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Adventures in Naval History

LA BELGICA: Expédition Antarctique Belge - 1897-1899

The 1897-1899 voyage of the Belgica from Antwerp to Antarctic made history for being the first expedition to survive an Antarctic winter. Here's the story:

Belgica at Antwerp Boat Yard 1897The Sixth International Geographic Congress held in London in July 1895 encouraged participating countries to send scientists to the mysterious ice-covered continent at the South Pole. Twenty-nine year old Adrien Victor Joseph Baron de Gerlache, a lieutenant in the Belgian navy, answered the call.

Inspired to organize and conduct his own expedition, he immediately set about trying to secure funding for the adventure. After a two-year effort to attract investors, Gerlache secured funds through the Geographic Society of Brussels and purchased an old Norwegian three-mast, screw-steamer whaling ship, named the Patria. In Antwerp, Belgium on 4 July 1896, under a 21 gun salute, the Patria was renamed Belgica.

After renovation of the old ship, de Gerlache set out on what was to become a legendary voyage. Renovations included fitting with scientific instruments, retrofitting with metal strips on all parts of the wooden vessel that would be exposed to ice, and provisioning with 40 tons of food packed in 10,000 tin-plate boxes. Thus, under the Belgium flag, the Belgica left the port of Antwerp on the morning of 16 August 1897 under the command of de Gerlache and a multi-national scientific team. This proved to be a false start. The overloaded ship -- it was reported that the deck barely exceed 50 cm above water -- soon experienced a breakdown in the North Sea and de Gerlache was forced to turn the ship back to Antwerp. The repairs were quickly made and the Belgica set out again on 23 August 1897, this time making an Atlantic crossing on the first leg of the voyage.

The Ship

Even by the standards of the day, the Belgica was a small boat: net tonnage of 244 tonnes and measuring 34.6 meters long and 7.50 meters wide, with a 34 horse-power (25 KW) steam engine to aid the three-masts (it usually ran faster under sail than under steam).

Belgica Below Deck Plan

Belgica Design Plans 1896The numbers on the plan (above) correspond to the following: 1 clear way of the crew - 2 mast of missaine - 3 bome of fishing - 4 reel of rolling up of the cable of fishings - 5 laboratory of oceanography - 6 laboratory of zoology - 7 footbridge - 8 machine to be probed - 9 large panel - 10 winch of fishing - mainmast - 12 show of the commander - 13-16 cabins -17 darkroom - 18 boiler - 19 machine - 20 cloakroom - 21 Square - 22 well of the propeller.

The Crew

The multi-tasking, multi-national crew and scientific team, whose average age was 28 years, included:

  • Adrien de Gerlache (1866-1934): Belgian - ships captain and team leader

  • Henryk Arctowski (1871-1958): Pole - geologist, oceanographer and meteorologist

  • Emile Danco (1869-1898): Belgian - geophysical observations

  • Emil Racoviţă (1868-1947): Romanian - biologist (zoologist and botanist) and speleologist

  • Roald Amundsen (1872-1928): Norwegian - sublieutenant

  • Georges Lecointe (1869-1929): Belgian - geophysical observations, second in command

  • Frederick Cook (1865-1940): American - doctor and photographer

  • Antoine Dobrowolski (1872-1954): Pole – assistant-meteorologist

  • Jules Melaerts (1876-?): Belgian - third lieutenant

  • Henri Somers (1863-?): Belgian – chief mechanic

  • Max Van Rysselberghe (1878-?): Belgian - mechanic

  • Louis Michotte (1868-1926): Belgian - cook

  • Adam Tollefsen (1866-?): Norwegian - sailor

  • Ludvig-Hjalmar Johansen (1872-?): Norwegian - sailor

  • Engelbret Knudsen (1876-1900): Norwegian - sailor

  • Gustave-Gaston Dufour (1876-1940): Belgian - sailor

  • Jean Van Mirlo (1877-1964): Belgian - sailor

  • Carl-Auguste Wiencke (1877-1898): Norwegian - sailor

  • Johan Koren (1877-1919): Norwegian - sailor and assistant-zoologist

The Voyage

It took took two months to cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach Rio de Janeiro, where Dr. Frederick Cook joined the expedition on 6 October 1897. Cook, a 32-year-old native of New York state, had already achieved fame as part of Peary's first expedition to the North Pole. Cook took on the role of ship's doctor, photographer, and reporter. He soon began sending back articles on the expedition to United States newspapers, stating in one article:

"The crew of the Belgica consists in addition to Captain de Gerlach of two lieutenants, two machinists, one sailing master, one carpenter, two harpooners, twelve sailors, two stokers, a cook and a steward. The crew is composed largely of hardy Norwegians accustomed to the rigors of arctic latitudes and the dangers and trials of the tempestuous and icy northern seas. The scientific staff consists of a geologist, a lieutenant of artillery, who will have charge of the magnetic meteorological observations, an expert dredger and a physician."

Belgica in the Straits of MagellanWhen the Belgica stopped in Rio, the ship's cook was put off for disciplinary problems, and when she reached Punta Arenas on 1 December 1897, four more men were unloaded because of disciplinary problems, leaving only 19 men. The men setting sail for the Antarctica included: Adrien Baron de Gerlache de Gomery (Belgium), George Lecointe (Belgium), Henrysk Arctowski (Poland), Frederick Cook (the United States), Emile Danco (Belgium), Emile-G Racovitza (Romania), Roald Amundsen (Norway),  Jules Melaerts (Belgium), Antoine Dobrowolski (Poland), Henri Somers (France), Max Van Rysselberghe (Belgium), Louis Michotte (Belgium), Adam Tollefsen (Norway), Ludwid-Hjalmar Johansen (Norway), Engelret Knudsen (Norway), Gustave-Gaston Dufour (Belgium), Jean Van Mirlo (Belgium), Auguste Wiencke (Norway), and Johan Koren (Norway).

Belgica's Southern VoyageAfter conducting scientific studies in Tierra del Fuego, the Belgica departed south on 14 December 1897. While measuring water temperature and taking sounding surveys, they discovered a band of raised, flat-bottom basins off the South American continent, the most significant raised basin being at 4040 meters. Through these soundings, they learned that an oceanic ditch separates the Andes Chain from the trench that dives the South American and Antarctic continents.

The Belgica arrived in Antarctic waters on 20 January 1898 and reached the Bay of Hughes on 22 January 1898. There, a violent storm struck without warning and crewmen Auguste-Karl Wiencke fell overboard and was lost at sea. The next day, the storm subsided and they arrived off the coast of Graham Land, which had not been visited for 60 years. Bay after bay, the Belgica explored the strait between the Graham Land coast to the east and a string of islands to the west (the largest now called Antwerp Island). Gerlache named this water body the Belgica Strait; it was later renamed Gerlache Strait in his honor. 

