The Antarctica Timeline

  1. Magellan Straight

    September, 1519

    In September, Ferdinand Magellan sails from Spain in search of a westerly route to the Indies. Sailing down the coast of South America he discovered the narrow straight passing through to the Pacific Ocean which today bears his name. To the south lies Tierra del Fuego which the early geographers assumed to be the edge of the southern continent.

  2. Sir Francis Drake

    September, 1578

    In September, Sir Francis Drake passes through the Straights of Megellan only to find himself blown significantly southward due to a tremendous storm in the Pacific. This event proved that Tierra del Fuego was separated from any southern continent and the passageway came to be known as the "Drake Passage".

  3. John Davis

    August, 1592

    In August, the Englishman John Davis, in the DESIRE, discovered the Falkland Islands. This was a tragic expedition as the crew were forced to eat some 14,000 penguins which they were forced to kill for food. Stored as properly as possible, once they reached the tropics the penguin meat spoiled and subsequently only 16 members of the original crew of 76 ever reached home shores.

  4. First South Georgia Sighting

    April, 1675

    In April, Antonio de la Roché is blown south of Cape Horn and experiences the first sighting of South Georgia.

  5. Îles Kerguélen Discovery

    February, 1722

    In February, Frenchman Yves Joseph de Kerguélen-Trémarec discovers the Îles Kerguélen.

  6. Bouvet Discovery


    Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Bouvet de Lozier discovers Bouvet however after mislabelling the coordinates for the island, he caused it to be lost until it was rediscovered 70 years later in 1808. Due to significant ice packs, the first landing on the island did not take place until the American Morrell landed in 1822.

  7. First Crossing

    January, 1773

    In January, Captain James Cook and his crew become the first men to cross the Antarctic Circle.

  8. South Sandwich Islands Discovery

    January, 1775

    In January, Captain Cook, on his third voyage, sails past South Georgia and discovers the South Sandwich Islands two weeks later.

  9. Beginning of the Sealing Industry


    This year marks the start of the sealing industry on South Georgia. The sealers are primarily American from New England as the Europeans are involved in war.

  10. Macquarie Island Discovery

    July, 1810

    In July, Australian Frederick Hasselborough discovers Macquarie Island while searching for new sealing grounds.

  11. South Shetland Islands Discovery

    February, 1819

    In February, Englishman William Smith is blown to the south while rounding Cape Horn and discovers the South Shetland Islands, claiming them for Great Britain in October.

  12. The Antarctic Peninsula

    January, 1820

    In January, the Royal Navy sends Edward Bransfield, with Smith as pilot, to search the waters southeast of the newly claimed South Shetlands. As a result, it is claimed that he is the first to see the Antarctic Peninsula.

  13. First Person to see the Continent

    January 27, 1820

    In January, Russian Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen becomes the first person to see the Antarctic continent.

  14. Antarctic Peninsula

    November, 1820

    In November, American Nathaniel Palmer, on the HERO, claims to see the Antarctic Peninsula. Palmer was a member of a sealing fleet from New England. Only 19 years old, he was dispatched from the sealing grounds in the South Shetlands by his commanding officer to search for land to the south.

  15. Peter I and Alexander Islands Discovery

    January, 1821

    In January, Bellingshausen returns to the Antarctic waters and discovers Peter I Island and the Alexander Islands. He completes a circumnavigation of Antarctica being only the second explorer, after Cook, to do so.

  16. Landing On The Continent

    February, 1821

    In February, American sealer John Davis arguably becomes the first person to land on the continent. From Connecticut, Davis had been searching the South Shetlands for seals.

  17. South Orkney Islands Discovery

    December, 1821

    In December, Nathaniel Palmer discovers the South Orkney Islands along with British sealer George Powell.

  18. The Furthest South

    February, 1823

    In February, Englishman James Weddell sails to 74 degrees south. This is the farthest south yet reached and the penetrated sea bears his name today. Except for possibly Morrell, no one is able to penetrate this sea again for eighty years.

  19. Enderby Island Discovery

    February, 1831

    In February, Englishman John Biscoe, an employee of the British sealing business "Enderby Brothers", discovers Enderby Land, the first sighting of Antarctica from the Indian Ocean zone.

  20. Balleny Islands Discovery

    February, 1839

    In February, Englishman John Balleny, another Enderby Brothers employee, sails from New Zealand and discovers the Balleny Islands.

