26 July 2020
Historically, the reasons for exploration have changed. During early Antarctic explorations in the 18th Century, botanists and zoologists commonly took part in the expeditions. These scientists believed that this vast continent would offer collections of new plants and animals waiting to be discovered and colonized. The discovery of seals led to their "exploitation" (and almost to their extinction) near the Antarctic Peninsula's northern end. More modern whaling fleets then followed the sealers.
The sea voyages of Bouvet de Lozier in the years 1738 - 39 followed about 1000 miles the drift ice areas around Antarctica. He spotted huge icebergs, flat on top and looking like large floating islands, and concluded that they must be parts of an ice sheet having detached from a large landmass. At the end of the 18th Century, Cook circumnavigated the South Pole and convincingly proved that there could be no land to colonize.
These journeys were followed by aerial exploration during Operation "Highjump" in 1946-47, one of the most significant exploration operations in Antarctica's history back then. The research flights took off from "Little America", an Antarctic station created in 1928. Most of the unexplored interior was photographed from the air. During the flights, radar penetrated the ice even at a thickness of more than two miles. This allowed the recording of the mountainous or flat terrain below the ice.
Since the last Century, many nations and expeditions are participating in research missions in Antarctica. Their results now affect almost every field of science.
As for tourists, the science sites offer a welcome change during shore excursions. Some of them have fascinating origins, such as "Port Lockroy".
The station was built in 1943 during the World War II secret operation "Tabarin" (named after a Paris nightclub) by the British Royal Navy. The goal of this mission was to reassert British sovereignty in Antarctica and deny access to enemy ships and submarines. It was known that Germany used remote islands as meeting points and shelters for warships, submarines, and supply units.
"Port Lockroy" now serves as a museum and houses a post office operated by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. The post office, which is considered the most southerly post office in the world, is responsible for sending postal items via the Falkland Islands. Tourists are part of the science here, whose effects on the behavior of the penguins are being tested.
A portion of the island around the museum is accessible to visitors, who are only allowed to walk on defined paths and limited areas. The more significant part remains closed to protect the penguins. So far, the results show that tourism has a somewhat positive effect on the penguins, possibly because the presence of humans chases away predatory seagulls that prey on penguin chicks and eggs.
Another captivating research station is the US-American Palmer Station. The station is named after Nathaniel B. Palmer, who is generally regarded as the first American to see Antarctica.
Most of the scientific research carried out at Palmer Station is related to marine biology. The station also houses year-round monitoring equipment for global seismic, atmospheric, and UV monitoring networks and a radar receiver that studies lightning over the Western Hemisphere.
Many tourist ships visit Palmer Station, and shore leave at this stop is always worthwhile. During our visit, the scientists explained exciting facts about the station and the current research projects. The tour of the station area showed the size of the station and the numerous projects' scope. In the end, we had coffee and homemade brownies in the cafeteria. The souvenir shop on the ground floor accepts only credit cards, since transporting cash in Antarctica is one of the logistical headaches. Therefore, part of the souvenir is also the bank statement of the credit card, which shows an exotic booking from Antarctica.