11 Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

Getting to Antarctic isn’t a job just said and done. Even the thought and planning of it is rigorous; just imagine how tougher it would be to reach atop. In order to reach the continent of Antarctica one has to cross thousands of miles of harsh, ice-choked waters. And if at all you reach there, be welcomed for even worse. It is no doubt the coldest, driest, remotest, windiest and highest elevated continent on Earth. It is a barren continent, no trees, no rivers, no cities and negligible life. We may have reached great heights of technical advancements, but even today many parts of this continent remain unexplored. It takes a brave person to even think and conquer this harsh land. With the turn of time, a rare kind of bravery has made it to the top. Here’s a list of the top eleven stories of greatest Antarctic explorers.

1 James Cook

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

The Greeks postulated that a cold frigid zone exists in the Southern Hemisphere, beyond the solstice point of the sun. There exists a same zone in the Northern Hemisphere as well.

The region had no scope of exploration until the eighteenth century. Until then it was just an unexplored white spot on the map. After 1773 it went on to become an international goal.

Something that never happened had finally happened. James Cook (1728-1779) became the first person ever to cross the southern polar circle on January 17, 1773.

There even was a second circumnavigation of the Antarctic region. It was led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (1778-1852), a German Baltic serving Russia. But it only led to the discovery of some islands.

2 James Weddell

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

James Weddell (1787-1834) was a British sailor, navigator, seal hunter, and a whaler. In 1823, he sailed to 74° 15’S into a region of Southern Ocean. The region later was named in his honor as Weddell Sea.

Any Antarctic traveler can be found in praise of him. The Weddell Sea is a spawning ground of polar ice and is an indent into the Antarctic.

At the age of nine, he joined the Royal Navy, and kept alternating between Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. He finally took command of a 160-tonne sealer Jane in 1819.

Weddell was always out to challenges. In 1823, he sailed through a huge sea storm and encountered heavy ice cover on his expedition to the South Shetland Islands. He was sailing the Azores in 1829 when his sealing ship, Jane, developed irreparable leaks and was scrambled. On the return trip to England, Weddell and his men boarded another ship with their cargo. The new ship got stuck on Pico Island.

Weddell was in financial crisis when he reached England. With all his approach, he found employment as the Master of the merchant ship Eliza. In 1830, he voyaged to Western Australia and Tasmania.

After so successful and a failed voyage, Weddell returned to normal civilian life. On September 9th, 1834, Weddell died in London. He left as an impoverished and heartbroken man. An island in the Falklands and an Antarctic sea was named in his honor.

3 James Clark Ross

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

James Clark Ross (1800-1862) entered the Navy at 11 years of age. He was initially trained and watched over by his uncle, Sir John Ross. In 1818 he joined his uncle on a controversial voyage in search of the Northwest Passage. From 1819 to 1827 he accompanied Edward Parry in four more expeditions to the Arctic. From 1829 to 1833 Ross explored the Arctic. All this resulted in him achieving the rank of commander.

On May 31, 1831, he located the position of the north magnetic pole on Boothia Peninsula in northern Canada. Ross managed to reach 78° 10’S during his expedition from 1839-1843. He discovered the Ross Sea, the Ross Ice Shelf, and the vast Victoria Earth. About 300 km off the magnetic pole, he determined its position at 75° 05’S 154° 08’E.

4 Adrien de Gerlache

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

In the summer of 1897, a Belgian expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache (1866-1934) went to Belgium aboard the Graham Land (Antarctic Peninsula today). There they discovered the long Strait of Gerlache on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was one of the most fascinating early Antarctic expeditions and also probably the least comfortable one.

What made it notable was it being the first scientific expedition to Antarctic. It was also the first time that anyone had properly wintered in Antarctica. Roald Amundsen was his crew member. He went on to become the first man to sail the North West Passage and also to reach the South Pole. Also accompanying him was Frederick A. Cook. He was the man who later claimed to be first to reach the North Pole. On board was a cat named after famed Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen.

Gerlache chose the members of the expedition according to their ability, and not their nationality.

On board Belgium were: Georges Lecointe (Captain and executive officer), Emile Danco (Magnetician), Emile Racovitza (Naturalist and zoologist), Henryk Arctowski (Geologist, Oceanographer and Meteorologist), Antoine Dobrowolski (Assistant meteorologist), Henri Somers (Engineer), Max Van Rysselberghe, Jules Melaerts, and many more.

In March 1899, Belgium got stranded on the ice, but managed to escape into the freezing current and was free again. On the 28 of March of 1899, Gerlache informed through radiotelegraphy about wintering in the Antarctic. De Gerlache made numerous expeditions to the Arctic. Among them, Greenland in 1905 and 1909, and the Barents and Kara Seas in 1907 are the important ones.

During January 1898, the Belgica reached the coast of Graham Land and sailed between the coast and a long string of islands to the west. De Gerlache named the passage Belgica Strait which was later renamed as Gerlache Strait in his honor.

