John Manning


Dr John Manning is currently an Adjunct Researcher at the Monash University. He has had considerable field experience in Antarctic mapping having wintered at Mawson station and spent more than eight summers in field ground survey and aerial photography operations. Formerly the head of the Antarctic Mapping Section of Division of National Mapping he was involved in the activities of the various SCAR working groups 1976-2004.


Also published as : Manning, John (2017) Mapping a Stateless Continent, The Globe, No.81, 2017, pages 1-20, Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Map Society, ISSN 0311-3930.


Abstract: Antarctica can be described as a stateless continent; it has never had an indigenous population, nor a permanent colonial occupation that exercised political or economic control. Consequently, it has had no clear single ownership or governance, and mapping has come from a number of contributing sources. Since 1958 mapping of the Antarctic continent has benefited from international cooperation and coordination by working groups within the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the nature of mapping has evolved utilising satellite imagery. Australia had an ongoing leadership role in chairing the relevant SCAR working groups from 1961 to 2002.






The existence of an Antarctic continent was initially proposed in an ancient Greek hypothesis that a southern landmass was necessary to provide balance to the planet. Its geographical limits were first constrained by Captain James Cook in his high latitude circumnavigation voyages during the 1770s and the complementary exploration voyages of Thaddeus Bellingshausen in 1819/20. Cook never claimed to have sighted the continent, and Bellingshausen is credited as being the first to sight an Antarctic feature when he was stopped by shelf ice on 27 January 1820. Although neither of these master mariners claimed to have identified a whole continent at that time, their explorations triggered whaling and sealing activities on nearby subantarctic islands. In turn these commercial ventures produced further explorations which led to occasional coastal sightings of the Antarctic continent itself as new whaling and sealing grounds were sought. However, it was the growth of European scientific curiosity in the 1830s regarding the geography of the continent and the use of magnetics for global navigation, which led to three national expeditions being despatched to Antarctica in 1838-42. These expeditions - from France, the United States, and Great Britain - each sought the location of the south magnetic pole. These scientific explorations were supplemented by whaling exploration ventures such as from the British whaling firm Enderby. Some of these early sightings contained considerable errors, for example that published by the US Exploring Expedition in 1845 (Figure 1), and the real nature of the continent remained undefined. It was not until the 1870s when indirect evidence of the existence of a land continent came from the interpretation of rock samples dredged offshore by the oceanographic research vessel HMS Challenger. Even at the end of the 19th century, Antarctica remained a virtual cartographic blank on the world map, its existence and shape as a continent still largely conjectural. In addition, the failure of any nation to establish a settlement on the harsh land, or gain global acceptance of ownership from its discoveries, meant that there was no single nation seeking to map the whole of Antarctica as its own territory.


Figure 1 : "Chart of the Antarctic Continent shewing the icy barrier attached to it discovered by the U.S. Ex. Ex. Charles Wilkes, Esq. Commander 1840", map 2 in the Atlas accompanying Wilkes, 1845.

(David Rumsey historical map collection, item 4442002


The sixth International Geographical Congress in London in 1895 recognised this universal lack of knowledge of the region, and Sir John Murray, oceanographer from the past Challenger expeditions, was among those who moved a resolution:


Exploration of the Antarctic Regions is the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken. That, in view of the additions to knowledge in almost every branch of science which would result from such a scientific exploration, the Congress recommends that the scientific societies throughout the world should urge, in whatever way seems to them most effective, that this work should be undertaken before the close of the century. (The Secretaries 1896, 780)


This void in geographical knowledge was evident in maps of the Antarctic regions, such as that published by J.G. Bartholomew in 1898 (Figure 2). However, the discussions at the London Congress stimulated a series of individual Antarctic expeditions from Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Britain, Japan, Norway, France and Australia, in what would become known as the 'Heroic Era' of Antarctic exploration. These expeditions commenced coastal charting in areas accessible by ship such as the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula and in the Ross Sea area. Temporary bases were established and piecemeal exploratory mapping was commenced on the continent itself. The trial of tethered balloon flights from ships by Scott (1905, 506-507) in February and Drygalski in March of 1902 produced little information for mapping, being too far away from land features. The cartographic results from inland probes by the early wintering expeditions such as Borchgrevink, Drygalski, Nordenskjold, Scott, Amundsen (1912), Shackleton and Mawson (1915) were generally limited to mapping features visible to the immediate flanks of their sledging journeys. This approach is exemplified in Amundsen's route map (Figure 3), and such maps were included as annexes in the reports of these Heroic Era expeditions. They demonstrated a new approach by being less artistic than earlier interpretative cartography. The emphasis was now placed on fact not conjecture, but results were still minor in extent when viewed against the whole of the Antarctic continent.


Figure 2 : Antarctic Regions: maps showing present state of research, by J.G. Bartholomew, ... 1898, in Markham, 1898. (


Figure 3 : Amundsen's route-map to the South Pole. "Approximate bird's-eye view, from the first telegraphic account" (Amundsen, 1912, v.1 opp. p.1).


The death of Sir Ernest Shackleton at South Georgia in 1922 is generally considered to be the end of the Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration. Further exploration continued only slowly with private individuals mounting expeditions in their special areas of interest until the Second World War. In 1928 the unveiling of the topography of the continent commenced in earnest when the Australian aviator, Sir Hubert Wilkins made a ten hour aircraft flight, south along the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, from a whaling base on Deception Island. This flight immediately demonstrated the huge potential of aircraft for Antarctic exploration. However, it also showed the limitations of unsubstantiated aerial observation, when he mistook several transverse glaciers for ice filled channels cutting through the peninsula (Nasht 2005, 182-184). This introduction of aircraft to Antarctic exploration, however, dramatically changed the scope and magnitude of data available to cartographers for mapping the topography of the frozen continent.


