National Geographic Polar Explorations

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Course No. 3502
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Gain a deeper appreciation for each of the poles, how they're connected, and what makes them unique.
  • numbers Explore the native people and animals found in each location, including their social structures and migration patterns.
  • numbers Follow current scientific expeditions, and learn what previous journeys have already taught us.
  • numbers Take photos alongside a master photographer, learning how to handle difficult landscapes and unusual lighting.

Course Overview

Enchanting and otherworldly in their beauty, the polar regions are some of the most isolated and least understood places on Earth. Until relatively recently, few non-indigenous people had experienced their immense majesty. And yet, while remote, these extreme environments are endlessly fascinating, and eminently worthy of witnessing firsthand, especially if you are prepared to understand what you are seeing.

Now, Polar Explorations, a one-of-a-kind educational journey created in collaboration with National Geographic, provides you a 360-degree view of the Arctic and Antarctica in 22 visually stunning lectures plus bonus video: Unforgettable Moments from National Geographic's Polar Trips. A travelogue, science class, and history lesson rolled into one comprehensive course, Polar Explorations provides you with the context necessary to fully appreciate the splendor of the poles, including insights into:

  • geology,
  • astronomy,
  • zoology,
  • oceanography,
  • history,
  • culture, and
  • photographing unique subjects.

Whether you’ve always dreamed of an expedition to these incredible ice-bound worlds or you’re simply curious about the wonders they hold, this course transports you to some of the most intriguing and alien places on the planet. Through powerful, rare images and extensive video, these lectures offer you a captivating, in-depth look at what makes these places so exceptional and why they beg to be studied. This spectacular footage, shot on location during voyages with National Geographic Expeditions—the travel program of the National Geographic Society—provides you with an immersive experience unmatched by anything short of actually journeying to the ends of the Earth.

Take this opportunity to venture to the polar regions and you’ll witness breathtaking sights unparalleled on our planet, including:

  • Antarctic ice sheets covering an area one-and-a-half times the size of the United States and up to three miles deep (representing 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of its fresh water);
  • magnificent blue icebergs and massive calving glaciers;
  • periods when the sun and the moon are continuously visible and never set;
  • astonishing seabirds, from penguins and puffins to skuas and petrels;
  • bizarre sea-based life-forms such as diatoms and sea butterflies; and
  • other remarkable wildlife in action, including polar bears, Arctic foxes, walruses, narwhals, seals, and orcas (also known as killer whales).

An Educational Adventure Led by Five Noted Authorities

Not only does this unforgettable educational journey feature spectacular National Geographic footage but also it presents a multidisciplinary team of renowned instructors hand-picked by National Geographic and The Great Courses, who share their expert insights on these ever-changing places.

You’ll begin with Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist and National Geographic magazine contributing writer Fen Montaigne on the question of why people journey to the poles—from intrepid 19th-century explorers like Ernest Shackleton to today’s leading scientists—and discover an answer more complicated than you might imagine.

Directing your attention skyward to explore the regions’ unique relationship with the heavens is Edward Murphy, Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Virginia. Adopting an astronomer’s-eye view of the poles, you’ll investigate:

  • why the sun behaves differently at the North Pole, rising and setting only once each year;
  • how Antarctica has changed throughout history, with evidence showing it was once a jungle-covered landscape;
  • why Antarctica is the world’s best place to conduct certain kinds of astronomical research;
  • what causes seasons and how they’re experienced at the poles; and
  • spectacular auroras and other unique polar phenomena.

Next, Michael Wysession, Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, reveals the fascinating geology and geography of the poles, from how they were formed to how they continue to evolve. You’ll come to understand the differences between the Arctic and Antarctic environments—the former a vast frozen ocean surrounded by diverse landscapes, the latter an icy desert continent—as well as their many similarities. Professor Wysession also illuminates how conditions in each location drive the global conveyor belt of ocean currents and winds that heat and cool the earth.

