Open-File Report 2006-1117

Prepared in cooperation with United States Antarctic Program, National Science Foundation

Online only

U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Activities in the Exploration of Antarctica: Introduction to Antarctica (Including USGS Field Personnel: 1946–59)

By Tony K. Meunier
Richard S. Williams, Jr., and Jane G. Ferrigno, Editors

This report is available online in pdf format (1.6 MB): OFR 2006-1117 (Opens the PDF file in a new window. )


Antarctica is the planet's fifth largest continent [13.2 million km2 (5.1 million mi2)]; it contains the Earth's largest (of two) remaining ice sheets; it is considered to be one of the most important scientific laboratories on Earth. This report is the introduction to a series that covers 60 years of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientific activity in Antarctica. It will concentrate primarily on three major topics: (1) a brief chronological record of the historical search, discovery, and exploration of the southern continent by humans; (2) early USGS scientific activities in Antarctica, listing expeditions, projects, people and resulting professional publications for Operation Highjump, 1946–47; Operation Windmill, 1947–48; USS Atka Reconnaissance Cruise, 1954–55; and Operation Deep Freeze I, II, III, and IV, 1955–59, including IGY; (3) significant changes that have occurred in Antarctic exploration and research since World War II will be discussed at the end of this report.

Subsequent Open-File Reports will provide a year-by-year documentation of USGS scientific activities and accomplishments in Antarctica beginning with the post-IGY, 1959–60 research team. One Open-File Report is planned to be written for each field-based season. For an example of the series format, see Open-File Reports 2006–1113 (Meunier, 2007a) and 2006–1114 (Meunier, 2007b). This report is a companion document to Open-File Report 2006–1116 (Meunier, 2007c).

The USGS mapping and science programs in Antarctica are among the longest continuously funded projects in the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). The 2005–06 field season is the 56th consecutive U.S. expedition in which USGS scientists have been participants, starting in 1946. USGS and the National Science Foundation (NSF) cooperation began with the establishment by NSF of the U.S. Antarctic (Research) Program [USA(R)P] in 1958–59 under Operation Deep Freeze IV (DF IV) and was given the responsibility for the principal coordination and management of all U.S. scientific activities in Antarctica in Deep Freeze 60 (DF 60) (1959–60). Financial support from NSF, mostly in the form of Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) and Cooperative Agreements, extends back to this period and can be attributed to the need for accurate geologic, geophysical, and topographic base maps of specific field areas or regions where NSF-funded science projects were planned. The epoch of Antarctic exploration during the IGY was driven by science and, in a spirit of peaceful cooperation, the international scientific community wanted to limit military activities on the continent to logistical support (Meunier, 1979 [2007], p. 38).

The USGS, a Federal civilian science agency in the Department of the Interior, has, since its founding in 1879, carried out numerous field-based national (and some international) programs in biology, geology, geophysics, hydrology, and mapping. Therefore, the USGS was the obvious choice for these tasks, because it already had a professional staff of experienced mapmakers, scientists, and program managers with the foresight, dedication, and understanding of the need for accurate maps to support the science programs in Antarctica when asked to do so by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Public Laws 85-743 and 87-626, signed in August 1958, and in September 1962, respectively, authorized the Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior, through the USGS, to support mapping and scientific work in Antarctica (Meunier, 1979 [2007], appendix A).

Open-File Report 2006-1116 includes scanned facsimiles of postal cachets. It has become an international practice to create postal cachets to commemorate special events and projects in Antarctica. A cachet is defined as a seal or commemorative design printed or stamped on an envelope to mark a philatelic or special event. The inked impression illustrates to the scientist, historian, stamp collector, and general public the multidisciplinary science projects staffed by USGS and collaborating scientists during the field season. Since 1960, philatelic cachets have been created by team members for each USGS field season and, in most cases, these cachets depict the specific geographic areas and field season program objectives. The cachets become a convenient documentation of the people, projects, and geographic places of interest for that year. Because the cachets are representative of USGS activities, each year’s cachet is included as a digital facsimile in that year's Open-File Report. In the 1980s, multiple USGS cachets were prepared each year, one for use by the winter team at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and the other for the project work areas of the austral summer field season programs.


Introduction to this Open-File Report Group Pertaining to Antarctica

Conceptualization, Discovery, Exploration, and Mapping of Antarctica

Early History of the U.S. Geological Survey in Antarctica

USGS Scientific Objectives, Activities, and USGS Personnel in Antarctica in 1946–47, 1947–48, 1954–55, and 1955–59.

Modernization and Comparative Change

Relevant Publications

Relevant Maps

Relevant Websites

Publications, Mapping, and Cartographic Products



This report is available online in pdf format (1.6 MB): Open-File Report 2006-1117 (Opens the PDF file in a new window. )
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