In the sixteenth century the white continent did not appear on any map, since no man in the world had even seen this extreme part of the planet, much less could prove its existence. The famous “terra australis” remained only in the imaginary of each explorer as in the limit between fantasy and hypothetical reality. From its first sightings in 1819, Antarctica became a desired land for the most daring explorers. Given the extreme conditions of the Pole and considered the technical equipment and sailboats available, those who ventured into the interior of the Continent between 1900 and 1916 can be considered true and real “heroes”, many of whom immolated themselves, to make known such a paradise on earth to humanity.
The southern Shetland Islands, off the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, have played a decisive role in determining who was the first to shout “Earth, Earth…”. The archipelago was sighted for the first time by sealer William Smith, who initiated the capture of this species. In January 1820, the British Bransfield and Smith sailed and drew a considerable part of the Antarctic Peninsula, calling it Trinity Land. In November of the same year Nathaniel Palmer, a captain of a seal-hunting vessel, the Hero, sailed into the Neptune’s Bellows strait, accessing the wonderful caldera of Port Forest. In January Smith and Bransfield spotted Deception Island and could not continue due to adverse weather conditions. It is assumed that the first landing on the Continent was made by the Commander of the boat Cecilia, John Davis. Among the notes of this North American sailboat that have arrived to us, it is emblematic the sighting of a great southern land that could be the last piece of the great glacial continent. The next landing probably took place in an area known today as the Davis Coast.
We owe another step forward in the discovery of this continent to the Englishman James Weddell. Sealer, formerly part of the British Navy, took command of private ships that were launched with commercial companies in the South. In 1823, with the intention of finding new seal populations and favored by a particularly good season, he managed to navigate the sea further south than any other. These waters today take their name, which was also attributed to a species of seal living in that area, the Leptonychotes weddellii, which he himself found and described for the first time. Only 18 years later, James Clark Ross sailed the waters opposite the Weddell Sea, matching the record and renaming this part of the sea with his surname.
In 1902, Robert Falcon Scott was the first to face the extreme conditions of the South of the world. Accompanied by Drigalsky, they were able to observe the panoramas of the Pole from a Mongolfiera, constantly connected to land by a cable. In 1908, Ernest Shackleton, aboard his Endurance, supported by the 27 men of the crew, began a series of expeditions that continued until 1950. Advancing in an unknown terrain without maps, he had to go back with his 3 companions of expedition to approximately 170 km of the Pole.
In December 1911 the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, at the head of an expedition managed to conquer the South Pole. Shortly after the achievement was repeated by Scott himself, but with catastrophic results: in effect, a series of misadventures fell on the brave explorers and repeated storms of unprecedented magnitude hit the group throughout the return. Evans and Oates died first, followed a few days later by Scott, Wilson and Browers.
In 1914, a new mission, again led by Shackleton, set sail for the South Pole. This time, the explorer’s ship was trapped in the ice pack and after being dragged northward, it was destroyed by the same ice press in which it had been trapped. Shackleton and his men miraculously made it to safety by taking equipment and supplies with them.
In 1916 a rescue expedition was launched from Montevideo, the first Uruguayan Antarctic mission, led by Lieutenant Ruperto Erichiribehety with the ship “Instituto de Pesca No. 1”, which in addition to the humanitarian task conducted the first scientific investigations of Uruguay in Antarctic latitudes.
On November 29, 1929, Byrd flew over the South Pole with a three-engine. Today, thanks to the help of technology, numerous satellites constantly fly over Antarctica sending us in real time everything that happens in the heart of the continent. In this way we are informed of the birth of a large iceberg, the eruption of a volcano or the fractionation of a pack. In any case, the white continent still hides mysteries and areas to study and discover.