2A. The first two years, 1992-1994

At the XXII SCAR Meeting in 1992, Italy was tasked with compiling a composite gazetteer of Antarctica.

At the same time the preparation of the guidelines for the correct choice of the names (toponymic guidelines) was assigned to Germany.

The two countries were referred to as the Convenors of the programme "Place names", a programme promoted by the Working Group of the SCAR known as GGI (Geodesy and Geographic Information). The long-term objectives of the programme were "to develop a composite gazetteer containing all names adopted by all countries" and "to develop a proposal for guidelines for naming Antarctic features". The Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica (CGA) is the result of a fourteen-year commitment by Italy, under the sponsorship of the Italian Antarctic Programme (PNRA) and with the co-operation of many other countries.

The membership of the SCAR WG-GGI changed during the years. The final membership at the date in which the WG-GGI was abolished and incorporated in the new SCAR organization is given in Annex A .

During the period 1992-94, between XXII and XXIII SCAR, Italy set up an ad hoc group of specialists (Annex B) to undertake the work. It soon became evident that a database approach was necessary, due to the huge amounts of toponymic data to be handled. DBASE IV software was selected because of its use world-wide.
Italy began collating existing lists of geographic names (gazetteers) issued by several countries and asking other countries within SCAR to make their lists available, if any existed. All countries adhering to SCAR, i.e. Full Members and Associate Members, were requested to contribute data. The countries having an official member in the WG-GGI were contacted through their WG member (by the Italian member of the WG-GGI). Those countries which did not have a member in the WG-GGI were addressed through their SCAR Permanent Delegate.

Several nations sent their Antarctic gazetteers to Italy. When the gazetteer was already available in printed form, either as a single edition or as a first edition plus addenda, the published document(s) were taken as the equivalent of an official communication. Other gazetteers were supplied to Italy indirectly by Australia, which had made a preliminary collection of Antarctic toponyms prior to 1992 (courtesy of Brian Murphy).

Content and format of the original lists of names were not homogeneous. The approach chosen by the different countries varied and it was necessary to examine and discuss the data before adopting a suitable unifying format. When the "ad hoc" group in Italy began reassembling all available data into a single database, several incongruities, mis-spellings and obscure points became apparent. Some of them were discovered when looking at a single national gazetteer, others when comparing two or more gazetteers.

2B. Development between 1994 and 1996

A first draft of the Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica was presented and discussed at the WG-GGI meeting in 1994, held in conjunction with the XXIII SCAR in Rome. The WG-GGI members were requested to revise, as soon as possible after the meeting, the list of their nationally approved names included in the CGA, as these had been modified slightly to comply with the selected CGA format. In addition, members were requested to answer a list of questions arising from the assembling procedure and analysis of the gazetteers performed by Italy. Last but not least, the WG-GGI members were requested to authorize the data, i.e. to acknowledge that the data in the draft composite gazetteer had been, to the best of their knowledge, officially approved by their country. It was considered both impractical and formally incorrect by the Convenor of the project to have a direct contact with the national authorities for Antarctic Place-names (national names committee, geographic board, Antarctic institute or geographic naming authority of each country, Annex C) because of the lack of a deep knowledge of the international organizations.

Between XXIII SCAR and the following WG-GGI meeting at XXIV SCAR in Cambridge in 1996, the work proceeded along much the same lines as in the past: new countries sent their national lists of names and some countries helped to solve ambiguous issues and to amend mis-spellings or misprints.

2C. Work between 1996 and 1998

At the WG-GGI meeting in 1996, held in Cambridge jointly with the XXIV SCAR, a preliminary version of the combined list of names was tabled by Italy. A new request for receiving additional lists of names and for obtaining the authorization and validation of existing data was also addressed to each country. It was agreed that the next objective should be to publish the Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica in time for the XXV SCAR in 1998. Italy, continuing as the Convenor of the project, would endeavour to make the CGA as comprehensive and accurate as possible. The SCAR general policy about geographic names was issued as Recommendation SCAR XXIV-5 (see Annex D).

The WG-GGI discussion held in Cambridge in 1996 made it clear that the following additional information should be incorporated in a future edition of the CGA

  • a short description of the feature, because in most cases a name without a description would not identify the feature unambiguously; and
  • the date of approval of a name.

The new goals for the Italian team were thus to validate existing entries, incorporate additional gazetteers, extend the structure of the database to include date of approval and a descriptive field, develop a web site with search facilities, and publish the CGA as a SCAR publication.