On 30 January 1898, the first crew unloading took place on Graham Land. Gerlache, Cook, Racovitza and Arctowski, equipped with two sledges and food for 15 days, landed on an island where they made meteorological observations before returning to ship. The Belgica then sailed westward to Andword Bay where observations and sampling were conducted on the fauna ("colonies of penguins, snow petrels, while terns, brown cormorants, seagulls, cape pigeons, storm birds, and Cetacea which surrounds the ship almost constantly"), the flora ("lichens, algae on the beaches, and graminaceous algae, the only flowering plant"), and the geology ("schists and sedimentary rock"). The scientific team also studied the icebergs and established several magnetic reading stations.

Belgica at the Iles of WauwemansOn 8 February 1898, Gerlache turned the ship east and found the Bay of Flandres and Moureau island. Between 23 January and 12 February 1898, the Belgian Antarctic Expedition made twenty separate landings on the islands along the strait, charting and naming the islands of Brabant, Liège, Anvers (Antwerp) and Wiencke Island (in memory of the sailor lost at sea). The explorers also recognized the islands of Corroded, the Cavalier island of Cuverville, the Charlotte Bay, the course Reclus and the channel of Plata. Gerlache wrote of this time:

"When we land, Arctowski, breaking off splinters of vulgar granite with his hammer, seems like a prospector looking for gold-bearing quartz; Racovitz in the scanty patches of open water among the continuity of the thick mantle of ice that covers the land would sometimes collect a minute graminaceous plant as though it were an extremely rare orchid. We do not have a single hour to waste, and to make the work useful, we must work quickly, without paying attention to detail, in order to obtain a good map of the whole area, indicating, for navigational needs, the physiognomy of these waters. While some are on land, others, aboard the Belgica, go from one bank to another, searching for reference points, measuring angles, drawing maps"

A team consisting of Gerlache, Amundsen, Arctowski, Danco, and Cook explored the Solvay Mountains on Brabant Island, "sleeping under canvas, crossing impossible crevices and walking through thick snow towards the highest points in order to map the sector better." Racovitz, the biologist, gathered information on the various species of penguins and drew the terrestrial fauna, "removing from any corner of land not covered with ice the smallest pieces of lichen and moss." The specimens brought back by the Belgica were to double the number of species of Antarctic flora know at that time.

Although the safe-sailing season was already advanced and the Belgica was then near the ice-barrier found by Bellingshausen, Gerlache decided to continue South hoping to traverse still unexplored water. Circumventing the Southern point of the Antwerp Island, the Belgica crossed the polar circle on 13 February 1898. Then on 18 February, the expedition discovered a large gap in the sea ice in a southerly direction and Gerlache decided to explore. On 23 February, the Belgica arrived at Alexandre Island, the last island before the ice-barrier.

Finding narrow passage on an ice-barrier made up of dislocated ice, the Belgica continued on.  First mate George Lecointe wrote:

Belgica, March 1898 Antarctica"It was a unique opportunity and we had to take advantage of this dislocation of ice to head towards the South. Gerlache came to find me on the bridge. Our conversation was short. It ended with a vigorous handshake and, with profound joy, I transmitted to the helmsman the order to head South. We did not however conceal the risks of our daredevil enterprise. The bad weather season was going to condemn us to spending a winter for which we were only partially equipped. If we were to succumb, who would bring back to the country the valuable documents that we had already assembled?"

On 28 February 1898 the Belgica entered the ice pack at 70°20´S and 85°W. Another degree south, at 71°30´S, 85°16´W, the vessel became wedged in ice. Although efforts were made to free the Belgica, the vessel remained trapped. By 5 March 1898, the crew realized they were trapped for the winter.

The Belgica was not built to provide shelter for an Antarctic winter, so the men set about transforming it into suitable shelter. Snow was piled high in a slope up to the the bridge. A roof was built to cover part of the bridge, which was transformed into hangar where a water forging mill and distiller were installed. The roof also served as cloakroom to store the skis and rackets, The tins of food were moved to starboard. Holes were dug to probe and to fish and to ease the tension of the ice which constantly sought to crush the vessel. Then on 26 March, with fuel to run the engines dangerous low, the ship's boiler was stopped.

Belgica Expedition Performing Under-Ice Water Temperature MeasurementsAlthough the men had food, it was not enough to last. Penguins and seals provided fresh meat, while game hunting provided a diversion. Gerlache kept his crew occupied eight hours a day with personal and ship cleanliness, keeping the ship in good state, managing the water pumps and distillation, which infiltrated through wooden barrels, making surveys and measurements, hunting and butchering animals, and continuing with their scientific surveys and observations of winds, currents, depths, analyses of sea water and the temperature of water, fishing to fix the characters of the marine animal-life, meteorology, magnetism, study of the ice-barrier. All the men practiced snow skiing regularly.

The Belgica in the Antarctic Moonlight 1898The trapped ship moved with the ice. Towards mid-May, the ship had reached 71° 36' S. On 17 May 1898 the polar night began. Deprived of daylight, the men quickly become irritable and depressive. "Talk" among the crew -- many could not speak each other's language -- was that Gerlache had intentionally trapped them in the ice and doomed them in the process. Even huddled together for warmth, they were constantly cold and damp and, by May, food was in short supply. The crew was suffering from muscular spasms, scurvy, anemia, and other conditions, both physical and mental. On 5 June 1898, Lieutenant Danco died from the cold and a weak heart. Henryk Arctowski wrote:

"In the obscurity of the midday twilight we carried Lieutenant Danco's body to a hole which had been cut in the ice, and committed it to the deep. A bitter wind was blowing as, with bared heads, each of us silent, we left him there...And the floe drifted on..."

As the supply of canned food on board dwindled, the men were forced to eat Antarctic game. Dr. Cook described penguin meat as:

"If it's possible to imagine a piece of beef, odiferous cod fish and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce, the illustration would be complete."

Belgica, February 1899, cutting through Antarctic iceThe first glow of light returned on 21 July 1898, but the temperature was -37° and the ice-barrier was still two meters thick. Cook, Amundsen and Lecointe venture out and confirmed the impossibility of Belgica emerging from it's ice cocoon to open water. However, with the return of light, observations and research tasks begin again. Soundings were taken through the ice. Astronomical observations were made. The expedition began to run short of coal for heat and oil for the lamps and the crew began to fear the possibility of a second winter in the ice. 

Throughout August and September 1898, the Belgica, still encased in ice, drifted to the west. In October they saw lakes of water in the distance but were unable to free the Belgica from the ice to reach them. By November, the ice had frozen them in again. The crew were now despondent. A number of them had to be treated by Dr. Cook for the onset of insanity. In everyone's mind, death was a certainty.

