Nothing can illustrate better how really ignorant the scientists have been concerning the real constitution of the polar regions than the ridicule which many arctic explorers, and especially Greely, who seemed to believe in his later years that the pole was really a solid sheet of ice, cast upon Nansen when he announced his plans for a polar expedition.
It was in the spring of 1888 that Fridtjof Nansen startled the scientific world "by announcing his determination to cross the ice-dome of Greenland." Nansen's idea was that instead of starting to explore Greenland from the west coast, leaving behind stores and a refuge that could be turned back to in case of failure, to start from the barren east coast and make toward the west where there were settlements and help. Thus if he got half way across and found great difficulties the natural thing would not be to turn back as was the temptation when food and shelter were behind and only further hardship in advance. It was on the expedition so planned that Nansen observed "a teeming current on the east coast of Greenland, piling the floes into the south"; he had found the same on the west side.
"He had learned that wreckage from the Jeannette had drifted through the polar sea and to Julianehaab in the southern part of Greenland; also that Siberian larch and other woods indigenous to northern Europe had been found on the Greenland shores. . . . "--as his story is summed up in D. M. Edwards'"The Toll of the Arctic Seas." So, arguing from these facts, he further startled the scientific world by announcing that it would be possible to build a ship strong enough to withstand all the ice buffeting and drift in it across the polar sea. He was not trying to find the exact mathematical point that formed the earth's extremity, he said, but "to investigate the great unknown regions that surrounded the Pole."
Greely denied that the wreckage which had been found was that of the Jeannette she was the ship on which De Long sailed for the Arctic in 1879--and he did not think that the Fram--as Nansen's ship was called--could stand the pressure of the Arctic ice. It is a curious thing that Greely should have, after all his arctic experience, gone back to such old-fashioned ideas as he seemed to have, but he painted a picture of what the ship would have to endure which was quite falsified by events--and in fact, Greely admitted, after Nansen came back, that
he had been wrong. So much for scientific infallibility. Let us now follow Nansen upon his two explorations that across Greenland and that which attempted the pole, and see what a lot of evidence he gathers which all points in one direction.
On the Greenland expedition--which was quite successful, even to fulfilling practically every plan which Nansen has scheduled he found evidence that while the lower part of Greenland was covered with an immense ice dome, rising to approximately 8,000 feet above sea-level, there was every evidence of fertility and warmth further north and a more open sea along the coast of Greenland as the party skirted it to the north in the small boats which they had carried overland with them.
'While they were still on the east coast, traveling north, a swarm of mosquitoes attacked the party one morning and made life miserable for them. They were so thick that the explorers could not get their food into their mouths before it was covered with the insects. And Nansen adds that Greenland is, as a matter of fact one of the worst countries in the world for that pest. The east coast was also found prolific in sea-fowl, including gulls, guillemots, and eider-duck. In a fresh water tarn in a meadow they
found a new species of fish. Sorrel grew in abundance. On some nights it was too warm to sleep in the tent. In talking to the Eskimo and in reading accounts of earlier explorers, Nansen constantly heard legends and rumors of the fertile land to the north--behind the ice barrier. Nansen also tells of a dust on the ice which was observed by Nordenskiold and which he thought came from some other planet. Nansen, however, thinks that it is simply dust from some mountains that are not covered with ice and that it is blown over to the Greenland ice sheet. But it seems as if the quantities were too great to assume that it comes from any of the mountains known to explorers in those regions. We would be inclined to think that it comes from the other side of the polar ice-ring--from the land to which this book gives us the key. He also recounts, on the authority of Nordenskiold, the appearance to that explorer when in Greenland, of two ravens flying from the north: pretty good evidence that there was land there that was not covered with ice. After Nansen had penetrated the interior for some distance he was visited by a snow-bunting which was flying north--thus strengthening the evidence supplied by the two ravens.
But the chief importance of Nansen's first expedition was that it led him to think he could reach
the north pole, and it is on this second journey that he really begins to make remarkable observations.
By the beginning of 1894, Nansen was between 79 and 80 degrees north, not making very rapid progress as they were shut in by the ice and dependent on the drift. And then Nansen noticed that whenever the wind blew from the north the temperature rose considerably. He says:
"It is curious that there is almost always a rise of the thermometer with these stronger winds. . . . A south wind of less velocity generally lowers the temperature, and a moderate north wind raises it. Payer's explanation of this raising of the temperature by strong winds is that the wind is warmed by passing over large openings in the ice. This can hardly be correct, at any rate in our case, for we have few or no openings."
Nansen's own idea was that the heat was caused by winds from the higher reaches of the atmosphere where it had not been cooled by contact with the ice. But in trying to explain the high temperatures in this way he forgot that it was only the north winds which raised the temperatures and not the south winds. And where would the higher air get its heat from in any case? The heat must come from a definite source and in the far north the only possible source is the one which we have pointed out.
