Pioneer of polar research honored

125th anniversary of polar explorer Carl Weyprecht

Commemorative coin for the 125th anniversary of polar explorer Carl Weyprecht © Münze Österreich
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The polar explorer and geophysicist Carl Weyprecht, who once gave his name to Franz Josef Land in the Arctic, died 125 years ago. The scientifically trained naval officer led in the years 1882 - 1874 an Austro-Hungarian polar expedition to explore the Northeast Passage. At the insistence of Weyprecht, the first International Polar Year arose, from which the important Antarctic Treaty emerged. This will take place for the third time next year.


"The ideal destination for our trip was the northeastern passage, but its real purpose was to explore the seashores or lands northeast of Novaya Zemlya, " says a report on the 1876 expedition. But their official goals did not reach Weyprecht and his crew, They did not even return home on their own keel since their ship had to be abandoned in the ice - a frequent fate of polar expeditions at that time.

Finally land in sight ...

However, on August 30, 1873, they saw glittering peaks in the radiant sun from their ship trapped in the ice. They rejoiced and rejoiced to have reached newly discovered land. In honor of the emperor, they called it Franz-Josef Land. However, they did not know that as early as 1868 the Norwegian Nils Frederick Rönnebeck had surveyed some of the islands and claimed them under the name Rönnebecks Land for Norway. Nevertheless, the names that the expedition gave to the individual islands still apply today.

But Weyprecht brought something far more valuable from his almost two-year stay in the polar latitudes: scientific insights. Weyprecht, the 125th anniversary of his death, pleaded on the basis of his experience for a more intensive study of the area: "Arctic research is of the utmost importance for knowledge of the laws of nature, " he wrote in his essay on the "Basic Principles Arctic research ". From 1875 to 1879, he worked tirelessly for a network of stations around the Arctic to make long-term observations and increase knowledge of the processes in the Arctic. At the second international meteorologists conference in Rome in 1879 he was heard. In the same year founded in Hamburg, the International Polar Commission in the German Maritime Observatory in Hamburg. display

Initiator of the first international polar year

Carl Weyprecht NASA

Georg von Neumayer, then head of the Seewarte took over the chairmanship. He picked up on Weyprecht's idea and expanded it around the Antarctic. In 1882, twelve nations participated in the first international polar year with a total of 15 coordinated expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic the largest scientific project to date. Weyprecht no longer experienced the realization of his dream. He died on March 29, 1881 in Michelstadt. But his dream lives on: on the second polar year of 1922/23, 67 states took part. The International Geophysical Year 1957/58 an extended version of polar year involved 80, 000 scientists worldwide. A direct result is the Antarctic Treaty a unique treaty that protects the Antarctic and reserves it for peaceful research.

The next International Polar Year starts in 2007/08. The alarming reports about the strong warming in the Arctic due to the greenhouse effect can be expected to provide important information. But even today, these extreme areas of the earth are still challenging researchers for adventurous spirit and physical commitment. However, to a different extent than Weyprecht and his crew had to do: After leaving their ship near Franz Josef Land, they moved 90 days over the pack ice. They pulled their provisions in four lifeboats on skids over the uneven ice. The participants of the upcoming International Polar Year may well hope for much more comfort

(Kirsten Achenbach / RCOM, 04.04.2006 - AHE)