Sir Vivian Ernest Fuchs

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Sir Vivian Ernest Fuchs


English Arctic Explorer

British geologist and explorer Vivian Fuchs lead the first coast-to-coast land crossing of Antarctica in 1957. Fuchs's historic trek, undertaken in collaboration with a New Zealand team lead by Edmund Hillary (1919- ), was both a personal and technological victory over the severe Antarctic environment.

Fuchs was born on the Isle of Wight in 1908. In 1929 he earned a master's degree from Cambridge University and took part in the Cambridge Greenland Expedition as a field geologist. This venture gave him the necessary credentials to participate in two field trips to east Africa the following year. His next assignment was to lead an expedition to the Lake Rudolf-Rift Valley, where he was to survey 40,000 square miles of the Ethiopia-Kenya portion of Africa. The work he did on this expedition earned him a Ph.D. in geology from Cambridge in 1935.

During World War II, Fuchs entered the British army as a second lieutenant and, by war's end, had risen to the rank of major. In 1947 he was selected to take charge of a survey project in the Falkland Islands. It was during this tour of duty that he first became seriously interested in Antarctica.

For many years, the North and South Poles presented a dual attraction for researchers and explorers—first, scientific interest in the physical magnetics of the poles; and second, the lure of historic immortality for discovering the geographic and magnetic points. The magnetic North Pole was discovered by James Clark Ross(1800-1862) in 1831, and Robert Peary (1856-1920) was the first to reach the geographic North Pole in 1909. The magnetic South Pole was located on Antarctica by Tannatt W. E. David (1858-1934) and Douglas Mawson (1882-1958) in 1909. And finally, after an unsuccessful try by Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) in 1908, two teams reached the geographic South Pole within one month—Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) of Norway in December 1911, followed by Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) and his British team in January 1912.

Finding the poles was one phase of the explorers' dreams. The dramatic sequel was an overland crossing of the Antarctic continent. Earlier, in 1914, when Shackleton attempted an inland crossing, his ship, the Endurance, was crushed in the heavy ice of the Weddell Sea and the attempt failed. The plan to cross the deadly expanse of snow and ice was shelved for some years until Vivian Fuchs revived it in 1957.

Fuchs had an excellent collaborator who knew much about snow and ice—Sir Edmund Hillary, the world-famous explorer who had already left his mark at the top of Mount Everest in the Himalayas. With the aid of aerial penetration and tracked vehicles, Fuchs and the British Commonwealth Trans-Antarctica Expedition were able to accomplish the Antarctic crossing after so many had failed. They took off from the Shackleton Base on the Filchner Ice Shelf on November 24, 1957, and made their way across the South Pole and on to New Zealand Scott Base. They arrived at Ross Island on March 2, 1958.

That same year, the British crown knighted Fuchs and named him director of the British Antarctic Survey, a position he held from 1958 until his retirement in 1975. Fuchs and Hillary also published a well-received book about their expedition, The Crossing of Antarctica (1958).

Sir Vivian Fuchs received additional honors, including election as president of the International Glaciological Society and the Royal Geographical Society (of which he is still honorary vice president). His later years were devoted to an autobiographical account of his adventures, A Time to Speak, published in 1990.


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Sir Vivian Ernest Fuchs

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