Q: What was the trip down to Antarctica like?|
ER: The trip down to Antarctica from the United States took much longer than
it does today. Nowadays, Antarctic explorers get on an airplane and they're
down there in relatively few hours. Back then Byrd had to take ships from New
York through the Panama Canal to the South Pacific and then to New Zealand, it
took months. One of Byrd's ships was an old sailing ship. So the
transportation is quite a bit different than it is today.
Q: So once they got to the ice pack and he had these two ships, right, what
kind of tension was there?
ER: In order to get to Antarctica, Byrd had to travel from New Zealand halfway
down, and then he would meet an, what's called the Antarctic Ice Pack. And
this is a rim of ice that entirely circles the Antarctic continent. There are
ice floes, which is frozen sea ice, and icebergs which are big masses of, of
fresh water ice that break off the Antarctic ice shells which is around the
continent. This is very dangerous for a ship to go through. Because while
you're going through the ice pack which is many miles thick, if a wind comes up
and starts banging these floes against your ship a ship can be sunk, and ships
have been sunk in the ice pack, especially back in those days when the ships
were much less strong than they are now. And Byrd had a wooden ship that was
especially vulnerable to these things. So it was quite a dicey experience.
Byrd had to get through the ice pack with his ships intact, and his men and
himself intact. And it took several days. They were guided through the ice
pack and in fact towed through the ice pack by a commercial whaling ship. And
Byrd and his men breathed a sigh of relief when they got to the other side and
only clear water separated them from their goal.
Q: And what was their goal at the time and what did it look like?
ER: Byrd's goal, once he got through the ice pack was to go to a place called
the Barrier. There is a massive ice shelf that covers the southern part of the
Ross Sea, and this shelf of ice is about the size of Great Britain. It's an
enormous floating sheet of ice attached on all sides, but the northern side to
the land. Sailors in the old days when they were trying to reach the South
Pole and would come down from New Zealand, going straight south, would come to
this mass of ice, and they would see from their ships a great wall of white ice
floating in the ocean, stretching from east to west, that barred their way to
the South Pole. So they called this the Barrier. So Byrd's goal was to go to
the barrier, to get on top of it, and to make his camp there on the Barrier.
To find a stable part of the Barrier where he could stay for a year and a
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