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.
Ice floes off the coast of Marie Byrd Land.
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 »
The Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) is currently cooperating with the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) and U.S. Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit TWO (MDSU-2) to investigate a WWII-era SB2C Helldiver aircraft wreck off the coast of Jupiter, FL. The objectives of the investigation are to identify the aircraft using its numbered identification plates, measure and map the wreck site, and document the aircraft.
Investigation operations are being conducted from USNS Apache (T-ATF 172), one of MSC’s four Fleet Ocean Tugs and one of the 14 ships in its Surface Support Program. USNS Apache’s main mission is to render assistance to the US Navy’s numbered fleets by providing towing, diving platform and other services. UAB is also pleased to have the opportunity to once again work with MDSU-2. Their expertise and support were much appreciated aboard USNS Grasp, during the 2011 collaborative survey expedition to locate the wreck of USS Bonhomme Richard in the North Sea. (Photo to the left courtesy of Military Sealift Command Ship Database)
In addition to assisting UAB with its archaeological investigation, this project also provides MDSU-2 divers the opportunity to gain valuable training experience by performing deep water, mixed-gas dives up to 185 ft (56.4 m); collecting measurements of underwater sites; and conducting underwater navigation exercises. Over the previous four days, MDSU-2 divers have assisted with measuring the wreck site, documenting the aircraft, and mapping its disarticulated pieces. All divers are equipped with live video feed in their helmets, which allows MDSU-2 dive supervisor and UAB representative underwater archaeologist Heather Brown to observe underwater operations from aboard Apache in real time.
The wreck was first discovered and filmed by a local dive charter operator late last year, who then contacted NHHC about the find in early 2012. Video footage of the wreck (photo on the right is a still taken from video by Randy Jordan) shows that it is relatively intact and currently rests in an inverted position on the sandy ocean floor. The vertical stabilizer, ailerons, flaps, and elevators initially appeared to be missing, however portions or fragments of those elements have since been located on the site. The propellers and engine have been separated from the fuselage and lie several meters away from of the main body of the wreck. There are a number of ropes wrapped around the propellers and what appears to be a lobster trap lying beside the engine, suggesting the wreck may have been previously snagged by a fishing boat. (Sonar image of the SB2C site shown at the right)
As the wreck is resting in an inverted position on the sandy bottom, the cockpit and the aircraft bureau number were not readily accessible to the divers. However, they were able to locate a model number plate, heavily covered in marine growth and currently illegible, and carefully remove it. The plate is being sent to the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab at NHHC headquarters on the Washington Navy Yard, DC, where it will be treated and examined by UAB’s conservation team and hopefully provide data to help identify the aircraft.
(The heavily corroded data plate)
Stay tuned for more updates as the project progresses!
Click the below link to watch Local News Channel 5 WPTV.com interview with NHHC underwater archaeologist Heather Brown:
The U.S. is currently prioritizing their public education agenda to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) and its Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) have created a pilot program to highlight aspects of the underwater archaeology field in order to complement STEM initiatives. The purpose of this Underwater Archaeology STEM Program Pilot Project is to expand the reach and influence of both the NHHC and the history and archaeology career field, and educational opportunities associated with underwater archeological science and technology.
Archaeologists from the NHHC’s UAB and educators for the National Museum of the U.S. Navy presented the pilot program at the recent NHHC Professional Development Workshop, held a the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.
The UA STEM program fulfills curriculum requirements for teachers and faculty; efforts are currently pointed towards high schools in DC, MD & VA that are focused on STEM programming and offer courses in either oceanography, archaeology or marine sciences. The target audience is:
High School Students: STEM candidates, and students involved in history, social sciences, mathematics, engineering, technology or marine science.
Undergraduate Students: With disciplines in history, social sciences, bio-sciences, engineering, technology, meteorology, archeology, or other related fields.
Graduate Students: With disciplines in history, social sciences, bio-sciences, engineering, technology, meteorology, archeology, or other related fields.
Underwater archaeology incorporates all aspects of STEM education:
-Chemical Processes, Physics, Oceanography, Geology, Geography, Environmental Science, etc.
-ROVs, AUVs, Side Scan Sonar, Multi-beam Sonar, submersibles, dive equipment, GIS, computer programming, 3D Imaging, etc.
-Civil, Mechanical, and Ocean Engineering.
-Site Mapping, Data Plotting, GIS, diving, navigation, etc.
Students and groups are currently invited to tour the Underwater Archaeology Conservation Laboratory and the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. The NHHC and the UAB also have an energetic public outreach program geared towards students and veterans groups. The Underwater Archaeology Branch takes in spring, summer, and fall interns to complete projects either at the conservation lab, on policy and permitting, or archaeological site survey and reporting.
