Focus: Less than zero: A skate round the North Pole

A BRIEF HISTORY

16th CENTURY European sailors venture into the Arctic Ocean for the first time.

1897 Fridtjof Nansen gets to within 236 miles of the Pole aboard the Fram. Nansen writes: "The moon transforms all of this ice world into a fairyland."

1905 Northwest Passage found by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who six years later became the first man to reach the South Pole.

1909 American explorer Robert Edwin Peary is generally credited with having led the first expedition to reach the North Pole - at the age of 53. With temperatures falling to -50C, Peary writes: "The bitter wind burned our faces so that they cracked. The air was as keen and bitter as frozen steel." On his return he learns that his rival, Frederick Cook, is claiming to have reached the pole a year earlier. After an investigation, Congress rules in favour of Peary.

1926 Americans Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett fly to the North Pole in a Fokker monoplane. Italian Umberto Nobile flies the airship Norge across the pole.

1954 USS Nautilus becomes the first submarine to reach the North Pole.

1977 Russian icebreaker Arktika reaches pole after forcing her way through ice 13ft thick.

POLE FACTS

Warmer than the South Pole, the average mid-summer temperature of the North Pole is 0C.

The sun does not set for six months during the summer. Then the pole spends six months in total darkness.

The Arctic ice-pack is moved by ocean currents, as proved by George De Long when his ship Jeanette drifted 310 miles in 21 months in 1880/81.

The North Magnetic Pole wanders as the Earth's magnetic field slowly changes. Today it is near Ellef Ringnes Island, Canada, 870 miles from the true North Pole

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are caused by electrical solar discharges in the upper atmosphere and are visible at some time on every clear dark night within 20 degrees of the magnetic pole.

With other continents explored, the North Pole was alluded to by writers such as Mary Shelley as the site of the Garden of Eden.

Compiled by Nicholas Fearn

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