The explorers had reached 79 degrees, 41 minutes when suddenly one day on the ice they observed a large walrus. Nansen--who was out on the ice--rushed back to get a harpoon but by the time he secured it the animal had disappeared. There were no openings apparently in the ice, but the animal had vanished. He regrets that they were not prepared to capture it, but adds:
"But who expects to meet a walrus on close ice in the middle of a wild sea of a thousand fathoms' depth, and that in the heart of winter? None of us ever heard of such a thing before; it is a perfect mystery."
When the party reached 80 degrees, 1 minute, a remarkable observation was made which may be explained in more than one way:
". . . . about midday we saw the sun, or, to be more correct, an image of the sun, for it was only a mirage. A peculiar impression was produced by the sight of that glowing fire lit just above the outermost edge of the ice. According to the enthusiastic descriptions given by many Arctic travelers of the first appearance of this god of life after the long winter night, the impression ought to be one of jubilant excitement; but it was not so in my case. We had not expected to see it for some days yet, so that my
feeling was rather one of pain--of disappointment, that we must have drifted farther south than we thought. So it was with pleasure I soon discovered that it could not be the sun itself. The mirage was at first like a flattened-out, glowing red streak upon the horizon; later there were two streaks, the one above the other, with a dark space between; and from the main-top I could see four, or even five, such horizontal lines directly, over one another, and all of equal length, as if one could only imagine a square dull-red sun, with horizontal streaks across it."
Now it is quite a question whether the mirage that Nansen saw at this time was a mirage of the sun in our sky or whether it might not have been some sort of a reflection of the sun of the interior of the earth. Certainly he was not expecting to see the solar light at that time.
Two or three days later this mirage of whichever sun it might have been was seen again.
By spring the party had reached 80 degrees, 20 minutes, and Nansen was surprised to find how warm the water was at a great depth. He remarks that on the surface the temperature of the water of the East Greenland current is just about the ordinary freezing point, while usually--at lower latitudes--the water falls as you get below the surface, so that at depths
greater than a hundred fathoms it is from one to two Centigrade degrees cooler--but of course it does not freeze owing to the greater pressure and other factors. But here, on the contrary, in 80 degrees instead of from 60 to 70 degrees, he found that the deeper he took soundings the warmer the water was. He did not know where this warm water came from, but we can suspect.
In July, Nansen made a number of observations on the formation of ice and came to the conclusion that the thickness of the arctic ice is not attained by direct freezing as a result of cold weather. Only a little ice is formed at a time, and the great hummocks and floes of which we read are simply formed by the ice packing and mass after mass being frozen up into great aggregates.
The next job Nansen set himself was deep sea sounding. He had expected the polar seas to be shallow and none of his lead-lines were long enough to touch bottom. So he sacrificed one of the Fram's steel cables, unraveled it, and twisted two of the strands into a lead line of 2700 fathoms in length. With this he touched bottom at depths ranging from 1800 to 2100 fathoms. He says:
"This was a remarkable discovery, for, as I have
frequently mentioned, the unknown polar basin has always been supposed to be shallow, with numerous unknown lands and islands. . . ."
From this assumption of a shallow polar sea it was concluded that the regions about the pole had formerly been covered with an extensive tract of land, of which the existing islands are simply the remains. This extensive tract of polar land was furthermore assumed to have been the nursery of many of our animals and plant forms, whence they had found their way to lower latitudes. These conjectures now appear to bear upon a somewhat infirm basis.
The importance of those remarks is obvious. If the Polar sea in these latitudes is not shallow and if the land which is spoken of above never really existed in more extended form than the present islands where was that "nursery of many of our plant and animal forms"? If Nansen had only guessed it was not so very far away from the locality which has been assigned to it. Not the land that these explorers and scientists thought arose out of that shallow Polar sea, but a land just a little further away--the other side of the immense polar aperture.
Meanwhile Nansen kept up his records of temperatures at various depths, and always found that while the temperatures fluctuated at various depths, they rose when very deep water was reached.
Numbers of birds visited the explorers from early summer on, including ice-mews, kittiwakes, fulmars, blue and herring gulls, black guillemot, skua, and snow-bunting. But these visits were eclipsed in interest by the following, which Nansen tells under date of August 3rd, 1894:
"On August 3rd a remarkable occurrence took place: we were visited by the Arctic ross-gull. I wrote as follows about it in my diary: 'Today my longing has at last been satisfied. I have shot Ross's gull, three specimens in one day. This rare mysterious inhabitant of the unknown north, which is only occassionally seen, and of which no one knows whence it cometh or whither it goeth, which belongs exclusively to the world to which the imagination aspires, is what, from the first moment I saw these tracts, I had always hoped to discover as my eyes roamed over the lonely plains of ice. And now it came when I was least thinking of it. I was out for a little walk on the ice by the ship, and as I was sitting down by a hummock my eye wandered northward and lit on a bird hovering over the great pressure-mound away to the northwest. At first I took it to be a kittiwake, but soon discovered it rather resembled the skua by its swift flight, sharp wings and pointed tail. When I had got my gun there were two of them together flying round and round the ship. I now got a closer view of them and discovered
that they were too light colored to be skuas. They were by no means shy, but continued flying about close to the ship. On going after them on the ice I soon shot one of them (and, was not a little surprised on picking it up, to find it was a little bird about the size of a snipe; the mottled back, too, reminded me also of that bird. Soon after this I shot the other. Later in the day there came another which was also shot.... Some few days afterwards some more of these birds were shot, making eight specimens in all.'"