The American explorer Richard Byrd further developed the use of aircraft for exploration in his series of three expeditions from the 'Little America' base at the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf. During his 1928-31 expedition, Byrd made a successful long distance flight along Amundsen's dog sledge route to the South Pole (Byrd 1930, 326-346). The dramatic events of the flight were described by the expedition's aerial photographer McKinley (1932) and geologist Gould (1931) as leader of the dog team support party. Aviation opened up a wider view of the continent and the first overall map of Antarctica, which used information from aerial flights, was issued by the American Geographical Society in 1929 (Figure 4). This map incorporated data from the Wilkins Antarctic Expedition of 19281929, and some data from the first Byrd expedition, but it also repeated the observational errors made by Wilkins in his first flight. A similar map was produced by the National Geographic Society which was released as a supplement in their October 1932 magazine. It showed the flight lines of the pioneer aviators at that time: Wilkins, Byrd, Mawson and Christensen. In the second and third Byrd expeditions of 1933-39 and 1939-41, large areas in Western Antarctica, the Trans Antarctic Mountains, and the region from the Ross Sea to the Weddell Sea were viewed from the air. These mapping activities were supported by ground parties (Siple 1931; Byrd 1935) whose task was to establish sparse control for exploration mapping from aerial photography.


Figure 4 : Bathymetric map of the Antarctic (southern Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans), American Geographical Society of New York, [NY], 1929. (


Sir Douglas Mawson undertook coastal voyages in the austral summers of 1929-30 and 1930-31, with the objective of defining the East Antarctic coastline to consolidate a British territorial claim based on discovery and Mawson's occupation of Commonwealth Bay in 1912. While these voyages were forced to navigate out to sea along the edge of the pack ice, they linked the widely separated sightings of the previous century to infer a continuous coastline for East Antarctica. During this British Australian and New Zealand Research Expedition (BANZARE), four boat landings were made on coastal rock features and several reconnaissance flights of discovery were flown in a de Havilland Gypsy Moth aircraft. The Geographical Report of the BANZARE voyages based on the Mawson papers and diaries was published four years after Mawson's death by Grenfell Price (1962) who describes the events of both voyages as 'The Winning of Australian Antarctica'. The Norwegian whaling magnate, Lars Christensen was active in Antarctic exploration from 1927 to 1937 when he combined his whaling fleet operations, with reconnaissance aerial photography for exploratory mapping (Christensen 1938) and to push for a Norwegian Territorial claim to secure these whaling areas for Norway. This material was later used to compile the Hansen charts, a series of eleven 1:250,000 charts from 21E to 81E longitude and a separate 1:500,000 chart, published by the Whalers Assurance Company in Sandefjord, Norway (Hansen 1946).


During the 1934-37 period, the Australian John Rymill led a private British Graham Land Expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula region. This modest expedition demonstrated a successful integrated approach to exploration and mapping using a small ship, a Fox Moth light aircraft and dog sledge teams. The western side of the Antarctic Peninsula was explored, correcting Wilkins' erroneous aerial observations ten years earlier (Rymill & Stephenson 1938). In January 1939, Hermann Goering despatched a German Antarctic expedition to Dronning Maud Land, the territory newly claimed by Norway, with the intention of making a counter claim of the area, naming it Neuschwabenland. Extensive aerial photography was flown in Luftwaffe long range Dornier Wal flying boats for mapping (Ritscher 1940). Despite brilliant photography taken by the aerial crews, the resultant mapping lacked ground control and consequently contained errors of position (Burke 1994, 292).


1939 saw the publication of a very significant map of the whole of Antarctica by the Commonwealth of Australia (Bayliss & Cumpston, 1939) (Figure 5). This carefully researched map showed the extent of cartographic knowledge of the continent just before the Second World War. While the map portrays the best information available (apart from the last Lars Christensen expedition), it also identified large gaps in coastline definition particularly in Wilkes Land, in Dronning Maud Land, and in the extent of the ice shelves fronting the Weddell Sea (Manning 2010).


Figure 5 : "Antarctica", 1:10,000,000 scale, Property & Survey Branch, Department of Interior, Canberra, 1939. (





While no country asserted statehood over the whole Antarctic continent, exploration in the 1930s still had an underlying theme of supporting territorial claims and a number of individual explorers raised flags on the continent as a potential basis for national claims. All expeditions using aircraft in this decade dropped papers, flags or markers to support their potential claims, however not all actions in the field were followed up by their countries formally asserting national claims. Britain maintained its right to claim the Antarctic Peninsula area, but in East Antarctica it transferred its territorial claims, based on discovery, to Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand proclaimed the Ross Dependency in 1923 to be in a position to administer whaling licences to Norwegian whalers in the Ross Sea. Australia subsequently accepted the transfer of the British claim in 1933 and proclaimed the Australian Antarctic Territory in 1936 following the exploratory work of the BANZARE. With global tension rising and the prospect of a Second World War looming, national interest in Antarctic territory intensified in some countries, with Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Norway and the United Kingdom all defining or reasserting their claims to Antarctic territory (Figure 6). The Antarctic policies of other nations involved varied in their approach to territorial claims with neither the USA nor the Soviet Union recognising the territorial claims of any nation. Two nations with territorial ambitions, Japan and Germany, subsequently relinquished their potential rights to Antarctic claims in Second World War peace settlement treaties.


Figure 6 : "Antarctic Region", CIA, Washington, 2002. Territorial claims as frozen by the 1961 Antarctic treaty. (





At the end of the Second World War, the overall mapping of the ice continent was haphazard and fragmented. However, the post war era heralded a new approach to Antarctic ventures, in which private exploration and mapping activities were taken over by national initiatives. With no established overall ownership, several nations established specialist Antarctic agencies and coastal bases to better undertake exploration and mapping of their areas of territorial interest. However, there was no overall strategy to address a wider scale exploration of the continent until the American Admiral Richard Byrd gained US Congress approval to mount a major services expedition using resources from the recent world war. Its objective was principally to assess the capability of the American defence services to operate in polar conditions, with Byrd stressing his opinion that the next war would be fought across the Arctic. Byrd argued before a closed Congress that it would also place America in the best situation to make a broad territorial claim to the unknown Antarctic continent. This massive US Services expedition 'Operation Highjump' involved thirteen ships, one submarine and over 4,000 men. In the 1946-47 southern summer, Martin Mariner seaplanes and other aircraft operating from aircraft carriers, took some 65,000 aerial photographs with trimetrogon cameras, covering nearly half of the Antarctic coastline (Rose & Conger 1980, 249-250). A tantalising record of photographs of many new Antarctic features now existed, but aircraft navigation had been difficult in the field with frequent clouds and unknown magnetic variations, and the actual location of many features was uncertain. Consequently, this immense amount of material was of minimal immediate use to the careful cartographer without related ground control, and little immediate mapping was published at the end of the expedition.


