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Deep Freeze

The Unites States, the International Geophysical Year, and the origins of Antarctica's Age of Science

By Dian Olson Belanger

Publication Year: 2006

In Deep Freeze, Dian Olson Belanger tells the story of the pioneers who built viable communities, made vital scientific discoveries, and established Antarctica as a continent dedicated to peace and the pursuit of science, decades after the first explorers planted flags in the ice. In the tense 1950s, even as the world was locked in the Cold War, U.S. scientists, maintained by the Navy's Operation Deep Freeze, came together in Antarctica with counterparts from eleven other countries to participate in the International Geophysical Year (IGY). On July 1, 1957, they began systematic, simultaneous scientific observations of the south-polar ice and atmosphere. Their collaborative success over eighteen months inspired the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which formalized their peaceful pursuit of scientific knowledge. Still building on the achievements of the individuals and distrustful nations thrown together by the IGY from mutually wary military, scientific, and political cultures, science prospers today and peace endures. The year 2007 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the IGY and the commencement of a new International Polar Year - a compelling moment to review what a singular enterprise accomplished in a troubled time. Belanger draws from interviews, diaries, memoirs, and official records to weave together the first thorough study of the dawn of Antarctica's scientific age. Deep Freeze offers absorbing reading for those who have ventured onto Antarctic ice and those who dream of it, as well as historians, scientists, and policy makers.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

Maps and Figures

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pp. xi


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pp. xiii-xv

Terms and Abbreviations

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pp. xvii-xxii

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

This book began as a wish to tell the story of the men—military and civilian—who planned, built, and helped operate the network of facilities in Antarctica that were established to support scientists during the International...

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Preface and Acknowledgements

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pp. xxv-xxix

My partners tell the story of the origins of this history in their generous Foreword. They left out but one important name—that of George Mazuzan, National Science Foundation (NSF) historian. George, who had earlier overseen the writing...

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pp. 1-6

The giants of Antarctica’s so-called Heroic Age—Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Mawson, later Byrd—are familiar figures, even among the many who know little about the desolate desert of ice at the bottom of the globe. But after the handful...

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Prologue: The Call of the Ice

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pp. 7-27

The pioneers of today’s Antarctica followed a handful of predecessors who, over the previous 180 years, approached and pricked the polar continent seeking riches, knowledge, or glory. A few highlights from what went before help illuminate...

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1: The International Geophysical Year: Idea to Reality

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pp. 29-46

Early Antarctic explorers often used scientific research to legitimize and attract support for their expensive expeditions. The disappointed Shackleton brought back coal, fossil plants, and petrified wood from his near-conquest of the South Pole...

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2: All Hands on Deck: Logistics for the High Latitudes

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pp. 47-70

When Captain George Dufek reported for command of the U.S. Naval Support Force, Antarctica (Task Force 43), on 16 August 1954, charged to ensure all logistical support for the International Geophysical Year, he knew the Navy had “exactly two years...

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3: Gaining a Foothold: Operations Base at McMurdo Sound

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pp. 71-105

The McMurdo-bound Seabees of Operation Deep Freeze I, with little to go on beyond accounts of the Scott and Shackleton expeditions, sketchy Highjump records, and their own mindful preparation, would have to build a base where nearly...

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4: Little America V: Science Flagship on the Ice Shelf

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pp. 107-129

The Navy’s simultaneous task in Operation Deep Freeze I was to establish and make ready the IGY’s headquarters science station on the edge of the vast Ross Ice Shelf. This was Little America V, already named to honor the legacy of America’s polar...

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5: Marie Byrd Land: Crevasse Junction, Privation Station

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pp. 131-151

As winter began in April 1956 for the 166 souls left in Antarctica, Admiral Dufek returned to Washington to prepare for “our biggest year, our roughest mission.” Operation Deep Freeze II would involve twelve ships and 3,400 men, almost...

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6: South Pole: Dropped From the Sky

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pp. 153-186

All of the U.S. IGY stations came forth on a barren landscape, but nowhere was the frigid void more profound than at the South Pole. About 850 miles south of the staging area at McMurdo, at an elevation of nearly two miles...

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7: The Gap Stations: Hallett, Wilkes, and Ellsworth

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pp. 187-215

The remaining three U.S. scientific stations appeared rather belatedly in IGY planning for the Antarctic. Widely scattered along the coastline of the polar continent—Cape Adare, the Knox Coast, and the Weddell Sea—they were all justified...

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8: On the Eve: People, Preparations, Policies

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pp. 217-238

As Antarctica’s Scientific Age was about to begin, IGY program leaders in Washington were still working frantically. They well knew that Deep Freeze II represented the last chance for everything and everybody going to the Antarctic...

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9: Comprehending the Cold: Antarctic Weather Quest

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pp. 239-258

Executive Director Hugh Odishaw called the International Geophysical Year (IGY) the “single most significant peaceful activity of mankind since the Renaissance and the Copernican Revolution.” The Antarctic Committee’s Laurence Gould...

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10: Looking Up: The Physics of the Atmosphere

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pp. 259-276

The sun—source of the earth’s energy—and the little-known upper atmosphere were the focus of IGY investigations in the interwoven disciplines of ionospheric physics, geomagnetism (or terrestrial magnetism), cosmic rays, and the aurora...

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11: Under Foot: Ice by the Mile

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pp. 277-319

What sets the Antarctic apart, of course, is the profound reality of its ice. Vast and unrevealed, it impelled study. True, learning about ice did not require simultaneous observation, a key IGY criterion, but it would take concentrated, cooperative...

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12: Life on the Ice: The Experience

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pp. 321-354

However the tour went for them individually—and for most IGY participants, civilian and military, it was positive overall (at least in remembrance)— their time on the ice was a unique and powerful experience. Appreciating that they were living...

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Epilogue: Science and Peace, Continuity and Change

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pp. 355-400

Science leaders pressed to continue the IGY in Antarctica, which required that the many players—with their differing issues, varying means, and complex interrelationships—agree on new organizational mechanisms. Diplomatic leaders...


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pp. 401-454

Notes on Sources

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pp. 455-474


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pp. 475-494

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320678
E-ISBN-10: 1607320673
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607320661
Print-ISBN-10: 1607320665

Page Count: 554
Illustrations: 46
Publication Year: 2006