What is it like to explore a new frontier? How do you get to Antarctica? What kinds of organisms inhabit Antarctica? What is it like to live in Antarctica?

Antarctica I
Why do scientists go to Antarctica?
David goes south to learn about the place where everything is north.
Segment length: 27:47


Exploration of new or rarely-explored frontiers often requires remarkable courage, determination, and endurance. These characteristics, as well as others, were needed by the early explorers of the coldest and most desolate continent on earth--Antarctica.

Robert F. Scott of Great Britain, the second explorer to reach the South Pole, described a bleak and uninhabitable region in his journal. He wrote, ". . . One knows there is neither tree nor shrub, nor any living thing, nor even inanimate rocks--nothing but this terrible limitless expanse of snow." Scott was in a race with Roald Amundsen of Norway to become the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen reached the Pole in December 1911. Scott arrived there one month later to find a black flag tied to a part of a sledge--proof that Amundsen had reached the South Pole first. Scott and his companions died on the vast continent trying to return to their home base.

Scientists now know, after much further exploration, that Antarctica is much more than the bleakness described by Scott. Its topography includes mountains and mineral deposits. There are algae, moss, lichens, a few kinds of grasses, and even some microscopic animals and insect-like creatures. The seas surrounding Antarctica support thriving plant and animal life. Almost 14 times the number of plankton grow in Antarctic waters as compared to tropical waters. Animals inhabit the coastal areas in great numbers, including sea birds, fishes, penguins, seals, whales, and krill.

Scientists who arrive on the Antarctic continent aboard C-14s are the explorers of today. Their areas of research are varied: the ozone "hole" in the atmosphere over the continent; the glacier dynamics on it; the minerals under it; or the life forms around it. Regardless of their areas of expertise, they all must prepare for the challenges of Antarctica, not the least of which is getting there--nine hours from New Zealand in planes without enough fuel to make a return trip, or crossing Drake Passage from Chile, some of the most dangerous waters in the world. And, once there, they must endure a "roughing-it" lifestyle: living in darkness during the months of May through August, and in almost continuous light from November through February; dressing for subzero temperatures; protecting equipment and instruments from cold weather; and living in close quarters.


1. Read the journals or diaries of Antarctic explorers, both past and present. Will Steger and Ann Bancroft are two modern-day explorers whose names are connected to Antarctica. Find out more about their adventures.
2. Imagine you were Robert F. Scott seeing Amundsen's flag. What would you write in your journal? What would you want to explore in the Antarctic now?


Antarctic pertains to the region of, at, or near the South Pole
Antarctica the continent that surrounds the South Pole
krill a type of shrimp-like animal belonging to the class Crustacean; a Norwegian word meaning "whale food"
McMurdo Sound the destination of Captain Scott's ship, the "Discovery"; located on the western side of Antarctica, now the site of the U.S. base, McMurdo Station
Palmer Station U.S. base on the Antarctic peninsula
plankton microscopic plants and animals found in the upper layer of marine and fresh-water habitats


Brown, M. (1969) Shackleton's epic voyage. New York: Coward-McCann.

Byrd, R.E. (1938) Alone. Covelo, CA: Island Press.

Dewey, J. (1989) Birds of Antarctica: The Adelie penguin. Boston: Little Brown.

Huxley, E. (1978) Scott of the Antarctic. New York: Atheneum.

International Polar Expeditions. (1989) Trans-Antarctica: 1990 international expedition. Des Moines, IA: Meredith.

Mear, R., and R. Swan. (1987) A walk to the Pole. New York: Crown.

Main Activity

Let's Explore!

Explore an "unknown" place and experience the excitement of an expedition.

Expeditions are part of our daily lives. Most likely, our expeditions are more "routine" than traveling to the South Pole, but regardless of their simplicity, daily expeditions help us discover "new" information. In this activity, you will learn how to successfully design, develop, and execute an expedition. A minimum of two or three days will be necessary to develop this activity.


Part I

  1. Divide students into small "expedition groups." Have them draft a Planning Guide for Expeditions, using the one shown here as a model.
  2. Brainstorm, as a class, possible destinations for the expeditions (e.g., the boiler room, the kitchen of the cafeteria, the chemistry-supply room, the athletic-equipment room, etc., or, a destination outside the immediate school area).
  3. Establish how much time each expedition team will have and let them plan their own expedition by following the Planning Guide for Expeditions.

Part II

  1. Before or on the selected expedition day, have each team share with the class where they are going and what they hope to find. Let the expedition begin! (Make sure the proper individuals on the school staff and community have been alerted that your explorers will be entering their territory.)
  2. Have each team report back to the class about their expeditions, using written, oral, or videotaped presentations.


1. Was the expedition a successful one? What makes an expedition successful?

2. Review the general planing guide for expeditions. Does it need to be modified? How did this help make the expedition run smoothly?

3. What types of people become explorers? What characteristics must they have?

Invite an explorer to visit your class. (Your definition of "explorer" can be quite broad, including those who challenge their environments by mountain climbing, scuba diving, hang gliding, etc.) Have the explorer bring equipment, artifacts, and pictures of her or his adventures.

Planning Guide for Expeditions

I. Expedition destination
A. Establish a point of departure and expected point of arrival.
B. Generate a planned route, complete with a map.
C. Estimate a time frame and create a timeline.

II. Expedition protocol
A. Outline the objectives of the expedition.
B. Determine what data will be collected and how it will be reported

C. List items that will be included in the final report.
D. Discuss how to minimize anticipated risks.
E. Before traveling to your destination, get permission from
appropriate authorities.

III. Expedition organization
A. Select a "chief scientist" for the expedition.
B. Assign expedition duties to all members.
C. Design an expedition flag.
D. Draw an expedition map.
E. Compile an equipment list; gather the equipment.

IV. Optional planning phase
A. Solicit financial support or arrange for donations of supplies
and/or equipment.
B. Plan budget.
C. Arrange for publicity.
D. Obtain sponsors.

To simulate the cold of the Antarctic, turn the heat off in your classroom during the coldest part of the winter. Dress appropriately for this change in weather! If you live in a warmer climate, reverse these conditions and pretend your expedition takes you to the desert.

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