recenter inventa sed nondum plene cognita" ("Southern land recently discovered but not yet known").Fact|date=February 2007

Modern exploration

The Northeast Passage

The "Northern Sea Route" is a shipping lane from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the Russian coasts of Far East and Siberia; before the beginning of the 20th century it was known as the "Northeast Passage".

The idea to explore this region in modern times was initially economic, and was first put forward by the diplomat Gerasimov in 1525. The vast majority of the route lies in Arctic waters and parts are only free of ice for two months per year, making it a very perilous journey.Fact|date=February 2007 Western parts of the passage were simultaneously being explored by Northern European countries like England, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, looking for an alternative seaway to China and India. Although these expeditions failed, new coasts and islands were discovered.Fact|date=February 2007 Most notable is the 1596 expedition led by Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz who discovered Spitsbergen and Bear Island.

Fearing English and Dutch penetration into Siberia, Russia closed the Mangazeya seaway in 1619. Pomor activity in Northern Asia declined and the bulk of exploration in the 17th century was carried out by Siberian Cossacks, sailing from one river mouth to another in their Arctic-worthy "kochs". In 1648 the most famous of these expeditions, led by Fedot Alekseev and Semyon Dezhnev, sailed east from the mouth of Kolyma to the Pacific and doubled the Chukchi Peninsula, thus proving that there was no land connection between Asia and North America.Fact|date=February 2007

80 years after Dezhnev, in 1725, another Russian explorer, Danish-born Vitus Bering on "Sviatoy Gavriil" made a similar voyage in reverse, starting in Kamchatka and going north to the passage that now bears his name (Bering Strait). It was Bering who gave their current names to Diomede Islands, discovered and first described by Dezhnev.Fact|date=February 2007

The Northwest Passage

The "Northwest Passage" is a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean.

Interest kindled in 1564 after Jacques Cartier's discovery of the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, now the current legal boundary between Canada and New York of the U.S., Martin Frobisher had formed a resolution to undertake the challenge of forging a trade route from England westward to India. In 1576 - 1578, he took three trips to what is now the Canadian Arctic in order to find the passage. Frobisher Bay, which he discovered, is named after him. In July 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who had written a treatise on the discovery of the passage and was a backer of Frobisher's, claimed the territory of Newfoundland for the English crown. On August 8, 1585, under the employ of Elizabeth I the English explorer John Davis entered Cumberland Sound, Baffin Island. Davis rounded Greenland before dividing his four ships into separate expeditions to search for a passage westward. Though he was unable to pass through the icy Arctic waters, he reported to his sponsors that the passage they sought is "a matter nothing doubtfull ["sic"] ,"Fact|date=February 2007 and secured support for two additional expeditions, reaching as far as Hudson Bay. Though England's efforts were interrupted in 1587 because of Anglo-Spanish War, Davis's favorable reports on the region and its people would inspire explorers in the coming century.Fact|date=February 2007

In the first half of the 19th century, parts of the Northwest Passage were explored separately by a number of different expeditions, including those by John Ross, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross; and overland expeditions led by John Franklin, George Back, Peter Warren Dease, Thomas Simpson, and John Rae. Sir Robert McClure was credited with the discovery of the Northwest Passage by sea in 1851Cite web|url=http://www.quarkexpeditions.com/arctic/exploration.shtml|title=ARCTIC EXPLORATION - CHRONOLOGY|accessdate=2006-10-19|publisher=Quark Expeditions|year=2004] when he looked across McClure Strait from Banks Island and viewed Melville Island. However, the strait was blocked by young ice at this point in the season, and not navigable to ships. [Burton, p. 219.] The only usable route, linking the entrances of Lancaster Strait and Dolphin and Union Strait was first used by John Rae in 1851. Rae used a pragmatic approach of traveling by land on foot and dogsled, and typically employed less than ten people in his exploration parties.Cite web |author=Richards, R. L. |url=http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=6386|title=John Rae|accessdate=2006-10-20|publisher=Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online|year=2000]

