Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is an End to the Continual Exploration of the Antarctic in Sight?

By Thomas Eric

When the whaling ship Antarctic set anchor down on this wind-battered volcanic coast and sent the first longboat through the dangerous Ross Sea, it was 100 years ago. The land was found as part of a journey to unclaimed waters for the purpose of killing whales. Captain Leonard Kristensen and his party were the first people to place their feet on this continent.

The continent of Antarctica's baptism was bloody. The machinery used in the Industrial Revolution required greasing, therefore scores of whales and penguins were slaughtered for their oil, along with millions of seals, who were killed in order for their fur to be harvested. It was on Macquarie Island that hundreds of thousands of scared penguins were rounded up, forced up boards leaning on pots of boiling oil, and forced to fall in to add their own oil to the mix.

Now, 100 years later, this Frozen Continent is going to be used as a natural preserve of nature and science forevermore. This means that humans can no longer voyage to Antarctica in search of a quick way to make money through killing. There's even talks of establishing a park where people from all over the world can visit.

Many scientists see Antarctica as a place to study the effects of global pollutant threats like the depletion of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect. When you consider mankind's rather brief presence on this continent, this turnaround had happened rather quickly. It was not until the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year (also known as IGY) that more coastline, islands, and a handful of paths to the South Pole were even investigated.

From the very first, the appearance of men on this continent has resulted in a convoluted story of nationalism, aggression, idealism, and unchecked slaughter, with sporadic, cavalier attempts toward scientific research.

Whaling in this region increased during World War I because the oil was refined into glycerin which was used for artillery shells. Jet engines required extra-fine oil as a lubricant, which led the Americans and Soviets to seek out sperm whales after World War II. It was not until the International Geophysical Year that Antarctica was referred to as anything but "Terra Australia Incognita," a term used by medieval mapmakers to describe this undiscovered southern continent.

It may be surprising to note that the first person born in Antarctica was born there out of patriotic pretentiousness. In 1978, Emilio Marcus Palmer was born at Esperanza Base, owned by Argentina in order to reinforce claims by Argentina to large portions of the territory.

This incident occurred only nine years after America 'claimed' the moon by planting a US flag when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed there. In 1911, Roald Amundsen's trek to the South Pole, honoring King Haakon VII of Norway, was the most productive, determined venture of this sort. The British Empire gained honor through the works of Robert F Scott and his group who undertook a similar journey, with the addition of rock and fossil sample collection which they carried with them in their homemade sleds.

It is believed that between the discouragement felt when they found out that Amundsen reached the Pole a month sooner, eating a poor diet, having to haul the rocks and fossils, and utter bad luck caused Scott and his team to perish on the return trip, making them the first people to die in Antarctica for the sake of science. America staked their claim to the South Pole when Richard Byrd took a flight over it in 1929 using a Ford Trimotor. In 1821, the soviets utilized Russian Admiral Thaddeus Bellingshausen's voyage passed Antarctica in 1821 to justify their interests in the continent.

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