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• Discovery of the Arctic began in 330 BC with Pytheas, a Greek explorer from Marseille, who left to sail northwards as far as the Shetland Islands or Iceland.
Later, around 982, the Viking Erik the Red left Scandinavia for Iceland then, expelled from the island, he founded a colony in Greenland (“the green country”) giving it that name in the hope of attracting possible colonial settlers.

1594-1597: the Dutchman Willem Barents discovered Spitsbergen (already known to Nordic navigators). However, his ship, trapped in the ice, was damaged and the crew were forced to overwinter in dreadful conditions, north of Novaya Zemlya (76°N), the first time for any Europeans.

1616: searching for the Northwest passage, William Baffin and Robert Bylot voyaged north along the west coast of Greenland as far as 77°45’N. They discovered the Lancaster, Smith and Jones Sounds. Only 2 centuries later the Northwest Passage leading to the Arctic Ocean was navigated by an expedition. This route was later found to lead to the Pacific Ocean, through the Bering Strait.

1725-1741: Danish explorer Vitus Bering, sent by Tsar Peter the Great, discovered the strait between Siberia and America, which now bears his name, the Aleutian Islands and the south coast of Alaska, of which he took possession in the name of the Czar.

In 1818, British naval officer John Ross along with Edward Parry entered Melville Bay and became the first Europeans to encounter “Eskimos” whose particular characteristic was to “move around at great speed on sleds pulled by dogs”. They looked in vain for the Northwest Passage before turning back in the Lancaster Sound. Parry made a second expedition (1819-1820), reaching meridian 113°W.

• John Ross set off again in 1829 aboard the paddle steamer Victory. His calculations allowed him to determine the position of the Magnetic North Pole which he reached in June 1831.

1878-1879: After a first failed attempt to reach the North Pole in 1872, Swedish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld made a huge effort to find the Northeast Passage, sailing along the Siberian coastline. In September 1878 Nordenskiöld became frozen in by the ice, then decided to overwinter at in Kolyuchin Bay, 200 km west of the Bering Strait. He finally broke free from the ice in 18 July 1879 (having been blocked for 294 days); 2 days later, he successfully reached the Strait.

1893-1896: the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen drifted with the Fram across the Arctic Ocean. In so doing he brought proof of the existence of the transpolar marine current which drives the drifting of the sea-ice.

1903-1906: The Northwest Passage was not gained by sea until 1906 when the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen finished a 3-year journey with the Gjøa. During this voyage the explorer learned the Inuit techniques that later enabled him to reach the South Pole in 1911.

1909: the American Robert Peary announced that he had arrived at the geographical pole on 6 April but without making any observation of longitude, or offering the smallest proof. His old friend, Dr Frederick Cook did little better, although claiming that he had “reached the pole, 21 April 1908, and discovered land in the Far North”. It appears in reality that Peary got very close to the North Pole (a few miles) but had not reached the actual point.

1937-1938: the Russian Ivan Papanin and several fellow explorers left Franz-Josef Land by plane, landing at 89°43’N. They established the first drifting base on 21 May, before drifting for 9 months until they reached the Greenland Sea.

1948-1953: expeditions by French explorer Paul-Émile Victor to Greenland.

In 1958, the American nuclear submarine Nautilus crossed the Arctic Ocean and passed under the North Pole on 3 August. Then on 17 March 1961, Skate, another American nuclear submarine, surfaced at 90°N.

1968-1969: the British plar explorer Wally Herbert crossed from Point Barrow (Alaska, 21 February 1968) to Spitsbergen (29 May 1969) by way of the Pole by sled traîneau. As Robert Peary had not truly got to the North Pole in 1909, Herbert was the first ever to have reached by walking “overland”.


D'autres informations historiques:
Paul-Emile Victor, site officiel
Amicale des Expéditions Polaires Françaises