Surviving in a Frigid World

In addition to the marvelous footage of ice, snow, and ocean you’ll witness in these lectures, Polar Explorations shines a spotlight on the many amazing forms of life that call the polar regions home. Some of the wildlife you encounter will be familiar, such as the polar bears of the Arctic and Antarctica’s many penguin species. Others may be somewhat foreign, from the microscopic creatures that live beneath the surface of the sea ice to the amazing Arctic tern—a bird that makes pole-to-pole migrations of 40,000 miles a year or more. You’ll also take a deep dive into marine ecosystems with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and marine conservationist Sylvia Earle, who explains the central importance of sea ice to virtually every living thing in polar waters—from the tiniest phytoplankton to the largest whales.

You’ll come to understand the interdependence these creatures have with each other—and with the ice—in these delicate ecosystems, as well as the history of human-wildlife interactions. Particularly eye-opening are lectures on the native peoples of the Arctic, including the Inuit of North America and Sami of Eurasia, who have made their home in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, and the Nordic countries for millennia. Equally thought-provoking are the findings in zoology, oceanography, physics, and climatology emerging from research stations at both poles. This research, as you’ll discover through riveting stories of triumph and tragedy, wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of American and European explorers of the 19th and 20th centuries who risked their lives to map the unknown reaches of both poles, opening these frontiers to science.

A Photographer’s Dream Come to Life

For those who plan to visit the polar regions, learning how to take compelling photographs in these unusual environments will aid in capturing memories of the abundant wildlife and stunning panoramas. For this reason, the course concludes with a pair of lessons on polar photography presented by Ralph Lee Hopkins, the founder and director of the onboard photography program for the National Geographic-Lindblad Expeditions fleet. These lectures provide special insight into the unique opportunities and unexpected trials of photography at the ends of the earth.

Hopkins, who has two decades of Antarctic and Arctic experience, addresses not only the basics of preparation and gear, but also offers advice on overcoming the creative challenges of shooting at the poles, such as white-on-white vistas and animals in action. With these expert tips and tricks added to your repertoire, you’ll find yourself better prepared to take stunning photographs that capture the true majesty of these frozen worlds.

Journey to Awe-Inspiring Environments

Our unique partnership with National Geographic affords us the rare opportunity to bring lifelong learners and prospective travelers a truly cross-disciplinary lecture series that taps into the life experiences and expertise of top professionals and professors in their fields. The course is lavishly illustrated with rare and unique footage from National Geographic trips and scientific explorations, custom-made animations, and historical photos and film. Maps, charts, diagrams, and studio demonstrations are also employed throughout these lessons to enhance your comprehension.

Polar Explorations is a veritable feast for the eyes, but this comprehensive course does so much more than showcase the beauty of these remarkable locales. It gives you the scientific and cultural context necessary to understand their unique nature and irreplaceable value—not only to the people and wildlife that inhabit them, but to all humanity.

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22 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    A 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. x
  • 2
    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 Edward Murphy. x
  • 3
    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. x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. " x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x

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DVD Includes:
  • 22 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 176-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 176-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professors

Michael E. Wysession Edward M. Murphy Sylvia A. 	 Earle Ralph Lee Hopkins Fen Montaigne