Belgica, navigating the Antarctic ice in 1898Christmas 1898 was "celebrated" aboard ship. On New Year's Eve 1898, a stretch of open water appeared. The second week of January 1899, a party sledged to the edge of the lake where they measured the depth of the ice. Working day and night, the explorers chopped and sawed their way through the ice towards the ship and by the end of January they had cut a channel to within 100 feet of the ship. Then the wind changed, the ice shifted and the channel closed in behind them. Needless to say, the men were despondent. February would be the last month of the Antarctic summer, their last chance for escape.

On 15 February 1899, at 2 o'clock in the morning, Gerlache was awakened by the sailor on watch. The channel they had created was once again open! The engine was started. For the first time since March 2, 1898, the Belgica moved under her own power, more or less. the Belgica advanced meter per meter, drawn by the men on the ice and ground. There still remained 10 km of ice-barrier before the free sea. A channel through the ice was dug by the men. It took one month of desperate struggle, but by 14 March 1898, after 13 months of imprisonment and a drift of 1,700 miles (17 degrees of longitude), the crew of the Belgica had inched their way through miles of ice and set out for home. Amazingly, the small wooden ship made the voyage across Antarctic ice fields and through open water.

The Cockburn Canal route of the Belgica to South AmericaOn 28 March 1899, after serious difficulties in the channel of Cockburn, the Belgica dropped anchor in Punta Arenas. Once there, Roald Amundsen and two of his fellow countrymen left the Belgica and sailed home on a Norwegian mailboat.

The damages to the Belgica were repaired so the ship could cross the Atlantic. On 14 August 1899, three years after leaving Antwerp, the Belgica left Buenos Aries and set sail for home. On 30 October 1899, the Belgica reached Boulogne on Mer and then sailed into Antwerp on 5 November 1899, causing great celebration throughout Belgium.

Belgica departs Antwerpt 16 Aug 1897Adrien de Gerlache and the other members of the voyage were presented medals by King Léopold II, and they were soon telling their tale of adventure to scientific societies and at public gatherings. In addition to the many "first" observations that were made on this voyage, the Belgica made two records. It was the first exclusively scientific expedition, and it was the first expedition to be wintered in the Antarctic. Actually, it was the first expedition to spend over a year wintered in the Antarctic.

But all was not glory. Two lives were lost. Two other men went mad during the ordeal. The men of the Belgica, with a youthful sense of adventure had traveled where man had not gone before. Perhaps it was that youthful sense of adventure that locked them in the Antarctic ice, but it was their common sense and ingenuity that saved them from perishing.

Are there lessons to be learned? Perhaps. The persistence and steadfastness to mission of the young men aboard the Belgica, even when they believed they and their mission were lost, saved them in the end. Although they carried the latest scientific instruments of their era to navigate and chart uncharted waters and lands, their primary tools were keen human observation and calculation. The Belgica crew were the first men to spend a winter -- that lasted over a year-- in the Antarctic and to bring back essential knowledge of the region, yet none of them carried a laptop commuter to crunch the numbers for the maps they drew (without graphic software) and none of them carried any of the high-tech equipment scientists consider essential today. None of them carried a cell phone to call home if something went wrong along the way. And most of them had doubts they would survive the voyage to the unknown when they stepped onboard. Even Gerlache wrote that the Belgica was so small a vessel he doubted it would survive the journey. The primary lesson to be learned? Sometimes you just have to take a chance to have the adventure of a lifetime!

Post Script

Adriend de Gerlache: In 1901, Adrien de Gerlache published his memoirs of Belgian Antarctic Expedition, Quinze Mois dans l'Antarctique, then he directed a zoological expedition to the Persian Gulf in 1901-02. In 1903, Gerlache provided advise on ship construction and accompanied Jean-Baptiste Charcot on the Expédition Francais to Antarctica, but parted from the voyage in Buenos Aires on 16 November 1903. Later Gerlache undertook voyages to the Arctic: Greenland in 1905 (on board the Belgica), the Barents Sea and Kara Sea in 1907, and then back to Greenland, Spitsbergen and the Frans-Jozef archipelago onboard the Belgica in 1909 where he performs oceanographical studies on the East coast; in the North of Scandinavia and in the Russia seas of Barents and Kara in 1907; a crossing of Greenland d'Ouest in 1909. He then assisted English explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton in organizing The British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1917, selling him the ship Endurance (owned by Gerlache under the name Polaris) for the voyage.

Dr. Frederick Cook: In 1903, Dr. Frederick Cook led an expedition to Mount McKinley. Then in 1907, Cook returned to the Arctic and made an attempt to reach the North Pole in the spring of 1908, taking with him only two Inuit men, Ahwelah and Etukishook. Cook claimed to have reached the pole on April 21, 1908, after traveling north from Axel Heiberg Island. Living off local game, his party pushed south to winter on Devon Island; from there they traveled north, crossing the Nares Strait to the village of Anoatok on the Greenland side in the spring of 1909, almost dying of starvation during the journey. 

Roald Amundsen: Between 1903 and 1905, the Belgica's second mate Amundsen let the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with six others in the ship Gjøa. They travelled via Baffin Bay Lancaster and Peel Sounds, and James Ross and Rae Straits to spend two winters exploring over land and ice from the place today called Gjoa Haven, Canada. After crossing the Northwest Passage, Amundsen made plans to explore the North Polar Basin but on learning that first Frederick Cook and then Robert Peary claimed the Pole, he changed his plans and set out for Antarctica in 1910. On 14 December 1911, Amundsen and four others Norwegians -- Olav Olavson Bjaaland, Hilmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting -- were the first men to reach the South Pole.

La Belgica: What happened to the Belgica after the expedition? It seems that once a Norwegian, always a Norwegian. The Belgica was repurchased by a Norwegian firm in 1900 and survived to a ripe old age. It was sunk during World War II at Harstad. Its anchor is on exhibit today in the Polar Museum of Tromso.

Amundsen and Norweigans reaching the South PoleAnd the Norwegian crew? Among the 19 members of the Belgica crew to enter the Antarctic Circle, six were Norwegian, and included Roald Amundsen, who as a 25-year-old had written de Gerlache begging for the opportunity to be a part of the expedition, offering to pay his own way. Amundsen learned from his mistakes but never overcame his sense of adventure. He went on to become the first to travel the Northwest Passage in his ship Gjoa in 1903-06. He had planned to return to the Artic and conquer the North Pole but Perry beat him to it. Instead,  he did what had not been done on the voyage of the Belgica. On 9 August 1910, eight weeks after Roger Scott's well announced Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole had left England, Amundsen and a Norwegian crew set out on a secret mission on the ship Fram. The Fram had enough provisions for a two-year stay in the Antarctic and Greenland sled dogs. The dogs proved to be the key to success. On 14 December 1911, Amundsen and four others Norwegians -- Olav Olavson Bjaaland, Hilmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting -- stood at the South Pole, a month before the ill-fated English expedition led by Robert Scott arrived.

