A.2 The Real "Old Antarctic Explorers"

Teacher Background

NSF's researchers and their ASA science support teams refer to people who have returned season after season to live and work on "the Ice" as OAE's-Old Antarctic Explorers. This Activity will help your students get to know the true OAE's.

Long before anyone journeyed south, the Ancient Greeks had a name for the land they believed to be there: "Antarktikos"-the land "opposite the Bear," Arktos being the constellation of the Great Bear (Big Dipper) above the North Pole.

But who really discovered Antarctica? Was anyone already there, waiting to be "discovered"? What motivated individuals to explore the region? The answer to these questions aren't always so easy, since different sources don't always agree on dates, and some of the "firsts" are disputed!

Sidebar: A Journal Sample

The history of Antarctica is marked by an Age of Discovery when early explorers like Captain James Cook, and whaling and sealing captains like Nathaniel Palmer and Admiral Von Bellingshausen ventured into the icy waters and first sighted and identified the coast of the continent.

During the Age of Competition Ernest Shackleton, Robert Scott, Douglas Mawson, Roald Amundsen and others set off on grand races in search of the magnetic and geographic South Poles. Finally, in the Age of Scientific Exploration men like Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Sir Edmund Hillary and, more recently, representatives of the signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty, ensured that guidelines were put in place to preserve the fragile continent for future peaceful purposes and scientific exploration, and to protect it from exploitation.


Students will research information about exploration in Antarctica, and create a visual display which synthesizes and communicates their work.



Ask students what they already know about the history of Antarctica. Can they think of any "big names" linked to the continent? Who/what was there waiting to be "discovered"? Read a sample diary entry from an early Antarctic explorer (see the sidebar, and read Journal Entries from the Heroic Age found on-line at the LFA 2 Web Site.) Where do these fit in the continent's history?



  1. Have students work individually or in pairs to gather basic information about Antarctica's history. This can be done on-line, in the library/media center, then shared with the class by listing facts on a chalkboard or poster.
  2. Working in any configuration desired, have students construct a visual display (timeline, display, chart, poster, computer-generated presentation, HyperCard stack, series of cartoons, etc.) that chronologically sequences key events in Antarctic history. Information should include exploration, government/ownership issues, founding and abandoning bases.
  3. Have students add their individual work to their Antarctic Logbooks, as well as contribute it to the class chart.


Have students research territorial claims in Antarctica, and add them to the map begun in Activity A.1. Have students add the locations of the major research sites of various nations. Why do you suppose they are located where they are? Debate/discussion topic: If you were in charge of starting a new research station, where would you place it and why?

Use the Internet to research the Antarctic Treaty and its impact on current and future development of Antarctic resources. Which nations have ratified the Treaty? What are some of the major concerns on both sides of the ratification issue?

Have students research the role of women and minorities in exploring Antarctica. (Be sure to check out information on the relatively high percentage of females in the current USAP, part of the LFA 2 Web site.)

Have students prepare a properly-formatted bibliography of sources used to create their visual display.

Students can conduct a simulated interview with one of the OAE's. This can be a newspaper article, skit, video or radio newscast or "chat show". Share with class and include in Logbook.

Have students look for imagery or emotion laden words used to describe Antarctica, (e.g. "awful," as in Scott's comment at the Pole: "Great God, this is an awful place.") They can record these words in Logbooks, and on a class vocabulary list, important resources if your students utilize the LFA 2 poetry unit.

Create an "Antarctic Hall of Fame".

Make and distribute copies of the "Old Antarctic Explorers" Hall of Fame Candidates (Blackline Master #5). Have students pick names by lot, and research 3 key things for which their OAE is best known.

Have students create a framed portrait, and design a symbol which best communicates the accomplishment for which s/he is remembered.

Please note: you might wish to involve the art, social studies and/or language arts teachers. Save student work for an "Antarctic Expo" open house display, as suggested later in this Guide, or submit their work on-line, following guidelines you can find on the LFA 2 site.

Have students go on-line and search for today's explorers, who have mounted non-governmental expeditions to the Antarctic (e.g. Will Steger, Jean-Claude Etienne, Norman Vaughn, the Scandinavian woman who skied solo to the South Pole, etc.). NSF officially provides no support or encouragement for such expeditions, since when they go wrong (e.g., a recent team lost members and Skidoos down a crevasse field they'd been crossing in unwise fashion-"line abreast" rather than "line ahead"), it's NSF that has to deploy rescuers, putting them at needless risk and expending precious resources. Have students debate whether individual expeditions, even if privately sponsored, are a good or bad idea.

Suggested URLs

ICAIR provides images of Shackleton and Scott's ships, and more historical data-with a Kiwi twist.

All you need to know about the Antarctic Treaty, including a copy of the Treaty itself.

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