by ABCCmain on July 26, 2013

Unexplored territory on Antarctic Map 1930

My dad (b. 1931) has a near-secret room in his house. It is full of books. He’s an incomparable book collector lured by flea markets, country auctions, specialty and second hand books stores across Ontario.

The latest book he discovered is The World’s Greatest Adventure by Francis Trevelyan Miller about the Byrd Antarctic Expedition, “The Flight to Conquer the Ends of The Earth”, 1930. 1000 Years of Polar Exploration is the subtitle of this book. I’m not keen on the word conquer with respect to Antarctica but the book includes stories of human determination and innovation. The books’ second subtitle is Including the Heroic Achievements of Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd. The first thing I loved about this book is this map:

“Richard Evelyn Byrd was the first man to fly over the north pole, the first man to fly over the south pole, the only man to fly over both ends of the earth–and furthermore to fly the Atlantic Ocean from the Western Hemisphere to the Eastern Hemisphere.”

The inventions of the twentieth century are peculiar in their application and influence. For the first time in human history they affect all nations of the world and extend to the remotest parts of the earth. The radio and the airplane are today playing unique and controlling methods in the lives and affairs of every nation.

The initiation of air machines in polar exploration began fifty years ago, culminating in the disaster to Andrée and his party [Swedish balloonist in the Arctic who perished of hunger]…”

In the chapter Byrd’s Historic Flight, the trip over the South Pole is dramatically described:

“Then like impregnable bulwarks, towering 15,000 feet, the Queen Maud Mountains, capped with eternal snow, stood straight ahead in the pathway of the plane. Over them Byrd soared where Amundsen had crawled. But here Byrd, too, met danger. His chosen course carried him up a deep gorge between two of the colossal peaks that stood like challenging guards at the gateway to the polar plateau. Through this gorge the wind swept with terrific violence, tossing the heavy plane from side to side like a leaf in a winter gale.”

Byrd’s north pole flight is fogged with some controversy but he did on 28 November 1929 fly over the South Pole in a Ford Trimotor.

Then, much of Antarctica was unexplored. Parts of Antarctica is still unexplored due to its cold and inaccessibility, but human presence and research there has increased significantly since 1930 and party due to the advent of air travel. Still, Antarctica has only temporary populations today including international scientists, support staff and tourists. Surely some there have designs on Antarctica’s riches to ‘conquer’, yet many are there to explore and study its riches for the common good of humanity.

I hope Antarctic politics stays on the course of international cooperation and dedication to peace and science. Looking at the Arctic race for resources, I wonder. Arctic ice is melting extraordinarily fast and fear of this and rapid response by policy makers and governments does not equal their rapid response for commercial and political opportunity. Exploration is fantastic and has helped humankind survive but can we humans leave some spaces untouched in our world like parts of this alabaster continent.

I recently watched a TED talk by Anil Ananthaswamy: What it takes to do extreme astrophysics. He talked about the value of ‘quiet spaces’ in reference to the need for dark little-populated places so scientists can study the sky. Quiet, untouched places are getting fewer and fewer.

Emil Schulthess’s Antarctica: 1960

by ABCCmain on July 18, 2013

Getting a Globemaster ready, View from Observation Hill across McMurdo Sound images: Emil Schulthess

Only inhabited temporarily for the first time 100 years ago, Antarctica was still a frontier in 1958 when Swiss photographer Emil Schulthess (1913-1996) shot these incredible images and made this book, Antarctica. It’s a privilege to see life in Antarctica through his eyes. Emil’s book is filled with amazing details, essays and photo captions, some of them shared below.  The time was cold-war, post WWII. The unusual and groundbreaking Antarctic Treaty dedicating the continent to peace and science was signed in 1959, the year before this book’s publication.

Published by Collins London, 1960

From Sir Raymond Priestly’s introduction (Priestly went in 1908 with Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica)

“In 50 years of Antarctic exploration much has changed. Most of the discomfort has gone and with it much of the glamour. Antiscorbutics have removed that great bogy scurvy. More adequate transport has doubled the fuel ration, and so taken the sting out of cold weather sledging…The dangers have changed, but they are still there. Perhaps the most satisfactory feature of the situation today is the international cooperation that is taking place regularly and almost without exception in this outpost of a distracted world where elsewhere suspicion and distrust prevail.”