However, the SCAR WG-GGI Executive meeting, held in Washington one year later (27-28 August 1997), amended those objectives to ensure that an accurate interim, abridged product containing name, geographical co-ordinates, and a country three-letter code (i.e. the ISO code identifying the country which provides the name) could be available by XXV SCAR in July 1998. A special workshop held in Cambridge (7-9 October 1997) finalised the input from the WG-GGI Executive meeting of Washington.

A letter from the Convenor of the programme was sent to all WG-GGI members (23 December 1996) reminding contributors of the need to validate their national entries in the list and indicating that the deadline for the receipt of corrections/additional lists of names would be the end of July 1997. The deadline would ensure that the task force in Italy could have sufficient time to complete the assembling and editing of the list for the publication at XXV SCAR in Concepción, 1998. Another letter followed on 8 May 1997, reminding members that the deadline was approaching.

Although the deadline had expired, on 7 November 1997 the SCAR Executive Secretary Peter Clarkson addressed a final call to the Permanent Delegates of those countries which had not responded earlier, giving them a last opportunity to send their contributions to Italy. All data received by the Convenor by 30 November 1997 were thus incorporated in the CGA.

The printed version of the CGA (SCAR - Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica / South of latitude 60° S - Working Group on Geodesy and Geographic Information, March 1998, Vol. 1, 227 pages; Vol. 2, 328 pages; 250 copies) was issued with the financial support of SCAR. It was distributed at the meeting in Concepción (or soon after) to the SCAR Permanent Delegates, to the MNAPs and to the WG-GGI members.

At the meeting in Concepción Italy was also requested to keep up with the responsibility of maintaining the CGA.

The SCAR general policy about geographic names was stated anew as the SCAR Recommendation XXV-7 (see Annex D).

2D. Work between 1998 and 2000

In the years 1998 to 2000 the Italian team entrusted with the compilation of geographical names of Antarctica prepared two contributions to the first edition (March 1998) of the SCAR Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica (CGA). Both contributions were presented and discussed at Tokyo meeting, July 2000. At the same time the Italian team was keeping up with the collection of new geographic names.

The first of the contributions to the CGA is a paper entitled "Supplement to the first edition of the CGA". It contained all the addenda or amendments necessary to update the previous edition of the CGA. The Supplement was meant to be kept by the users beside the Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the CGA and consulted jointly.

The second contribution is a draft, preliminary and also partial, of a possible future second edition of Volume 2 of the CGA. The rationale of this effort is the following. Since the time of the first publication, i.e. March 1998, it was recognized that the SCAR CGA should incorporate, for each name in the list, the description of the feature and the date of approval of the name. This additional information, which is not always present in national gazetteers, is necessary in our case to allow the development of the future work of comparison and, possibly, choice of the names. Following the discussions in Conceptión, further refined in a meeting in Rome (March 1999) and a subsequent meeting in Heppenheim (July 1999), all countries were requested to supply such an additional information. The effort required from the nations was however limited, at that stage, to names beginning with letter "A" only.

The second contribution to the CGA, circulated at Tokyo meeting, was nothing more than a good example, suitable for the discussion, of what the new SCAR CGA, completed with descriptions and dates of approval, would look like. Actually not all requested nations responded in time and only the first letter of the alphabet was taken into consideration. However most editorial aspects, such as the format of the printed issue and the necessary computer routines, were set up.

In the years 1998 to 2000, 773 new place names have been approved by national naming authorities and submitted for the inclusion in the CGA. The new names in the Supplement were contributed by Australia (4), Germany (6), Ecuador (9), Great Britain (56), New Zealand (193), Poland (87) and USA (418). They are all listed in the Supplement.

Starting from August 1998 Italy maintains the CGA web site www3.pnra.it/SCAR_GAZE and updates it quarterly: 1st January, 1st April, 1st June, 1st September. The site, in English and Italian, contains the database of geographical names plus some searching facilities.

2E. From 2000 to 2002

At the XXVI SCAR Meeting in Tokyo the process of restructuring SCAR's strategy and procedures was well underway and it became rather clear that the structure of SCAR, including the existing Working Groups and in particular the WG-GGI (on Geodesy and Geographic Information), was about to undergo a major change. Nevertheless the work on the CGA progressed along the usual lines.

A paper appeared on the SCAR Bulletin described the structure of the CGA and the status of the database. (A composite gazetteer of Antarctica; R.Cervellati, M.C.Ramorino, Jorn Sievers, Janet Thomson, Drew Clarke; SCAR Bulletin no.138, July 2000). There were at that time 21,552 names corresponding to 16,563 features.

