In this section

Teachers’ notes | Understanding Antarctica

Learning objectives:

  • To understand the history of exploration and discovery in Antarctica
  • To understand how past discoveries in Antarctica can be the basis for modern understanding, how the past is the key to the present
  • To explore modern science and development of understanding in Antarctica

If the links mentioned below do not link automatically cut and paste them into your browser.

Cool clip
The clip shows the building of Port Lockroy by members of the Operation Tabarin team. This operation is also referred to in the ‘Journey South’ section, ‘A letter never sent’ at

Bases for understanding
The map shows the current facilities and stations in Antarctica with an overlay of selected Historical Sites and Monuments (HSMs). The selection on the map includes the major British Heritage Sites and others that are mentioned elsewhere on the timeline or in the rest of the section. The Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty website has a full list of all the HSMs at

More information about all the HSMs can be found at the Antarctic Protected Areas Database
lang=e. More about the British Heritage Sites can be found at the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust and British Antarctic Survey

Information about current British Research Stations in Antarctica can be found at
index.php. Information about International Research Stations can be found at an up to date map with all the stations and countries involved marked.

The historical sites are all in the Antarctic Peninsula or the Ross Ice Shelf, in a coastal location. A comparison could be made of the nationalities involved in Polar exploration and research before 1920 and after the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959.

Find out more about British Base on Deception Island at

Find out more about Horseshoe Island at
_refuges/horseshoe.php. There was an associated refuge hut on Blaiklock Island

Find out more about Wordie hut at

Find out more about Damoy at

Find out more about the Swedish Antarctic expedition at

Find out more about the bases on Stonington Island at and

Developing Understanding
A timeline with the major events in Antarctic history plotted, particularly British Antarctic history. Early expeditions were exploring and discovering new lands, looking for resources. Gradually the purpose of the expeditions changed to include research which became the prime reason for modern journeys south. The most important events in the development of understanding about Antarctica could be discussed, for example: the first sighting; first landing on the Antarctic Peninsula; the first to reach the South Pole; the signing of the Antarctic Treaty or the International Polar Year of 2007 – 9.

As well as looking at the purpose of the expeditions students could discuss the changes in the modes of transport over the period, the changing effects on the environment and the possible reasons for the removal of dogs from the continent. The effects of changing technology can be explored by using the images in the timeline such as the first balloon ascent and the ice thermometer used by Scott’s expedition compared to the equipment used now, for example in the ‘Collect Data’ section of the site at

There is more information about the Scott Polar Research Institute’s Oral History programme and the people featured in the timeline at

BAS also has an oral history archive at

There is a pdf giving more information McHugo, M.B. : 2004 : Topographical survey and mapping of British Antarctic Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands 1944-1986 : publisher BAS : ISBN 1-85531-2220.

There is a pdf of an information leaflet: 1986 : Biological research in the Southern Ocean: one of a series of leaflets produced for BAS open days : archive reference AD6/17/OD/1986/3.3

There is a pdf of an information leaflet: 1991 : Studies on the pelagic marine ecosystem: one of a series of leaflets produced for BAS open days : archive reference AD6/17/OD/1991/1.11

Contemporary Understanding
Modern research undertaken by BAS personnel and academics based in UK geography departments is highlighted. The Rothera download gives an idea of what it is like to live and work at a research station in Antarctica. The BAS website has more information about the current BAS research stations at

More information about the work of Professor Andrew Shepherd, Leeds University can be found at

More information about the work of Professor Mike Bentley and Dr Pippa Whitehouse can be found at and

More information about the work of Professor Jon Mills and Dr Pauline Miller, Newcastle University can be found at

More information about the work of Professor Mike Hambrey, Aberystwyth University can be found at

More information about the work of Dr Debra Enzenbacher can be found at

The ‘Collect Data’ section of the site can be used for further information for the diary writing exercise at

Students could consider which special item they would take with them to remind them of home or to make their time in Antarctica more interesting.

Understanding through the past – using the past to research the present
Modern researchers use specimens and research from the past as a baseline to research change and rate of change in the present, particularly to investigate the impact of possible climate change.

More information about the impact of tourism on penguin colonies can be found in the A level section at

The multimedia images of dinosaur bones and sedimentary rocks will not aid researchers because they are in geological time and the species which are fossilised are not alive today. The other images of penguins, South Polar Times, crab eater seals, and seal bones all refer to species which still exist today.

Understanding through the past – conserving the past
The section highlights the work of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and the Antarctic Heritage Trust based in Christchurch New Zealand. Students could work in groups to answer the questions about the sites. The activity is based on an exercise devised by Shavik Hansrag and Phil Avery. (Phil Avery visited Antarctica in 2007 on a Fuch’s Foundation expedition celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Trans Antarctic Expedition). More information about the expeditions associated with the huts can be found in the ‘Developing Understanding’ timeline and the ‘Bases for Understanding’ map.

Understanding past and present
The images of the South Polar Times give an idea of the work undertaken by members of the expeditions at the turn of the century. Students could work together or individually using information throughout the whole site to produce their own version of a modern South Polar Times.