Professor 1 of 5

Michael E. Wysession, Ph.D.
Washington University in St. Louis

Professor 2 of 5

Edward M. Murphy, Ph.D.
University of Virginia

Professor 3 of 5

Sylvia A. Earle, Ph. D.
National Geographic

Professor 4 of 5

Ralph Lee Hopkins, Professional Photographer
National Geographic

Professor 5 of 5

Fen Montaigne, Journalist
National Geographic
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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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National Geographic Polar Explorations is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 31.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I became enthralled with the Polar Regions while visiting the Arctic and Antarctica on cruises, and I hungered to learn more about them. So, I was delighted to find this course. Since it had been produced in collaboration with National Geographic, I imagined it would include stunning photography and video. And because it has five presenters, I expected topics would be covered by individuals with unique expertise. I didn’t bother to pay attention to the reviews. That was a mistake. Instead of savoring this lecture series, I forced myself to sit through it because I’d paid good money and didn’t want to accept I’d wasted it. I did needlework while watching so my time wouldn’t be wasted, too. I learned little or nothing from the majority of lectures. However, a few were excellent. I would not call this a course: it’s a set of disjointed lectures by five different people. It lacks coordination, jumping from topic to topic. There is overlap and repetition of subject matter among presenters with some content covered as many as four times. Various lectures use the same (apparently stock) photos and video clips, which occasionally don’t really illustrate what the presenter is talking about. In these cases they are more distracting than helpful. Most disappointing to me is the lack of depth in most lectures. Only two presenters are college professors. More than half of the lectures, 12 of 22, are delivered by a journalist. Mr. Montaigne’s tales of the exploits of early explorers and his own experience encountering penguins in the Antarctic are interesting. If you like a good storyteller, you’ll probably enjoy his anecdotes. However, his lectures on indigenous people of the Arctic, sea ice, marine and terrestrial animals, and seabirds are disappointingly superficial. I learned almost nothing from them beyond what I had already learned during my own brief visits to the Arctic and Antarctica. This lecture series could have been far better if the history and culture of indigenous people and the flora and fauna of the Polar Regions had been covered by people with a greater depth of knowledge and true expertise on these topics. In a “great course,” scientific topics need to be covered by scientists, not journalists. The three lectures by Dr. Michael Wysession, a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences are excellent – substantial, interesting, well-organized, and well-presented. He discusses and explains geologic features and climates of the Polar Regions, circulation of ocean currents, the earth’s magnetic fields, and the auroras. The two lectures by Ralph Lee Hopkins, National Geographic photographer, are also excellent. While he focuses on the unique challenges of taking pictures near the poles, his tips will help you improve your photography wherever you are shooting. The three lectures by professor of Astronomy, Dr. Edwin Murphy, are a mixed bag. He is knowledgeable and presents well, but much of what he covers in “Seasons at the Poles” is so basic I learned it in elementary school. Other material, however, was new and interesting: the idiosyncratic movement of the sun through the sky and pattern of visibility and invisibility of the moon at the poles; stories the Inuit told about constellations; and specific ways the Inuit used movement of stars for timekeeping, navigation, and tracking the seasons. In his third lecture, though, it seems Dr. Murphy has run out of relevant material. He goes off on long tangents to galaxies far, far away and discussions of neutrinos – the only relation to the Polar Regions being research conducted in Antarctica. The two lectures by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Marine Conservationist, Dr. Sylvia Earle, are a total waste. The content is boring and has little to with little to do with the Polar Regions; and the delivery is difficult – almost painful – to listen to, due to Dr. Earle’s slow, halting speech. I thought a lecture titled “Diving Under Polar Ice” would show me what it is like under the ice, what one would see and experience there. Wrong. It is all about equipment and technology needed to explore icy waters and ocean depths, and how much Dr. Earle loves being underwater. There’s only one brief glimpse of a diver actually in icy water. Her other lecture can best be described as a rambling lament about humans using marine animals as commodities, concluded with an uninspiring suggestion for conservation: humans need to think about what we are going to do before we do it and see value in creatures beyond that as commodities. One other thing to note: This series would have been remiss if it had not included discussion of climate change and its effects on the Polar Regions. However, it does not need to be in nearly every lecture. Mr. Montaigne, it seems, feels a need to mention it repeatedly throughout his lectures in case listeners have forgotten in the last five minutes that polar ice is melting and we need to be concerned. Thankfully, other presenters discuss the topic without harping. If you know little or nothing about the Polar Regions and are looking for a light, introductory overview you will probably find several of the lectures in this series to be enlightening. But if you are looking for something with more substance, up to the typical standards of Great Courses, you will likely be deeply disappointed and frustrated as I was.