LCDR Richard Byrd and Chief Machinist Mate Floyd Bennett fly over the North Pole
Fifteen years after Robert Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole, Richard E. Byrd, along with his pilot, Floyd Bennett, became the first men to fly over the pole. Because the North Pole lies within the Arctic Ocean, rather than upon a fixed landmass, its exact location cannot be precisely determined. Thus Byrd’s observations and recordings, much like Peary’s, were subject to intense scrutiny from scientists and mathematicians before he could lay claim to his achievement. Both Byrd and Bennett received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their feat, and Byrd later went on to become the first man to fly over the South Pole as well.
A few months after Byrd’s Arctic flight, the August 1926 issue of Proceedings contained an article reprinted from the New York Times about the verification of Byrd’s claims by the National Geographic Society, which demonstrated the success of his mission. The article is excerpted below:
New York Times, 30 June, 1926.—Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd arrived at the North Pole “very close” to nine hours three minutes Greenwich civil time on May 9, the committee of experts named by the National Geographic Society finds after a careful examination of his data. Read the rest of this entry »
On St. Patrick’s Day, 1898, the USS Holland (SS-1) made her first successful submerged run. Irish-born American schoolteacher and inventor, John Phillip Holland (1842-1914) is often considered the man who contributed most to the development of the submarine.
The Story of the Holland Submarine by Richard Knowles Morris was told in the January 1960 issue of Proceedings magazine:
The story of SS-l Holland is the story of the birth of the submarine fleet of the United States Navy. Launched 17 May 1897, at Lewis Nixon’s Crescent Shipyard, Elizabethport, New Jersey, the 53-foot 4-inch submersible was the sixth completed boat and at least the ninth important design of the Irishborn American schoolteacher and inventor, John Philip Holland (1842-1914). Read the rest of this entry »
Operation Deep Freeze is Established in Antarctica
The research task force titled Operation Deep Freeze was first established in Antarctica in 1955. This first mission was the first in an ongoing series of American research missions to the Antarctic continent, which has facillitated many researchers and scientists to explore, study, and perform experiements. In March, 1970, Proceedings published a firsthand account of one of the first Deep Freeze missions, undertaken thirteen years after the beginning of the operation. In “Deep Freeze Diary, 1968,” Commander James S, McNeely, USN (retired), described his experience of Antarctica, from recieving his orders to the end of his assignment. Mcneely provides a detailed account of the dark Antarctic winter, as well as the risks and challenges of living in such a barren environment, but emphasizes the importance of such long and lonely missions in advancing human knowledge and exploration.
“BUPERS ORDERS … CDR JAMES S. MC NEELY … DIRDET … AS CO ANTARCTICSUPPACT DET ALFA …” Me! The Bureau of Personnel had ordered me to duty in Antarctica as Commanding Officer of the wintering-over detachment. Great! Read the rest of this entry »
The Bathyscaph Trieste descends to the Marinas Trench.
On Janury 23rd, 1960, the bathyscaph Trieste, recently acquired by the U. S. Navy, became the first craft to descend to the lowest-known part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Marinas Trench. This depth-record was the highlight of the Trieste‘s decade-long career, a career that had a great impact on oceanography and deep-sea exploration. An article written by a former bathyscaph pilot, Lieutenant George W. Martin, USN, about the many accompishments of the Trieste, appeared in the August 1964 issue of Proceedings. In his article, Martin describes the successes of the Trieste, and explains the future problems to be solved and accomplishments to be made in the field of deep-sea exploration. He begins his artice with a description of the Trieste‘s final dive, as part of a search for sunken nuclear submarine, Thresher:
Dive Number 128 of the bathyscaph Trieste was the tenth and last dive made by Trieste in her search for the nuclear submarine Thresher. Read the rest of this entry »
Lieutenant Charles Wilkes discovers Antarctic Coast
On January 19th, 1840, Lt. Charles Wilkes, during an expedition circumnavigating the globe, became the first American to sight the Antarctic Coast, and to discover the existence of an Antarctic continent. This discovery was the highlight of a four-year surveying expedition which greatly contributed to the scientific and cultural knowledge of the time. In October 1939, Proceedings published a detailed article about the expedition, excerpted below, written by Captain G. S. Bryan, U. S. Navy. In his article, Captain Bryan charts the course of Wilkes’ expedition, from beginning to end, and emphasizes not only the profound impact of the expedition and its discoveries, but the character and temperament of the commander responsible for its accomplishments as well:
The closing months of 1939 and early 1940 mark the one hundredth anniversary of the crowning achievement of the United States Exploring Expedition, or the Wilkes Exploring Expedition as it was later called. The accomplishments of this expedition under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, U. S. Navy, stand perhaps as the greatest achievement in the field of exploration that this country has ever known. Read the rest of this entry »