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Antarctica: Scott reaches the South Pole - 18 January 1912

On the hundredth anniversary of his reaching the South Pole, to consider Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition and to reflect on the future for Antarctica.

by Tim and Vicky Scott

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


On the hundredth anniversary of his reaching the South Pole, to consider Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition and to reflect on the future for Antarctica.

Preparation and materials


  1. Ask students to tell you on which continent they will find the South Pole.

    The hundredth anniversary of the day the British polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) reached the South Pole is on 18 January 2012. This, Scott’s legendary second and last expedition to the Antarctic region, culminated in the tragic deaths of Scott and his four companions.

    Scott led a team of polar explorers and scientists in a race against a team of Norwegian explorers led by Roald Amundsen. In his prospectus Scott stated that his main purpose was, ‘to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honour of this achievement’. Scott had not expected to be in a race, though. Only when his plans were well advanced was he told that Norwegian explorers were setting out at about the same time.

    For the final stretch of the march Scott chose four men to accompany him: Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans). The rest of his team, meanwhile, waited at base camp.

    When the British team arrived at the Pole, they saw the Norwegian flag and realized that the Norwegians had beaten them. To the Norwegians went the prize of being the first people to reach the South Pole.

    On their journey back from the Pole, Scott and his four team members all died from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold. Following the news of his death, Scott was acclaimed as a British hero.
  2. An exhibition on Antarctic exploration, including Scott’s adventures, with some amazing photographs taken during his expedition, is being held in the Royal Gallery, Buckingham Palace until 15 April 2012 - see ‘Preparation and materials’ above.

    Show students the picture taken shortly after Scott and his team arrived at the South Pole. Ask the students to describe how the men look.

    There has always been a debate about whether the men look dejected and bitterly disappointed because they lost the ‘race’ or whether they were just cold and tired after weeks of journeying to the Pole. Scott’s family do not agree that Scott saw the journey as a race (they believe he saw it more as a journey of exploration and discovery), but most historians disagree with this!
  3. For Scott and his men, travelling across Antarctica to the Pole would have been the equivalent of travelling across the moon today. They were in an inhospitable, alien world, where very few people had ever been.
    Antarctica is a vast, frozen, continental landmass with abundant, untapped mineral resources. Seven countries lay claim to territory in Antarctica: Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France, Norway and the UK. There has been speculation that the US, Russia or Brazil may make claims to territory in the future.

    Within your lifetimes, there is likely to be significant mineral extraction from the remote and beautiful frozen land of Antarctica and this will pose new challenges, threats and opportunities to human beings and the planet’s ecosystem.
  4. British glaciologists and scientists have discovered a subglacial lake two miles beneath the ice. This lake, named Lake Ellsworth, has been cut off from the rest of the world’s biosphere for thousands of years. The water is not frozen because of the extreme pressure of the ice on top of it, and the effect of geothermal heating from deep within the Earth’s core.

    Scientists are planning to investigate whether any life forms survive in the lake. They intend to drill a borehole down through the ice and take samples of the water and mud from the floor of the lake. No one knows what they might find! This seems like something from a science fiction book! Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!
  5. The British Antarctic Survey have a base in Antarctica for scientific exploration. They have 400 staff who live and work at 5 research stations there. They also have research ships and aircraft. They do the majority of Britain’s scientific research in this remote and harsh but extremely beautiful and unspoilt environment.
  6. Some fascinating facts about Antarctica:

    -  If Antarctica’s ice sheets melted, the world’s oceans would rise by 60 to 65 metres (200to 210 feet) - everywhere!

    -  The average summer temperature on the great East Antarctica ice cap is -30 °C and the average winter temperature is around -60 °C. That’s a lot colder than your freezer, which runs at about -20 °C! The lowest ever temperature recorded was at the Russian Vostok station and was a staggering -89.6 °C!

    -  The Antarctic ice cap has 29 million cubic kilometres of ice (90 per cent of all the ice on the planet and between 60 and 70 per cent of all the world’s fresh water). Only about 0.4 per cent of Antarctica is not covered by ice.

Time for reflection

Conservationists believe that the unique region of Antarctica should continue to be protected from commercial exploitation, and that only small-scale eco-tourism and scientific exploration should be allowed.

Others argue that the world is running out of fossil fuels and other precious metals and may need to start mining in the area.

What do you think?


Father God,

thank you for the beauty of Antarctica,

for the bravery and ingenuity of explorers such as Scott

and for scientists who seek to understand

remote parts of this world that you have made.



‘All creatures of our God and King’ (Come and Praise, 7)

Publication date: January 2012   (Vol.14 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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