Date published: 2018-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clarifies this complicated history of discovery. A history of Polar exploration well explained. I Visited Scott's hut near McMurdo Station in 1965 on board USS Glacier (see photo) - The Course gave me a great refresher of my two trips "to the ice" and filled in the blanks of what I did not fully appreciate or understand at the time.
Date published: 2018-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course. Everything I'd hoped for As a retired Coast Guard icebreaker sailor who traveled several times to both the Arctic and Antarctic I was impressed and learned quite a lot more. The course is a must for anyone planning a trip north or south. I'll watch it over and over.
Date published: 2018-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great talkes Loved to hear and see again all the spots I had visited in Antartica. Also to hear again about the great saga of early polar exploration
Date published: 2018-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from (Mostly) Fascinating (even if mostly non-academic) I greatly enjoyed most of this course, and am very glad I took it. It provides a rapid overview of many aspects of the arctic and antarctic, including geology, history, flora and fauna, and effects of global warming. By far the most engaging aspect is the magnificent and extensive collection of photos and videos of these extraordinary environments and creatures. I do agree with some of the more negative reviews - this is a relatively non-academic course, given on a human interest level with far less science than we are used to from TGC. However, as a complete novice to this area, I did not find this a problem, and was drawn in by the fascinating descriptions, stories, and videos. I also agree that the quality of the presentations is variable, which is usually the case with multiple-professor courses. At the same time, viewers may disagree as to which profs they prefer, as this has much to do with prior interests. For example, the lessons on photography are very well done, but I have zero interest in the workings of cameras, and wish this time had been spent on other topics. My favorite prof here is Fen Montaigne, a journalist who provided vivid descriptions of many aspects of the history and animal life of the area, as well as what it is like to experience it in person. So - I have no hesitation in recommending this course. Just read the reviews first so you know what to expect.
Date published: 2018-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Photography and Story-Telling Highlights are the video and still photography in the polar regions, from the early explorers to the present National Geographic expeditions, and the masterful story-telling of the presenters. The stories of the early explorers and their hardships are gripping. The images of the ice, polar seas, and the creatures from the times of the early explorers to the present are gripping. Fen Montaigne in particular is a master at story-telling and he delivers 12 of the lectures. The other lecturers deliver in their particular specialties such as astronomy, geology, underwater exploration, and photography. Ralph Lee Hopkins, National Geographic Photographer, delivers an enthusiastic, astonishing crash course in polar photography in the last 2 lectures, so much content, yet so easy to understand, and very specific to the challenges of polar photography, but still more widely applicable. Finally, the creatures, plants and people that survive in the polar regions must be cited. The numbers of creatures above and under the seas, their variety, ability to survive, and behaviors are other-worldly, yet very real, and certainly fascinating. If you want someone else to watch Great Courses with you, but they just don't share your other interests such as philosophy or physics, this is the course to get them watching and interested. On a final note, this course should obviously be viewed in video, not just audio.
Date published: 2017-09-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from National Geographic Polar Explorations Great photography. It alone can tell many stories. But then National Geographic's reputation for good/great photography has been a trademark of theirs for a long long time.
Date published: 2017-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Breathtaking Awesome and the pictures were stunning. Makes me want to save up for this one.
