Belgian Antarctic Expedition

The first scientific and research expedition that overwintered in Antarctica. Its organizer and leader was Adrien de Gerlache, the officer of the Belgian Navy. The expedition sailed from Antwerp on August 16, 1897, on the ship “Belgica”, which was previously a whaler called “Patria”.

Although the expedition was Belgian, it was financed among others by the Belgian Geographical Society, good specialists other nationalities were invited to participate. Among them were the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who as the first reached the South Pole in 1911, Romanian Emil Racoviţă, zoologist and speleologist, American Frederick Albert Cook, doctor, and Pole Henryk Arctowski – geologist, geophysicist and glaciologist.

On March 2, 1898, the ship was trapped in an pack ice in the Bellingshausen Sea, and the expedition was forced to spend the winter in Antarctica, which was previously not anticipated (e.g. the expedition was not provided with warm winter clothes in sufficient quantity). Eventually, the vessel was released from the ice a year later, on March 13, 1899, which was preceded by monthly work on making a channel through the ice using tools and explosive materials. On November 5, 1899, the expedition returned to Antwerp.

Two people died during the expedition: Norwegian sailor Carl August Wiencke, who was washed away by the waves from the deck during a storm, and Belgian Emile Danco, responsible for geophysical observations, who had heart problems and died from exhaustion.

Despite being in difficult climatic (low temperatures, polar night) and physical (participants of the expedition suffered from malnutrition, scurvy, depression, some of them had mental problems for the rest of their lives) conditions, the expedition was a success. Many scientific data were collected (e.g. continuous meteorological observations were made) and many useful observations (Cook’s and Amundsen’s diaries) regarding psychology, adaptation of the human body to the conditions of the polar night or prevention of scurvy (eating fresh meat of penguins and seals) were obtained.

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