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Scientific papers on the Belgian Antarctic Expedition [1897-1899]

In 1896 the whaler Patria was purchased by Adrien de Gerlache and converted to the research ship Belgica to sail for the first Belgian international expedition to the Antarctic. Under his command the Belgica left Antwerp on the 16th of August 1897 and, after a long period of crossing the Atlantic Ocean, anchored in Isla de los Estados on the 7th of January 1898 before heading for its final destination. On 14 January 1898 the ship set course for the Antarctic and scientific observations started and were made by Henryk Arctowski (Pole, geographer, oceanographer and meteorologist), Emile Racovitza (Romanian, zoologist and botanist), Frederick Cook (American, surgeon, anthropologist and photographer), Antoni Dobrowolski (Polish, assistant-meteorologist) and the Belgian crew members Georges Lecointe (captain and hydrographer), Emile Danco (geophysical observations) and expedition leader Adrien de Gerlache. On 28 February 1898 the Belgica reached the Bellinghausen Sea and became trapped in the ice. The ship and the crew had no other option than staying there and this lead to the first expedition to winter in the Antarctic region. On 14 February 1899 the Belgica and the crew were able to escape the ice. On 28 March 1899 the ship arrived in Punta Arenas letting its crew to recover for several months. The expedition returned to Antwerp on 5 November 1899.

During this two years expedition more than 1,200 animal species and 500 plants were sampled. The collected materials were further described and identified by more than 80 scientists worldwide. Results were published between 1901 and 1949 entitled 'Expédition antarctique belge. Résultats du voyage du S.Y. Belgica en 1897-1898-1899 sous le commandement de A. de Gerlache de Gomery'.

Commission de la Belgica; (2015): Scientific reports from expeditions with the Belgica in the Antarctic between 1897-1899 (A. Gerlache de Gomery).

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RV Belgica / Belgica expedition
Adrien de Gerlache
Eugène Leloup
Auguste Lameere
Paul Pelseneer
Edouard Van Beneden

The Antarctic Expedition dataset includes 2,082 records (1,933 species, 100 genus and 49 higher level observations) for 235 sampling locations in the Antarctic region. Data were digitized from 31 original expedition reports including 29 zoological and 2 botanical (diatoms and lichenized fungi) reports. Taxa belonged to 16 phyla of which the Arthropoda were the most abundant with 26.3% of observations (160 species), followed by the Ochrophyta (15.7%, 240 diatom species) and the Bryozoa (14.5%, 95 species). Most Chordates belonged to the seals (phocids and otariids), penguins and other bird species.

Within the phylum Arthropoda no less than 47 unique species were identified as insects (which is quite remarkable because one did not expect to find them in the cold climate of Antarctica). During this expedition the Antarctic midge, Belgica antarctica, was discovered making it the largest endemic insect of the continent. Insects belonged to 6 orders of which the beetles species (Coleoptera) were most represented.