Antarctic Exploration

Yes, international exploration of the Antarctic continues to this date. Modern-day Antarctic explorers still seek to learn all they can from the mysterious ice continent at the South Pole. Enjoy a few NOAA photos of the Antarctic "in color."

This Article


Written by L.B. Cobb, this article incorporates information from many sources, including (sometimes conflicting) information from the following:

Primary Source: Roald Amundsen - The South Pole; an account of the Norwegian Antarctic expedition in the "Fram" - Project Gutenberg English Translation - Project Gutenberg English Audio Book - Project Gutenberg Dutch 1909 Edition - Project Gutenberg Dutch 1913 Edition

























Books in Print


VOYAGE OF THE BELGICA - Fifteen Months in the Antarctic by Adrien de Gerlache - Translated and with an introduction by Maurice Raraty. ISBN: 1852970545, £37.50/$67.50, 256pp, hardback, illustrated. Description: The Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-9 was the most cosmopolitan of the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration - and one of the most lucky. Led by Lt. Adrien de Gerlache of the Royal Belgian Navy it was under funded from the start and ill prepared to overwinter in the pack ice. Despite being stuck in the ice for almost a year the ship survived without serious damage. The mixture of nationalities - Belgian, Polish, Norwegian, American, Rumanian, Russian - ensured that communication was always a problem and this was exacerbated when they were all trapped inside the cold, damp ship in the winter. That all ended well was largely due to just four men, the American doctor Frederick Cook, the Norwegian second mate, Roald Amundsen, the Belgian first mate, George Lecointe and de Gerlache himself. The earliest known photographs of Antartica were taken during this expedition. Originally the only account in English of this first over-wintering in the Antarctic was that published by Cook in 1900. Now, at last, the leader's account, originally published in French in 1902, has been translated into English. The book has a new foreword by Baron Gaston de Gerlache de Gomery, the son of Adrien, and an extensive account of the background of the expedition by the translator, Dr Maurice Raraty.


ROALD AMUNDSEN'S BELGICA DIARY - The First Scientific Expedition to the Antarctic --ISBN: 1852970588, £24.95/$45.00, 214pp, hardback, jacketed, illustrated: Description: This is the first publication of Amundsen's diary, edited by Hugo Decleir. The original manuscript, in the University of Oslo, has only been consulted by historians and biographers on a few occasions. In 1897 the first Antarctic expedition of a purely scientific nature set sail from Belgium. On board, as second officer in a mulit-national crew, was Roald Amundsen, the future conqueror of the South Pole, and it was this expedition that fired him with his ambition to explore the Polar Regions. The explorers did not reach the pole but they were the first people to spend a winter in the Antarctic pack ice.


George Lecointe - "In Penguin Country", an account of the voyage of the Belgica, Société Belges de Librarie, Oscar Schepens & Cie, Editeurs, Brussels, 1904.


Cherry-Garrard Apsley - The Worst Journey in the World, Volumes 1 and 2 Antarctic 1910-1913, Project Gutenberg.


Sir Douglas Mawson - The Home of the Blizzard: Being the Story of the Australasian Antartic Expedition, 1911-1914, Project Gutenberg.



Belgica was and is the name of two Belgian research vessels, with a name derived ultimately from the Latin Gallia Belgica.

The Belgica launch in Antwerp, August 1897The First Belgica: Built in 1884 in Svelvig, Norway, the screw steamer Patria measured 36m(L) x 7.6m(W) x 4.1(H). With its wooden hull, the ship weighed in at 336 tons. Originally built for whaling, the ship was purchased by Adrien de Gerlache for the Belgian Antarctic Expedition in 1896. He renamed the ship Belgica and left for Antarctica on 16 August 1897 from Antwerp, Belgium. The ship and its crew became the first to spend winter on the Antarctic when it became stuck in the ice on 28 February 1897. Only 13 months later, after clearing a canal, did the crew manage to free the ship and return to Antwerp, Belgium on 5 November 1898. The ship was later bought by the Duc d'Orléans who sailed with Adrien de Gerlache on several other expeditions. The Belgica remained in service until 1913.

The Second Belgica: The current Belgica is a research vessel owned by the Belgian government and operated on their behalf by the Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM). The Belgian Royal Navy provides the crew. The homeport of the Belgica is, Belgium. It is registered as A962. The ship was commissioned in 1984 by Her Majesty Queen Fabiola. It measures 50.90 m(L) x 10.00 m (W) x 5.70 (H). Gross/net registered tonnage is 765t/232t. Its main purpose is to monitor the North Sea marine environment by collecting all sorts of data on the biological, chemical, physical, geological and hydrodynamic processes which take place there. The ship operates as a fully equipped laboratory with Belgian university / scientific institute researchers analysing the collected materials. The ship also has an important task in montiring the North Sea in case of a large oil spills. It feeds the data back to the MUMM, which will calculate the probable extent and impact of the spill on the environment. Links: Belgica on the MUMM site, Belgica on the Belgian Royal Navy sitehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BELGICA.

Adrien Victor Baron de Gerlache de Gomery (1866-1934)

Adrien Victor Joseph de Gerlache de Gomery (2 August 1866 - 4 December 1934) was an officer in the Belgian Royal Navy who led the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1899.

Born in Hasselt, Belgium, de Gerlache was educated in Brussels, Belgium. Studying Applied Science at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, he spend his holidays as a cabin boy on board transatlantic ocean liners. After graduating in , he joined the Belgian Navy on 19 January 1886. After graduating from the nautical college of Ostend as first lieutenant, he was assigned to the Belgique, a hydrography ship. It was while serving there that he came up with the plan to explore Antarctica.

In 1896, de Gerlache purchased the Norwegian-built whaling ship PATRIA which, following an extensive refit, he renamed the BELGICA. Together with a multinational crew which included Roald Amundsen and Frederick Cook, he set sail from Antwerp on 16 August 1897. During January 1898, the Belgica reached the coast of Graham Land. Sailing in between the Graham Land coast and a long string of islands to the west, de Gerlache named the passage Belgica Strait. Later, it was renamed Gerlache Strait in his honor. After charting and naming several islands during some 20 separate landings, they crossed the Antarctic Circle on 15 February.

On 28 February 1898, de Gerlache's expedition became trapped in the ice. Despite efforts of the crew to free the ship, they quickly realized they would be forced to spend the winter on Antarctica. Several weeks later, on 17 May, total darkness set in, which lasted until 23 July. What followed were another 7 months of hardship trying to free the ship and its crew from the clutches of the ice. Several men lost their sanity, including one Belgian sailor who left the ship 'announcing he was going back to Belgium'. The party also suffered badly from scurvy. Finally, on 15 February 1899, they managed to slowly start down a channel they had cleared during the weeks before. It took them nearly a month to cover 7 miles, and on 14 March they cleared the ice. The expedition returned to Antwerp on 5 November 1899.