The British Government established its first stations in the Antarctic as part of the wartime clandestine expedition known as 'Operation Tabarin' in 1944. Its aims were to deter access to anchorages by enemy ships and to strengthen Britain's claim to the Antarctic Peninsula area. 'Operation Tabarin' was subsequently renamed the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) in 1945. By the time FIDS was renamed British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in 1962, 19 stations and three refuges had been established. The British Antarctic Survey began establishing ground survey control for 1:200,000 scale mapping along the Antarctic Peninsula. Argentina and Chile also established a number of bases in the Peninsula region and published small scale maps in support of their territorial claims. Fifty years later, with territorial claims set aside, only two BAS stations, Halley Bay and Rothera, currently remain open all year round. Since 1996, the original historic base at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island near Wiencke Island has only been staffed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust during the Antarctic summer. France established a scientific base in at Port Martin in Terre Adelie, East Antarctica, in 1950 only to see it totally destroyed by fire in January 1952, after just one winter of occupation. France then built a new base, Dumont D'Urville, 62 km to the west which it opened on 12 January 1956, to serve as centre for French scientific research during the Antarctic International Geophysical Year 1957-58. The station has remained in active use ever since. Australia established its first permanent continental station at Mawson in East Antarctica in 1954 to support its claim to the Australian Antarctic Territory and to undertake exploration and scientific research. It is now the longest continuously occupied station on the Antarctic continent.


A major American Antarctic mapping project, Operation Deepfreeze, began in 1955 with a main base being established alongside Scott's 1901-04 expedition hut on Ross Island, McMurdo Sound. American activities from that time and the subsequent International Geophysical Year (IGY) operations from 1955 to 1959, are described by Belanger (2006). She records that aerial photographs were taken of some 400,000 square kilometres of the coastal and inland features south of 70S and publication began of 1:250,000 scale series maps over the Trans Antarctic Mountains and West Antarctica, using very sparse astrofix ground control. The Soviet Antarctic Expedition also began major exploration activity in the summer of 1955-56 with a major coastal base at Mirny in East Antarctica. It utilised aerial photography, with astrofixes for positional control and over ice optical levelling traverses for inland ice cap elevations. Japan established Syowa base on Ongul Island in East Antarctica and printed a 1:5,000 map of the local area in 1957. This was followed up by a series of coastal maps at scales at 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 of the Yamato Sanmyaku, an inland mountain range consisting of seven massifs.




The establishment of national scientific bases after the Second World War resulted in increased Antarctic exploration activity when the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) approved an International Geophysical Year (IGY) science program for 1957-58, with a prime focus on Antarctica. This period saw twelve nations involved in Antarctic scientific observations and many long geophysical traverses were made with over snow tractor trains across the inland ice plateau, and aerial photographs of the terrain were taken on many exploratory flights. However, these were only slowly converted to maps as photogrammetric plotting techniques required extensive ground control, with astronomic fixes being the only techniques available to provide such control. Despite these limitations, maps of varying quality for about 30 percent of the coast and reconnaissance maps for about 60 percent of the mountain areas of the continent were produced from the IGY activities. Using the mapping information gathered by participating countries, Australia produced a third edition of its 1:10,000,000 scale map of Antarctica in 1960, updating the previous 1939 edition revised in 1956. This map now showed a complete coastline (Figure 7). As discoveries of further large scale topographic features seemed unlikely, detailed mapping began to focus on replacing the provisional reconnaissance mapping in areas partially explored.


Figure 7 : "Antarctica", 1:10,000,000 scale, Division of National Mapping, Canberra, 1960. (


The direction of Antarctic mapping program activities was largely left to the individual nations and some significant duplication of mapping effort occurred such as those between the American and New Zealand activities in the Trans Antarctic Mountains. However, the overall success of the IGY prompted the ICSU to continue an international cooperative approach to scientific research on this stateless continent. The nations involved in the IGY formed the Special (later Scientific) Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) under the auspices of ICSU with the objective to promote scientific collaboration in Antarctic research.


At this time there were considerable diplomatic discussions led by America, seeking to resolve the status of the national territorial claims to the Antarctic continent. These discussions resulted in some sixty meetings and culminated in the development of the Antarctic Treaty by all twelve nations involved in the Antarctic continent. It was the time of the USSR/USA Cold War and was a remarkable outcome in goodwill and cooperation. It benefited from the expert work of the US ambassadorial negotiator Paul Daniels, with Australia also playing an important role through Lord Casey in securing Soviet agreement to the treaty. While not resolving the question of territorial claims, it neatly sidestepped the issue with the claims remaining dormant while the Antarctic Treaty is in place. The subsequent establishment of an Antarctic Treaty System has provided the political mechanism to cooperatively manage activities on the Antarctic continent, and initially through the International Meteorological Organisation the need for free exchange of scientific information, but it did not specifically address cooperative mapping of the continent.




SCAR was formed at The Hague in February 1958 by international scientists to continue the scientific cooperation from the IGY with Ingenieur General Georges Laclavere from France as President. The Antarctic Treaty was signed in October the next year and ratified in 1961 by the twelve national agencies involved in Antarctica. Article II of the Antarctic Treaty stressed that 'freedom of scientific research and cooperation shall continue'. Article III also importantly contained the statement `Scientific information, personnel, results and research plans shall be freely exchanged and international cooperation encouraged'. Thus, although the free exchange of Antarctic information was advocated in the Antarctic Treaty, it did not define a formal linking relationship with the science driven SCAR organisation which had already been formed. SCAR remained a separate pseudo nongovernmental body focused on cooperative science, and its representatives were nominated from science academies rather from the official governmental stream, although there were many overlaps with scientists holding both nominations. SCAR was thus well positioned to advise the Antarctic Treaty System administration on science matters. Australia strongly supported the activities of SCAR, and Professor Keith Edward Bullen (1906-1976) of the University of Sydney was appointed the inaugural vice president. Mapping was seen as the realm of the scientist, and SCAR became the coordinating body for Antarctic mapping, rather than through the political administration arm of the Antarctic Treaty system.


