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National Geographic Special Collections: Archives & Film Preservation Blog

Operation Deepfreeze (1958-59)

by Karen Cerka on 2023-09-01T15:50:00-04:00 | 0 Comments


Admiral Richard Byrd led the first “Deepfreeze” expedition to Antarctica in 1956, and the primary goal was to build scientific stations and supply bases at McMurdo Sound, Little America, and the South Pole. The one at the Pole, named “Amundsen-Scott IGY South Pole Station,” was dedicated in January 1957, and Byrd’s protégée, Paul Siple, led the first team to spend the winter season there (see previous blog post).  "Operation Deepfreeze" was part of the International Geophysical Year, which began in 1957, and had 66 countries participate, 11 of which to specifically conduct scientific research in Antarctica.  Scientists manned 50 stations there that were built around the perimeter of the continent.  US participation was led by the US Department of Defense, who built the stations, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Rear Admiral George Dufek succeeded Byrd as director of operations of “Deepfreeze,” after Byrd passed away.  (Dufek narrates the film above for an NGS lecture event April 3, 1959).  The primary focus of research at the South Pole Station and Little America was weather studies and how to improve weather prediction through atmospheric monitoring.  One of the many scientific discoveries, and most impactful, was the data collected that helped to confirm that the Earth is getting warmer each year.

The entire scientific operation was not without many logistical complications and setbacks though - there were issues receiving cargo due to weather, Snow-Cats were frequently getting stuck in ice, and tragedy even struck the station when a few team members perished after falling through broken ice.  To hear more of Rear Admiral Dufek’s account of the four year “Operation Deepfreeze,” please read “What We’ve Accomplished in Antarctica” in the October 1959 NGM.

On February 4, 1959, President Eisenhower presented a second NGS Hubbard Medal to all the men of the U.S. Navy Antarctic Expeditions of 1955-59, honored for having explored the South Polar regions and for having established the all-important stations for the IGY.  (


For anyone interested in viewing the Operation Deepfreeze film in its entirety, it's included below:


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Banner Photo Credit: Renan Ozturk.