  21. Wilkes Land Discovery

    January, 1840

    In January, Lt. Charles Wilkes, American leader of the United States Exploring Expedition, sights an area now known as Wilkes Land.

  22. Adélie Coastline

    January, 1840

    In January, Frenchman Jules-Sebastian Dumont d'Urville discovers a stretch of Antarctic coastline which he promptly names for his wife, Adélie.

  23. Ross Island, Ice Shelf and Mt Erebus Discovery

    January, 1841

    In January, under Sir James Clark Ross in EREBUS and TERROR, search for the South Magnetic Pole, ordered by the British Royal Navy. He discovers Victoria Land and enters the sea which is known famously now as the Ross Sea. He discovers Ross Island, Mt. Erebus and the Ross Ice Shelf.

  24. First Fossils Found

    November, 1892

    In November, Captain Carl Larsen of the JASON lands near the Antarctic Peninsula on Seymour Island. Discovering a number of fossils, this becomes the first evidence of a prior warmer climate.

  25. First Signs of Plant Life

    Jan, 1895

    In January, Henryk Bull lands in the Antarctic at Cape Adare. A member of the party, Carsten Borchgrevink, finds lichen on an offshore island becoming the first signs of plant life.

  26. First Winter Survivors

    March, 1898

    In March, Adrien de Gerlache and crew in the BELGICA become trapped in the pack ice off the Antarctic Pensinsula. They drift helplessly for a year becoming the first to survive an Antarctic winter.

  27. First to Live over Winter

    February 1899

    In February, Carsten Borchgrevink and crew of the SOUTHERN CROSS land at Cape Adare. They build huts and become the first to live over winter on the continent.

  28. First Major Sled Journey

    February, 1902

    In February, a Swedish geologist, Otto Nordenskjöld, and five crew members are left on Snow Hill Island where they spend two winters. It was during this expedition that the first major sledge journey in Antarctica took place; some 400 miles. Unfortunately, their ship Antarctic was crushed in the ice pack after leaving the crew on the island thereby creating two separate groups of explorers. Miraculously, the second crew was able to survive the winter and find their way back to Snow Hill Island where the whole party was rescued in 1903 by an Argentinean relief ship.

  29. Wilhelm II Discovery

    February, 1902

    In February, German Erich von Drygalski and the crew of the GAUSS discover Wilhelm II Land. Stuck in the ice for a year, the party does extensive scientific research filling 20 volumes of reports.

  30. Shackleton South Pole Attempt

    November, 1902

    In November Robert F. Scott, Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton strike out for the South Pole. Leaving McMurdo Sound heading south across the Ross Ice Shelf, two months later they find themselves at 82 degrees south suffering from snow blindness and scurvy. Forced to return home, they nonetheless cover 3100 miles.

  31. Loubeet Coast & Doumer Island Discovery

    February, 1904

    In February, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, in the Français, begins his survey of the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The small expedition winters in the ship in an inlet on Booth Island. Over two summers they discover the Loubet Coast, Doumer Island and Port Lockroy. They chart the Biscoe Islands and generally extend Gerlache's survey of the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

  32. First Sighting South of Weddell Sea

    March, 1904

    In March, William S. Bruce and members of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition aboard the SCOTIA discover Coats Land. This is the first sighting of land to the south of the Weddell Sea.

  33. First Whaling Station is Built.

    June, 1904

    Carl Larsen builds the first whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia. Before ten years elapse, over 20 stations and factory ships are operating in this region.

  34. Shackletons Attempts the South Pole Again

    October, 1908

    In October, explorers Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams attempt to reach the South Pole. Within 30 days they have surpassed Scotts effort in 1903. Reaching within 97 nautical miles, the group is severely ill and undernourished requiring them to abandon their attempt on the pole.

  35. South Pole is Reached

    January, 1909

    In January, Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Alistair McKay reach the South Magnetic Pole.

  36. First Japenese Expedition

    November, 1911

    In November, the first Japanese Antarctic Expedition sails south led by Lt. Nobu Shirase and lands at the Bay of Whales.

  37. New Route To South Pole Discovered.

    December 14, 1911

    On December 14, Norwegian Roald Amundsen and four team members reach the South Pole. Amundsen discovered a new route which took only 57 days. Letters are left for Scott, a Norwegian flag planted and then they return to the Bay of Whales.

