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Alumni Travel Reading: Antarctica

General Information

Additional Recommendations

LIMA: Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica. (NASA, USGS, BAS, NSF)

Get the lay of the land in extremely high definition imagery. Do not miss the McMurdo Flying Tour. The mosaic was compiled using imagery between 1999 and 2003 but it’s still very much worth a gawk.


(International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators)

If a tour operator is not a member, their expedition is the equivalent of a gypsy cab ride around the most dangerous place on earth. Heed these guidelines at all times. 

The site also contains a wealth of news, fact sheets, statistics, and many things you haven't even begun to consider. A rabbit hole, in the best possible sense.


Navigating the Legal Landscape

If questions like these have crossed your mind: Will I be in a particular country or no particular country, do I need a passport on land, can I have my passport stamped, are claims made and/or recognized? You can Wiki that.

Or you can go to the home of the Antarctic Treaty System for more:

"Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only (Art. I)
Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue (Art. II).
Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available (Art. III)."
Stop into your local library to find up-to-date analyses on the changing Arctic ecosystem.
For instance--While we worry about the effects of global climate change: Arctic marine mammal population status, sea ice habitat loss, and conservation recommendations for the 21st century in Conservation Biology, Volume 29, Issue 3, pages 724–737, June 2015.
[ind it or request it on Interlibrary loan from your local library], we can see that we are capable of turning negative change around--protocols to repair the ozone, have been succeeding. Read about it in this Open Access article from Nature Communications  6,
Article number 7233. Published May 2015. Quantifying the ozone and ultraviolet benefits already achieved by the Montreal Protocol doi:10.1038/ncomms8233.


Glaciers in water with snowy mountains in background

Laubeuf Fjord. Courtesy of

Frozen glacial lake with glacier and mountain in background

Lake Fryxell. Courtesy of

Whale breaching ocean

Humpback Whale. Courtesy of


Two emperor penguins looking to right

Sentry by Vanessa Stephen made available through CC license on Flikr. 


Antarctica. The Ice. South. One of the most beautiful, dangerous, fascinating, pristine places in the world. Humans have only had a tenuous foothold on the frozen continent for about a century. First came the explorers. Some survived to tell the tale, some did not. One famously and tragically told his tale but he (and his two companions) didn’t make it out alive. We only know their final footfalls from the journal where he said his farewell, laid down the pen, and went still in the cold for the last time.

 Black and white photo of ship in front of snowy mountain

The Belgica, the ship carrying the Belgian expedition from 1897-1899. Courtesy of


Then came the whalers and fishermen, who still troll in small numbers against unenforceable international law.


Four men in red NASA coats sitting, looking at camera


NASA's Operation IceBridge, an airborne science mission to study Earth's polar ice. Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo through a CC license at Flikr.

Then came the scientists, who accompanied explorers from the beginning, but they now dominate the population as it ebbs and flows from the bustle of the austral summer to the total darkness of the polar winter. A few explorers dot the landscape each season - climbing Mount Vinson, scaling lesser peaks, traversing glacial valleys or challenging the Ice on skis. There are few notable firsts left to claim, but this doesn’t stop the obsessed few from pitting themselves against the unforgiving continent year after year. 

And now comes a new contingent: you - the Antarctic tourist. Despite the risks, something compels each visitor to make the journey. Whether a scientist, base mechanic, ship’s crew, film maker, climber or tourist, the Antarctic has plenty to satisfy the curious mind: geography, hydrology, glaciology, global climate patterns, neutrino detection, austral lights, katabatic winds, ancient entombed seas, seals, penguins, petrels, whales, stories of survival, death, tragedy, triumph, discovery, whimsy, experimentation, growing environmental threats, exotic international legal structures, and yes – even culture.  Here’s a taste.


Antarctic Environment


Encounters at the End of the World (DVD)

A spine-tingler. Werner Herzog applies his askew view to the people and places of the austral summer. Fascinating human portraits of the researchers and the staff who support them –or as Herzog calls them: “professional dreamers.” Stunning cinematography. Do not miss this one.

Purchase this film from Amazon.

Video: Explore Antarctica From the Back of a Minke Whale

Brought to you by National Geographic 


Selected and Annotated By:

Kate Atkins
Master of Environmental Studies

Rebecca Stuhr
Coordinator for Humanities Collections

For more information about this and other Penn Excursions, visit the Penn Alumni Travel Website.


The Endurance (DVD)

“In August, 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton, renowned explorer set sail with 27 men on his ship The Endurance. His plan was to be the first expedition to cross the Antarctic continent. Marooned on four feet of ice, in over 8,000 feet of deep water, Shackleton and his crew survived some 635 days and nights, without proper shelter or rations, enduring the harshest conditions imaginable.” A solid documentary.

Black and white photo of ship on ice

"The expedition ship Discovery in Antarctic waters."  Courtesy of


Purchase this film from Amazon.



Snowy mountaintop with clouds

Mount Jackson. Courtesy of

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