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Vol 106 / Issue 8

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upfront AdÉlie penguins stAnd Atop melting ice At cApe denison, commonweAlth BAy, in eAst AntArcticA. I PaulINE askI/REuTERs/FIlE Best possible yield: a caring cooperation magine NASA announcing the discovery of a nearby world permanent research outposts on the southernmost continent, with an Earth-like atmosphere that supports marine animals quieted somewhat during the 1960s rush of space exploration, and plants, along with birds and assorted fauna. Also abun- and has now been energized by the quest for knowledge and dant: hydrocarbon and minerals. Unlike Mars, Venus, and resources. the other neighboring planets, this would be a place humans Polar expeditions push technology to the edge and challenge could work with. It would be cold and snowy and have long the human conceit that we have conquered our planet. The great periods of darkness, but there would be air to breathe, water to Shackleton knew what he was in for when he advertised for a drink, and possibilities for food and energy. crew: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter Its biggest asset: It would be on Earth. cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe Not to take anything away from space exploration, which return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." To his deepens our understanding of the physical universe, credit, he led all his men to safety. but Earth exploration isn't exactly passé. That's esThe Shackleton saga ended just before the advent by JOHN YEMMA pecially true of the polar regions, which, as Doug of radio, which might have allowed the icebound MONITOR EDITOR Fox explains in this week's cover story, are now hotcrew to issue a distress call. For Admiral Byrd, helibeds of exploration and exploitation. copters, snowcats, and the Internet would have eased an ordeal There are huge differences between the poles. The north is that verged on mental breakdown ("A discordant mind, black a sea surrounded by land – a frigid Mediterranean – and thus with confusion and despair, would finish me off as thoroughly as caught up in territorial claims. It is coveted as both a destina- the cold."). Even now, human ingenuity has not fully conquered tion and a transit zone. The south is an ice-impounded continent these regions. Last month, the Russian research vessel Akademik moated by formidable seas. Isolation makes Antarctica one of the Shokalskiy got trapped in the Antarctic. world's most cooperative scientific projects. As difficult as the poles are, however, they are at least on this Polar exploration is a surprisingly young endeavor. It began planet. Driven by climate change and economics, humans will seriously only in the mid-19th century during what is known as figure out how to live and work there. But it would honor the the Heroic Age. Its history is marked by dramas, mysteries, and polar Heroic Age – and vastly benefit humanity – if the enduring eloquence – the lost voyages of the HMS Terror and Erebus, the resources extracted during the new polar age aren't mineral and stoic tragedy of Robert Falcon Scott ("We took risks. We knew we biological or even scientific. The ends of the Earth can become took them. Things have come out against us. We have no cause a school where humans learn how to work together and how to for complaint."), the epic endurance of Ernest Shackleton. protect and share the planet. That would be a crucial lesson to Polar interest went cold during and after World War I, heated take with us as we reach for the stars. up again with Richard Byrd's solo Arctic missions, subsided during World War II, returned with the postwar establishment of r You can reach me at editor@csmonitor.com. The ChrisTian sCienCe MoniTor Weekly | January 13, 2014 5

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