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123 A Brief History of the Discovery of Antarctica

09 . 02 . 2021


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Polar Newsreel: A wallet lost by US navy meteorologist on Antarctica in the 1960s turned up during demolition work]) at McMurdo base 53 years later. Nornickel must pay €1.62 billion for the huge Arctic oil spill.

Main Topic: Since the times of the father of geography, Ptolemy, people believed that the massive landmasses in the Northern Hemisphere would be balanced out by massive, yet undiscovered, lands in the south. This idea of the hypothetical "Great Southern Continent" together with the desire for a great fertile southern continent rich in resources to rival those of the New World nurtured expeditions to the Far South.

It was James Cook’s second voyage of 1772-75 which finally destroyed the dream of a vast, inhabited and prosperous “Terra Australis Incognita” and ushered in the new age of South Polar exploration.

Who actually discovered the southern continent has been heatedly disputed, chiefly on nationalistic grounds, primarily between the British support of Bransfield and Smith, and the Americans for Palmer. The controversy raged for over a century with accusations of wilful misinterpretation of the accounts and logs right up to claims and counter-claims for forgery.

In fact, the first person to actually see the continent was neither British nor American but was almost certainly the Russian Admiral von Bellingshausen. However, this wasn’t realised until his records became available in the West, almost a century later. Today it’s believed that the Russian expedition reached on 28 January 1820 a point within 32 km (20 mi) from Princess Martha Coast and recorded the sight of an ice shelf at 69°21′28″S 2°14′50″W that became known as the Fimbul Ice Shelf.

Further reading (affiliate links): Jakob Sondergard Pedersen & Philip Curtis (2012) The Mapping of Antarctica, The Map House of London, Robert Clancy, John Manning & Henk Brolsma (2013) Mapping Antarctica: A Five Hundred Year Record of Discovery, Springer Praxis Books, Peter Fretwell (2020) Antarctic Atlas: New Maps and Graphics That Tell the Story of A Continent, Particular Books

This is an episode of the Curiously Polar podcast

with Chris Marquardt Henry Páll Wulff:

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