From Woody's Couch

Our Playbook on OSU History

Category: Polar Archives (page 1 of 7)

Frozen Fridays: ‘S’ is for Siple!

This blog post is part of the Frozen Friday Series, an A-Z journey of the Polar Archives.  Each week, we will feature some aspect of the history of polar exploration with a blog post written by our student authors

Dr. Paul Siple on the cover of Time
Magazine in 1956.

While doing research for another Frozen Fridays post (“‘O’ is for Outreach”), I came across a source written by a familiar name: Siple (as in Dr. Paul Siple). Puzzled by the familiarity, I summoned the “Googler” and sought to solve my self-created mystery. Upon skimming Paul Siple’s Wikipedia page, I arrived at my answer: Paul Siple, apart from his significant contribution to the development of what would commonly be known as the wind-chill factor, was also the famous Boy Scout that went with then Commander Richard E. Byrd on his first expedition to Antarctica (1928-30). With some excitement at this discovery, my curiosity succeeded in derailing me from my research and drove me to the Polar Archive’s website, seeking a short biography of the man. While Dr. Paul Siple did have a collection in the Polar Archives, to my disappointment, no such bio yet existed. With this week’s blog, I intend to rectify that by writing a bio pro tempore that will bring attention to one of the many interesting individuals within the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program.

A young Paul Siple in his scouting
uniform in 1928.

Paul Allman Siple, born on 18 December 1908 in Montpelier, Ohio, would be one of the few men to have the distinction of serving under Admiral Richard E. Byrd on all five of his Antarctic expeditions.[1] On the first of these expeditions, the young Paul Siple was a plucky nineteen year-old, fresh from his first year of college.[2]  In June 1928, Chief Scout Executive James E. West announced that Commander Richard Byrd was looking for a single Boy Scout to serve with him on his upcoming journey south.[3] Of the 826,000 scouts, eighty-eight were recommended to the National Office of the Boy Scouts, which in turn narrowed the selection pool to seventeen. A further committee narrowed the seventeen to six finalists.[4] The most basic considerations for any scout applying for this coveted position were rigorous: at least two years of First Class or Able Sea Scout rank in the Scout Movement, two recommendations from “qualified authorities” on his character and skill, and Merit Badges in various skills such as Aviation, Hiking, Machinery, and Taxidermy.[5] Obviously, the final six Scouts held all of those qualifications and more. The final selection memo sent to Chief Scout Executive James West detailed each of the six, listing the strengths and weaknesses of each boy.  Paul Siple received more than double the average number of strengths while fewer than the average number of weak points. Described in the memo as having “a good strong physique” and an “excellent character with the highest ideals,” Siple appeared to the selectors to be intelligent, sincere, respectful, and generally very well suited to the tasks of the expedition. Even his weak points were positive: “He is not a rapid thinker. He takes time, but is usually right. He is a little too serious…He accepts criticism appreciatively, however.”[6]  It appears that Paul Siple was the clear choice for the expedition.

Dr. Paul Siple in 1937, nearly
ten years after Byrd’s First
Antarctic Expedition

Siple nearly missed the opportunity to winter on the continent. “‘Nobody knows who is going to stay on the ice,’” said Siple, quoting then Commander Byrd. “‘Everyone who does will have to have a reason. Besides, we do need crew members to bring the ships back for us at the end.’”[7] Luckily, Siple’s training as a Boy Scout came once again to his aid. Larry Gould, second in command of the expedition, “had promised the American Museum of Natural History that he would bring back a barrel each of seal and penguin skins,” an obligation that Gould no longer felt he could complete. Thus, when Gould sought someone to take on the messy task, Siple was first to volunteer. After pleading to the good Commander to allow the boy to winter on the ice, Siple joined the winter party as a “taxidermist, dog driver and naturalist.”[8] Siple would also become the driver of his own dog team when one the expedition’s dog handlers suffered “an unfortunate accident.”[9] Siple recounted his adventures as a Boy Scout with Byrd in his books,  A Boy Scout with Byrd and 90⁰ South. Perhaps the most amusing of these tales is the story of how he gained a “knighthood”. Siple was a founding member of the “Knights of the Grey Underwear” when, out of necessity the winter party engaged in a process known as “dry washing”. Siple explains: “In the cold of the winter the process we called ‘dry washing,’ or exchanging soiled clothes for almost equally soiled garments which had previously been set aside for laundering but which now looked somehow cleaner than those being worn, came into existence. And so the “Knights of the ‘Grey Underwear’ was born.”[10]

Dr. Paul Siple in Antarctica, nearly thirty years after
he first visited the continent.