At the first SCAR meeting, the earth sciences disciplines of Cartography, Geology, Glaciology and Morphology were temporarily banded together under President Laclavere. At the III SCAR meeting in Canberra in March 1959, Cartography met as a separate group. The following year in September 1960, at the IV SCAR conference in Cambridge, a Permanent Working Group on Cartography was established. The name was subsequently changed to the Working Group on Geodesy and Cartography at V SCAR in Wellington in October 1961, and then to Geodesy and Geographic Information in 1988, to better reflect its changing scope over time. Australia chaired all meetings of the Working Group for forty years from 1961 until SCAR was reorganised in 2002, when the Geodesy and Geographic Information group was absorbed into the SCAR Standing Scientific Group on Geosciences. In 2006, the Geographic Information Group subgroup became the SCAR Standing Committee on Antarctic Geographic Information reporting directly to the SCAR executive, while Geodesy continued as program GIANT within the Geosciences structure.


The initial Chairman, or Chief Officer, of the SCAR Geodesy and Cartography Working Group in 1961 was Bruce Lambert, head of the Australian National Mapping program. The Division of National Mapping also held responsibility for Australian Antarctic mapping and provided surveyors to the Australian expeditions from 1959. Each subsequent head of the Australian National Mapping agency also assumed by default the position of head of the SCAR working group. Working Group meetings were usually held at the time of the SCAR conferences and the group held the responsibility for preparation and publication of mapping progress reports to SCAR, and reports on Antarctic Geodesy to the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (Lambert 1964). It produced recommended cartographic symbols to assist in standardisation, as well as a significant catalogue of all maps and charts produced. The mapping of Antarctica generally benefited from a more coordinated international approach with the Working Group actively promoting standard cartographic products and first cover mapping. The specialist Geodesy and Geographic Information Working Group became the major contact point for all Antarctic mapping, with cooperation in the free exchange of mapping information and establishment of standard symbols and specifications. A number of standing resolutions giving guidelines with regard to approved projections, ellipsoids and map scales (including 1:250,000, 1:200,000, 1:100,000, 1:50,000 and 1:25,000) were developed and published in SCAR manuals (SCAR 1972, 53-55). A booklet of 'Standard Symbols for use on the Maps of Antarctica' was published to encourage standardisation of topographic presentation (SCAR 1980). Although the free exchange of scientific information was encouraged under the Antarctic Treaty, WG-GGI established a free distribution system of all cartographic maps and materials published by members between designated Antarctic mapping centres in each country. A SCAR catalogue of maps and charts of the Antarctic, produced by Australia on behalf of SCAR, showed the ongoing extent of mapping by Antarctic Treaty nations. The catalogue was maintained by Australia on behalf of SCAR in updated editions between 1960 and 1988 (SCAR 1988). Editions were published in 1960, 1961, 1969 and 1974. The fourth edition was revised in 1976 and a further edition was published by AUSLIG as the fifth edition in 1988. Since 2004 this catalogue has been available online through the Australian Antarctic Division web site (


At the XX SCAR meeting in Hobart in 1988, discontent with the level of secretariat activities and the automatic succession of unknown personnel to the position of Chief Officer was raised. It became clear that the increased pace of mapping of the continent required greater participation in a cooperative manner, to cope with changes in technology. Further, the administrative work load required was now more than one single nation should reasonably provide and the name of the working group was also changed to Geodesy and Geographic Information (WG-GGI) to reflect its technical scope.


A more distributed administrative arrangement was discussed at a special WG-GGI meeting hosted by Germany in Frankfurt in June 1990, held as an alternate venue to meeting at the XXI SCAR in Brazil. At the subsequent XXII SCAR meeting at Bariloche, Argentina, in 1992, the operational aspects of the WG-GGI were completely reviewed resulting in a change in focus from the definition of mapping specifications, to a broader multitheme concept. To support this wider approach a structure of distributed project responsibilities was established.


The complementary elements of Geodesy and Geographic Information were separated into two streams : the Geodetic Infrastructure of Antarctica program (GIANT), and the Geographic Information Program (GIP). A voluntary work program for each stream was then developed with identified responsibilities for participating nations. At that meeting, Italy initiated a study to address the duplication and inadequate positional information of geographic names. As there was no single country or authority to approve names they were sometimes duplicated in different geographic positions, as different features, or renamed in a different language as evidence for administration of dormant territorial claims. While it was not politically possible to delete conflicting or duplicated names placed by different nations, the working group tried to avoid the duplicate naming of new features by compiling a SCAR Composite Names Gazetteer of all names to rationalise future naming. This was a major task which is still maintained by Italy (Sievers et al. 2000).


A more democratic selection of the chairman, or Chief Officer, was introduced in Bariloche where the position holder was determined by open election at each meeting for an immediate two year term. This procedure continued at each subsequent meeting for the next ten years until 2002. Drew Clarke from Australia was the first Chief Officer elected under this system together with coordinators elected for the separate sub programs. The overall WG-GGI program then consisted of two major umbrella streams each with an overall coordinator:


                                       Geodesy (GIANT) coordinator: John Manning, Australia

                                       Geographic Information (GIP) coordinator: Janet Thomson, UK


In addition to the technical programs above an outreach program was identified as a responsibility for the secretariat support to the Chief Officer.


This comprehensive structure shows the far reaching wider scope of activities of the WG-GGI. This incorporated the voluntary participation of a number of Antarctic nations working towards provision of Geodesy, Mapping and Geographic Information over the vast continent. These program activities were supported by additional specialist international symposia meetings held between the SCAR major meetings to provide continuity and review progress. Proceedings of these symposia were usually published by the individual host countries and in the series of SCAR Bulletins and Special Reports such as the 5th Antarctic Geodesy Symposium in Ukraine in 2003 (SCAR 2005). This structural grouping proved successful, and both streams initiated projects and produced products which were increasingly available through the website as Internet technology developed. The chronology of the leadership of the Working Group, with secretariat responsibility, is summarised in Table 1 below.


