National Geographic Polar Explorations

There's no need for jackets, dog sleds, and woolen socks in this adventure into the polar regions of our planet. (And yes, there will be penguins.)
National Geographic Polar Explorations is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 37.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some Good and Some Bad I wanted to like this course. Sampling a few lectures on The Great Courses Plus left me in awe of the stunning photography and videography and the geological lectures on the much neglected regions of the Arctic and Antarctic drew me in further, to the point that I decided to fully invest myself by viewing all 22 lectures. Unfortunately, I also uncovered a lot of lectures that left much to be desired. First the good: Visually stunning video and photography of some of the most isolated areas on the planet. These were great guides to providing exactly what these regions offer and how that may or may not match up with traditional concepts of what the Arctic and Antarctic are like. There are great overviews and histories of the geological features of the Artic and Antarctica provided by Professor Wysession (whom stands out as tops among the other lecturers in this series). The penguins lecture (9) was my favorite! Who isn't fascinated by these birds that remind us so much of our own human species? If the videos and images don't enrapture you, Fen Montaigne's facts and descriptions of the various species are interesting and educational. This is the rare time in the course where everything comes together to produce a spellbinding lecture: visuals, facts, storytelling, presentation, etc. So what is my problem with the course? To sum up: I expected more. While the images paint a vivid picture of the region, unfortunately, the lectures don’t paint enough of a picture with words that make you feel like you are there truly experiencing the region or way of life yourself. This left me feeling like this course could’ve been so much better: there’s little insight into how the Inuit people truly live their daily lives or their history, no real sense of what it is like to live in Greenland and Iceland, and the course doesn’t really explain the living experience of scientists in the polar regions (except for 1 or 2 lines in lecture 20). Wouldn't it be great to see footage of scientists on a mission? What transportation do they use? What conditions are they truly experiencing? What do their housing accommodations look like? How do they deal with no sun for months at a time? What do you they do to manage feelings of isolation? Why does the lecture on deep water diving not show what the Arctic/Antarctic waters truly look like? Instead we get a discussion on the equipment used. Again, where is the relation of EXPERIENCE here? The studio in which the lectures were recorded was made up to resemble a polar research station and I thought, ironically, it did a better job of visually telling a story of life there than the words of the lecturers! Much too much of the lectures focus on recent climate change and the warming of the poles or the decimation of wildlife populations by human exploitation. I think we all understand these are concerning topics but the time could’ve been better spent on learning more about the region and its people and creatures. Instead these topics were so pervasive perhaps the course should be renamed to “Climate Change and Human Exploitation at the Poles”. While I enjoyed Professor Murphy's lecture on why we have seasons (2), I walked away still not 100% understanding the story here. I get that the earth rotates at a tilt which would explain a hemisphere being tilted towards the sun and getting more direct sunlight but why are certain hemispheres tilted towards the suns at different times of the years? Maybe the learning was there but I did not find it at least in a way I could understand. All in all would I recommend this course? Personally I would tell a friend to stick with lectures 1-4, 7, 11, 13-14, and 19. Since these are the ones that make this course worthwhile. I would advise them to not even bother with the others. Otherwise you'll leave with the same regrettable feeling I had: this course could've been so much more with a little bit of work. Pictures are good but if I'm investing 11 hours in an endeavor I expect more than that: I want lecture delivery and fact-relation that tells a story and illuminates experiences.
Date published: 2021-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great I love it it is so interesting I loved it I am so speeches thank you
Date published: 2021-02-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great pictures of wild life The subject matter is very interesting; I'm amazed at the amount of scientific knowledge about our polar regions. Unfortunately, too many of the lectures are not accompanied by pictures of the subject areas. Too many of the lectures are primarily global warming propaganda.
Date published: 2020-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Courses-swift delivery Very prompt delivery. Can not evaluate course, it is a Christmas gift for a family member
Date published: 2020-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course! As you would expect bringing the Great Courses and National Geographics together results in an awesome course. The mix of instructors was great and their passion was uplifting. Fascinating content presented in a way that that captured your attention and kept you wanting more. Fantastic!!
Date published: 2020-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Colorful and Thorough Course This is an excellent, well-rounded course that explores the Arctic and Antarctica from several vantage points: expedition history, geography, geology, oceanography, astronomy, fauna and flora, and polar photography. There are five lecturers, the best and principal presenter being journalist and antarctic field investigator Fen Montaigne. Color photos of the polar landscape, penguins, and marine mammals abound. This course is both interesting and informative.
Date published: 2020-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of the Arctic and Antarctic Really like this course, very comprehensive and in depth discussions about the poles, its history, the explorers and their methods, the animals, the peoples, the geography, and the ships, etc.
Date published: 2020-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Polar Explorations I enjoyed this course and was able to get my husband to watch quite a few of the lectures as well. I never realized how extensively both poles were developed and internationally explored. Excellent information by various professors of particular specialty enhanced the study and I learned so much. Amazing photography and the life experience of the primary professors made all so much more enjoyable as well as informative. This is a wonderful course which I highly recommend. Young students should find this fascinating not only adults. I will definately watch this course again too.
Date published: 2020-03-17
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Travel to the polar regions on an exquisite visual journey guided by five Arctic and Antarctic experts who reveal the science, culture, and history of these majestic locations.