Upon returning to the United States, Mr. Siple would become Dr. Paul Siple after completing a doctorate in geography from Clark University. He would serve on all of Admiral Byrd’s expeditions to the Antarctic and devised, with Charles Passel, the wind-chill index that measures the effect of moving air on the human body.[11] Paul Siple lived an incredible live and had the privilege of serving with Admiral Byrd for nearly the entirety of his adult life. Paul Siple’s collections and the collections of other Polar Explorers, including the good Admiral, can be found at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program.

Written by John Hooton.

[1] Jeff Rubin, “Siple, Paul,” Encyclopedia of the Antarctic (New York: Routledge 2007).

[2] Information taken from the Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

[3] Information taken from the Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

[4] James E. West,  “With Byrd to the Antarctic”, Boys Life, October 1928, 17.

[5] Information taken from the Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

[6] Information taken from the Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

[7] Paul Siple. 90⁰ South (New York: Putnam 1959), 40.

[8] Paul Siple. 90⁰ South, 41.

[9] Paul Siple. 90⁰ South, 42.

[10] Paul Siple. 90⁰ South, 43.

[11] Jeff Rubin, “Siple, Paul.”

Frozen Fridays: ‘R’ is for RADARSAT!

This blog post is part of the Frozen Friday Series, an A-Z journey of the Polar Archives.  Each week, we will feature some aspect of the history of polar exploration with a blog post written by our student authors

A photograph can be a powerful thing, but it is a very simple concept to understand: a device takes in light and captures the light of a moment in a tangible form that can be printed and viewed over and over again. At their most meaningful, photographs can represent something deeply emotional. They can represent a moment in life and thus a nostalgic focal point. Imbued in the image are the sights, sounds, and feelings of a different time. Photographs can be a source of identity, representing something far more than just an image on a rectangular plane. They can bring a sense of reality to locations that would otherwise exist in the ethereal.

An image, taken by NASA, of Antarctica from space.

In this way, a photograph of Antarctica would represent something greater than just a new image of Antarctica. In a way, it would make Antarctica more real, like how a photograph of the Grand Canyon might make it seem more than just a place on a map. Yet it would be greater than that. Photographs of Antarctica from space are notoriously poor. Cloud cover always obscures Antarctica and, for about half the year, the darkness of the austral winter hides the continent.[1] Thus, photographing Antarctica in any fashion has proved a particular challenge for scientists. That is, until 1997, when the RADARSAT Antarctic Mapping Project provided the first high-resolution views of the entirety of Antarctica.[2]

RADARSAT-1 keeps a watchful eye on the Earth.

Canadian RADARSAT-1 was the combined effort of the Canadian Space Program, which developed the satellite, and NASA, which launched the satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Equipped with a C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar, which allows the satellite to take high-resolution images of the surface of the Earth regardless of the day/night cycle and any otherwise inclement weather.[3] Launched in 1995, RADARSAT-1 provided information and images of the Earth for many purposes, such as agriculture, cartography, and disaster management, until it ceased to be active.[4]

RADARSAT-1 took thousands of rectangular images
of Antarctica which ultimately resulting in a mosaic
of the continent.

Scientists at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (then just the Byrd Polar Research Center) saw the potential RADARSAT-1 had for a breakthrough in mapping Antarctica. The satellite could be ordered to maneuver in space from Earth in such a way that would allow for imaging of the elusive southern continent.[5] Dr. Kenneth Jezek led the team from the Ohio State University that led the overall project and provided scientific direction as well as producing the final products. The first Antarctic Imaging Campaign, as the initial stage of the RADARSAT Antarctic Mapping Project was known, utilized RADARSAT-1’s capabilities to maneuver and capture images despite conditions that would otherwise make image taking impossible. The campaign was completed nine days before it had originally been planned to end with minimal difficulties.[6]

One of the final end products of RAMP:
the mosaic image of Antarctica.