Heading southwest, the Belgica crossed the Antarctic Circle on February 15 and on February 28. While doing so, it became trapped in the ice of the Bellingshausen Sea, near Peter Island. Despite the unending efforts of the crew to let it free, it did not. They quickly realized that they would be forced to spend the winter on Antarctica.

Long before the theory of the polar front developed in the 1920s, he determined by his observations that low-pressure zones in the form of waves were circulating in Antarctica. Arctowski further showed that the Antarctic winter was much colder than was usually thought before wintering.

5 Carsten Borchgrevink

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink (nickname- Borchy)was born in Norway in 1864. Borchgrevink always had an inner urge to go for adventure and exploration. In 1893 he signed with the Norwegian sealing and whaling expedition, led by Henrik Johan Bull. Commander Leonard Kristensen and the crew of the Antarctic investigated whaling possibilities throughout the sub-Antarctic islands and eventually landed at Cape Adare on January 24, 1895.

The landing at Cape Adare was the first confirmed landing on the Antarctic continental mainland. The second Antarctic Expedition (1898-1900) was carried under the direction of Swedish Carsten Borchgrevink (1864-1934) but by an English private financing. They sailed aboard the Southern Cross to Victoria Land (east of the Ross Sea), where they wintered at Cape Adare.

During exploration of the area, a number of botanical specimens were collected and magnetic observations taken. The ice shelf had receded 30 miles since Ross first visited. On February 16, Borchgrevink, Colbeck and one of the Finns set out across the ice shelf and reached an estimated 78°50´S which was the farthest south reached to that time.

They sailed towards Franklin Island where they made magnetic observations and determined the South Magnetic Pole to be much farther north and west than previously assumed. From here they sailed north out of the Ross Sea and crossed the Antarctic Circle on February 28, 1900. Borchgrevink’s expedition contributed significantly to the knowledge of Antarctica.

The meteorological results provided the first image of the Antarctic maritime climate. The prevailing winds indicated the existence of a high pressure zone that extended by a great part of the still unknown Antarctic. It corresponded to a reflux of masses of air towards the South Pole in the upper air layers.

6 Erich von Drygalski

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories
Erich von Drygalski was born on February 9, 1865 in Köningsberg, East Prussia. By the end of the nineteenth century, Antarctic fever broke out in Western Europe and in 1898 the German South Polar Commission suggested a national expedition to Antarctica. Drygalski worked as a Professor of Geography and Geophysics at the University of Berlin.

He was subsequently chosen to be the leader of the expedition. Financing was no issue but the Commission felt that one ship would be all that was necessary so Drygalski asked for and received permission to build a new vessel rather than modify an existing ship. The crew amounted to only 32 men, of whom 22 were regular crew members, 5 naval officers and 5 scientists.

Ice and oceans figured prominently in his life. In the summer of 1891 and in 1892–1893 he led the preliminary and main expeditions of the Berlin Geographical Society to western Greenland. This expedition established Drygalski’s international reputation. It was carried out under Drygalski’s direction in 1901–1903 on the polar ship Gauss.

During the realization of the VII International Geographical Congress in 1899 in Berlin, they discussed concrete plans of the British expedition to Antarctica commanded by Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) and the German South Pole expedition under the command of Erich von Drygalski (1865-1949).

7 Alexander von Humboldt

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was the most famous German of his time. He was also a geographer, explorer, and naturalist well known for his valuable contributions to the development of the social sciences. He came from a Pomeranian family that had been lately ennobled. His father was a major in the Prussian Army.

After the early death of his father, her mother employed excellent private tutors to set her two sons on the road traveled by the elite—the sciences. Humboldt studied at Frankfurt. C. W. Dohm, Karl Ludwig Willdenow, and Georg Forster were his teachers who awakened his interest in political and botanical geography and in exploration.

He had a background that made him exceedingly well prepared for his first voyage of exploration. It took place between 1799 and 1804. He was accompanied on this voyage by Aimé Bonpland, the French physician and botanist.

Humboldt explored the territories of what are now Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Mexico. He further sailed up the Casiquiare and determined its longitude and latitude. He also climbed Mount Chimborazo to the height of 17,900 feet, and suggested various improvements in mining technology and other aspects of the economy to the Spanish colonial authorities.

8 Charles Seymour Wright

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

Charles Seymour Wright was a Canadian member of Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expedition of 1910-1913, the Terra Nova Expedition. He was born in 1887, to an insurance executive.

Wright carried out numerous experiments on ice formations and ground radiation, and assisted meteorologist George Simpson. From January to mid-March 1911, he was one of four expedition members (with Thomas Griffith Taylor, Frank Debenham (Geologist) and Edgar Evans) who explored and mapped the western mountains of Victoria Land (the first western journey) and performed scientific studies and geological observations.

