Antarctica's history is rich with tales of heroic exploration by hardy, determined men from the UK, America, Australia, France, and Norway. The beginning of the twentieth century was a time of major discovery when explorers like Amundsen, Mawson, Falcon-Scott, and Shackleton were destined to reach "Terra Incognito". The "Heroic Age" was not without failure though. Many pioneering quests were sabotaged by the harsh physical conditions or inadequate funds, logistics, and technology. However, modern technological advances have greatly improved man's knowledge of the White Continent. Several research stations have been established throughout the continent to monitor weather, climate change, and geological activity, as well as for biological research. With the establishment of the Antarctic Treaty in 1961, tourism has become the newest outlet for this final frontier.
Antarctica, meaning "opposite of Arctic", was named for the constellation "Arktos"-the bear by the Greeks in 350 B.C. long before they ever set eyes upon the icy continent. In 1773, three years before the United States declared its independence from Britain, James Cook became the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle and circumnavigate Antarctica. It wasn't until almost half a century later that the first landing by an American sealer took place. Then in 1821 for the first time ever, a group of men spent a winter on the frozen Antarctic Peninsula, at King George Island. Two years later, British whaler James Weddell discovered the sea eventually named for him. During the 1840's, separate British, French, and American expeditions established Antarctica as a continent after sailing along its coastline. Also, in 1840, James Clark Ross discovered the Ross Ice Shelf and the active volcano Erebus. Meanwhile, the Scottish National Art Expedition founded the Osmond House, a meteorological observatory on Laurie Island in the South Orkneys in 1903. A year later, Argentina was granted ownership of the observatory and renamed it Orcadas Base. Between 1907 and 1909, Ernest Shackleton and the British Antarctic Expedition attempted to reach the South Pole. Instead, they discovered Beardmore Glacier and became the first explorers to reach the polar plateau. The same year, T.W. Edgeworth David also became the first to climb Mt. Erebus and reach the magnetic South Pole. In 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen of the Fram ship party finally achieved the grand feat of reaching the South Pole, followed by Robert Falcon Scott from the Terra Nova Expedition only one month later. The Amundsen-Scott base was named after these pioneering men. Three years later, Ernest Shackleton again made headlines as the first person to cross the Antarctic continent on foot. His epic journey of survival is one of the most notorious in history. During the World Wars and the Cold War, an American training facility was built to provide the troops with experience in polar conditions. Then in 1954 the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions established Antarctica's first permanent scientific station. Finally, in 1961 the Antarctica Treaty went into effect, establishing the icy continent as a neutral territory. Although tourism in Antarctica began in the late 1950's, it really only began to take off in the early 90's. Since 1991, annual visitors, including recreational tourists and researchers, have jumped from about 5,000 to more than 25,000 today.
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