The Discovery of the South Pole


On December 15, 1911 the South Pole was discovered by Roald Amundsen, "the last of the Vikings." The race to the South Pole was one of the greatest international races prior to the race to the moon and was full of tragedy and triumph. It featured tiny, newly independent Norway against the British Empire, upon which the "sun never set." It was David vs. Goliath. Join us as we tell the gripping story of those who perished and prevailed in this epic quest.

Key Lecture Points

  • 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the first successful trek to the South Pole. On December 15, 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his four companions became the first people to stand at the southernmost point on planet earth. The extreme temperature, winds and elevation of Antarctica made Amundsen’s successful journey to the pole a remarkable physical achievement.
  • This story is made more compelling by the fact that, in essence, Amundsen was the victor in a 900 mile race to the pole, prevailing over British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who would arrive at the pole a mere 34 days after Amundsen had arrived. Furthermore, Scott’s loss in the race would be compounded by the tragedy of his (and his companions’) death during his ill-fated return from the pole to his base camp. Over the course of the last century, debate over the relative merits of Amundsen and Scott as explorers, representatives of their nations, and as human beings.
  • Today, Antarctica is the only continent in the world to be protected by an international treaty of cooperation which prohibits mineral extraction for the continent, but permits scientific endeavor. Much of the study of the extent and effect of climate change comes from the study of the arctic regions.

Exploration Questions

  • What do you think a country/individual gained from the exploration of Antarctica?
  • Do you think that the Antarctic treaty will continue to be so successful?

Reflective Questions

  • Can you imagine undergoing the hardships the crews of the expeditions went through? What’s more can you imagine returning to Antarctica a second time to go through these hardships again as Scott, Amundsen, and Shakelton did?
  • What do you think drove these explorers? Fame? Money? The thirst for knowledge? A quest for adventure?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Amundsen, Roald. The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram," 1910-1912. General Books, 2009. 306 pages. Amundsen’s description of how his expedition to reach the South Pole.
    Click here to order
  • Huntford, Roland. The Last Place on Earth. Modern Library. 1999. 640 pages. A description and comparison of the Scott and Amundsen expeditions.
    Click here to order
  • Brandt, Anthony. South Pole: A Narrative History of the Exploration of Antarctica. National Geographic. 2004. 400 pages. A collection of memoirs, letters, and ships logs starting with Cook’s circumnavigation.
    Click here to order