In 1902, his book Quinze Mois dans l'Antarctique (published in 1901) is awarded by the Académie Française. Later in life, de Gerlache participated in several other expeditions, including: a commercial and scientific expedition to the Persian Gulf (1901); the Antarctica expedition of Jean-Baptiste Charcot, which he abandons before they reach Antarctica due to the bad atmosphere on board (1903); Expedition to the Greenland Sea on board the BELGICA (1905); Expedition to the Barents Sea and Kara Sea (1907); Expedition to Greenland, Spitsbergen and the Frans-Jozef archipelago onboard the BELGICA (1909).

Gerlache had two children with his first wife, Suzanne Poulet, whom he married in 1904: Philippe (1906) and Marie-Louise (1908). After this marriage ended in 1913, de Gerlache married Elisabeth Höjer from Sweden. With her, he had another son, Gaston de Gerlache in 1919. In the 1950's, Gaston followed in his fathers' footsteps, participating in a Belgian research station on the Antarctic. Adrien de Gerlache died in Brussels, Belgium on 4 December 1934 of paratyphoid.

Hasselt is a city in Belgium, capital of the province of Belgian Limburg. On January 1st, 2005 Hasselt had a total population of 69,538 (33,896 males and 35,642 females). The total area is 102.24 km² which gives a population density of 680.14 inhabitants per km². Hasselt is located at the Demer river and is also connected to the Albert Canal. Hasselt is located in between the Kempen and Haspengouw regions in the middle of the Euregion Meuse-Rhine.

Frederick A. Cook (1865 - 1940)

Dr. Frederick A. CookFrederick Albert Cook (June 10, 1865 - August 5, 1940) was an American explorer and physician. Cook was born at Hornville, New York, on June 10, 1865. His parents were Dr. Theodore A. Koch and Magdalena Koch, nee Long, recent German immigrants to the USA. He attended Columbia University and subsequently New York University, from which he received his M.D. in 1890. In 1889 he married Libby Forbes, who died in 1890 of childbirth. On his thirty-seventh birthday he married Marie Fidele Hunt; they had one daughter, Helen. In 1923 they were divorced.

Soon after the death of his first wife in childbirth, Cook signed on as physician to the young naval engineer Robert Edwin Peary's North Greenland Expedition in 1891. Cook returned to medical practice briefly before signing on to the Zita (1893) and Miranda (1894) arctic expeditions. When disaster struck the Miranda, the 29-year-old Cook navigated an open boat across 90 miles of arctic sea to secure rescue. The Artic Club of America was born of this adventure, with Cook becoming the first president. He would later preside over the prestigious Explorers Club as well.

Explorer Fredrick A CookCook was the doctor and photographer on the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99 led by Adrien de Gerlache. He contributed greatly to saving the lives of the crew when their ship was ice-bound during the winter. On that expedition, he met Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, with whom he established a friendship and life-long relationship of mutual respect.

In 1903 Cook led an expedition to Mount McKinley, and claimed to have made the first ascent in 1906 on his second attempt. After the Mount McKinley expedition, Cook returned to the Arctic in 1907 for what he said was intended to be only a hunting expedition. But then Cook decided to make an attempt to reach the North Pole in the spring of 1908, taking with him only two Inuit men, Ahwelah and Etukishook. Cook claimed to have reached the pole on April 21, 1908 after traveling north from Axel Heiberg Island. Living off local game, his party pushed south to winter on Devon Island; from there they traveled north, crossing the Nares Strait to the village of Anoatok on the Greenland side in the spring of 1909, almost dying of starvation during the journey.

In the view of polar historians such as Pierre Berton (Berton, 1988), Cook's story of his trek around the Arctic islands is probably legitimate, but it is doubtful that he actually reached the pole. Cook's claim was initially widely believed because reporters were convinced of his honesty and sincerity. But it was disputed by Cook's rival polar explorer Robert Peary, who claimed to have reached the North Pole himself in April 1909. Cook initially congratulated Peary for his achievement, but Peary and his supporters launched a campaign to discredit Cook.

Cook could never produce instruments or detailed original records to substantiate his claim to have reached the North Pole. He had left these behind in Greenland with American hunter Harry Whitney, rather than risk transporting them further by sledge. When Whitney tried to bring them with him on his return to the USA on Peary's ship, Peary refused to allow them on board. Whitney abandoned them in Greenland and they were never recovered. Cook's Inuit companions also gave conflicting stories about where they had gone with him. For more detail see Bryce, 1997 and Henderson, 2005. The conflicting, and possibly dual fraudulent claims, of Cook and Peary prompted Roald Amundsen to take particularly extensive precautions in navigation during his South Pole expedition to leave no room for doubt concerning attainment of the pole. See .

It was in this atmosphere that it was first alleged that Cook's ascent of Mt McKinley was fraudulent. Ed Barrill, his companion on the ascent, signed an affidavit denying that they had reached the top, but there is some evidence that he was paid by Peary supporters to do so (Henderson, 2005). A photograph purporting to show the summit was found to have been taken on a smaller mountain 19 miles away. One expedition by the Mazama Club in 1910 reported that Cook's map departed abruptly from reality while the summit was still 10 miles distant, but another 1910 expedition verified much of Cook's account (Henderson, 2005).

Cook's reputation never recovered, and Peary's claim was widely accepted. Cook spent much of the rest of his life continuing to write defenses of his trip to the pole and attempting to sue writers who claimed that he had faked the trip. In 1923 he was convicted of stock fraud, and was imprisoned until 1930. He was pardoned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, shortly before his death on August 5, 1940.

Cook is a major character in a fiction book, The Navigator of New York, by Wayne Johnston, published in 2003. In recent years Peary's account has encountered renewed criticism and skepticism (Henderson, 2005). Which man, if either, was first to reach the North Pole continues to be a matter of considerable controversy. At the end of his 1911 book, Cook wrote: I have stated my case, presented my proofs. As to the relative merits of my claim, and Mr Peary's, place the two records side by side. Compare them. I shall be satsified with your decision. References: Frederick A. Cook Society, Frederick A. Cook: from Hero to Humbug http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Cook.

The Verdict of History (http://www.cookpolar.org/verdict.htm)

Explorers and Researchers on Cook: For most of the 20th century, leading explorers, historians, geographers, researchers and authors have offered opinion and commentary on the question of the Discovery of the North Pole. Overlooked have been the testimony of many of them on the merits of Dr. Cook's account and his credentials as an explorer. The following is a summation, dates and sources. ROALD AMUNDSEN of Norway, discoverer of the South Pole, first to transit the Northwest Passage: 

"We shall always honor Dr. Frederick A. Cook as the first man at the geographical North Pole of the earth. It was a pity that Peary should besmirch his beautiful work by circulating outrageous accusations against a competitor who has won the battle in open field." (September 1909).

