The concept of Antarctica dates back to the times of the Greek, who assumed the existence of a southern land as opposed to the lands of the North or Ártikos and, for such reason, they called this area Antártikos. However, many centuries had to go by before the first explorers arrived in the confines of the world and discovered the Terra Australis Incognita, as it was referred to until the 1600s.
In 1773, the English navigator James Cook landed on the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. Along with his reckless men, Cook was the first man to cross the polar circle and to circumnavigate the Antartic Sea.
It was not until 1820 that the navigator, explorer and seal hunter Nathaniel Palmer, together with Brandsfield and Smith, sighted the Antarctic Peninsula for the first time. In the same year, the Russian Fabián Von Bellingshausen landed on Pedro I Island. Two years later, the Scottish James Weddell discovered the South Orkney and South Shetland Islands and, in 1823, he traveled southwards, 214 miles beyond the point reached by Captain Cook.
After other exploits, which include the expedition led by the Belgian Adrien de Gerlache, who was the first man to spend a winter in the Antartic Ocean, since 1899 and until 1904, expeditions were organized by various countries in cooperation with each other and fostered by the International Geography Congress organized in Berlin. These campaigns were led by Von Drygalsky, Otto Nordenskiold, Robert Falcon Scott, from England, and William S. Bruce, from Scotland.
After approaching the South Pole and reaching the summit of Mount Erebus (1907 – 1909), explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton had a risky expedition in 1914 in which the ice sucked down his ship and he and his men had to survive for several months before they were rescued.
The first one to reach the geographic South Pole was the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, a few days before the Englishman Robert F. Scott, who died with his group on the way back from their voyage.
The discoveries that took place in Antarctica led to countless territorial controversies. The various geographic nomenclatures were but an expression of the pressures of the various countries to exercise their influence on the new continent, mainly on the peninsular area. Thus, this small strip of Antarctic land was called “O´Higgins Land” by the Chilean and “San Martín Land” by the Argentinian, as a reference to their historical heroes. On the other hand, the Englishmen called it “Graham Land" and the American “Palmer Peninsula”. Finally, an international agreement settled the differences and ended up by giving the entire region the name of Antarctic Peninsula, divided into Graham Land to the North and Palmer Land to the South.
In November 1, 1959, in the frame of the International Geophysical Year, thirteen countries claiming their sovereignty over the territory signed the Antarctic Treaty. By this transcendental agreement, which was enforced in 1961, Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, the United Kingdom, New Zeland, Norway, Belgium, Japan, the former Union of South Africa, the former USSR and the United States paralized all their territorial demands. Likewise, they agreed to reserve the continent for pacific purposes, fostering joint scientific research and banning any armed military activity, nuclear testing and commercial exploitation of its resources.
Totally in force, the Antarctic Treaty rules over the entire region located South of the southern 60th parallel, including the ice shelves. A pre-agreement was set forth among various nations in order to protect and preserve this place on the planet where nature still rules.
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