Antarctica. Literally, the South end of the Earth. Shrouded in mystery for centuries, stuff of legends and myths, the Holy Grail of the Southern Continent beckoned explorers and adventurers.
In the Eighteenth Century, the great Captain James Cook tried to pierce the mystery of the Antarctic regions. He, ''whose ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go'' was turned back by the ice before sighting land. It was not for another 40 years that the audacious American sealing captain, Nathaniel B. Palmer, on the 45-foot sloop HERO sighted the Antarctic Peninsula at approximately 63 degrees 45 minutes South Latitude. Within 20 years of this first sighting, the American Charles Wilkes, the Frenchman Dumont D'Urville, and the Englishman James Clark Ross had proved the existence of an Antarctic continent by sailing along substantial portions of its coastline. Amundsen, Shackleton, Scott, Byrd, and a host of others pioneered the efforts to make the way to the South Pole and establish precarious footholds on this most inhospitable of continents. Some made the supreme sacrifice in this quest.
NOAA and its ancestor agencies have taken part in Antarctic investigations since the late 1920's when Weather Bureau meteorologists accompanied Admiral Byrd to his base camp at Little America and provided forecasts for his flight to the South Pole. Since then NOAA and its ancestors have: monitored weather conditions on Antarctica; studied sea ice, sea conditions, marine life, and oceanography of areas surrounding Antarctica; monitored and observed geophysical parameters such as geomagnetism, seismological activity, and gravity in Antarctic regions; and established observatories on the Antarctic continent to study global change parameters such as the buildup of greenhouse gases and the loss of ozone from the upper atmosphere.
This section of the ''NOAA at the Ends of the Earth'' collection provides a little about the history of Antarctic exploration, the Antarctic environment, and the role of NOAA scientists today in studying and monitoring potential harbingers of global change in this harsh but pristine environment.