"Upright, honorable, capable and conscientious in the extreme; such is the memory we retain of Frederick A. Cook. He is the most remarkable man I ever met. I would trust no other man as I trust him." (The South Pole, 1912)

Robert M. Bryce - http://home.earthlink.net/~cookpeary/biography.html: "Cook died at New Rochelle, NY, on August 5, 1940, as a result of pulmonary edema following a cerebral hemorrhage.  He received a deathbed pardon from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  After his death there was a period when Cook and his claim seemed forgotten, but the advocacy of his daughter, Helene Vetter, in the 1950s and the publication of a posthumous book revived the dispute.  Recent years have seen a televised pro-Cook film, which sparked interest in Cook, and the collapse of Peary’s own case, which many had come to believe was as false as Cook’s.   The opening of Peary’s papers in 1984 provided no substantiation for his claim to have reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909, and, on the contrary, raised many doubts about other Peary achievements as well." (See also: http://www.dioi.org/vols/w73.pdf)

Roald Englebregt Gravning Amundsen (1872- 1928)

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (16 July 1872 - 18 June 1928) was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions. He led the Antarctic expedition of 1910 -1912 which was the first to reach the South Pole. Amundsen was born to a family of Norwegian shipowners and captains in Borge near Fredrikstad. His father was Jens Amundsen. The fourth son in the family, his mother chose to keep him out of the maritime industry of the family and pressured him to become a doctor, a promise that Amundsen kept until his mother died when he was age 21. Amundsen had hidden a lifelong desire inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's crossing of Greenland in 1888 and the doomed Franklin Expedition. He decided on a life of exploration 

Amundsen was a member of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897 - 1899) as second mate. This expedition was led by Adrien de Gerlache, using the ship the Belgica, became the first expedition to winter in Antarctica. The Belgica, whether by mistake or design, became locked in the sea ice at 70°30'S off Alexander Land, west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The crew then endured a winter for which the expedition was poorly prepared. The doctor for the expedition was an American, Frederick Cook. Cook, by Amundsen's own estimation, probably saved the crew from scurvy by hunting for animals and feeding the crew fresh meat, an important lesson for Amundsen's future expeditions.

In 1903 Amundsen led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with six others in the ship Gjøa. They travelled via Baffin Bay, Lancaster and Peel Sounds, and James Ross and Rae Straits to spend two winters exploring over land and ice from the place today called Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, Canada.

During this time Amundsen studied the local Netsilik people in order to learn Arctic survival skills and soon adopted their dress. From them he learned to use sled dogs. Continuing to the south of Victoria Island, the ship cleared the Arctic Archipelago on 17 August 1905, but had to stop for the winter before going on to Nome, on the Alaska Territory's Pacific coast. Five hundred miles (800 km) away, Eagle City, Alaska, had a telegraph station; Amundsen travelled there (and back) overland to wire a success message (collect) on 5 December 1905. Nome was reached in 1906. Due to water as shallow as 3 feet (1 m), a larger ship could never have used the route.

After crossing the Northwest Passage, Amundsen made plans to go to the North Pole and explore the North Polar Basin. On hearing in 1909 that first Frederick Cook and then Robert Peary claimed the Pole, he changed his plans. Using Fridtjof Nansen's ship Fram ("Forward") he instead set out for Antarctica in 1910. He states in his book The South Pole that he needed to attain the South Pole to guarantee funding for his proposed North Polar journey.

Amundsen told no one of his change of plans except his brother Leon and Thorvald Nilsen, commander of the Fram. He was afraid that Nansen would rescind use of Fram, if he learned of the change. Nansen, when he was informed of the change, supported Amundsen fully. And he probably didn't want to alert Robert Falcon Scott that he would have a competitor for the pole, though Scott later said that Amundsen's presence had no effect on his own plans for the Pole. Since the original plan called for going around the Horn to the Bering Strait he waited until Fram reached Madeira to let his crew know of the change. Every member agreed to continue. Leon made the news public on 2 October. While in Madeira, Amundsen sent a nine-word telegram to Scott, notifying him of the change in destination: "BEG LEAVE TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC, AMUNDSEN".

On 14 Jan 1911, they arrived at the eastern edge of Ross Ice Shelf at the location known as the Bay of Whales. Amundsen located his base camp there and named it Framheim, literally, "Home of the Fram." It was 60 statute miles (96 km) closer to the Pole than McMurdo Sound, where the rival British expedition led by Scott stayed. Scott would follow the route, discovered by Ernest Shackleton, up the Beardmore Glacier to the Antarctic Plateau. Amundsen would have to find his own entirely new path south to the Pole and, as he found, ascend the Trans-Antarctic Mountains to reach the Polar Plateau.

During February, March and early April, Amundsen and his men laid supply depots at 80°, 81° and 82° South, along a line direct to the Pole. This gave him some experience of conditions on the Ross Ice Shelf and provided crucial testing of their equipment. During the winter at Framheim, they kept busy improving their equipment, particularly the sledges. These sledges, the same kind and manufacturer that Scott used, weighed 165 pounds. During the winter, Olav Bjaaland was able to reduce their weight to 48 pounds. On February 4, 1911, members of the Scott's team on Terra Nova paid a friendly visit to the Amundsen camp at Framheim.

Amundsen made a false start to the Pole on 8 September 1911. The temperatures had risen, giving the impression of an austral-Spring warming. This Pole team consisted of eight people, Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting, Jorgen Stubberud, Hjalmar Johansen, Kristian Prestrud and Amundsen. Soon after departure, temperatures fell below -60°F (-51°C). On 12 September, it was decided to reach the Depot at 80°, deposit their supplies and turn back to Framheim to await warmer conditions. The Depot was reached on 15 September from which they hurriedly retreated back to Framheim. Prestrud and Hanssen sustained frost-bitten heels on the return. The last day of the return, by Amundsen's own description, was not organized. Whether this was the result of poor leadership or necessity is unclear. At Framheim, Johansen openly suggested that Amundsen had not acted properly. Amundsen then reorganized the Pole party by reducing its number. Prestrud, with Johansen and Stubberud, was tasked with the exploration of Edward VII Land. This separated Johansen from the Pole team.