Michael E. Wysession

The more you know and understand the natural world, the greater will be your love and appreciation for it.


Washington University in St. Louis
Dr. Michael E. Wysession is the Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Wysession earned his Sc.B. in Geophysics from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. An established leader in seismology and geophysical education, Professor Wysession is noted for his development of a new way to create three-dimensional images of Earth's interior from seismic waves. These images have provided scientists with insights into the makeup of Earth and its evolution throughout history. Professor Wysession is the coauthor of An Introduction to Seismology, Earthquakes, and Earth Structure; the lead author of Physical Science: Concepts in Action; and the primary writer for the texts Earth Science, Earth's Interior, Earth's Changing Surface, and Earth's Waters. Professor Wysession received a Science and Engineering Fellowship from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, a National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellowship, and fellowships from the Kemper and Lily Foundations. He has received the Innovation Award of the St. Louis Science Academy and the Distinguished Faculty Award of Washington University. In 2005, Professor Wysession had a Distinguished Lectureship with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the Seismological Society of America. In 2014, Wysession received the inaugural Ambassador Award of the American Geophysical Union.

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Edward M. Murphy

My goal is to introduce you to the beauty and the wonder of the night sky, and to give you a basic knowledge needed to feel more comfortable navigating the sky.


University of Virginia
Dr. Edward M. Murphy is Associate Professor, General Faculty at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He earned his bachelor's degree in Astronomy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Virginia in 1996. Professor Murphy was a postdoctoral fellow and an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he worked on NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE). In 2000 he joined the faculty at the University of Virginia, where he continues to use FUSE, along with radio telescopes, in his research on the interstellar medium. Professor Murphy teaches courses on introductory astronomy and intelligent life in the universe to undergraduates, as well as seminars on how to teach astronomy to graduate students. He also offers evening classes for the local community at the historical Leander McCormick Observatory. He was named a Teaching and Technology Fellow in 2002-2003 and an Ernest Boots Mead Honored Faculty Fellow in 2003-2004. Dr. Murphy gives astronomy talks, appears regularly on local radio, and leads professional development workshops for teachers. He has also worked with the Science Museum of Virginia to develop planetarium shows and exhibits.

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Sylvia A. Earle

As Explorer-in-Residence, I feel the joy of being able to go to both ends of the Earth aboard the National Geographic Explorer, the vessel that takes passengers, take scientists, takes me to places that have been off limits to people for most of our history.


National Geographic

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Marine Conservationist National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Sylvia A. Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer. She earned her bachelor's from Florida State University and holds an M.S. and a Ph.D. from Duke University, as well as 26 honorary degrees. Formerly chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr. Earle is the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, founder of Mission Blue and SEAlliance, and chair of the advisory councils of the Harte Research Institute and Ocean in Google Earth. She has authored more than 210 scientific, technical, and popular publications; lectured in more than 90 countries; and appeared in hundreds of radio and television productions. Dr. Earle has also led more than 100 expeditions and logged more than 7,000 hours under water, including leading the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite project in 1970, participating in 10 saturation dives, and setting a record for solo diving in 1,000-meter depth. Her research concerns marine ecosystems, with special reference to exploration, conservation, and the development and use of new technologies for access and effective operations in the deep sea and other remote environments. Dr. Earle's focus is on developing a global network of areas on the land and in the ocean to safeguard the living systems that provide the underpinnings of global processes.

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Ralph Lee Hopkins

As a photographer, I'm looking through a viewfinder, yes, but I'm more in the moment than I would be if I didn’t have my camera, and that’s the way I see the world.