The result was a rather large number of images representing many rectangular images if portions of Antarctica. The images were processed and combined by the Ohio State University team of scientists and resulted in a mosaic image of the frozen continent. In the words of Dr. Jezek, “the RAMP mosaic…is truly a new view of Antarctica.”[7] The mosaic allowed scientists to examine in great detail the geology and glaciology of the continent and provides a bench mark for scientists to judge future changes in the Antarctic ice sheet.[8]

The RADARTSAT-1 Antarctic Mapping Project (RAMP) resulted in a new picture of Antarctica. We can now see the continent through the clouds that kept it shrouded for so long. Scientists studying the Antarctic can use the images produced by RAMP to judge the state of the continent. For the rest of us, however, the image can make the continent more of a real place.

Dr. Jezek and many other polar scientists and explorers have collections at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program, so come check us out!

Written by John Hooton.

[1] Kenneth C. Jezek, “RADSARSAT Antarctic Mapping Project,” Encyclopedia of the Antarctic (New York: Routledge 2007).

[2] Jezek, “RADSARSAT Antarctic Mapping Project.”

[3] Kenneth C. Jezek, “RADARSAT-1 Antarctic Mapping Project,” accessed March 15, 2017,

[4] “RADARSAT-1”, Canadian Space Agency, last modified March 21, 2014, accessed March 15, 2017,

[5] Jezek, “RADARSAT-1 Antarctic Mapping Project.”

[6] Jezek, “RADARSAT-1 Antarctic Mapping Project.”

[7] Jezek, “RADARSAT-1 Antarctic Mapping Project.”

[8] Jezek, “RADSARSAT Antarctic Mapping Project.”

Frozen Fridays: ‘Q’ is for Questionable Theories!

This blog post is part of the Frozen Friday Series, an A-Z journey of the Polar Archives.  Each week, we will feature some aspect of the history of polar exploration with a blog post written by our student authors

Here at the Polar Archives, our job is to preserve and make available to the public all materials in our collections. Every day we receive reference requests from individuals seeking to study items held in the archives and we gladly help them in any way we can. Sometimes patrons are seeking out information regarding a relative, hoping to prove that a family legend was true. Alternatively, maybe a patron is doing research on one of Admiral Byrd’s expeditions for a class assignment and needs to read one of his journals.  Or perhaps a documentary producer or author visits to conduct research on a film or book project.

Hollow Earth believers claim that at
either pole is a massive hole that
leads to the Hollow Earth. Many
claim that explorers such as Admiral
Richard E. Byrd have flown into one of
these holes, though the Papers of
Admiral Byrd hold no evidence
supporting that claim.

We are also happy to answer questions that might not require any in-depth research,  or any questions about the general content of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program. “Where should I look to find any information on my great-grandfather’s role in a Cook expedition” is a question we might get.  These are just a few of the possible scenarios.

However, sometimes we get requests that are a little more unorthodox. While we of course treat every request with the respect and service owed, some requests are objectively unusual. Although no items in our collections are classified, we have had the Freedom of Information Act unnecessarily referenced several times.  Though some items within our collections were at some point classified, all have since been declassified for some time. Some requests specifically mention subjects that are not a part of mainstream dialogue, such as alien life or underground civilizations. These kinds of subjects usually are tied to one of two questionable theories that commonly come up at the Polar Archives: The Hollow Earth theory and the Flat Earth theory.  I have endeavored to learn what I can about these alternative theories and give a basic rundown of their essential tenets.

One brand of Hollow Earth theory believes that at
the center of the Earth is an inner sun that provides
heat and light for the world inside the Earth.

Many cultures have had a Hollow Earth-like globe featured in their mythology, but modern Hollow Earth beliefs seem to date back to John Cleves Symmes, Jr. in the early nineteenth century. The Hollow Earth theory has evolved over time and is now as varied as its devotees, but the universal, core belief of Hollow Earth theorists is that the Earth is hollow. The crust of the Earth is the outer shell and embedded in this crust some miles below us is the ‘center of gravity’, where gravity is reversed. Above that line, objects are pulled towards the center of the planet. Below that line, objects are pulled away from the center. Below the planetary wall exists a completely new world complete with its own continents and central sun. Inhabiting this allegedly lush and warm world is anything from large, thin Grey Aliens, ancient cultures such as the Vikings of Greenland, to Nazis fleeing Allied forces after the Second World War. Some theorists tie this theory to religion, claiming that the mythical Garden of Eden lies beneath us and Adam and Eve were banished from below to the surface. The Lost Tribe of Israel is claimed to have migrated into the subterranean Earth. Hollow Earth theorists believe that the Polar Regions can provide the proof that will convince the rest of the world of their theory. At each of the poles lies entrances into the hollow Earth. Some claim that these entrances are gaping holes that extend miles while others believe that caverns exist that lead to the underworld.