The new Pole team, Bjaaland, Hanssen, Hassel, Wisting and Amundsen, departed on 19 Oct 1911. They took four sledges and 52 dogs. Their track to the South Pole was as follows, on October 23, they reached the 80°S Depot and on November 3, the 82° Depot. On November 15, they reached latitude 85°S. They had arrived at the base of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. The ascent to the Antarctic Plateau, along the Axel Heiberg Glacier, was easier than they had expected. They arrived at the edge of the Polar Plateau on November 21. Here they camped at the place they named "Butcher Shop", where 24 of the remaining dogs were killed. Some of the carcasses were fed to the dogs, the balance was cached for the return journey. Blizzards and poor weather made progress slow as they crossed the "Devil's Ballroom", a heavily crevassed area. They crossed 87°S on December 4, and on December 7, they reached the latitude of Shackleton's furthest south, 88°23'S, 180 km (97 nautical miles) from the South Pole.

On 14 December 1911, the team of five, with 16 dogs, arrived at the Pole. They had arrived 35 days before Scott's group. Amundsen named their South Pole camp Polheim, "Home of the Pole". Amundsen renamed the Antarctic Plateau as King Haakon VII's Plateau. They left a small tent and letter stating their accomplishment, in the event they did not return safely to Framheim.

Amundsen's extensive experience, careful preparation and use of high-quality sled dogs (Greenland huskies) paid off in the end. In contrast to the misfortunes of Scott's team, the Amundsen's trek proved rather smooth and uneventful, although Amundsen tended to make light of difficulties. They returned to Framheim on January 25, 1912 with eleven dogs. Henrik Lindstrom, the cook, said to Amundsen: "And what about the Pole? Have you been there?" The trip had taken 99 days, the distance about 1,860 miles.

Amundsen's success was not publicly announced until 7 March 1912, when he arrived at Hobart, Australia. Amundsen recounted his journey in the book The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram", 1910–1912.

The reasons for Amundsen's success and for Scott's failure in returning from the South Pole have always been the subject of discussion and controversy. Whereas Amundsen returned, Scott's party of five lost their lives on the Ross Ice Shelf on the return journey from the pole.

There are many reasons why Amundsen was successful, among these are unity of purpose, adequate knowledge of Eskimo technology, careful planning, attention to detail and the use of ski. A major factor was undoubtedly the use of dogs. Amundsen used Greenland Huskies to pull his sledges to the Pole and back. After reaching the Polar Plateau, over half of the dogs were killed and fed to the remaining dogs, reducing the weight of dog food required for the entire trip. Although Scott also used dogs, tractors (which broke down), and Mongolian Ponies (which eventually died) on the initial stages of his journey, his party relied primarily on their own power to pull their sledges. After they had got to the Plateau, Scott added a fifth member to his Pole Party, originally planned as — and with supply depots laid in for — a four member party. This alteration disrupted the plan for the supplies for the return journey. Scott's group did experience prolonged blizzards that might only be expected once in a century, one causing the most critical delay at the end of the failed return. They also placed their One-Ton Depot at 79° 29', a more critical 36 miles short of its planned location at 80°. Scott perished 11 miles from One-Ton Depot.

The fact remains that Amundsen's party had better equipment, better clothing, had a clearer recognition of the primary task, understood dogs and their handling, used ski effectively, pioneered an entirely new route to the Pole and they returned. In Amundsen's own words:

"I may say that this is the greatest factor -- the way in which the expedition is equipped -- the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order -- luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck." from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen.

In 1918 Amundsen began an expedition with a new ship Maud, which was to last until 1925. Maud sailed West to East through the Northeast Passage, now called the Northern Route (1918-1920). Amundsen planned to freeze the Maud into the polar ice cap and drift towards the North Pole (as Nansen had done with the Fram), but in this he was not successful. However, the scientific results of the expedition, mainly the work of Harald Sverdrup, who Sverdrup Island was named for, were of considerable value.

In 1925, accompanied by Lincoln Ellsworth, pilot Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen and three other team members, Amundsen took two aircraft to 87° 44' north. It was the northernmost latitude reached by plane up to that time. The planes landed a few miles apart without radio contact, yet the crews managed to reunite. One of the aircraft was damaged. Amundsen and his crew worked for over three weeks to clean up an airstrip to take off from ice. They shovelled 600 tons of ice on 1 lb (400 g) of daily food rations. In the end six crew members were packed into the remaining aircraft. In a remarkable feat, Riiser-Larsen took off and barely became airborne over the cracking ice. They returned triumphant when everyone thought they had been lost for ever.

The following year Amundsen, Ellsworth, Riiser-Larsen and Italian aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile made the first crossing of the Arctic in the airship >Norge designed by Nobile. They left Spitzbergen on 11 May 1926 and landed in Alaska two days later. The three previous claims to have arrived at the North Pole – by Frederick Cook in 1908, Robert Peary in 1909, and Richard E. Byrd in 1926 (just a few days before the Norge) – are all disputed, as being either of dubious accuracy or outright fraud. Some of those disputing these earlier claims therefore consider the crew of the Norge to be the first verified explorers to have reached the North Pole. Amundsen disappeared on 18 June 1928 while flying on a rescue mission with the famous Norwegian pilot Leif Dietrichson, the French pilot Rene Guilbaud, and three more Frenchmen, looking for missing members of Nobile's crew, whose new airship the Italia had crashed while returning from the North Pole. Afterwards, a pontoon from the French Latham 47 flying-boat he was in, improvised into a life raft, was found near the Tromsà (Tromsø) coast. It is believed that the plane crashed in fog in the Barents Sea, and that Amundsen was killed in the crash, or died shortly afterwards. His body was never found. The search for Amundsen was called off in September by the Norwegian Government. A recent discovery (2003) suggests the plane went down northwest of Bjørnøya (Bear Island).

Amundsen is remembered by posterity in many ways. Among those: The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is named jointly after him and his rival; Amundsen Sea, off the coast of Antarctica, is named for him; Amundsen Glacier in Antarctica is named after him; A large crater covering the Moon's south pole is named Amundsen Crater after him; The Norwegian Navy is building a class of Aegis frigates, one of which, the HNoMS Roald Amundsen, will be named after him. Among the tall ships, the German brig Roald Amundsen is named after him.

Henryk Arctowski

Henryk Arctowski (1871 - 1958) was a Polish scientist, oceanographer and explorer of Antarctica. Born in Warsaw, Poland, on 15 July 1871, he started university studies in Geology and Chemistry at Liège, Belgium, and then in France at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1895 he contacted Adrian de Gerlache de Gomery, organizer of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, and started work as scientific vice director. Another Pole, Antoni Dobrowolski, also participated in this expedition which lasted from 1897 - 1899 and became the first to winter in the Antarctic. Scientific work providing much valuable data in many disciplines was carried out as the trapped vessel drifted in the sea-ice. In addition to observations of sea-ice formation and types of ice-bergs, Arctowski obtained a full year's cycle of meteorological observations. As oceanographer he prepared a bathymetric map from soundings he made during the ships drift. His name has been given to a phenomenon in which a halo resembling a rainbow, with two other partial arcs symmetrical to the main one, forms around the sun as light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere.

