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A century in Antarctica: from seal fur coats to hi-tech research bases

By María M.Mur

Santiago, Chile, Jan 5 (EFE).- For over a century, expeditions to Antarctica have fascinated the world.

But what used to be men wrapped up in seal fur coats on long voyages to the South Pole has turned into scientists in research bases using the latest technological satellites.

Wednesday marks 100 years since the death of Sir Ernest Shackleton, an Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the continent.

“Men wanted for a hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

This was an advertisement by Shackleton published in the London press in 1914. He was recruiting men to cross the Antarctica continent by foot for the very first time.

The expedition, which lasted almost two years, failed, but Shackleton and his ‘Endurance’ crew survived.

It was after this journey that Shackleton became a principal figure of the Heroic Age of Antarctica Exploration era.

A few years later, when the Interwar period began, polar expeditions started evolving.

Wooden ships were replaced with ironclad warships and canned food started gaining popularity.

Today, 100 years later with the dramatic advancement of technology, polar travel has come a long way since Sir Shackleton’s day.

The continent has become a reference for researchers detecting the effects of climate change with divers exploring the icy waters to research marine flora among many other expeditions.

Even WhatsApp has found its way to the South Pole with scientists sending each other pictures via the instant messaging platform when harsh weather conditions don’t allow for outdoor ventures.

The pandemic, however, also found its way to the continent when ​​in December 2020 a coronavirus outbreak affected over 30 scientists and military personnel at the Chilean base Bernardo O’Higgins.

The lack of interactions between international scientists has affected research to a great extent, according to Lea Carroll from the French Development Research Institute.

But for Chilean historian Mauricio Jara, the importance of Antarctica lies not only in what it teaches us about the planet, but also because “it is the only territory in the world dedicated exclusively to peace and science” despite the pandemic. EFE


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