The Mechanical Era

The first World War slowed polar exploration for a time. Only the British maintained any form of scientific research using Scott's old ship, the Discovery, which made thirteen successive summer cruises in the Southern Ocean to investigate the biology and oceanography of the region.

The increasing use of planes, tractors and motorized toboggans, however, was soon to herald a new era in exploration during the 1920's and 30's. Australian born Hubert Wilkins introduced the airplane and aerial photography to Antarctica in 1928, making a flight from Deception Island across the Antarctic Peninsula in a Lockheed Vega monoplane. He successfully traversed most of the length of Grahamland but incorrectly concluded that it was divided into four islands.

The British, Australian, and New Zealand Antarctic Research (BANZAR) Expedition, under the leadership of the Antarctic veteran Sir Douglas Mawson, set off from Cape Town in 1929. Over the next two summer seasons the BANZAR Expedition discovered MacRobertson Land and charted long sections of Antarctic coastline. A float plane was also used for reconnaissance on this expedition.

Antarctica had long been a bastion of male explorers but, in 1935 the wife of a Norwegian whaling captain, Caroline Mikkellson, became the first woman to land on the continent when she stepped ashore in the Vestfold Hills. The first women to winter in Antarctica were Edith Ronnie and Jennie Darlington who, in 1947-48, accompanied their husbands on a private American expedition that made a base on Stonington Island on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Americans in the Antarctic

It was the U.S. Admiral Richard E. Byrd who became the first person to fly over the South Pole on the first of his five expeditions to Antarctica. In 1929 he and three others made a ten-hour flight in a Ford Mono Plane from the Little America base on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Another American Lincoln Ellsworth was the next significant pioneer to use aviation to explore in the Antarctic. In 1935, on his third attempt, he and pilot Herbert Hollick-Kenyon made the first successful flight across the Antarctic. The journey was made in four stages and began from Dundee Island but their plane ran out of fuel just 16 miles (26 km) short of Byrd's old base at the Bay of Whales. On this and later expeditions in the 1930s, Ellsworth claimed 300,000 square miles of the Antarctic for his country, but the U.S. Government did not follow up on this and other similar claims.

In 1940 Admiral Byrd returned to the continent again. He established his Little America III Base at the Bay of Whales and organized extensive exploration of Marie Byrd Land coast by ship, plane and sledging parties. This expedition successfully introduced two-way radio communication with the outside world, as well as track vehicles to the Antarctic, revolutionizing mapping and exploration. Planes were one of the greatest innovations. Though flying was often restricted by bad weather, this drawback was more than offset by the distances they could cover, the aerial perspective and the information aerial photography could supply. These achievements set the stage for the United States Navy's Operation High Jump at the close of the World War II. Expeditions had now developed into costly government-funded exercises. In 1946-47, 13 ships, 23 aircraft and 4,700 personnel set up yet another base at Little America. Ice-breakers were used for the first time and two groups working slowly around the continent mapped vast areas of coastland and interior using aerial photography.

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