Table 1. Chief Officers of the SCAR working group

SCAR Working Group


Chief Officer

SCAR WG2 temporary grouping of Cartography, Geology, Morphology and Glaciology


SCAR president General Georges Laclavere, France

Informal meeting of Cartography representatives


Gen. G. Laclavere, France

Permanent Working Group on Cartography established


Gen. G. Laclavere, France

Geodesy and Cartography


Bruce Lambert, Australia

Geodesy and Cartography


Tony Bomford, Australia

Geodesy and Cartography


Con Veenstra, Australia

Geodesy and Geographic Information


Grahame Lindsay, Australia

Geodesy and Geographic Information with separate program streams and secretarial support Group


Drew Clarke, Australia, with program coordinators

- Geodesy (GIANT): John Manning, Australia

- Geographic information: Janet Thomson, UK

- Outreach secretariat: Glen Johnson Australia

Geodesy and Geographic Information


John Manning, Australia

- Geodesy (GIANT): John Manning, Australia

- Geographic information: Janet Thomson, UK

- Outreach secretariat: Glen Johnson Australia

Geodesy and Geographic Information group subsumed into SCAR Geoscience Standing Scientific Group (GSSG)


Subgroups continued as

- GIANT: Reinhardt Dietrich, Germany,

- Geographic information: Stefan Vogt, Germany

Geographic Information sub group repositioned within SCAR as the Standing Committee Geographic Information


Henk Brolsma, Australia




The decade of the 1960s was very productive for Antarctic cartography through the encouragement of the Geodesy and Cartography Working Group. Larsgaard (1993) summarised the mapping highlights for that period utilising information from SCAR annual reports as:


             Australia: 6 sheets at 1:250,000 (mountainous regions in Enderby Land; Mawson area); 20 1:250,000 sheets covering coastal regions from 42E to 69E, and part of the north Prince Charles Mountains and the Grove Mountains.


             France: Four 1:100,000 maps in the Kerguelen archipelago; miscellaneous large scale maps of the islands.


             Japan: Two 1:250,000 sheets, of Lutzow-Holm Bay and Prince Olav Coast; 1:1,000,000 reconnaissance map of Mitzuho Plateau.


             New Zealand: 44 provisional and full colour 1:250,000 sheets (NZMS 166), covering regions between Mawson Glacier and Axel Heiberg Glacier, in the Ross Sea area, using ground control survey and US Geological Survey (USGS) aerial photography.


             Norway: 12 sheets at 1:250,000, covering much of the mountainous ranges of Fimbulheimen and east Maudheimvidda; compiled from 1951-52 and 1958-59 aerial photography and field work.


             UK: a 1:5,000,000 map of the continent; Reconnaissance mapping of the Antarctic peninsula north of 74S in 14 of a 17 sheet series at 1:500,000 (DOS 710); 33 sheets at 1:200,000 of the British Antarctic Territory.


             US: The USGS completed 14 maps at 1:250,000, and had 19 more under production with 11 completed in a 1:500,000 sketch map series. Of the 169 maps in the 1:250,000 series, 72 had now been published. It had also issued a four sheet 1:3,000,000 map, a one sheet 1:5,000,000 sheet, aeronautical charts at 1:1,000,000 and at 1:2,000,000, and topographic maps for various scientific purposes, based on specially flown aerial photography and fourth order field surveys for horizontal and vertical control.


               USSR: completed two general maps of the continent (1:12,000,000; 1:3,000,000); 39 x 1:200,000 sheets of the coastal regions from Davis to Wilkes Land; two 1:1,000,000 sheets of the coast from 36E. The Soviet Union continued its mapping of inland eastern Antarctica and had managed to outline and approximately contour a huge ice plateau extending from Komsomolskaya Station to Queen Maud Land. In 1967 the last three sheets at 1:250,000 of Queen Alexandra Bay was published, making a total of 35 available at that scale. The Soviet Union had also discovered that the Lazarev Mountains were much more extensive than previously believed and had refined the position of the coastline and islands of the north part of Victoria Land and the East Antarctic coastline.


The free exchange of maps and data also assisted in the production of a number of thematic atlases by different countries. The US and UK produced extensive map folio series of related material based on topographic mapping information. In 1966 the Soviet Union released the first volume of a monumental cartographic work in its Atlas Antarktiki (Main Admin. of Geodesy & Cartography, 196669). It portrayed, in cartographic form, the scientific knowledge of Antarctica, with a variety of maps at various scales showing rock areas, and thematic map information on weather and geophysical aspects of the continent. This beautiful cartographic production contained 225 plates with Russian text and was extended with a second textual volume in 1969. It had taken ten years to produce and included much information gathered during the IGY.


The decade of the 1970s saw notable technological advances in satellite remote sensing and its consequent application to Antarctic mapping. The US commenced mapping in Marie Byrd Land in 1971 with extensive aerial photography. However, the program underwent a restructuring which reduced the number of maps issued per year to two or three, down from an average of eight or nine per year in previous years (Larsgaard 2000). By 1972, the Soviet Union had released 140 topographic sheets of the continent while the Argentine Instituto Geografico Militar had published 1:1,000,000 and 1:500,000 mapping of the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Orkneys, South Georgia, and South Sandwich Islands. Satellite remote sensing mapping technology took a big step forward in July 1972 with the launch of the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS), later renamed Landsat. This satellite provided a valuable first planimetric view of all areas of the continent except for the high latitude region from 80S to 90S, which was not covered by the satellite orbit. With an 80 metre pixel resolution and multispectral layers, it was used extensively to revise planimetric positions on existing Antarctic maps, some of which lacked any ground control at all.


While each of these Landsat images covered a ground area of 70 x 70 km, ground control was still needed for accurate mapping and the earliest use of satellite images was to revise the coastlines of Antarctica and the northern limits of the three largest ice shelves. This imagery revolutionized small scale planimetric mapping and a number of new minor features were identified. At that time the Soviet Union also employed small scale space film photography taken on aerial cameras in its SOYUZ manned satellites. This was used for photogrammetric mapping producing heights as well as for planimetric maps.