The Northwest Passage was not completely conquered by sea until 1906, when the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who had sailed just in time to escape creditors seeking to stop the expedition, completed a three-year voyage in the converted 47-ton herring boat "Gjøa". At the end of this trip, he walked into the city of Eagle, Alaska, and sent a telegram announcing his success. His route was not commercially practical; in addition to the time taken, some of the waterways were extremely shallow.Cite web|url=http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0005816|title=Northwest Passage|accessdate=2006-10-20|publisher=The Canadian Encyclopedia|year=2006]

The North Pole

, and pulling two sledges which were replicas of those used by Peary. Some believe Avery's expedition has vindicated Peary, showing that Peary's speeds were not so impossible after all, since Avery's time was some four hours faster than Peary's claim. However a close examination of Avery's speeds only casts more doubt on Peary's claim: while Peary claimed to have made good an incredible 135 nautical miles in his final five days, Avery managed only 71. Indeed, Avery never exceeded 90 nautical miles made good in any five-day stretch. Further, Avery had the luxury of an airlift back to shore, and so had lightly loaded sledges in his final five days, while Peary was loaded down with all food and supplies needed for his return. Avery was able to equal Peary's 37-day total time only because Peary spent five days encamped by a big lead, making no progress at all.

A number of previous expeditions set out with the intention of reaching the North Pole but did not succeed; that of British naval officer William Edward Parry, in 1827, the American Polaris expedition in 1871, and Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen in 1895. American Frederick Albert Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1908, but this has not been widely accepted. [See references on Frederick Cook for more information.]

On April 19, 1968, Ralph Plaisted reached the North Pole via snowmobile, the first surface traveler known with certainty to have done so. His position was verified independently by a US Air Force meteorological overflight. In 1969 Wally Herbert, on foot and by dogsled, became the first man to reach the North Pole on muscle power alone, on the 60th anniversary of Robert Peary's famous but disputed expedition.

The first persons to reach the North Pole on foot (or skis) and return with no outside help, no dogs, air planes, or re-supplies were Richard Weber (Canada) and Misha Malakhov (Russia) in 1995. No one has completed this journey since.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen observed the Pole on May 12th, 1926, accompanied by his American sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth from the airship "Norge", the first undisputed sighting of the Pole. "Norge" was designed and piloted by the Italian Umberto Nobile, who overflew the Pole a second time on May 24th, 1928. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph O. Fletcher and Lieutenant William P. Benedict finally landed a plane at the Pole on May 3rd, 1952, accompanied by the scientist Albert P. Crary.

Antarctic exploration

The first explorer to cross the Antarctic circle was James Cook, of Britain, who in an expedition running from 1772-1775, circumnavigated Antarctica without actually sighting it.Cite web|url=http://www.quarkexpeditions.com/antarctica/exploration.shtml|title=ANTARCTIC EXPLORATION - CHRONOLOGY|accessdate=2006-10-20|publisher=Quark Expeditions|year=2004] It was not until the 1820s that nations confirmed the sight of an Antarctic continent.Cite web|url=http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/CIA_World_Fact_Book%2C_2004/Antarctica|title=CIA World Fact Book, 2004/Antarctica|accessdate=2006-09-19|publisher=WikiSource|year=2005|work=CIA World Fact Book] Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen completed a similar circumnavigation during 1819-1821. On January 28th 1820 (New Style), the expedition from twenty miles (32 km) viewed the Antarctic mainland approaching the Antarctic coast at a point with coordinates coord|69|21|28|S|2|14|50|W| and saw ice-fields there. [ [http://kapustin.boom.ru/journal/bel02.htm Двукратные изыскания в Южном Ледовитом океане и плавание вокруг света...] Bellingshausen's book in Russian with details on the Antarctic expedition lead by him] Bellingshausen's diary, his report to the Russian Naval Minister on July 21st 1821 and other documents [ [http://www.polarmuseum.sp.ru/Eng/index.htm Russian State Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic] ] in Saint Petersburg, Russia, have been carefully compared with the log-books of other claimants.A.G.E. Jones, Antarctica Observed: Who Discovered the Antarctic Continent? Whitby : Caedmon of Whitby ISBN 0-905355-25-3] Jones concluded that Bellingshausen, rather than the Royal Navy's Edward Bransfield on January 30th, 1820 or the American Nathaniel Palmer on November 17th, 1820, was indeed the the first to lay eyes on the sought-after 'Terra Australis' (now Antarctica). That expedition also discovered Peter I Island and Alexander I Island, the first islands to be discovered south of the circle.