  38. 3 Perish on South Pole Expedition

    Janaury 18, 1912

    On January 18, Robert F. Scott, Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates reach the South Pole. Unfortunately, Amundsen had already been there and left a flag marking the spot. Terribly discouraged after a tortuous journey, all members perish on the return trip. Scott, Wilson and Bowers die in their tent after using up all fuel and food. The three are not discovered until November.

  39. Luitpold Coast Discovery

    January, 1912

    In January, Wilhelm Filchner in the DEUTSCHLAND discovers the Luitpold Coast.

  40. Winter Survival

    April, 1912

    In April, Scott's Northern Party give up hope of the TERRA NOVA arriving to pick them up before winter sets in. The six men must dig a cave out of a snow bank where they live for six months on penguin and seal meat.

  41. Radio Used for First Time on the Continent.

    December, 1912

    In December, Douglas Mawson must begin his lone trek across George V Land back to his base at Commonwealth Bay. Mawson's two companions had died and despite the tragedy, he makes it home. A new section of coast is discovered and radio is used for the first time in Antarctica.

  42. Infamous Endurance Expedition

    October, 1915

    In October, Ernest Shackleton has a plan to cross the continent but is forced to abandon this idea as his ship, the ENDURANCE, is crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea after drifting for nine months. The 28 men must camp on the floating ice for five more months before an opening in the ice allows them to take to the boats for Elephant Island in the South Shetlands. Meanwhile, members of Shackleton's Ross shore party lay depots for the ill-fated group, depots expected to be used by Shackleton and his party on their trek across the continent. Three members die but the rest were eventually rescued in 1917.

  43. Leaving for Elephant Island

    April, 1916

    In April, Shackleton and five of his men leave Elephant Island in the lifeboat JAMES CAIRD. In 15 days they arrive at South Georgia. Unfortunately, they made land on the wrong side of the island and Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley had to cross the island through difficult terrain to reach the whaling station at Stromness.

  44. Endurance Crew Rescue

    May, 1916

    On his fourth try, Shackleton reaches Elephant Island in the Chilean ship YELCHO and rescues the 22 survivors from the ENDURANCE. They survived by turning the remaining life boats upside down and setting up living quarters beneath.

  45. Shackleton Dies.

    January, 1922

    In January, at the age of 48, Ernest Shackleton dies of a heart attack. On board the QUEST at the time, Shackleton is buried at South Georgia.

  46. First Flight

    November, 1928

    In November, Hubert Wilkins makes the first flight in the Antarctic region, flying from Deception Island in the South Shetlands in a Lockheed Vega monoplane.

  47. MacRobertson Land Discovery

    October, 1929

    In October, The British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition establishes itself under Douglas Mawson over two summer seasons discovering MacRobertson Land and charting much of the adjacent coastline.

  48. First Flight Over the South Pole

    November 28, 1929

    On November 28, after a ten hour flight from their base at the Bay of Whales, Richard E. Byrd and three others become the first to fly over the South Pole.

  49. First Flight Across

    November, 1935

    In November, American Lincoln Ellsworth is the first to successfully fly across the continent.

  50. Operation Highjump

    January, 1947

    In January, OPERATION HIGHJUMP is organized by the US Navy. A total of 4700 men, 13 ships and 23 aircraft are involved. A base is set up at Little America. Extensive mapping of the coast and interior is accomplished. Over 70,000 aerial photographs are taken.

  51. Operation Windmill

    December, 1947

    In December, as a follow up to Highjump, OPERATION WINDMILL begins.

  52. The Filchner Ice Shelf

    December, 1947

    In December, Finn Ronne, leader of a private American Expedition, is based on Stonington Island. Flying over the southern shores, he is the first to see the mountains of the western edge of the Filchner Ice Shelf.

  53. Multinantional Expedtion

    February, 1950

    In February, a multinational expedition is set up in Dronning Maud Land, by Sweden, Great Britain and Norway.

  54. Operation Deepfreeze

    July, 1957

    In July, the International Geophysical Year begins with Antarctica the main effort of scientists from 67 countries over the next 18 months. Twelve new bases are constructed with the Amundsen-Scott base at the South Pole (American) constructed for the OPERATION DEEPFREEZE expeditions.

  55. Antarctic Treaty

    December, 1959

    In December, the twelve leading nations participating in the IGY sign the "Antarctic Treaty" in Washington, DC. The treaty was framed as an agreement so the continent "shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes". The treaty came into effect in 1961 and guarantees access and scientific research in all territory south of 60° latitude.

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