The initial application of satellite imagery in Antarctica was in the compilation of 1:1,000,000 and 1:500,000 scale photo image mosaics. Extensive use was also made of the imagery in the American maps of the remote Ellsworth Mountains, also in the reconnaissance map series compiled by Australia of Enderby Land and the Prince Charles Mountains. Satellite imagery immediately greatly improved the positioning of major map features but the ongoing lack of control points and the need for conventional aerial photographs to infill the cloud covered areas still imposed technical limitations on their use as reliably interpreted, standalone image maps.


The extensive mapping from the major SCAR nations for the 1970s was also summarized by Larsgaard (2000) as:


           The USGS continued extensive topographic mapping activities using aerial photography and began publishing satellite imagery maps. In 1977, its twentieth year of Antarctic mapping, it published 88 sheets at 1:250,000 covering 950,000 square kilometres and a number of 1:500,000 satellite imagery maps.


           Norway had issued 23 x 1:250,000 sheets from its activities in Dronning Maud Land and Britain had produced 68 sheets at 1:200,000 and 7 at 1:250,000 for 65S to 81S in the British Antarctic Territory.


           Britain concentrated its mapping efforts on the region of its territorial claim encompassing the Antarctic Peninsula (south of 60S), the Falkland Islands (north of 60S) and had published some 150 sheets. The original DOS 610/D510 series at 1:200,000 and DOS 710/ D401 series at 1:500,000 had been based on aerial photography flown at the time of the IGY. Several of the islands in the South Shetland Group were mapped at larger scales, such as 1:25,000 (DOS 310) and 1:10,000 (DOS 210). This reconnaissance style mapping was superseded by the BAS 250 (1:250,000) series which began in 1973 as a contoured series in line with SCAR recommendations. This quickly became a satellite image enhanced map series using Landsat satellite imagery.


           France published 4 sheets at 1:100,000 covering the coastal and littoral areas of Terre Adelie.


           The Soviet Union issued some 300 sheets between 1956 and 1975, including general maps at 1:5,000,000 and 1:3,000,000, sheets at 1:1,000,000 for coastal and mountain regions, and maps at 1:200,000, 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 scales for areas of special interest such as the Prince Charles Mountains.


           Australia concentrated its mapping work on the coastal and mountain areas of the Australian Antarctic Territory in East Antarctica from 40E to 90E using satellite imagery and established an extensive classical continuous geodetic chain from Davis station to Molodezhnaya station. Maps were mainly produced at scales of 1:1,000,000 and 1:250,000, although some sheets had been published at 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 in the proximity of the occupied stations. To 1981, 23x 1:1,000,000 sheets were available covering the coastal region in a band from 36E to 168E. The 1:250,000 topographic sheets were concentrated in mountain areas between 45E to 72E and 65S to 71S. A Landsat reconnaissance satellite image map series at 1:250,000 extended along the coast of East Antarctica from 48E to 117E, and the 1:500,000 satellite image maps in dyeline form were compiled for an area from 42E to 120E, extending as far south as 76S, as a basis for regional geological mapping.


In 1975 magnetic maps of the Antarctic were compiled, and the Geographical Survey Institute of Japan published an atlas consisting of eight magnetic maps of Antarctica (Haruyama 1980). This thematic cartography was later complemented by another large format publication in the Glaciological and Geophysical Map Folio produced by the Scott Polar Research Institute in the United Kingdom (Drewry 1983). This publication used geophysical and meteorological information from other nations and provided an insight into the interior of the Antarctic continent and the land beneath the ice.


Larsgaard assessed overall mapping progress at the start of the 1980s to that date and found that some 1,000 planimetric maps had been published since IGY activities commenced. She considered that although most of Antarctica had been sighted, the maps of Antarctica were still somewhat primitive by global standards with the accuracy of many of these maps being poor. The application of Landsat imagery to areas of provisional mapping clearly showed positional errors of more than 100 kilometres in the early maps. At this time larger scale map coverage was restricted to coastal and mountainous areas and contoured maps at 1:250,000 were available for only a few of these areas. It was said that the far side of the moon was better mapped than some areas of Antarctica such as the Ronne Ice Shelf region.


In the early 1980s decade the situation changed when America used positional controlled Multispectral Landsat images to produce planimetric composite image maps at medium scales. Landsat data was reprocessed digitally to produce 1:1,000,000 and 1:250,000 map sheets. Three large scale photo images, of the Hut Point Peninsula, McMurdo Station and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, were also published. Japan had become increasingly active in mapping in the 1970s, and in 1981 the last of eleven 1:250,000 sheets of the Yamato Mountains were completed, together with 1:50,000 mapping of the coastal area near Syowa base. Between 1986 and 1989, the Japanese Geographical Survey Institute issued detailed contoured maps sheets at 1:25,000 over Ongul Island. Germany continued to work with improving leading edge satellite imagery positioning technology and produced satellite image maps at 1:50,000 and other scales in selected areas of Neuschwabenland and the Trans Antarctic Mountains. The continuing improvement in the resolution of satellite imagery through SPOT and the later Landsat series of satellites enabled advances to be made in image mapping applications at larger scales. The advancement in digital processing led to the development and application of direct digital printing techniques such as the use of SPOT imagery in the 1:25,000 Larsemann Hills (Manning & Lindsay, 1989) and the 1:100,000 multispectral satellite image map of Beaver Lake (Figure 8) (Manning 1990). High resolution commercial satellite imagery become available in the 21st century, so that visual spectrum images of remote sites could be readily acquired in summer, providing the site was cloud free. Additionally, radar imagery, which was not affected by cloud cover or lack of sunshine, was used to build up a terrain elevation model of the surface and was later supplemented by LIDAR satellite profiling in ICESAT, and other geophysical satellite remotely sensed data.


Figure 8 : Beaver Lake, Mac. Robertson Land, 1:100,000 scale satellite mage map, AUSLIG/Australian Antarctic Division, Canberra, 1990.