National Geographic

Photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins is the founder and director of the onboard photography program for the National Geographic-Lindblad Expeditions fleet. For more than 20 years, he has photographed expeditions from the Arctic to the Antarctic and points in between.Mr. Hopkins completed his master's degree in Geology at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where he studied rocks along the rim of the Grand Canyon. He was a photographer on the 1990 Colorado River Expedition with the U.S. Geological Survey, and he continues to lead photo expeditions down the Colorado River.Mr. Hopkins's photography appears regularly in National Geographic publications. A member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, his current work focuses on documenting conservation and environmental issues in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Baja California, and the Sea of Cortes in Mexico.Mr. Hopkins is author and photographer of the popular guidebooks Hiking Colorado's Geology and Hiking the Southwest's Geology. His most recent book is Nature Photography: Documenting the Wild World.

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Fen Montaigne

We are moving into an era in which the melting of ice, on both land and at sea, will become one of the defining characteristics of a new geological age.


National Geographic

A veteran journalist, author, and editor, Fen Montaigne worked as a Moscow correspondent during the collapse of the Soviet Union, reported for National Geographic magazine from six continents, earned a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Mr. Montaigne has authored or coauthored five books and helped launch and edit the award-winning online magazine Yale Environment 360. Mr. Montaigne graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in International Relations. He wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1982 to 1996. Becoming a freelance journalist in 1996, he published articles in National Geographic magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Outside, Smithsonian, Forbes, and Audubon. In 2005 and 2006, Mr. Montaigne spent five months in the Antarctic Peninsula on the field team of ecologist Bill Fraser, who studies the impact of rapid warming on Adelie penguins and other seabirds. That story is told in Fraser's Penguins: A Journey to the Future in Antarctica. Mr. Montaigne now works as senior editor of Yale Environment 360 and as a lecturer for National Geographic Expeditions and Lindblad Expeditions.

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National Geographic Polar Explorations


Passion for the Poles

01: Passion for the Poles

What draws people to the poles again and again? What significance do these regions hold for the planet? Begin to answer these questions with Fen Montaigne, a journalist who has traveled extensively in the polar regions, as you delve into the awe-inspiring story of Ernest Shackleton's struggles in Antarctica, as well as Montaigne's own experiences....

32 min
Seasons at the Poles

02: Seasons at the Poles

In the latitudes where most of us live, it's easy to take the sun and its relationship with the Earth for granted. For us, the sun comes up and goes down reliably every day, yet the poles experience six months each of continuous night and constant day. What causes the seemingly strange behavior of the sun at the poles? What causes seasons? Find out in this lecture presented by astronomy professor ...

29 min
Connections between the Poles

03: Connections between the Poles

The North and South Poles share a history that is unique and unlike any other place on Earth. Join Professor Michael Wysession as he lays the groundwork for understanding the polar regions with a discussion of their geology-dominated by ice, ocean, climate, and even nearby outer space-as well as their similarities and differences....

33 min
The Saga of Arctic Exploration

04: The Saga of Arctic Exploration

Over the centuries, hundreds of people have perished trying to find their way through the Northwest Passage and to the North Pole, while hundreds more have spent months or years trapped on ships in Arctic sea ice. Discover how explorers such as Henry Hudson, Sir John Franklin, and Roald Amundsen opened up this polar region to the world....

31 min
The Icy Heart of Polar Seas

05: The Icy Heart of Polar Seas

Virtually every living thing in polar waters-from single-celled phytoplankton to whales-has evolved in a world dominated by sea ice. Study how Arctic and Antarctic marine ecosystems work, and consider what happens to a sea ice-dependent marine ecosystem when the sea ice begins to disappear....

28 min
Geology of the Arctic Circle

06: Geology of the Arctic Circle

Zoom in for a closer look at the unique geologic characteristics of the North Pole and surrounding Arctic Circle. First, take a brief geologic tour of the Arctic regions, then examine how the ocean, atmosphere, and surface geology all interact, and how this region has changed geologically over time....

32 min
Science and Spirits of the Arctic Sky

07: Science and Spirits of the Arctic Sky

Constellations were vital to the early Inuits' survival, as they used the daily, monthly, and annual motions of the stars for timekeeping, navigation, and tracking the seasons. Explore this tradition and how it differs from Western astronomy, then investigate what causes the breathtaking aurora borealis....

29 min
Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic

08: Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic

Although fewer than a half-million in number, Arctic dwellers are comprised of approximately 40 different ethnic groups. Learn how the Nenets of Russia, the Inuit of North America, and other communities survive, and how industrialization and other factors are altering traditional ways of life....

31 min
Greenland and Arctic Islands

09: Greenland and Arctic Islands

Delve into the past, present, and future of three of the most notable islands in the Arctic and sub-Arctic: Iceland, one of the world's most geologically active areas; Greenland, which dwarfs all other Arctic islands in size; and the Svalbard archipelago, home to The Global Seed Vault....