On completing the expedition, Arctowski took employment at the "Observatoire Royal de Belgique" in Uccle where he worked on materials collected during the Belgica cruise. Within the field of Geology he went on to conform his own so-called 'Antarktand' hypothesis involving the analogy between the formation of the South Andes, (particularly Tierra del Fuego) and the Graham Peninsula of the Antarctic continent. With respect to glaciology, he also found that the snow boundary has risen by 800 m since the last glacial maximum, according to his observations in the Beagle Channel. Apart from research work, he also delivered many lectures. During a stay in London, he made the acquaintance of Arian Jane Addy, an American singer, whom he later married. In the summer of 1919, he participated in an expedition to Spitsbergen and the Lofoten Islands on the vessel lle-de-France, as chief scientist. After his return he organized the natural sciences division at the New York Public Library, where between 1911 and 1919, he held the post of division director.

In 1920 Arctowski returned to Poland where the then Prime Minister, Ignacy Paderewski, offered him the position of Education Minister. In order to continue his scientific work, however, he declined this offer and instead took the chair of Geophysics and Meteorology at the Jan Kazimierz University in Lwów, which in 1912 had conferred on him the degree of honoris causa Doctor. With his co-workers in Lwów he published 133 papers in the institutes journal. At the outbreak of war in 1939 Arctowski was in Washington, participating in the Congress of the International Geodetic-Geophysical Union as President of the International Commission of Climatic Changes. His return to Poland impossible, he accepted a position at the Smithsonian Institute. His first scientific success in this Institute was to demonstrate a positive correlation between 24 hour changes in the solar constant and sunspot area based on material collected between 1926 and 1930. In 1950 he gave up work in Smithsonian because of ill health, but he continued research work.

He died in Washington on 21 February 1958, having never returned to Poland. In recognition of his work and his contribution to science, his name has been given to a number of geographical features: In Antarctica: Arctowski Peninsula, Arctowski Nunataks, Arctowski Peak. In Spitsbergen: Arctowskifjellet (Mt. Arctowski) and Arctowskibreen (Arctowski glacier). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henryk_Arctowski.

Emile Racovita

Emil Racoviţă (Iasi (Romania) on 15 November 1868 - 17 November 1947 was a famous Romanian biologist and speleologist. A promoter of natural sciences in Romania, just like the famous Grigore Antipa, Emil Racoviţă was the first Romanian to have gone on a scientific research expedition to the Antarctic, more than 100 years ago. A professor, scholar and researcher with a rich activity in the domain of speleology, zoology and bio-speleology, Racoviţă stands out as a scientist of great merit, having founded institutions aimed at developing the natural sciences in the Romanian space. Racoviţă was born in Iasi, in 1868, into a family of Moldovan aristocrats, whose ancestors had ascended the throne of Moldovia in the 18th century: Mihai Racoviţă (1703-1726), Constantin Racoviţă (1749-1757) and Stefan Racoviţă (1764-1765).

Emil Racoviţă studied law and natural sciences at the Sorbonne University in Paris and in 1896 he presented his PhD thesis entitled "Le lobe cephalique et l’encephale des Annelides polychete". (The cephalous lobe and the encephalon of polychaetous annelids). As a promising young scientist, Racoviţă was selected to be part of an international team that started out on a research expedition to Antarctica, aboard the ship Belgica. On August the 16th 1897, under the aegis of the Royal Society of Geography in Brussels, the Belgica, a former Norwegian wooden whaler, left the port of Antwerp, setting sail for the south. It was the ship that gave its name to the whole expedition. The three-mast ship was equipped with a 160 horse-power engine. The 19 members of the team were of various nationalities, a rare thing for that time. The first mate of the vessel was Roald Amundsen, who was later to conquer the South Pole in 1911. Apart from Racoviţă, the team was made up of a Belgian physicist, a Polish geologist, a Polish oceanographer and two Americans - a doctor and an anthropologist. The team left the deck of the ship 22 times, to collect scientific data, to make investigations and experiments. Racoviţă was the first researcher to collect botanical and zoological samples from areas beyond the South Pole Circle. Belgica made the first daily meteorological recordings and measurements in Antarctica, every hour, for a whole year. The scientists also collected information on oceanic currents and terrestrial magnetism, with as many as 10 volumes of scientific conclusions being published at the end of the expedition, which was considered a success.

But the expedition was not an easy one. Between March the 10th 1898 and March the 14th 1899, the ship was caught between ice blocks, making it impossible to sail any-further. It was a difficult year, full of delicate moments for the whole team. For instance, they had to cut a 75 meter long canal through a 6 meter thick layer of ice in order to create a waterway by which to sail to a navigable body of water. And Belgica returned to Europe in 1899 without two team-members, who had died during the expedition: a young Belgian mariner and physicist Emile Danco. Racoviţă’s diary, published in 1999, also mentions the difficulties that the team-members had to endure. As the photos of the time show, Racoviţă was hardly recognisable after returning from the expedition. The results of his research were published in 1900, under the title “ La vie des animaux et des plantes dans l’Antarctique. (The life of animals and plants in Antarctica). A year after his return, Racoviţă was appointed director of the Banylus-sur-Mer resort and editor of the review "Archives de zoologie experimentale et generale" (Archives of experimental and general zoology).

Emil Racoviţă continued his research even after that important moment in his life, the Belgica expedition. He researched over 1,400 caves in France, Spain, Algeria, Italy and Slovenia, and he is considered to be, together with R Jeannel, one of the founders of bio-speleology. In 1919, Racoviţă became head of the Biology Department at the Upper Dacia University (now called Babes-Bolyai University) in Cluj, Romania. Here he founded the first Spaeleological Institute in the world. In 1920, he became a member of the Romanian Academy, and until 1947, when he passed away, he was the main promoter of Romanian bio-spaeleology. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Racovi%C5%A3%C4%83.


Gerlache Strait Today

Gerlache Strait on the Antarctic Peninsula. 64 30 S Latitude 62 20 W Longitude.

Ross Sea 1988

The marginal ice zone (MIZ) Ross Sea, Antarctica, February 1998.

Ross Ice Shelf - Research Vessel 1999

The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales, January 1999. Research Vessel Ice Breaker (RVIB) NATHANIEL B. PALMER in the background.

Ross Ice Shelf

Antarctic Sea Ice 1998

Scott Base Antarctic (maintained by New Zealand). Mileage sign for those interested in going home. November 1978

The Amundsen-Scott Memorial at South Pole Station, Antarctica

USA South Pole Station

The United States is responsible for maintaining South Pole Station, Antarctica (1998).

Belgium Expedition to the South Pole Photos       EXMAR History

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