Sunday, November 12, 2000

What's in a name? The seventh continent bears the names of heroic explorers and heavy equipment operators alike

Published in the Antarctic Sun

When explorers first set eyes on Antarctica, “Terra Incognita” wasn’t just an unknown land,
it was an unnamed land, too.

They soon took care of that, naming prominent geographic features after themselves, their ships and those who gave them financial backing.

In 1841 Capt. James Clark Ross named the Ross Ice Shelf in his own honor; he named mounts Erebus and Terror for his ships. Capt. Robert Scott, 60 years later, named Cape Armitage for his second-in-command and Minna Bluff for the wife of Sir Clements Markham, one of Scott’s primary sponsors.

But Antarctica is a big place. There are still a lot of points, bluffs, peaks, glaciers, nunataks and other formations that need labeling. Since 1947, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and its Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names have handled that task.

To decide on designations names are first categorized as personal or non-personal.

The latter include commemoration of events (for instance, Jubilee Peak), ships (Glacier Bight), Antarctic-related organizations (USARP Mountains) and descriptions of features (Turtle Rock).

People’s names are, of course, also used.

They are assigned based on the level of a person’s contribution to Antarctic research or history, and on the type of geographic feature.

First-order features are large, such as regions of land, large glaciers, ice shelves and large
mountain ranges. They are named after leaders of major expeditions, towering figures in Antarctic history and donors to Antarctic research.

Second-order features include peninsulas, significant mountains, prominent coastal features and islands. They are named for people who have played significant but lesser roles.

Third-order features include nunataks, cliffs, rocks and anchorages. They are named for people who have supported Antarctic endeavors.

Various people in the U.S. Antarctic Program have been immortalized on the Ice, from top dogs at the National Science Foundation to long-term program employees (see sidebar). NSF director Rita Colwell was once an Antarctic field researcher; a mountain now bears her name. NSF representative Dave Bresnahan and his boss Erick Chiang both have mountains named for them.

Chuck Gallagher served in the U.S. Naval Support Force, Antarctica and then worked for Antarctic Support Associates before dying at McMurdo Station on May 1, 1997. A ridge bears his name.

In alphabetical order, here are some Antarctic geographic features named after some members
of the U.S. Antarctic Program who will be on the continent this season. Their accomplishments are listed in brief. For a complete list and searchable database, visit the U.S. Geological Survey’s Antarctic names web site at

Ainley Peak is named for David Ainley, penguin and skua researcher.
Alcorta Rocks is a nunatak named for Jesse Alcorta, hazardous waste specialist
and cryogenic technician.
DeVries Glacier is named for Art DeVries, long-time biologist at McMurdo Station.
Guthridge Nunataks are named after Guy Guthridge, director of polar information
services for the NSF and chair of the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names.
Joyce Peak is named for Karen Joyce, who has worked in computer science support for 10 years.
Kennedy Ridge is a ridge named for Nadene Kennedy, NSF’s polar coordination specialist.
Kottmeier Mesa is named after Steve Kottmeier, who’s been a scientist and administrator with the program since 1988.
Krall Crags is a pair of summits named for Sarah Krall, who has worked in the program for over 10 years.
Kyle Hills is a group of hills on Ross Island named for Phil Kyle, who has studied Mount Erebus for 28 years.
Lettau Peak is named for Bernhard Lettau, ocean and climate sciences program manager at the Office of Polar Programs.
Mount Bresnahan is named for Dave Bresnahan, current NSF representative at McMurdo Station.
Mount Chiang is a mountain named after Erick Chiang, manager of operations for polar programs.
Mount Melton is a peak named for Terry Melton, who has worked as an engineer and manager at Palmer and McMurdo stations since 1981.
Palais Glacier is a glacier named after Julie Palais, field researcher in Antarctica and NSF polar glaciology program manager. Palais Bluff also bears her name.
Robbins Hill is named for Rob Robbins, science diving coordinator and 22-year program veteran.
Scanniello Peak is a peak named after Jeff Scanniello, surveyor at McMurdo and South Pole stations.
Uberuaga Island gets its name from Jules Uberuaga, long-time equipment operator.