31 min
Terrestrial Mammals in the Changing Arctic

10: Terrestrial Mammals in the Changing Arctic

Now that Arctic sea ice is retreating, what will become of the polar bear? Will it survive and, if so, in what numbers? Learn how changes to the ecosystem are affecting the polar bears and the other remarkable animals that call the Arctic home, from the lemming to the Arctic fox....

31 min
Seabirds of the Arctic and Antarctic

11: Seabirds of the Arctic and Antarctic

Discover the astonishing array of avian life-primarily consisting of seabirds-that live in, breed in, and migrate to the planet's polar regions, including the albatross, the skua, the giant petrel, and the extraordinary Arctic tern, which carries out the longest annual migration of any living thing....

30 min
Marine Mammals, from Whales to Walruses

12: Marine Mammals, from Whales to Walruses

The waters of the Arctic and Antarctica teem with a remarkable number of marine mammals. Get an overview of the mammalian wildlife that inhabits or migrates to polar waters, including white beluga whales, leopard seals, crabeater seals, and walruses. Examine the sophisticated social structure of orcas, also known as killer whales, and why it makes them such effective predators....

29 min
The Race for the South Pole

13: The Race for the South Pole

Meet some of the towering figures of Antarctica's "heroic era," explorers and scientists in the early 20th century who vastly expanded our knowledge of the southernmost continent. Learn what drove these adventurers despite extreme hardship, and witness the treacherous race to the South Pole between Norwegian Roald Amundsen and Brit Robert Falcon Scott....

31 min
Geological Features of Antarctica

14: Geological Features of Antarctica

The ice in Antarctica may be more than a mile thick and millions of years old, but at times in its history the continent has been covered with jungles. Investigate the unusual geologic processes occurring in Antarctica and discover what features may be buried under all that ice....

28 min
Antarctica's Window on the Universe

15: Antarctica's Window on the Universe

Above Antarctica is a cap of stars and constellations hidden from view in the Northern Hemisphere and containing some of the most beautiful sights in the night sky. Survey the region's astronomical highlights and learn why, at the South Pole itself, astronomers and other scientists enjoy research conditions unrivaled anywhere else on Earth....

31 min
Diving under Polar Ice

16: Diving under Polar Ice

How do humans get beneath the surface of Arctic ice or the Antarctic Ocean? Join marine conservationist Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, as she explains the technologies scientists use to dive safely beneath the sea ice in an effort to expand our knowledge of marine ecosystems at both poles. ...

26 min
Resource Development in Polar Seas

17: Resource Development in Polar Seas

Humans are extracting krill and other marine life at unprecedented levels. Burning fossil fuels is causing ocean acidification. What will happen if we change the temperature or chemistry of the ocean? Consider such questions in this lecture on the delicate ecosystems of Earth's oceans and the consequences of treating oceanic wildlife as commodities....

25 min
South Georgia and Macquarie

18: South Georgia and Macquarie

Among the least inhabited places on Earth, the sub-Antarctic islands feature a spectacular array of wildlife despite a history of wanton exploitation beginning in the 18th century. Learn how seal, whale, and penguin populations were devastated on and around two of the sub-Antarctic's most significant islands-South Georgia and Macquarie-and how each population has largely recovered....

29 min
Living among the Penguins

19: Living among the Penguins

Legendary Antarctic adventurer Apsley Cherry-Garrard said "all the world loves a penguin" and in this lecture, you'll understand why. Get acquainted with Adelie, emperor, and chinstrap penguins by exploring how each evolved into the fat, flightless swimmer it is today. Explore the history of their interaction with humans and their remarkable cycles of reproduction and survival....

29 min
Antarctica-A Continent for Science

20: Antarctica-A Continent for Science

Survey the discoveries made and hardships suffered during centuries of scientific exploration in Antarctica, including a research expedition that sought viable emperor penguin eggs in an attempt to unlock an evolutionary mystery. See how Antarctic research helped create the modern sciences of oceanography, climatology, and glaciology, and is still driving scientific progress....

34 min
Basics of Polar Photography

21: Basics of Polar Photography

Picture being in the Arctic when a polar bear approaches your ship. What kind of camera should you use to capture the moment? What settings should you choose? Here, National Geographic photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins explains how to navigate the unique challenges of polar photography, from dealing with a "white world" to shooting atop a moving platform....

31 min
Photographing Polar Landscapes

22: Photographing Polar Landscapes

Photography is a blend of the creative and the technical and, in this lecture, you'll focus on the creative side of the equation. Learn how to use lighting, composition, and moment to your advantage in the Arctic and Antarctica through techniques such as changing perspective, incorporating people into your shots, and using negative space....

39 min