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Anne Bancroft
Arctic / Anarctic Expedition Leader

Antarctica is the most southern continent, capping the “bottom” of the Earth with a surface area of about 5,500,000 square miles. Antarctica is calculated to have 90% of the Earth’s ice. If all that ice melted at once, the world’s oceans would rise by about 200 feet.

Antarctica was first reported sighted by Captain James Cook in his voyage of 1772-75. Many have perished trying to explore this hostile land. The South Pole (called simply ‘Pole,’ not ‘the Pole’) was finally reached by Norwegian Roald Amundsen on December 14, 1911.

The Geographic Pole is a pole in the snow with a U.S. Geological Service survey marker on top of it. It says, simply, “90 Degrees South.” The Geographic Pole is resurveyed every year for two reasons. The ice, which is about three miles thick at this point, slowly moves at a rate of about an inch per day, and also because the earth’s rotation has slight wobbles. The marker posts from one year to the next are some tens of yards apart. Nearby is the Ceremonial Pole, a candy-striped pole several feet high with a shiny ball on top that is about one foot in diameter. This pole is used just for photos with visitors.

As the lone female on the 1986 Steger North Pole Expedition, Ann Bancroft became the first woman known to reach the North Pole. Then, as leader of the American Women’s Expedition (AWE) in 1993, she became the first woman to reach both the North and South Poles. Ann and her partner Liv Arnesen skied 2,400 miles in 100 days across Antarctica, pulling 240-pound sleds across the highest, driest, coldest and windiest continent on Earth.

Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen needed to be mentally and physically fit to function in Antarctica because they felt as if they were at about10,300 feet – this is called the physiological altitude. Without rigorous training, a person feels exhausted after a few dozen steps – and that’s before pulling a heavy sled! At least they were able to see – the sun shines relentlessly, even at midnight, for the six months between the winter and summer solstices.

The research done at Antarctica has fundamentally changed our under-standing of the solar system. Since 1969, more than 20,000 meteorite specimens have been systematically recovered from the East Antarctic ice sheet. These meteorites have revealed that pieces of the Moon and Mars routinely arrive on Earth, bringing us valuable data about the asteroids and the nebula from which our solar system formed. Antarctic meteorites are the only reliable, continuous, and readily available source of new planetary material, and they are revealing the fundamental building blocks of the solar system.

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