Date published: 2017-03-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Left Me Just a Bit Cold The best things that I can say about the Polar Explorations course are: 1) that it presents a good deal of important information on a subject that I don’t think has been otherwise addressed in The Teaching Company’s catalogue of products; 2) that the multiple-presenter format at least provided variety; 3) that the lectures delivered by Dr. Michael Wysession were the best ones, in my opinion; and 4) that the course overall was at least as good as many I have attended in person at the university level. I am not sorry that I purchased this set of DVDs, and I will likely watch the course again sometime, though it does not impress me as one of the best of the several dozen Great Courses I own. With reservations, I would still recommend it to friends. Though I have acknowledged the course’s sum total of important information, I felt this was presented in a rather meandering fashion, and not all of the lecturers were as commendable as Dr. Wysession. The Average rating I reported above for Professor Presentation is, in fact, an average, as some lectures were excellent and others were poor. Some aspects of Polar Explorations made it seem more like a package of TV specials than a series of university-style lectures, and I prefer the more academic approach. A repetitive audio-visual intro for the lectures was twice as long as those used in most of the other Great Courses and had the feel of either a National Geographic advertisement or a movie trailer that I didn’t really want to sit through. The lectures were also presented on a visually too-busy “stage,” with distracting videos of penguins, polar bears, and breaching whales, as well as a clutter of oscilloscopes and other equipment, in the background behind the presenters. A small number of egregious errors should have been edited out or corrected through voice-over dubbing, too, such as when, in Lecture 17, the lecturer was speaking about hundreds of years of human habitation and culture in the Antarctic region while the on-screen pictures were clearly of Arctic scenes and peoples. Now, anybody can make a slip of the tongue but, as I have suggested, some post-filming correction would have been in order here.
Date published: 2016-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A broad survey of the poles - Priceless I had the extreme privilege of visiting Antarctica this year, and I cannot imagine having such a great experience without the benefit of having viewed this series first. The 22 lengthy episodes are the equivalent of multiple seasons of television, and represent a broad survey that covers history, geology, astronomy, climate, wildlife, and even photography of course the two poles are quite distinct from each other, so it's a lot to cover. Yet the experts assembled here are like an all star cast from some of the other Great Courses series, so when you learn about geology, it's from the outstanding geology professor Michael Wysession, the history of polar exploration is covered by National Geographic Explorer-in-residence Sylvia Earle, when you learn about photographing the polar regions, it's from National Geographic Fellow Ralph Lee Hopkins, etc. (in fact, the boat I was on when visiting Antarctica early this year was decorated with photos taken by Hopkins, many of which were also featured in this course!). A fabulous bonus for this series is that the producers had access to a cornucopia of video footage from Nationals Geographic's Lindblad Expeditions, so the lectures are visually rich, and feature quite a bit of footage that was not previously available to the public. With a diverse range of topics and instructors, it's likely you'll find some aspects more interesting than others; but if, for example, you're into wildlife but not astronomy, just skip the astronomy lectures. I will admit to doing as much; that didn't take away from the richness of the experience, or the extreme value this series provided for me and my family. Highly, highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-09-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from NG Polar Explorations i got this course because I have a trip planned later this year to Antarctica. I found the course real helpful in educating me about the region. i did not find the lecture on exploring under the ice that helpful or interesting because it seemed to be more focused on the equipment used versus what discoveries have been made.
Date published: 2016-08-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Less Than the Sum of Its Parts video download version This is a difficult review, as it consists of multiple, disparate parts, given by five different lecturers. To begin, the course has no center and lacks focus. That is, it is never clear what the course is trying to accomplish. For example the course uses the first lecture to establish that many early explorers had a deep and abiding fascination and love of the polar regions and are treated to some biographical notes on some of the notable explorers of the age of polar exploration such as Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton and a brief idea of some of their trials, tribulations and adventures. This background is given by Fen Montaugne, a National Geographic journalist and is well done. So far, so good. The next lecture presented by DR. Edward Murphy, an astronomy professor explains why the polar regions have the climate that they do and is again interesting and well delivered. It fits in with the polar theme and is good background, if a bit elementary. Now we jump to Dr. Michael Wysession, a geology professor who ties together the similarities and differences between the poles. Again, another good lecture. Although I was not aware at the time, lecture four, again by Fen Montaigne, begins the problem of disconnect throughout the course. After some background, astronomy and geology, we get a history lesson, that gives more detail (actually much of the exact, same detail) as was presented in lecture one.. and the next lecture