Nathaniel Palmer, an American sealer looking for seal breeding grounds sighted what is now known as the Antarctic Peninsula on the northwestern quadrant of the continent. In 1823, James Weddell, a British sealer sailed into what is now known as the Weddell Sea. The first person to realize that he had actually discovered a whole continent was Charles Wilkes who commanded a United States Navy expedition. His 1840 voyage discovered what is now known as Wilkes Land, on the southeast quadrant of the continent. In 1841, British naval officer James Clark Ross, commanding the British ships "Erebus" and "Terror", braved the pack ice and approached what is now known as the Ross Ice Shelf, a massive floating ice shelf over convert|100|ft|m high. His expedition sailed eastward along the southern Antarctic coast discovering Mount Erebus, the most active volcano on Antarctica.

One of the first landings was in 1895, by Norwegian whaler Leonard Kristensen. The first known expedition to winter south of the Antarctic Circle, in 1898-1899, was a Belgian scientific expedition under the command of Adrian de Gerlache.Fact|date=February 2007 They however became inadvertently trapped in the ice. For several months they suffered from scurvy, total darkness and madness before the frozen waters were reduced enough to navigate back home. A year later a British expedition commanded by Norwegian Carstens Borchgrevink became the first to intentionally spend winter on the continent itself.Cite web|url=http://www.south-pole.com/p0000087.htm|title=Carsten Borchgrevink:1864-1934|accessdate=2006-10-20]

outh Pole

The first to reach the Geographic South Pole were Amundsen and his party on December 14, 1911. Amundsen named his camp Polheim and the entire plateau surrounding the Pole "Haakon VII's Vidde" in honour of King Haakon VII of Norway. Amundsen's competitor Robert Falcon Scott reached the Pole a month later. On the return trip Scott and his four companions all died of hunger and extreme cold. [cite web|url=http://www.antarcticconnection.com/antarctic/history/pole-race2.shtml|title=Race for the South Pole (1909-12)|publisher=Antarctic Connection|date=|accessdate=13 November|accessyear=2006] In 1914 British explorer Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition set out with the goal of crossing Antarctica via the South Pole but his expedition ended in failure after his ship was crushed in pack-ice in the Weddell Sea.cite book|title=South|author=Sir Ernest Shackleton|date=|url=http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/5199]

In 1956, a United States Navy expedition set up the first permanent base at the South Pole, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, by airlift, to support the International Geophysical Year. In 1958, Edmund Hillary's party in the New Zealand party of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition became the third group in history to reach the South Pole by land, and the first group of motor vehicles to reach the pole. The British team led by Vivian Fuchs, met them at the pole shortly afterwards. The expedition completed the first overland crossing of the continent by land via the South Pole.



* Menzies, Gavin (2003). "1421: The Year China Discovered America". Morrow/Avon, ISBN 0-06-053763-9.
* Berton, Pierre (1988). "The Arctic Grail". Anchor Canada edition [2001] , ISBN 0-385-65845-1
* [http://uhaweb.hartford.edu/microbins/ Michael Robinson] (2006). [http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226721841/ref=sr_11_1/104-4686568-0257557?_encoding=UTF8 The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture] . University of Chicago Press

See also

*List of polar explorers
*North Pole
*South Pole
*Geography of Antarctica
*List of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands
*History of research ships

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