Antarctica and the ‘Heroic Age’

The Box

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Antarctica is a high, cold, windy and massive continent. It’s completely surrounded by the vast Southern Ocean, half of which freezes in the winter. It’s more than 50 times the size of Britain and 99% of it is covered in ice. In some places, the ice is more than 3 miles thick. It was named more than 2000 years ago by Greek writers as ‘Anti-Arkitos’, which means the ‘opposite of the Arctic’.

Antarctica has no native human population. No life forms exist at all except around the coast where an abundance of animal life can be found. Antarctic animals are almost all warm blooded and dependent on the sea. They also tend to be large – a survival technique against the cold temperatures. They include penguins, seals, whales and birds.

The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration is the term used to describe the 25-year period from 1897 to 1922, during which there was an international focus on the scientific and geographical exploration of the South Polar regions.

In total, 16 major expeditions were launched from eight different countries during this era. Each expedition took place before advances in transport and communication had revolutionised the work of exploration. They were feats of endurance with limited resources. The ‘heroic’ label acknowledged the adversities faced by these pioneers, 17 of whom did not survive the experience.

During the course of these expeditions the geographical and magnetic poles were both reached, much of the continent’s coastline was discovered and mapped, significant areas of its interior were explored and large amounts of scientific data and specimens were generated.

Two of these expeditions were led by Plymouth-born Robert Falcon Scott, more commonly known as Scott of the Antarctic:

  • Discovery Expedition (1901-1904)
  • Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913)

A third expedition, led by Ernest Shackleton, set sail from Plymouth:

  • Endurance Expedition (1914-1916)

We’ll be sharing more information about Scott and Shackleton throughout the rest of the day.

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