The Hunt for the South Magnetic Pole | Polar Unbound

The Hunt for the South Magnetic Pole

Weddell’s deep push south into the Weddell Sea as well as sealers’ enticing reports led the British, French and American governments to sponsor exploratory missions in the hopes of discovering new land and southern magnetic pole. 

The French sent off Jules-Sbastien-Csar Dumont d’Urville and Charles Hector Jacquinot, who turned back 4 miles short of the continent, while the Americans sent off Lt. Charles Wilkes, who discovered several hundred miles of new coastline as well as the Shackleton Ice Shelf. Their reports inspired England’s James Clark Ross, who had previously found the northern magnetic pole in 1831, to sail east before turning south. This pivotal decision allowed him to sail through the debilitating pack ice and into the Ross Sea. He ultimately landed on Possession Island, discovered Franklin Island and Ross Island and passed Admiralty Range, the most southernly land yet past Weddell’s accomplishments. He was ultimately stopped by the Ross Ice Shelf after sailing as far south as possible before declaring that the southern magnetic pole was inaccessible by sea as it lay inland. 

After Ross, a 50 year gap occurred in significant Antarctic exploration as governments turned North in search of the Arctic’s Northwest Passage. However, during this period the HMS Challenger became the first steamship to cross the Antarctic Circle and American John Heard’s discovery of Heard Island led to the over 4 million gallons of elephant seal oil being shipped from the once ecologically vibrant island.