Rear Admiral George J. Dufek of Operation Deep Freeze IV wrote the Preface [he’s the dude who said women should go to the Antarctic ‘over my dead body’. Well, we did…]. The history he skillfully shares of the time is intriguing but his language is almost a forewarning about potential militarization of the continent: “The 1956/7 Antarctic summer season was our biggest and most determined assault on the continent. The Task Force consisted of 12 ships, 30 aircraft and 4,000 men. In August of 1956 the six months of darkness on the Antarctic Continent had ended.”

He goes on and reveals the “invasion” of Antarctica by military, is peaceful:The men at Little America V and McMurdo came out from their winter quarters to greet the sun…We were their first physical contact with the outside world in seven months. More important – we delivered their first mail, along with fresh vegetables, fruits, and milk. The ice runway was to be found in excellent condition. In due course the remaining aircraft were flown in from New Zealand.”

The axis of the earth at the South Pole

Fortunately the military was principally there to support international investigation of the continent’s physical environment during the International Geophysical Year (IGY – July 1, 1957 to Dec. 31, 1958).  But the US and eleven other nations did agree to build scientific bases in Antarctica for the IGY. That cooperation led to a great direction in Antarctica’s potential geo-political future – one of continued collaboration and scientific exploration of it vs domination and exploitation (at least then and at present).

Dufek and company helped build the bases; it was an immense logistical and financial task. One plane was called Que Sera Sera (What will be will be) and tractors were dropped by parachute. Each man had 500 pounds of survival gear in various aircrafts. Conditions were difficult and uncertain and much work was in refueling and ensuring safety including plane landings and tractor crossings on ice. 18 lives were lost, what Dufek says was the operation’s greatest cost.  “The whole operation cost a quarter of a billion dollars at the time. Scientific studies cost only two per cent of the total. The Task Force spent $245,000,000 just to set science up in the business of ice.” I believe he felt it worth it.

Dufek also shares perspective on the international cooperation at the time. “The 12 nations with scientific bases in the Antarctic set a splendid example for international harmony…For the first time in history we had an organized weather and communication net in the Antarctic…The scientific data of all nations was freely exchanged. There was a free exchange of observers. Form the beginning there was a Russian scientist at our main scientific station at Little America V. In like manner we had an American scientist working with the Russians at their Mirny Station. [during our project at Bellingshausen on which The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is based, our visiting scientist, American biologist Dr John Croom had been decades before at a Russian Antarctic base on one of these scientific exchanges].

One of the photographers who shared our adventures and meager comforts during the conduct of those operations was Mr. Emil Schulthess from Zurich. From the time he arrived in the Antarctic with his cameras until he left, he was like a boy at Disneyland. He was everywhere — shooting pictures from all angles and from every position…He flew in all types of aircraft and helicopters. The men found they were not handicapped with a passenger –they gained an extra pair of hands to help with the chores. His cameras caught the fairyland grandeur of glaciers and icebergs — the awesome spectacle of yawning caverns and crevasses that moaned as the ice shelf moved relentlessly toward the sea at the rate of four feet a day.  He caught, too, the changing moods of the men at work and play…”

Bernard D. Weiss, scientific leader of Byrd Station, Sending off a meterological balloon

Ensign Ron Schmaedick shaves off his beard (the ship has a barber doctor and dentist) and Chris Chavez, engineman of the USS Staten Island, an icebreaker

Plexiglass domes (one houses a spectographer, the second an all-sky camera, all are employed in the study of the aurora australis) and The "Botanical Garden" at Wilkes Station. The station's scientific leader Dr. Tressler planted and harvested a few tomatoes, radishes, and some lettuce, owing to constant exposure to the sun and the well-heated room.

Schulthess described his dream: “When the plans for an extensive exploration of the Antarctic continent on the occasion of the International Geophysical Year 1957/58 became known, an old dream of mine appeared to come within reach: a photographic documentation of Antarctica. Such a project had been in my mind for many years. I was particularly anxious to take photographs of the sun and its course in this extreme Southern part of the world. Thanks to American friends, who gave me every possible help, I obtained permission to join the American Naval Operation Deep Freeze IV.”