2F. From 2002 to 2004

The new structure of the SCAR became official during the XXVII SCAR Meeting (July 2002) in Shanghai. The existing Working Groups were disbanded and most of the previous members flowed into three newly formed Standing Scientific Groups. As to the WG-GGI, its members mostly converged into the Geoscience Standing Scientific Group (GSSG) jointly with members coming from other WGs specialised in similar but different disciplines. The activities of the SSG were grouped into minor groups with different characteristics and goals such as Action Groups and Expert Groups. An Expert Group was formed with the purpose of dealing with the Geospatial Information (GIG). The activities on the CGA became part of GIG.

The change of structure was not beneficial for the progress of the CGA because it was not clear anymore who was the official country's representative for the matters concerning the geographical names. Despite that, the work on the CGA progressed steadily due to the personal commitment of the same persons who were active in this field before.

A restrict meeting on the Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica was held concurrently with a workshop on the Antarctic GIS in Freiburg in April 2003. Progress of the Project, problems and trends were discussed. Janet Thomson (UK), who had been particularly active in the development of the CGA since its very beginning, attended the meeting.

The collection of new names and descriptions continued and the results were summarised in a new addendum to the CGA. For sake of simplicity it was decided that the new addendum should fully incorporate the previous one (edited August 2000) thus easing the task of the reader who would find all data collected after March 1998 in a single publication. Accordingly the new publication, "SCAR - Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica - Geoscience Standing Scientific Group - Supplement July 2004" makes the previous Supplement obsolete and offers, together with the original publication issued in March 1998, a complete overview of the data till that time.

The Supplement contains two main sections which are the straightforward updating, to the date of July 2004, of the CGA. The sections retain the structure and all the relevant characteristics of the previous two Volumes. That holds in particular for geographic coverage, synonyms, transliterations, diacritical marks, alphabetical order, country sources, feature classes and reference numbers.

In the Supplement, the section "Addendum to Vol.1" lists: names not existing in the first edition, names with modified coordinates, names to be associated to a different reference number, names with modified spelling or modified geographical class. All together there are 2970 names.

The second section of the Supplement, "Addendum to Vol. 2", comes as the straightforward consequence of the matter contained in the first section. One should keep in mind that Volume 2 of the CGA is just a different arrangement of the main database. In Volume 2 all the existing geographical features have been listed according to the reference number, each record in Volume 2 grouping all applicable names to a given feature. Analogously, the second section of the Supplement is a list of features and it puts together all the applicable names (the list being restricted however to the matter considered in the first section of the Supplement).

The Supplement July 2004 has been also endowed with separate lists for:

  • all Antarctic Stations (summer only and full year), taken from the COMNAP's web-site; and
  • all sites currently designated as protected areas, taken from CEP's web-site;

which are not strictly speaking geographical features, nevertheless are felt complementary to the list of toponyms.

2G. From 2004 and towards 2006

In 2004 SCAR organised two events: the Open Science Conference in July in Bremen and the Delegates Meeting in October at Bremerhaven. The GSSG met in July 2004 in the framework of XXVIII SCAR. At the end of the meeting the role of Chief Officer passed from Phil O' Brien to Alessandro Capra. Steffen Vogt was elected as the Convenor of the Expert Group on Geographic Information (EGGI).

While the next meeting of the SCAR-EGGI is approaching (Hobart, July 2006) it is right to consider at this time where we are and where we go with the CGA.

The continuous effort of keeping and tiding up the Antarctic toponymy is now 14 years old and the SCAR gazetteer, is a living body, permanently evolving, thus never completed. The CGA is nevertheless widely recognized by the scientific community. Most of the geographic names used in Antarctica are already in it while newly named features find an international database structured to accommodate them.

The CGA is the result of the co-operation of nearly all nations members of SCAR and they deserve the merit for the existence of the CGA.

The most needed goal at present is the reconstruction of an Antarctic geographical names community, i.e. one person representative per country, in order to establish an official interaction with the countries. That will allow to reinvigorate the effort of acquiring the (missing) descriptions and the dates of naming for all the features already present in the database, apart from the routine action of acquiring new approved names.

Looking at more distant future, hopefully the CGA will serve as the basis for an internationally agreed toponymy of the continent.

The SCAR Composite Gazetteer is hosted by the Australian Antarctic Data Centre. The information in the footer below pertains to the AADC web site.