deviates from history to a description of the changing climatic conditions at the poles. Now a jump to more geology and then astronomy and then some cultural background of the Inuit. And next a jump to more about the Arctic outlying regions and next something a bout the land mammals in the arctic, and polar seabirds and then marine mammals and now back to an historical account of the exploration of the south polar region, followed by a lecture on the geology of Antarctica. Basically the course organization lacks logic and focus. Unless one reads the table of contents, what comes next is never clear, nor is the reason for the lecture flow. It gets worse. There are two lecturers by Dr. Sylvia Earle devoted to underwater exploration. Most of the time she talks about diving equipment and various submersible options, perhaps interesting, but most of the content has nothing to do with the two poles. Further she speaks in an unenthusiastic, monotone even while discussing subjects such as how man is impacting the sea where she clearly has a clear polemic interest. And the last two lectures are on how to photograph in polar conditions. The bad is that is has little to do with the subject of the course and assumes a fair amount of knowledge of photography and the good is that I found the information presented interesting and well delivered, even though it seemed exceedingly tangential. I'll not be purchasing another course of this type, nor do I recommend that anyone else should either, unless contemplating a trip to the poles. I gave an extra star because of the often gorgeous photography and the often great individual lectures.
Date published: 2016-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exciting Visit to the Ends of the Earth BOTTOM LINE: We thought this wonderful course not only improved our factual understanding of polar science, but also gave a delightful (and warm!) understanding of what it's like to visit. This was a visual exploration for those who've never visited the polar regions, as well as a nice review for those who have. The photography was excellent, the lectures were generally done well (many were superb), the studio backdrops added to the effect, the topics were reasonably well-selected, and the presentation seemed so much more accurately informative than the typical travelogue. The well-credentialed instructors gave good overviews of the topic without bogging down in details or discussing much cutting-edge research which may soon become outdated or changed. We've been on "science tours" with guest lecturers, and this course seemed on a par. For a nice bonus, the course presented two lectures on regional photography, which refined the apparent experience of visiting the region (photography helps you understand the lighting, the scale, and the weather effects, for example). Of course, students can realistically expect to find some unevenness in an overview course on a large topic taught by different instructors and while no 22-lecture series can cover everything, we would have appreciated a lecture, or at least more coverage, on literature and indigenous myths (this might help appreciate how those who lived here came to understand it). We would have also enjoyed more on daily life among the researchers at scientific stations, and perhaps more hard data on how the environment is evolving. Despite these criticisms we greatly appreciated this kind of course! Sure, it's nice to visit, but as we become more concerned about the heavy environmental effects of jet travel and "industrialized tourism," as we come to know we'll never visit everywhere we want, and as we become more disenchanted with commercial air or land travel, we have come to better enjoy courses like this which are, in many ways, even nicer than visiting. Quality "virtual tours" like this let you experience an area you may never visit while leaving the jet lag, the incessantly crowded and delayed flights, the traffic jams, the expense, etc. etc. Thanks to the Teaching Company for expanding their excellence into this exciting area.
Date published: 2015-12-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not Up To Par This course had a lot of potential, but did not measure up in total. The lectures by Fen Montaigne were mostly informative, interesting and held my attention. The historical exploration lectures were were well done and gave a real appreciation of the harsh environment. His other lectures on the wildlife were also fascinating in many respects. The lectures by Ed Murphy were a complete waste of time in the context of this course. He should only be included in course about astronomy. Who really cares about astrological myths and so-called formations of stars? It may be interesting to some, but not in the context of polar exploration. The lectures by Sylvia Earle were no better. They seemed to be an ego trip on how much she enjoyed diving under the sea. They were not informative, and did little to expand my knowledge. The lectures by Ralph Lee Hopkins were notable primarily by the beautiful pictures he presented. The technical subject matter could only have strong interest to a very few that might actually be planning a trip to the polar regions. If it wasn't for the lectures by Fen Montaigne this would be a one star review.
Date published: 2015-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great mix of history and science I enjoyed the history of polar exploration from Fen Montaigne as well as the sceince from Wysession and Murphy. The graphics are exceptional. I have a better understanding of an area of earth that I know Iwould never be able to visit.
