On July 13, 1939, RADM Richard Byrd was appointed as commanding officer of the 1939-1941 Antarctic exploration. This was Byrd’s third Antarctic expedition, and the first one that had the official backing of the U.S. Government. In honor of his work, and the work done by many others who braved the cold and ice, here is a brief history of American Antarctic exploration, originally published in the November 1961 issue of Proceedings.
Charting of an Unknown Land: The Antarctic Continent
By SCOT MAcDONALD
There is a suspicion among some cartographers that Christopher Columbus carried with him on his first trip to the New World a map of the Antarctic coastline.
Later, so the story goes, a Turkish naval officer and geographer, Piri Reis, waylaid a former pilot of the famous explorer and swiped from him one of Columbus’ charts-the one purported to be of the Antarctic. Piri Reis then set about compiling a map of the world, using this chart and others, many first drawn some 300 years before Christ was born.
The existing fragment of the map (now in the Library of Congress) has stumped experts since its discovery. But famed cartographer Arlington H. Mallery believes he has solved the mystery. The fragment, he claims, represents an ice-free Antarctic continent as it appeared 5,000 years ago.
Though the map, or chart, is interesting, it hardly represents the continent as it appears today. Antarctica measures some 5 1/2 million square miles in area, most of this solid ice. Mountain ranges, peaks, and nunataks (outcroppings) pierce the ice sheet, sometimes in an expected orderly fashion, but more often in places completely strange and unsuspected. Read the rest of this entry »