Science Milestones: Antarctic Explorer Roald Amundsen

In 1911 two men began ambitious expeditions to the South Pole. Despite facing similar conditions during their 1,400 mile journeys, Roald Amundsen secured victory for his team while Robert Falcon Scott and his team suffered defeat and un-timely death.
Antarctic ExplorerBoth men and their teams contended with hostile conditions: freezing temperatures, gale force winds, fierce terrain and no safety nets. Both teams were thousands of miles from help, and without any access to communication. The conditions may have been similar; the two teams’ outcomes were not.

Victory awaits him who has everything in order – luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck. ~ Roald Amundsen

The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration

In the early 20th century, five men made history by traveling to and exploring both the North and South Poles.  Their exploits were dangerous and exciting, and the whole world followed their adventures through newspaper accounts and magazine articles.  Their names are synonymous with determination and bravery: Admiral Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, Dr. Frederic Cook, Robert Scott, and Roald Amundsen.

Stories of their exploits inspired a generation of young people to pursue their dreams – including Thor Heyerdahl and Jacques Cousteau. The exploration of the south pole still inspires controversy today. Even supporters of Scott admit that Amundsen bested him at polar travel. Scott, however, had put together a very, very good team of scientists.  In the book, An Empire of Ice, the author outlines the expedition’s scientific achievements, from studying the movement of glaciers to mapping the continent’s snow-free dry valleys, and collecting Emperor penguins’ eggs.

Biography

Roald Amundsen

Born on the 16th of July 1872, Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen was a renowned Norwegian explorer of polar regions. He led the Antarctic expedition (1910–12) to become the first to reach the South Pole in December 1911. In 1926, he was the first expedition leader to be recognized without dispute as having reached the North Pole.

He is also known as the first to traverse the Northwest Passage (1903–06).  He was one of the key expedition leaders during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration along with Douglas Mawson, Robert Falcon Scott, and Ernest Shackleton. He disappeared in June 1928 while taking part in a rescue mission.

Born to a shipbuilder and captain, Jens Amundsen; he grew up with his three brothers. His mother wanted him to avoid the trade and become a doctor.  A promise he kept until her passing when he was 21 years of age.

Notable trivia, writer Roald Dahl was named after Amundsen.

Roald became a crewmember on various ships traveling to the Arctic. In 1887 he was first mate on a ship named the Belgica, the first expedition to survive the winter on the Arctic. This experience taught him valuable lessons of survival that would help him later on. One was that fresh seal meat had vitamin C which would help in curing scurvy. Another was to use animal skins rather than wool coats to keep warm.

Bring it Home

  • Watch the PBS program, Alone on the Ice
  • Create an exploration timeline noting Amundsen’s accomplishments and those of his peers.
  • Map his explorations on a world map.
  • Visit the Fram museum online and enjoy a slide show and numerous historical accounts.
  • Compare the antarctic explorations of other notable explorers and create a scrapbook that features their research findings.
  • Read the biography, The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen 
  • Examine the adaptive capabilities of arctic animals and the people native to these regions. What did Amundsen learn from them and how did it impact his expeditions?
  • Identify items necessary for survival in cold climates and plan a survival pack for severe Antarctic weather.
  • Check out the website, Ice-Bound – a resource to learn from and interact with scientists who study the polar regions, glaciers and ice sheets around the world.

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

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