Weather & Exploration

November 17-23, 2013 is Geography Awareness Week. This year’s theme is Geography and the New Age of Exploration.  Exploration takes us to places we’ve never been – it can be done on foot, on horseback, in a car, on a ship, in a space shuttle or even underwater in the deepest parts of the ocean. Exploration can happen in your own backyard or on top of the highest mountain. There are no boundaries when it comes to exploring or how it is done!

Today, advances in technology are helping people explore places that were previously thought impossible to reach, and weather can play a big part in the success (or failure) of a mission. Take Felix Baumgartner: He flew 24 miles high into the stratosphere in a special balloon before free-falling in a pressure suit all the way back to the ground. Weather was a huge factor when it came to the balloon launch. Winds had to be calm and couldn’t suddenly shift, the sky had to clear so moisture from clouds didn’t stick to the balloon, and the time of year had to be just right.

In the past, people didn’t have the advanced technology we have today, but that didn’t stop them from pushing the limits of exploration. Geography and weather play an important role in exploration. Below are two examples of how these elements came into play for some famous explorers of the past.

  • Henry Hudson: The Hudson River is not named for the man who discovered the river (Giovanni da Verrazzano), but for the man who traveled the river farther. That man was Henry Hudson. Henry Hudson had many explorations, but one in 1609 with inclement weather caused him to sail up the Hudson River. Hudson and his crew set sail from Amsterdam (Netherlands) north to look for the Northwest Passage that could carry a ship all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. On this trip, the weather worsened and grew colder, so the crew headed south past Maine and landed near New Jersey, only to turn north again. With strong winds and storms, they headed up past Manhattan (as we know it today) and inland along the Hudson River. After 150 miles, they turned around because they did not reach the Pacific Ocean. The exploration was not a total loss, though, because this led to Dutch colonization in the area.
  • Lewis & Clark: In 1803, Thomas Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis, Jefferson’s personal secretary, to explore new land acquired from the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. In turn, Lewis sought the help of William Clark, who had strong abilities as a draftsman and frontiersman, and made him co-commanding captain. The exploration (1804-1806) to find a route across the Western U.S. started just outside of St. Louis and moved west, riding the Missouri River up through South Dakota and Montana. There, the group moved to the Jefferson River and made the trek up and through the Rocky Mountains. Once over the Rockies, they took the Columbia River all the way to Fort Clatsop, on the Pacific Coast of Oregon. During the journey, they experienced some brutal weather conditions, including when they camped for 146 days during the winter in Fort Mandan, North Dakota. Temperatures fell well below zero, with some days as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Guards had to switch every 30 minutes because it was so cold. In May of 1805, a sudden gust of wind toppled boat vessels while in Montana. When the group traveled the Rockies, they had to find horses to help them through the snow packed peaks.



Image: Lewis & Clark’s winter stay in North Dakota, courtesy of North Dakota State Government.











Looking for more exploration stories? Watch a video about former Earth Gauge staffer Ann Posegate’s 2010 visit to Antarctica with meteorologist Dan Satterfield, and celebrate the National Geographic Society’s 125th year anniversary by diving into the new age of exploration!



(Sources: State Historical Society of North Dakota, “Expedition – What Was the Weather Like During the Expedition’s Winter Stay in 1804-1805?” http://history.nd.gov/exhibits/lewisclark/weather.html; National Geographic, “Lewis & Clark,” http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lewisandclark/index.html; National Archives, “Teaching with Documents: The Lewis and Clark Expedition,” http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/lewis-clark/; America’s Library, “Henry Hudson and His Crew Sailed into the River that Would Bear His Name September 3, 1609,” http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/colonial/jb_colonial_hudson_2.html; The Mariners’ Museum, “Henry Hudson,” http://www.marinersmuseum.org/education/henry-hudson; Red Bull Stratos, “The Mission,” http://www.redbullstratos.com/the-mission/what-is-the-mission/; “Image of Lewis & Clark’s winter stay in North Dakota courtesy of North Dakota State Government)

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