Some Hollow Earth theorists maintain that
advanced cultures live in the Hollow Earth, such as
the notorious Greys, an alien species that is claimed
to frequent the Earth.

Hollow Earth theorists claim that proof exists in numerous fantastical ‘accounts’ of surface dwellers reaching the inside. A common claim is that our own Admiral Richard E. Byrd flew into the Hollow Earth on his famous (or infamous) flight to the North Pole. Another claim, which I came upon while researching for the earlier Operation Highjump Frozen Fridays post, portrays the expedition as an American invasion of Antarctica which failed after encountering heavy resistance from flying saucers.

Some believe that our own Admiral Richard E. Byrd
was forced to retreat from Antarctica by saucers
coming from the Hollow Earth during Operation
Highjump (1946-47).

The other common theory, the Flat Earth, has a bit more uniformity to it. The Flat Earth Society, along with other similar societies, works toward the goal of ‘enlightening’ humanity away from the “Round Earth Conspiracy”. This “Planar Conspiracy” appears to be motivated by the desire to gain power and wealth by siphoning money from space budgets. Flat Earth theorists maintain that the world is flat. The North Pole sits at the center of the map, with the continents and oceans surrounding it. Circumnavigation is thus possible by simply sailing in a circle around the pole. While the North Pole sits at the center, the Antarctic encircles the world, creating a massive ice wall that extends for hundreds of miles beyond the ocean. Believing that the moon landing and photographs are fake, Flat Earth theorists claim that astronauts simply lie about their experiences. Gravity is declared to be false and the claim put forth that objects simply fall. What scientists refer to as the atmosphere is believed to be a dome of air that separates us from the outside. This ‘Dome’, ‘Firmament’, or ‘Vault of Heaven’ is filled with holes that appear to us as stars.

In Flat Earth theory, the Earth has the North Pole at
its center with the rest of the map radiating from it.
The Antarctic lines the world with what is known as
the ‘Ice Wall’ that is very large and extends for
hundreds of miles beyond the points at which it
meets the world’s oceans.

I reached out to the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center for a response from individuals who have devoted their careers to the study of science. I received the following response from Jason Cervenec, Education and Outreach Director at the B.P.C.R.C., edited for the sake of brevity:

While “questionable theories” have been proposed in the past and will continue to be suggested in the future, science by its very nature has a way of eventually discarding or refining these theories. Some questionable theories first seem quite plausible, such as the Earth being flat …until overwhelming evidence… is discovered… In science, claims must be refutable and based on observations in the natural world. These two underlying components have been around since at least the time of Sir Francis Bacon in the 1500s and 1600s. Likewise, accepted claims in science are ultimately determined by consensus of peers, in other words, the experts who work in a particular scientific discipline. This process plays out today when scientists create posters and talks for conferences that ultimately result in conversations, with manuscripts eventually getting submitted to peer-reviewed journals. Publication is part of the process of acceptance of a claim in the scientific community… This reaching of consensus by experts is very different than our egalitarian views in the United States where everyone’s ideas receive equal treatment and validity. In science, experts determine the accepted claims, often referred to as facts outside of the scientific community, in the discipline where they work.

Questionable theories, such as the Earth being hollow, have been around for a few centuries but have no basis in evidence. In fact, they are easily refuted by satellite data in addition to accounts of the many people, including many researchers from Ohio State, who have travelled to both the Arctic and Antarctic. Nonetheless, these theories persist, often with associated conspiracy theories that the photographic evidence is fraudulent and the military will not allow individuals to visit Antarctica. Similar to witch hunts in Salem, these claims are not based in evidence and often promulgated by individuals who openly state that they are irrefutable. Therefore, these claims are inherently unscientific. While this does not appeal to our sense of egalitarianism of ideas in everyday life, science relies on evidence, prior research, and the wisdom of experts.

Science as a process strives to rigorously weed out ill-formed theories, such as the Flat Earth and Hollow Earth theories. In addition to the centuries of evidence mounted against these questionable theories, no supporting evidence has yet been found in the collections of the Polar Archives.  But you don’t have to take our word for it; our collections are open to public research and study, and we encourage researchers to come to their own conclusions! If you’d like to make an appointment to use the collections of the polar archives contact us!

Written by John Hooton.

Older posts