Date published: 2015-08-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not up to usual standards Okay, it's produced by National Geographic, so the photography is superb. But the course itself is a scattered collection of discussions of all sorts of topics at a very superficial level, loosely bound together because they have to deal with the polar regions. My friends jokingly call me "bipolar" because my interests in both polar regions have been so strong for so many years, and I have many books in the area. But each book that I own is on a particular theme or topic and doesn't just scatter your attention all over the map, as this course does from lecture to lecture. The course consists largely of reminiscences by the lecturers, with very little depth in its content. Is it going to be about the years of exploration, about the indigenous peoples, about the flora and fauna, about the geology, or about astronomy? Answer: yes, and hold your breath as we swoop you among topics from one lecture to the next. I am very disappointed, because I was hoping for a lot more.
Date published: 2015-08-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Don't Waste Your Time on This One I have listened to--and viewed--many of your courses over the past decade. I have come to expect actually learning something in a reasonable level of detail and understanding. That process has been aided by having gifted academics as presenters; that is, folks who specialize in a specific topic like geology, music, art, history, astronomy, philosophy, etc. and can teach it at an appropriate adult level. This course is a departure. It is mostly taught by National Geographic presenters who offer only anecdotal and summary observations strung together with many of the same or similar photos, lecture after lecture. I can't say I learned much of anything from them. The session on Arctic peoples is a great example of the superficiality of this course. This was a generic lecture from a National Geographic presenter about traditional ways of life in the Arctic and how those are being challenged due to climate change and technology. It was coupled with an anecdotal reference to his trip 20 years ago to meet some of these peoples in Siberia and spiced with a picture of a teepee that one of those folks had constructed. There was no serious discussion of where in the Arctic those people actually live today, how they live, how their economies work, their genetic origins, their political histories. I don't know any more about these people now than I could have guessed before the lecture. To give you another example: Lecture 1. The same National Geographic lecturer gave a blow-by-blow chronology of the now-famous Shackleton expedition, lasting for half the lecture. Why did this occupy so much of Lecture 1 in preference to providing a proper overview of the course content and its significance? Because the course's content is only a montage of different superficial topics strung together with a polar theme. I could go on and on with similar examples. The session on Arctic Islands began with a a polar-projection map with which the National Geographic lecturer successively mentioned different islands in the archipelago. He then threw in a bunch of anecdotal and largely-unrelated information about three of the islands: Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard. Some of that information: (1# The experiment of a now-defunct Icelandic corporation to map the genetic code of Icelanders, a project which is now doomed because a foreign corporation now owns the data. #2) The global seed repository on Spitzbergen which intends to keep seeds at 0 degrees Fahrenheit forever. I learned nothing from either of these unexplored and unrelated anecdotes. Ed Murphy and Michael Wysession were the only presenters of value. They should have each been allowed--especially Wysession--additional time to develop serious scientific content. As it was, they couldn't begin to cover the most interesting stuff because of the superficial content that "needed" to be covered by the National Geographic presenters. Skip the course and read a book instead.
Date published: 2015-08-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not up to Great Courses Standards Perhaps the fault of this course lies in the fact that it is actually produced by National Geographic; I've certainly come to expect much more from The Great Courses. If you want a long-winded overview of how humans are destroying the Artic and Antarctic, then this course fits the bill. I know we're messing it up, but I don't need almost every lecture to tell me that. I expected to be amazed by the beauty that is there with certainly a bookend mention of the problems, but it occurs the other way around. One expects a certain amount of overlap when many different lecturers present common topics, but better scripting and editing would have trimmed this course down considerably. If it was shown as individual videos on TV, okay, that might explain it, but presented as a course that one expects to watch each day from start to finish, there is considerable redundancy. Also, lecturers seemed to be selected based on celebrity status and not on content. One lecture on diving under the polar seas ended up being a twenty minute discussion on equipment and only five minutes of actual underwater footage and even some of that was obviously taken in the Caribbean since the divers were wearing