May 18, 2024

How Austria explored the North Pole 150 years ago

Austria as a polar research hotspot is not an idea that comes to mind. However, 150 years ago, the Far North exerted so much magic on certain circles in this country that in July 1872 a search party was sent out to search for the Northeast Passage.

This was not found, but instead, on November 30, 1873, a group of islands was discovered at 80 degrees of latitude, which the expedition leaders named Julius Bayer and Karl Weibrecht in honor of Emperor Franz Josef Land (see info box below).

After 150 years, the polar research elite is looking forward to Austria again. The world’s largest specialized conference, “Arctic Science Summit Week”, is being held at the University of Vienna until Friday.

Payer-Weyprecht Mission

In July 1872, Bayer and Weiprecht left the port of Tromsø in Norway with a crew of 24.

At the end of August, the Admiral Tegetov, a sailing ship with an auxiliary engine, got stuck in the ice and was thus pushed north by the ice drift. On November 30, 1873, they finally saw land again: the archipelago of Franz Josef Land.

It was not until after two harsh winters in August 1874 that the men were able to save themselves.

The symposium’s slogan could not have been chosen more modern with “The Arctic in the Anthropocene,” as the Far North experiences four times more human-induced climate change than our temperate latitudes. The region is warming at a rate of 0.75 degrees per decade — with far-reaching effects, including on us.

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effect on our climate

The increasingly frequent extreme weather events (droughts, storms, floods, etc.) in Germany can be directly attributed to the polar jet stream, which has been weakened by climate change. This has been weakened by the increasing melting of the polar ice sheets.

There are also phenomena such as sea level rise and carbon dioxide release2 and methane from thawing permafrost, which in turn affects us directly or indirectly.

The Arctic and its inhabitants are particularly affected by climate change


Therefore, Austria is invited not only to participate in research on these “major processes of climate change”, but also “to participate more in the future, especially at the political level,” says Wolfgang Schöner, professor of geography at the University of Graz and director of the “Austrian Research Institute Polar” (APRI), which organizes the conference.

Research station under construction

The research network itself is a good example: in August, the first permanent Austrian polar station will open in Sermilik in Greenland, which in the future will serve as a base for up to 30 researchers at the same time.

The Austrian Polar Station shell was completed last fall

© Photo: Wolfgang Schöner

When it comes to financing, Peyer and Weyprecht come full circle, with beneficiaries playing a crucial role in both cases.

Whereas in the 19th century the campaign was mainly funded by Count Hans Wilczek, today it is Christian Palmers who supports the public sector and makes research available on the site.

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