Marie Byrd Land

Marie Byrd Land

[muh-ree burd]
Marie Byrd Land, area of W Antarctica, E of the Ross Shelf Ice and the Ross Sea and S of the Amundsen Sea; the Ford Ranges lie in the northwest part. The region was discovered and claimed for the United States by Richard E. Byrd in 1929. Much of this region was explored during the second Byrd expedition (1933-35) and the U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition (1939-41).
Marie Byrd Land is the portion of Antarctica lying east of the Ross Ice Shelf and the Ross Sea and south of the Pacific Ocean, extending eastward approximately to a line between the head of the Ross Ice Shelf and Eights Coast. It stretches between 158°W and 103°24'W. The inclusion of the area between the Rockefeller Plateau and Eights Coast is based upon the leading role of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd in the exploration of this area. The name was originally applied by Admiral Byrd in 1929, in honor of his wife, to the northwestern part of the area, the part that was explored in that year.

Because of its remoteness, even by Antarctic standards, most of Marie Byrd Land (the portion east of 150°W) has not been claimed by any sovereign nation. Although it isn't a recognised nation, making it by far the largest single unclaimed territory on Earth, with an area of 1 610 000 km² (including Eights Coast, immediately east of Marie Byrd Land). In 1939, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt instructed members of the Antarctic expedition to take steps to claim some of Antarctica as territory. Although this appears to have been done by members of this and subsequent expeditions, these do not have appeared to have been formalized prior to 1959, and the setting up of the Antarctic Treaty System. Some publications in the US have shown this as US territory in the intervening period, and the Defense Department of the US Government has stated that the US has a solid basis for a claim in Antarctica resulting from its activities prior to 1959. The portion west of 150°W is part of Ross Dependency.

Five coastal areas are distinguished, which are listed from west to east:

No. Sector Western Border Eastern Border
1 Saunders Coast 158°00'W 146°31'W
2 Ruppert Coast 146°31'W 136°50'W
3 Hobbs Coast 136°50'W 127°35'W
4 Bakutis Coast 127°35'W 114°12'W
5 Walgreen Coast 114°12'W 103°24'W
  Marie Byrd Land 158°00'W 103°24'W


While the Amundsen Sea, off eastern Marie Byrd Land represented James Cook's farthest south position on his 1774 Resolution voyage, the detailed exploration of Marie Byrd Land did not begin until the United States Navy's Operation High Jump of 1946-47. Comprehensive aerial photography from ski equipped C-47 aircraft provided the first maps of much of Marie Byrd Land.


Marie Byrd Land formerly hosted the Operation Deep Freeze base Byrd Station (NBY), beginning in 1957, in the hinterland of Bakutis Coast. Byrd Station was the only major base in the interior of West Antarctica. In 1968, the first ice core to fully penetrate the Antarctic Ice Sheet was drilled here. The year-round station was abandoned in 1972, although many years a temporary summer encampment, Byrd Surface Camp, is opened by the United States Antarctic Program to support operations in northern West Antarctica.

Byrd Station provided a template for the doomed Antarctic base in the horror movie John Carpenter's The Thing.

In 1998-99, a camp was operated at the Ford Ranges (FRD) in western Marie Byrd Land, supporting a part of a USAP airborne survey intiatated by UCSB and operated by the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics.

In 2004-05, a large camp, Thwaites (THW) was established by the USAP 150 km north of NBY, in order to support a large airborne geophysical survey of eastern Marie Byrd Land by the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics.

In 2006, a major encampment, WAIS Divide (WSD) was established on the divide between the Ross Sea Embayment and the Amundsen Sea Embayment, in easternmost Marie Byrd Land, in order to drill a high resolution ice core over the following three years.

On Ruppert Coast of Marie Byrd Land is the Russian station Russkaya, which was temporarily unoccupied and is also used as a summer-only station.


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