The German Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1903. Gauß Expedition

The Gauss expedition or German expedition to the South Pole is the first German expedition to Antarctica. Conducted by Erich von Drygalski, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Berlin and a veteran of expeditions to Greenland, it was carried out between 1901 and 1903 aboard the ship Gauss.

As early as 1865, Georg von Neumayer promoted a German expedition to Antarctica, but a German exploration commission on the subject only came into existence decades later. Drygalski was chosen by this commission and was allowed to build a ship specifically for this expedition. The Gauss, named in honor of Carl Friedrich Gauss, is thus baptized. The expedition was funded by the state and relied freely on scientific theories of approach and understanding of a new environment of Alexander von Humboldt.


The expedition left Kiel on August 11, 1901, with thirty-two men including five officers and five scientists, and only two members of the Imperial Navy, despite state funding. Biologist Ernst Vanhöffen was present, as was veteran Paul Bjørvik. Drygalski explored a region still unknown to Antarctica south of the Kerguelen Islands, an archipelago he reached on 2 January 1902. The choice of this area between the Weddell Sea and the land of Enderby results from an international division initiated and validated by the President of the Royal Geographical Society Clements Markham. During the expedition, a semi-collaboration with the British Discovery expedition took place for joint measurements at the same time but in separate parts of the continent.

A small team remained stationed in Observatory Bay on the Kerguelen Islands to establish a station, while the larger part of the crew was moving further south. Erich von Drygalski made a stop on Heard Island and was the first to scientifically describe the geology, flora and fauna.

Despite the ice trap that had been closing on them for fourteen months from February 1903, the expedition discovered new Antarctic territories: christening the land William II in honor of William II and Mount Gauss d after his ship.

Drygalski was the first man to use a hot air balloon in Antarctica.

The expedition returned to Kiel on November 23, 1903. Erich von Drygalski then wrote the story of the expedition and published the important scientific data collected. Between 1905 and 1931 he published no less than twenty volumes and two atlases.


Article by Claudiu C. Crețu

Source: Beau Riffenburgh, Encyclopedia of the Antarctic

The Bunget Arts & Culture 2018

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