An in-depth look at a year in which five different expeditions set out to explore Antarctica.
As the last continent to be discovered and explored, the history of Antarctica is relatively short; the first recorded landfall on the continent wasn’t until 1821. But in 1912, “at the height of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, the door to Antarctica was flung open.” The continent would see no fewer than five different national exploration teams during that year, and geologist Turney (Earth Science/Univ. of New South Wales; Ice, Mud & Blood: Lessons from Climates Past, 2008, etc.) examines each expedition in turn, after outlining some of the earliest attempts at exploring Antarctica, including Ernest Shackleton’s 1907-1909 expedition. Englishman Robert Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen are perhaps the best known of these explorers: Amundsen reached the South Pole first, in 1911, while Scott’s party reached it five weeks later, then found themselves pinned down on their return by a blizzard, which ultimately killed the entire expedition. However, the most interesting parts of this book deal with the three less-famous expeditions, led by Nobu Shirase from Japan, Wilhelm Filchner of Germany and Douglas Mawson of Australia and New Zealand. Shirase’s expedition and its findings faded into obscurity because official accounts went untranslated from their original Japanese for years. Filchner’s ship spent eight months trapped in the sea ice, and although he returned with many oceanographic insights, his crew nearly mutinied, and Filchner returned to Germany as a failure. Mawson almost died when a lack of food forced him to eat his own sled dogs, leading to acute vitamin A poisoning from eating the dogs’ livers.
While each expedition could easily merit its own book, Turney adroitly manages to give a full portrait of each explorer and crew without giving any short shrift.