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Where wise men dare not tread: Belgium in Antarctica (1957 - 1970)
Van Autenboer, T. (2000). Where wise men dare not tread: Belgium in Antarctica (1957 - 1970). Studiecentrum LIMburg vzw voor Milieu, Geologie en Veiligheid: Diepenbeek. 30 pp.

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    VLIZ: Expedition Reports EXP-B94 [101455]


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  • Van Autenboer, T.

    The Belgian research in Antarctica between 1957 and 1970 is reviewed. The efforts to convince the authorities to participate in the "International Geophysical Year" with an Antarctic programme started much earlier. These efforts were crowned with success when Gaston de Gerlache and his team built King Baudouin Station on a small ice shelf in Dronning Maud Land, one of the last blank places on the maps. The station remained operational for three years and was a valuable link in the network of geophysical observatories covering the southern continent. It also served as a staging post for geographic reconnaissance and aerial photography, whilst dog teams operating in the mountains made it possible for geological, topographical and glaciological surveys to be carried out. In the beginning of 1961 the station was closed following the government's decision to stop funding Antarctic research. Three years later the station was rebuilt by a Belgian-Dutch expedition in which the Dutch participated for one third. The geophysical observations at the station were expanded, the field work was continued and some oceanographic studies were carried out on the journeys to and from Antarctica. Three years later "King Baudouin Station" was closed again and the name erased from the maps. Three short summers operating from the South African Station meant the end of the autonomous Belgian effort. An overview is given of the scientific work, of the logistics involved and of the daily life at the station and in the mountains. Finally in an attempt to evaluate the effort in this period some points are stressed: The Belgian observatory was a valuable and vital link in a geophysical network covering what was then an unknown part of the southern continent. Geographic reconnaissances and photogrammetric surveys filled in blank areas on the map. The first geological, glaciological and topographic surveys were carried out in the Sør Rondane mountains, and many other scientific studies were initiated and later published. This scientific work enabled Belgium to participate in one of the most successful international programmes ever: the IGY. It also enabled Belgium to become one of the original twelve signatories to the Antarctic Treaty. It must be regretted that not all field work was finalized by publications. The lack of continuity can be blamed for this. The major shortcoming of the Belgian Antarctic programme was the lack of government planning and government policy as illustrated in this overview. There are still Belgian scientists working in Antarctica but Belgium is no longer present.

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