The greatly expanded structure and activities of the WG-GGI and its contribution to the mapping of Antarctica evolved further during the 1990s, particularly the Geodesy component, as reported to the XXVI SCAR meeting in Tokyo in 2000, where the overall activities of the working group were summarised by Manning (2001) as:


Geodesy Program (GIANT), (coordinator John Manning, Australia)


1.            Provide a common geographic reference system for all Antarctic science and operations.


2.            Contribute to global geodesy for the study of physical processes of the earth and the maintenance of the precise terrestrial reference frame.


Program elements with responsibilities:

                  Permanent geodetic observatories (Australia, John Manning)

                  Crustal deformation network (Germany, Reinhardt Dietrich)

                  Physical geodesy (Italy, Alesandro Capra)

                  Geodetic control data base (New Zealand, Tony Bevin)

                  Tide gauge data (Japan, Kazou Shibuya)

                  Atmospheric impact on GPS development (Poland, Jan Cisak)

                  Remote geodetic observatories (USA, Larry Hothem)

                  New geodetic satellite missions (Germany, Reinhardt Dietrich)


Geographic Information Program, (coordinator Janet Thomson, UK)


1.            Integrate and coordinate Antarctic mapping and GIS programs.


2.            Make fundamental reference data available to the Antarctic and global user communities.


Program elements with responsibilities:

                  Topographic data bases (UK, Janet Thomson)

                  Place names (Italy, Roberto Cervellati and Chiara Ramorino)

                  Spatial data standards (Australia, Henk Brolsma)

                  Map catalogue (Australia, Henk Brolsma)

                  Imagery catalogue (USA, Jerry Mullins)

                  King George Island GIS database (Germany, Reinhardt Dietrich)

                  GIS collaboration in East Antarctica (Russia, Alexander Yuskevitch)

                  Bathymetric data (New Zealand, John Spinal)

                  Online atlases (USA, Jerry Mullins)


At that Tokyo SCAR meeting the future working group meetings for the following two years were identified as:


                       Geographic Information Workshop, Sienna July 2001

                       GIANT Symposium, St Petersburg July 2001

                       Combined Working Group Meeting at SCAR XXVII, China 2002 (SCAR 2001)




Until the mid 1950s ground control for mapping was only possible using astronomic techniques. In the field these astrofixes were made using sun or star position line techniques, which were imprecise in application with unknown deviation of the vertical for measuring angles. Before the advent of precise ground positioning technology from satellites, geodetic control for mapping in Antarctica remained limited in extent. In 1959, electronic distance measuring equipment was introduced to Antarctic survey operations, enabling accurate geodetic networks to be established for mapping. Being resource intensive and requiring line of sight between stations, it was still logistically difficult to establish suitable stations. This technique was applied widely in areas of exposed rock, such as in the Prince Charles Mountains by Australia, the Trans Antarctic Mountains by the US, and in the Antarctic Peninsula by the UK. However, its application to produce a whole of continent geodetic framework was limited to continuous mountain areas, and usually needed extensive helicopter support to get survey parties to high remote sites with station intervisibility.


In the winter of 1969, the US established four satellite observation stations to link Antarctica to a worldwide geodetic network, by simultaneously photographing PAGEOS balloon satellites against stellar backgrounds using high precision tracking cameras. This was a very labour intensive technique which required clear skies from adjoining observation sites for simultaneous observation, and the tedious processing of images on photographic plates. This technique was bypassed in the early 1970s when improved geodetic positioning from active transmission satellites became available through the NAVSTAR system of Doppler based technology. This was introduced to Antarctica and improved the ability for surveyors to establish ground control away from the geodetic network chains of continuous mountain areas. However, this Doppler based system was replaced by the much improved Global Positioning System (GPS) in the 1980s. The SCAR Working Group on Geodesy and Geographic Information trialled the application of the GPS in 1988 in Antarctica, and despite early limitations in equipment and satellite configuration, this soon proved a solution to positioning problems, and the establishment of ground control was no longer a serious problem after GPS became fully operational. The evolution of the successful GIANT program, which saw the introduction of satellite positioning techniques, has been described by Manning (2005).




After nearly two decades of satellite imagery, the mapping outline of the continent was reasonably complete by 1990. With digital satellite data available, the cartographic emphasis turned to digital maps, with hard copy products from some nations being produced as derivatives only when required, rather than being the mainstream products. Countries instead began making their data available in a digital form. In the 1990s, the Antarctic Digital Database (ADD) was a major SCAR cooperative project in Antarctic mapping. The ADD was the outcome of a truly international collaborative project between 11 nations. It consisted of a digital compilation of medium scale topographic data for the whole Antarctic continent (Thomson & Cooper 1993). Editing and harmonization of the data derived from the different sources produced a seamless map of Antarctica with the most up to date coastline. Data capture was co-coordinated in the UK by the British Antarctic Survey over a two year period under the vision of Janet Thomson, Mapping Officer at British Antarctic Survey. The ADD was derived from a wide variety of sources and aimed to provide the best currently available data in all areas. Over 200 maps, at scales ranging from 1:200,000 to 1:5,000,000, were digitized for the project; however, the resolution of the data varied widely. The most detailed information was taken from maps compiled at a scale of 1:10,000 (i.e. a resolution of approximately 1 mm = 10 m); the least detailed from sources with a resolution of, at best, 5 km. The lowest resolution data, however, were of the great ice sheets where the relief is very low and where higher resolution data was not critical. In 1993 SCAR released the ADD as a digital topographic coverage on the whole continent and it became the premier source of vector topographic data for Antarctica. First published on CD-ROM by the British Antarctic Survey, the current 4.1 version became freely available for internet download in 2000 from the SCAR website ( The ADD is still maintained by the British Antarctic Survey on behalf of SCAR, the copyright holder. It is an outstanding example of multinational cooperation in the free supply of information for personal research and nonprofit use.