On 1 November 1911, Wright was a member of the Southern Party team that set off from their base camp at Cape Evans for the South Pole. He hoped to be included in the polar party selected to accompany Scott on the final push to the Pole. On 22 December 1911, at latitude of 85° 15’ south and seven weeks into the journey, they were still 300 miles from the pole. He was then in the first supporting party which Scott sent back. He spent the next five weeks helping the party navigate the 580 miles back to Cape Evans, where they waited for Scott and his party’s return from the pole. Scott never arrived.

On 12 November 1912, Wright, as a member of the 11-man search party led by Edward Atkinson, spotted the tent containing the bodies of Scott, Edward Wilson, and Henry Bowers. Eight months ago, they had all perished on their return trek from the South Pole.

He returned to Antarctica twice, in 1960 and 1965. In 1969, discoveries and cartographies made for air were often used at that time to justify territorial claims in Antarctica.

9 Richard E. Byrd

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

Richard Evelyn Byrd was born into a famous Virginia family in 1888. He entered the United States Naval Academy at the age of 20 and got commissioned in 1912. His passion for airplanes began during World War I, which was when he learned to fly. Byrd went on to become a flying instructor for the US Navy. Significant credit is to be given to Byrd for the present American interest in the South Polar regions. His success as a naval aviator and transatlantic flier instilled confidence in the public to make them financially assist in the support of his first two Antarctic expeditions.

The Byrd Expedition was the first American expedition to explore Antarctica since the U. S. Exploring Expedition under Charles Wilkes in 1840. Richard E. Byrd’s exploring expedition in 1928 may be considered the first of the mechanical age. Five radio engineers were assigned to the communications team. Although costly, a total of 24 transmitters and 31 receivers were supplied for the two expedition ships, the main base at Little America, three airplanes, three dog teams and two sub-bases.

In 1928-1930, Byrd had been established in the Bay of Whales, near the Old Amundsen overwintering station. The station had the program name Little America I, supposedly from the December 20, 1929 and wanted to fly over the South Pole.

It is notable that in total Byrd had five Antarctic explorations. The first two were his private explorations whereas the third one- Antarctic Service Expedition (1939-40), was backed by the US Government.

He was also sent for Operation Highjump (1946-47) and Operation Deep Freeze (1955-56).

10 Lincoln Ellsworth

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

Lincoln was the son of a wealthy businessman and financier. He was born in Chicago on May 12, 1880. After graduating from school, he attended Yale and Columbia universities. His real interest was always in outdoor life. He traveled and worked in Canada and Alaska as a railroad surveyor and mining engineer. He was slowly preparing himself for his lifelong ambition—polar exploration.

Ellsworth participated in the Canadian government’s buffalo hunt of 1911. He was prospected for gold. He further spent 3 years with the U.S. Biological Survey on the Pacific coast, and volunteered for service in World War I, training as a pilot in France.

Lincoln appeared in 1933-1934, as another competitor to be the first to fly over the Antarctic continent from the Ross Sea to the Antarctic Peninsula. His plane was damaged from the start and had to land on ice in the Bay of Whales. His second attempt in 1934-1935 in the opposite direction failed due to poor weather conditions.

In 1933-1935, from Little America II station, Byrd continued the aerial mapping of the Earth from Marie Byrd to the Maud Queen Range. The British expedition to Graham Land (1934-1937) was taken under the direction of John Rymill English (1905-1968). They wintered for two years and explored the Western Antarctic Peninsula from plane and sled dog and found that the Land of Graham is connected to the mainland Antarctic. Rymill’s expedition followed an intensive meteorological, geological, glaciological and biological program.

Finally, in November 1935 and with four intermediate landings, Ellsworth completed the first flight over Antarctica from Dundee Island to Bay of Whales. He also discovered mountains of the Eternity Range.

11 Alfred Ritscher

Greatest Antarctic Explorers & Their Amazing Stories

Alfred Ritscher  was a German polar explorer who led the third German Antarctic Expedition in 1938-39. This expedition mapped the New Swabia.  In the austral summer of 1938-39, a German expedition on the ship-catapult Schwabenland was carried out under the command of Alfred Ritscher (1879-1963). He carried out an efficient summer campaign, by aerial photographery from two planes. A detailed survey of the unknown region between 14° and 20° E was carried out in order to take possession of this territory for the sake of the flourishing German whaling.

The expedition led to the discovery of New Swabia along with its mountain ranges. With the photogrammetric shots, one of the most informative maps of the interior of the Antarctic of that time was constructed. It covered approximately 350,000 km2.

Unlike the German expedition, Byrd’s third company (1939-1940) studied the surroundings with airplanes and sleds pulled by dogs from two winter seasons (East Base on the east coast of Graham Land and Little America III), and expanded So decisively the knowledge of previous expeditions.
This expedition also left behind in the white continent flags and documents that had to document the territorial claim of the United States.

Ritscher was awarded the Grand Federal Cross of Merit in 1959, Silver Kirchenpauer Medal of the Geographical Society in Hamburg, and in order to commemorate him, The Ritschergipfel and the Ritscher Highlands in East Antarctica have been named after him.

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