The Big Melt: The Last Antarctic Explorers Are Seeking Answers Inside the Continent's Ice; after Eons of Change Measured in Geologic Time, Antarctica Is Now Rapidly Transforming-And Sitting on a Treacherous Ledge

By Burleigh, Nina | Newsweek, January 15, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Big Melt: The Last Antarctic Explorers Are Seeking Answers Inside the Continent's Ice; after Eons of Change Measured in Geologic Time, Antarctica Is Now Rapidly Transforming-And Sitting on a Treacherous Ledge


Burleigh, Nina, Newsweek


Byline: Nina Burleigh

In all mythic, transformational trips--acid, ayahuasca, Mars or across the river Styx--the voyagers must, at some point, face down their deepest fears. For expeditions into Antarctica, the most deeply strange place on Earth, the Drake Passage is where that happens.

This tumultuous realm--where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans converge at a latitude where water unimpeded by land flows in a continuous circle around the globe--was first sailed by Sir Francis Drake, the storied 16th-century English naval explorer. Winds and swells in the passage are commonly "hurricane" on the Beaufort scale. Its harrowing reputation prompted a 19th-century theory that the Drake Passage was a planetary drain leading to the South Pole, a notion Edgar Allan Poe used to terrifying effect in his short story "MS. Found in a Bottle," in which a cargo ship passenger narrates the destruction of his vessel and the events before his death.

The Drake is not a drain, but it has sucked down more than 1,000 ships and countless sailors in the four centuries since men started crossing it, lured by dreams of ice and adventure. According to lore, in 1914 over 5,000 adventure seekers responded to an ad that Ernest Shackleton placed in a London newspaper for something called the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition: "Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." The text of that advertisement might be a myth, but what is certain truth is that Shackleton handpicked 28 applicants from a large and eager pool to accompany him. They, plus packs of sled dogs and a ship's cat, set sail from Plymouth on August 8, 1914, on a ship called the Endurance, aiming to become the first men to traverse Antarctica on foot.

The venture quickly turned calamitous. The Endurance safely crossed the Drake, but when it hit the ice-strewn water around Antarctica, things went very, very wrong. The ship sailed to within 80 miles of the Antarctic coast before it got stuck in pack ice--vast, thick floes that form on top of the ocean and move with the currents and winds. In February 1915, pack ice was pushing against the Endurance. By then, the ship was way off schedule, and the men knew they would not be marching across the continent anytime soon. Rather, they watched helplessly as the ice slowly crushed the Endurance into kindling.

For 16 months--four in the complete darkness of the Antarctic winter--the men and their sled dogs lived on an ice floe in canvas tents and slept in reindeer fur bags, surviving on melted snow, a small daily ration of lard and dried meat, as well as, occasionally, seal or penguin meat. As the Antarctic summer came on, the ice beneath them softened and began to split, and in April 1916 the men were forced to abandon camp (after mercy shooting their sled dogs, puppies and camp cat). With ice cracking under their feet, they flung themselves into small lifeboats and rowed for seven harrowing days to a speck of terra firma called Elephant Island.

Realizing his men would die there if they didn't move quickly, Shackleton chose five to accompany him on a last-ditch effort to get help. They crossed the dreaded Drake yet again, this time in one of the open lifeboats with the crudest navigational device, enduring another two weeks of ice and storms at sea, before landing at South Georgia Island, then hiking for 36 hours over a mountain range to a whaling station. When they finally reached the outpost of civilization, children ran from the sight of the men with faces black from many months of seal-blubber smoke, and hair and beards down to their chests. Months later, Shackleton managed to find a boat strong enough to get through the ice to Elephant Island, and he rescued the rest of his men.

That expedition was the last in what's called the Heroic Age of Exploration, when many raced to Antarctica, the final unexplored continent, in the name of commerce and empire, vying to be first to see what could be seen and take what could be taken. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Big Melt: The Last Antarctic Explorers Are Seeking Answers Inside the Continent's Ice; after Eons of Change Measured in Geologic Time, Antarctica Is Now Rapidly Transforming-And Sitting on a Treacherous Ledge
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.