Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Naming of Schirmacher Oasis

By now you know that the Indian station, Maitri, is situated in East Antarctica in an area called Schirmacher Oasis. Its coordinates are 70° 46´ South and 11° 44´ East. You can see it in Google Earth with these coordinates, though the image there is perhaps a couple of years old. There is an interesting story how this area was named 'Schirmacher'.

In the early 20th Century many countries, Britain, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile, were staking claims to different parts of Antarctica. However, the dispute arose how to divide the entire continent among these seven countries. It was proposed to divide it in sectors with South Pole as centre. Germany, under Hitler, too got interested in Antarctica for its commercial exploitation and whaling operation and decided to launch an expedition to map the area. The impetus for an expedition came ostensibly from Germany's growing desire to rebuild and enlarge the whaling fleet of seven whalers (mostly chartered) and 50 hunting boats. Goring, chief of the Luftwaffe, was asked to grant the use of aeroplanes to a proposed Antarctic expedition.

Hitler's Germany never had recognized the 'sector theory' of Antarctica. Under this theory, the southernmost nations of the world, and those conducting active research in the south Polar Regions, could lay claim to certain parts of the Antarctic continent.

The Germans lawyers, however, had another theory. German experts in international law considered that to lay claim to new territory one had to do it physically, by occupation, or at least symbolically, for example by staking it out as gold diggers had done in the old American West. So one of the first things, the expedition did, was to prepare aluminium darts each one and a half metres (5 ft) long, their tails engraved with the national flag, the swastika. It was intended to drop these darts every 20 to 30 km along the flight paths. Tests on alpine glaciers had shown that when thrown from a plane the darts penetrated at least 30 cm even into solid ice. The shaft stuck out as a marker.

Lufthansa agreed to lend the expedition its ship Schwabenland, and the ship's two hydroplanes Boreas and Passat, 10-tonne Dornier Super Wals. They were pusher propeller aircraft, and each carried a pilot, a navigator, mechanic and photographer. The captains, Rudolf Wahr and Richardheinrich Schirmacher, were also on loan from Lufthansa. The Schwabenland's main feature was a powerful catapult which was used to launch the aeroplane. It could accelerate a load of up to 14 tonnes to a take off speed of 150 kmph.

On 17th December 1938 the Schwabenland left the port of Hamburg and on 20 January 1939, near the edge of the Antarctic pack ice, the Schwabenland dropped anchor at 69°14´S, 4°30´W. The Lufthansa crew took a great number of colour photographs. After seven long-distance missions the flying ended on 23 January when they recorded six reels of film with 1800 frames. They showed an area of 250,000 sq km. Most of the photographs covered land between 11°W and 19°E, the borders 'staked out' by aluminium darts thrown from the planes.

Later, in Germany, some detailed maps were produced based on the Schwabenland photographs. The surveyed area was called the New Schwabenland and the important peaks and areas were named after German explorers such as Alexander von Humboldt, Georg von Neumayer, Erich von Drygalski, Wilhelm Filchner, and the pilots named above. World War II prevented further German expeditions. The next German station called Neumayer, from West Germany, came only in 1981.

That is the story of Schirmacher Oasis.

(Reference: Antarctica: Reader's Digest, 1985)

My note: For becoming multimillionaire overnight, find one of those aluminium darts.


Namita said...

Hi doc. I'm a Delhi-based journalist who discovered your site through Binoo John's column in the Mail Today. I run a filter blog (asianwindow.wordpress.com) and have uploaded a link from your site, which I hope will divert some traffic.
All the very best,and look forward to more posts.
Namita Bhandare

veeraswamy said...

Hi Dr Sudhir,

I am Veeraswamy doing research at NGRI Hyderabad. I visited Antarctica as a member of 24th expedition team as a summer team member. We have conducted magnetotelluric field investigations to unveil the earth's structure and its reconstruction with India and South Africa during Gondwana period. The results are very much encouraging.
I hope you are fully enjoying the winter stay in Antarctica. All the best.

Richard Finley said...

Visiting nice places like this will be a breath-taking moment. And the memories that it will give us will be priceless.

Antarctica Expedition

Anonymous said...

Congratulation on such adventure..I am just now translating documentary video about 3rd Reich and UFO, and drama on Antarctica 1939-46.
how Indian station came there? where are all these underground bases, mysterious flying objects who forced american expedition to escape after dramatical encounter with 'someone'who could fly from Pole to Pole with amazing speed , as admiral Byrd wrote ...Where are Nazi aluminium darts with swastika flag..it was covered 600.000squere km...it seems you are enjoying peace and beauty ..wish you all the best,...