bikinis and swimsuits and there was a plethora of coral. That lecturer was a very slow speaker and you wanted to poke her with a stick just to get her going again. Someone else would have been much better. Furthermore, most of the other Great Courses I've enjoyed were laced with animations and images appropriate to the topics -- that didn't happen here. One lecturer described the tectonic plates that migrated...etc. etc, but never showed an animation so we could visualize what he referenced. Another lecturer identified that researchers had found a five-foot tall fossilized penguin, but did they show a photo of it? No. These oversights occur throughout the course. The entire course is about telling you and not showing you and no one enjoys dry lectures where they talk at you -- that's the whole point of multi-media, let's use it; you'll definitely want to bring your imagination to sit through these courses because they fall short of providing you with the meat behind the concept. One exception I do want to note, the second from the last course was on photography and was excellent. The lecturer did indeed discuss equipment, but only as a side bar as he explained how to deal with the contrast/lighting issues of icy regions. He was the bright spot of the course.
Date published: 2015-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great spontaneous purchase I purchased this course on a whim. I was not disappointed and will watch this over and over again. It was a delightful and informative course that covered every aspect of the polar regions. Having multiple "specialist" lecturers made the course that much more interesting. The course was informative, interesting, the photography was amazing. It created a yearning to travel to the Arctic and Antarctic. If you purchase this course, you will not be disappointed. Thanks for adding a section on photography. His tips can be applied to any situation ( not just the polar regions) and will allow you to bring back memorable photos from your travels.
Date published: 2015-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting; a quick listen; good use of profs I really enjoyed the lectures. The use of multiple professors was valuable and improved the overall quality of the lectures. The video lecture formats have improved over time. They use excellent video, stills, and animations to make their points. I particularly enjoyed the science lectures. The lecture on diving did not offer information that was as valuable as some of the others. The photography lectures had nice photos, but I don't think I could duplicate them without a special class, so I did not find those two lectures as helpful. I was anxious to move on from them until I realized they were the last lectures. Overall the course was easy to listen to, particularly in a series without growing weary of them. Even though it's not an option in this case, I felt the video enhanced the format and the layout of lecture room was fun and thoughtful.
Date published: 2015-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It is a MUST addition to your courses library! Just completed all 22 lectures and I must say that I truly enjoyed the multi professor format, it was quite refreshing and a such a pleasure to watch. I have seen several DVD's and programs on both the North & Southern Poles and not one presented the full picture on how sea ice affects all arctic life from the tiniest of krill to the largest marine whale like this one did. Fen, my favorite presenter described the early explorers and modern day tales that made me feel as if I was there. At first glance, I actually believed he was at an arctic research station. Overall, I highly recommend "Polar Explorations" to anyone who loves this subject, you will not be disappointed. And if you love polar bears & penguins as much as me, they make a ton of cameos that will warm your heart.
Date published: 2015-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! What a course! I stumbled across this course and thought it might be interesting, but wow, did I ever underestimate it! It's drawn me in and has me in it's clutches. I haven't even been able to do anything else today because i'm completely enamored with all the beauty and information. Fen and Ralph are amazing and have so much to offer. Sylvia Earle... what a lady! Thank you for another amazing course! Is it too early to plan for Christmas gifts? I had to stop and write a review because i'm sure everyone will enjoy it as much as I have. :)
Date published: 2015-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Greatest Great Courses Ever! This is now my favorite Great Courses course , 2nd only to Tai Chi. Whatever you guys are doing, keep it up! Polar Explorations is stunningly beautiful. From the amazing slick set and presentation to all the vivid National Geographic imagery this course truly comes together and is matched with professional knowledgeable professors and Nat Geo explorers. Sylvia Earle of all people, wow! What a recipe. So far I've jumped around between lectures to get a full taste of what's to come and I've already learned so much. The best way to describe this course, and it is very different than any other TGC product, is that it feels like I'm watching a documentary-educational hybrid with all the academia and bell's and whistles of a National Geographic special. I'm sharing with my grandson tonight and we are traveling to the Antarctic! See you all there!
Date published: 2015-03-09
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