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Mapping Antarctica: A Five Hundred Year Record of Discovery (Springer Praxis Books)

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Antarctica was to be the greatest discovery of them all! It was never to be a tripping over of a piece of useless land: the Greek philosophers had predicted a polar land- mass of geophysical importance! The question was rather whether or not man could bridge the "torrid equatorial zone" that was thought to separate the sophisticated north from the primitive south. But slowly the zone was bridged by adventurous mariners and the commercial aspects of the Spice Islands led to a race to control trade with the Far East. In their efforts Western Europeans sailed every which way— to the west, to the southeast, to the southwest, and then via the northeast and the northwest searching for an easy route to the luxury goods. Catholics from the Iberian Peninsula stole a march on their Protestant competitors to the north once it became clear that the traditional Silk Route was unpredictable and cost ineffective. The Dutch and the English made no impact via northern routes across North America or Europe, so took Portugal and Spain front-on. Necessity to succeed on the ocean sharpened navigation technology, and with leadership from Edmund Halley in the post-Newtonian era, geophysics in its broadest context was born. James Cook circumnavigated Antarctica (without ever seeing the continent), on the back of this evolution of trade and science, to initiate the modern era when Antarctica would become a reality. Over time one thing became clear—that Antarctica was like no other land, never to be owned by another, nor easily exploited. A truly international phenomenon, with a unique capacity to provide a window on the health of the world, exemplified by detection of a dramatic depletion of stratospheric ozone at the Halley Station on the Antarctic Peninsula 20 years ago, reduction in ice water as an index of global warming, and the dramatic reduction in marine mammal stocks caused by uncontrolled fishing. Edmund Halley's initiative of seeing the world as but part of a universe and his documentation of southern star charts previewed the use of the Antarctic polar plateau to network with the satellite fleet for solar astronomy. This integration of research in Antarctica and space will only strengthen in the future.
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