Tracking a meterological balloon (with a GMD-I A receiver), Laboratory for research into atmospheric noise (below snow level).

The ABCC’s photographer Sandy Nicholson discovered this gem of a photographic book in a second-hand bookstore in Toronto, signed by the author. How did it get to Canada we wonder?

Some of the photos do remind me of Bellingshausen and I’m sure they do to Wendy too. The weather balloons, the bearded men with their girly pictures, the tractors and metal equipment, the landscapes including the penguin colonies, blue skies reaching forever and what looks like highly committed scientific and support staff.  The radio room in 1957 didn’t look so different from the Russian base’s radio room in 1996 at Bellingshausen.

I used to be annoyed at Rear Admiral Dufek for suggesting women should never go to the Antarctic but reading his Preface warms me to him quite a lot. Maybe he was just a product of his time with regards to women’s role, but he was also visionary I see:

The exact geographic position of the South Pole (red dot). Emil Shculthess

“The question is often asked, “What is the value of Antarctica?”. The Antarctic Continent today has no commercial value. The surrounding oceans offer a lucrative trade in the whaling industry…Large deposits of coal, of a poor grade, have been found: also traces of gold, silver, tine, copper, manganese, lead, and other minerals – but of no economic value. Uranium bearing minerals have need been recorded…It is conceivable that oil will be found in the Palmer Peninsula. Yet we must remember that before the IGY less than two tenths of one per cent of Antarctica had been surveyed geologically…Antarctica is one of three areas that mankind must concentrate upon in the future. The other two are the ocean depths, and outer space. These three areas have one thing in common. None has any indigenous peoples. Man in order to survive, must live peacefully in these areas. Perhaps in the Antarctic we can set the stage for international harmony.”

Finally, he experienced a spirit we similarly share about in our book, “One of the things that stood out above all others was the cooperation that existed between everyone connected with the work in the Antarctic. I have often wondered why it was so. Perhaps it was because we were a few people in vast wilderness, and we needed each other. Perhaps this remote mysterious land with its violent storms was a challenge to mankind…” Here’s where we differ. Dufek finishes that sentence with “and we wished to unite to conquer it.”

Other highlights from the book:

Schulthess’s packing list for the “summer season”

1 cap with ear flaps, 1 cold weather jacket, 1 pair of cold weathers trousers, 2 pairs of braces, 1 pair of cold weather boots, 1 pair of field boots, 6 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of woolen gauntlets, 1 pair of leather gauntlets, 3 pairs of woolen gloves, 2 pairs of leather gloves, 1 pair of waterproof overalls, warm underclothing, etc.

A meal at Beardmore

“Upon landing at Beardmore we were met by Chief Mike Baronick and his men. After hearty congratulations all around, Mike led us to his shelter where there was the fragrant aroma of steaming coffee and sizzling hamburgers on a hot plate. While we sipped the hot coffee, which our chilled bodies badly craved, and devoured the hamburgers, the men slipped out to fuel and service our aircraft. We were soon airborne again for the final leg to McMurdo.”

Here’s another use for a kitchen pot:

Illuminating a bore hole, Bill Chapman takes a shower (it can only last a few seconds 5 degrees from the South Pole)

The course of the sun at Wilkes Station

Bill examines the stratification of the snow, Bill measuring grains of snow, Bill's assistant, Fred

Byrd Station store (most popular: cigarettes, tobacco, beer, toothpaste and soap)

From Dr. Henry M. Dater’s essay “Science in Antarctica” in this book

“The committee [Special Committee for the IGY} emphasized first the importance of the great ice mass, containing about 90 per cent of the world’s permanent ice, for atmospheric and oceanographic dynamics and hence its influence on global weather…During the winter night, necessity alone drives men outside. With the return of the sun, things are different. Men move about freely. Glaciologists, seismologists and meteorologists at a dozen camps prepare to set forth on journeys across the ice shelves or auto the great polar plateau itself. These traverses conducted by United States, Russian, Australian, French, Belgian, British and other scientists have expanded our knowledge of the area tremendously…It is sobering to think that, as man prepares to invade space, he still knows only imperfectly the planet on which he has lived so long.”