In the 1990s, the overall coverage of Antarctic mapping also benefited from the work of other major nations. The USGS, for example, published ninety-five 1:250,000 and twenty 1:500,000 maps using aerial photography and satellite imagery and thirteen 1:50,000 fully contoured maps using aerial photography. Britain had completed a map series of the Antarctic Peninsula, whilst Australia had supplemented its 1:1,000,000 map series of 22 maps with enhanced satellite imagery. In 1992 Joern Sievers, the WG-GGI representative from Germany, raised the issue of attempting to rationalize the duplication of topographic names using the principle of 'one feature, one name' (Sievers & Bennat 1989; Sievers & Thomson 1998). Whilst considerable duplication of feature names on early maps existed, the names issue is complex, with inaccurate positions and misleading descriptions of the same feature, often in a number of different languages. Due to historical backgrounds and emotive traditions relating back to territorial claims, it was not possible to achieve a rationalization for features already named. However, the principle was adopted for new names by some countries, and Italy subsequently produced and maintained an Antarctic composite gazetteer of all geographic names approved by national committees (Sievers et al. 2000) which identified duplications. This SCAR names gazetteer is now available online as a check tool to avoid adding new names to features already named, whilst rationalising the position and descriptions of old names. At the Australian Antarctic Data Centre (, both the SCAR Composite Gazetteer Antarctica and SCAR Map Catalogue are also held as relational databases so that maps for a particular area may be searched for via the gazetteer and the names that fall within the bounds of any map may also be listed.


By the end of the 20th century, the availability of satellite imagery information revolutionised cartography in Antarctica (Figure 9). A good example of the use of satellite data is in the Atlas of Antarctica (Herzfeld 2004), which shows 136 topographic maps, derived from satellite radar altimetry, with a description of glaciological and topographical features. The new geographic information challenge within SCAR was integrating the massive volume of geophysical data from other scientific disciplines, and SCAR specialist groups coordinated the building of these geophysical data into databases and cartographic products such as ADGRAV for gravity, ADMAP for geomagnetism, BEDMAP for bedrock topography, and the high resolution Radarsat Antarctic Mapping Project (RAMP) and associated Digital Elevation Model (DEM) (Liu et al. 2001). The DEM now incorporates topographic data from satellite radar altimetry, airborne radar surveys, the ADD and large scale topographic maps from the USGS and the AAD. In the 21st century a fresh focus has been the increased importance of sub glacial features in understanding the nature of the interface between glacial icecaps and the continental bedrock. Hundreds of sub glacial lakes have been identified by close inspection of the ice surface from high resolution satellite imagery and ice penetrating radar. The largest, Lake Vostok in East Antarctica, is more than 50 kilometres in length, with evidence of hydrological drainage flows.


Figure 9 : Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) mosaic of Antarctica, originally compiled at 1:50,000,000 scale from 23 images. See Merson (1989), NOAA/NRSC 1988





The mapping of Antarctica has a unique history, and whilst no single country has taken responsibility for mapping the entire continent, coverage has been achieved by contributions from a number of countries. While the earliest contacts with the frozen continent were brief distant sightings of coastal features across fields of pack ice by 19th century explorers, sealers and whalers, the initial exploration of the interior of the Antarctic continent was sketched from sledging sorties during the Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration from 1897 to 1922.


In 1928 the exploratory mapping of the interior entered a new era with the aerial flight of Sir Hubert Wilkins over the Antarctic Peninsula. This aerial exploration approach was greatly expanded in the three expeditions of Richard Byrd from his base on the Ross Ice Shelf, as well as the coastal voyages of Douglas Mawson and Lars Christensen in East Antarctica in the 1930s.


However, at the close of the Second World War, much of the interior of the continent and the coastline was still unknown. This began to change in 1946/47 when the American 'Operation Highjump' expedition undertook trimetrogon photography from naval aircraft over more than half the unknown coastline. Exploratory mapping of the interior took a major step forward with the activities of the 1957-58 IGY and the creation of SCAR in 1958. Since that time SCAR, through its dedicated working groups, has encouraged cooperative production of maps together with the free exchange of geographic information and geodetic data. Australia had a significant leadership role in these activities, chairing these working groups for more than forty years from 1961 to 2002. The result of this cooperation is a rich collection of maps produced to a general set of standards and specification, yet which exhibit the individuality of the mapping techniques of the various countries of origin.


As well as encouraging mapping of the continent, these cartographic SCAR working groups produced a number of significant tools and data sets. They oversaw the progression of mapping from paper maps to online digital data, together with the integration of satellite imagery into these data sets. Some of the products produced within the SCAR WG-GGI had considerable impact on Antarctic mapping, such as:


                   A geodetic infrastructure on a common world datum across the continent

                   The establishment of permanent GPS trackers providing 30 second data for precise orbit determinations;

                   Establishment of tide gauges to monitor long term sea level variation;

                   A standard symbology for use on paper and digital maps of Antarctica;

                   A composite gazetteer of all place names of the Antarctic with descriptions and coordinates;

                   An online master topographic digital database for the entire continent;

                   A catalogue of Antarctic maps and charts produced by SCAR Nations;

                   A computerised Digital Elevation Model over the continent.


Over the years the role of the Geodesy sub group changed considerably. It initially focused on providing ground control for topographic mapping, however the successful introduction of GPS enabled horizontal position to be more readily obtained. Geodesy's role as a discipline is now one of contributing to the understanding of the geophysical nature of the continent by monitoring the motion of the rock structure of its component tectonic parts.


The role of the SCAR Geographic Information sub group also changed with the implementation of the SCAR review in 2002. Since that time, it evolved into the SCAR Standing Committee on Geographic Information, headed by Henk Brolsma from the AAD until 2015. Its role has widened to also providing linkages between digital data sets for Antarctic science, not just geographic information purely for the production of paper maps. A good example of this integration is the AAD's Data Centre which makes topographic information such as names and remotely sensed data readily available for thematic web mapping through their web site (


Mapping the stateless Antarctic continent has been a remarkable exercise in international cooperation despite the dormant cloud of national territorial ambitions hovering above it. The original SCAR cartographic working group evolved to take a major role in promoting an international approach to the nations involved in first cover mapping and the availability of geographic information. Today the basic fabric of topographic mapping of Antarctic can be considered to be reasonably complete, enabling monitoring of the nature of the continent and the production of improved linked data sets.






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