Antarctica—Mysterious Continent

This year (2011) marks the 110th anniversary of the start of the major exploration of Antarctica (1901-04) by the British Naval Commander, Robert Falcon Scott.

Known as the Discovery Expedition, it was the first official British exploration of the Antarctic regions since James Clark Ross’s voyage sixty years earlier. Organized on a large scale under a joint committee of the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), the new expedition aimed to carry out scientific research and geographical exploration in what was then largely an untouched continent. It launched the Antarctic careers of many who would become leading figures in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Robert Falcon Scott who led this expedition, and Ernest Shackleton, who would lead future expeditions.

Its scientific results covered extensive ground in biology, zoology, geology, meteorology and magnetism. There were important geological and zoological discoveries, including those of the snow-free McMurdo Dry Valleys, and the Cape Crozier Emperor Penguin colony. In the field of geographical exploration, achievements included the discoveries of King Edward VII Land, and the Polar Plateau via the western mountains route. Despite all these accomplishments, the expedition failed to reach the South Pole.

As a trailbreaker for later ventures, the Discovery Expedition was a landmark in British Antarctic exploration history. After its return to England, the Discovery Expedition was celebrated as a success, despite having needed an expensive relief mission to free Discovery and its crew from the ice, and later disputes about the quality of some of its scientific records. It has been asserted that the expedition’s main failure was its inability to master the techniques of efficient polar travel using skis and dogs, a legacy that persisted in British Antarctic expeditions throughout the Heroic Age.

Research/Learning Activity
Assign students to write a report of at least 100 words (or a presentation of at least five slides) that cites at least three resources from the Pathfinder listed below.

Students should address the following essential questions for critical thinking in their reports:

  • What are the most unique geographic characteristics of the continent of Antarctica?
  • What are the most unique species of wildlife in Antarctica?
  • What are two practical benefits of Antarctic exploration for the countries of world?
  • Would you like to go on an Antarctic exploration today—why or why not?

Student-Ready Content Pathfinder

Have Students use online resources on the Virtual Library’s Databases A-Z page to answer the above questions.

Suggested resources:


SIRS Knowledge Source

Select the Subject Heading search option > Type “Antarctica” in the Search box > Click links that provide information that addresses the essential questions above.

Your students can use our custom ProQuest models for written and PowerPoint-style reports.

Teachers may be interested in a ProQuest flexible rubrics model for evaluating inquiry-based learning activities.

Educators may also wish to employ the Quizinator Web tool (free, but registration required) for creating a variety of printed resources, including short assessments.


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