Is it not a remarkable thing that these ross-gulls should have no known habitat as Nansen points out in the above paragraph? They must live and breed somewhere, and as these specimens--the first two at all events--were actually seen to come from the north it is only reasonable to suppose that they came from that land which we assert is to be found on the other side of the ice barrier, in the interior of the earth.
The observations quoted above, the constant noting by Nansen that the weather is warmer than he had expected, the soundings of the sea, are all important but they are not so important, from the standpoint of making the reader understand Arctic voyaging, as what follows. The following words of Nansen have been picked out of page after page of his journals. And they all refer to one fact: that he
could not tell where he was. Before we quote these let us see just what they imply. When we read of Arctic explorers moving from point to point and calculating their whereabouts we are apt to forget that what sounds so simple when expressed on the page--such expressions as "We were now in so many degrees latitude and such and such a longitude"--we are apt to forget that those figures may have been obtained under great difficulties or guessed at, and that they are often mere approximations. Unknown currents and other factors may make what is known as "dead reckoning" quite useless in the Arctic, and the unusual compass variations and the impossibility at times of making observations of the sun or stars lead the Arctic explorer very far astray. Now if the reader does not bear that in mind he is apt to think that Peary's statement that he actually found the Pole knocks out our theory. But if he does bear that in mind and if he remembers, too, that Peary did not figure on the actual conformation of the polar region as we have pointed it out, he will readily see that Peary was mistaken in his assertion. And, apart entirely from the fact that there is no solid pole to discover, he will see how easily Peary could be wrong by noticing how far wrong Nansen is constantly getting. Only Nansen does not feel any hesitation about admitting it. And the fact that this competent explorer with all the science of navigation at his command has so much difficulty in finding
his way around in the polar regions shows how little is really known about them. Suppose that Peary made one such miscalculation as some of these that Nansen confesses to, and suppose that he used that calculation as a basis from which to make others: the error would be multiplied, and Peary might claim to find the Pole or anything else without being able to prove anything as to his exact location.
But here is the sort of thing which is constantly happening to Nansen. In the course of the voyage of the Fram through the Kara Sea in 1893, while they were still as far south as seventy-six degrees, two minutes north latitude: "or about 14 miles from what is marked as the mainland on Nordenskiold's or Bove's map", we find: "It was hardly to be expected that these should be correct, as the weather seems to have been foggy the whole time the explorers were here".
Right there we see two chances for error: foggy weather and the inaccuracy of maps--itself due to previous foggy weather or to any other cause.
Nansen then proceeds:
"Nor were we successful in finding Hovgaard's Islands as we sailed north. When I supposed that we were off them, just on the north side of the entrance to Taimur Strait, I saw, to my surprise, a high mountain almost directly north of us, which
seemed as if it must be on the mainland. What could be the explanation of this? I began to have a growing suspicion that this was a regular labyrinth of islands we had got into. We were hoping to investigate and clear up the matter when thick weather with sleet and rain, most inconveniently came on, and we had to leave this problem for the future to solve."
That is just one illustration of the uncertainties of Arctic travel. But it is by no means the only one. Here are a number of others taken from the records which Nansen made after he had proceeded much further north. In February, 1895, Nansen left Sverdrup in charge of the Fram and started out on a northward sledge journey which he hoped would take him to the pole and from there to Spitzbergen by way of Franz Joseph Land. The start was made from latitude 83 degrees, fifty minutes north. Nansen was accompanied by Johansen and had six sledges well equipped, including an instrument which registered the mileage covered. One or two false starts were made, but at last the party got under way and by Friday, March 22nd, had reached a latitude of 8S degrees, 9 minutes north. One very interesting observation which was made at this point was of a "large frozen pool" which looked almost like a large lake. Nansen says "It is wonderful that these pools can form up there at that time of year."
It is also noteworthy that the ice over which the party traveled was fresh: Nansen found that it was quite possible to quench the thirst by sucking it. By March 29, we began to get the sort of observation which we promised the reader: the observation which showed that the explorer could not determine his whereabouts. On that date, for instance, Nansen took an observation which showed him to be in latitude 85 degrees, 30 minutes. He says: "I could not understand this; thought that we must be in latitude 86 degrees, and, therefore, supposed there must be something wrong with the observation." Incidentally he also noticed other fresh water pools.
By the time Nansen had reached a latitude of more than 86 degrees he found the temperature rising, and was far more comfortable than he had been further south. By April 14th, Easter Day, Nansen took the opportunity of being halted by lanes to make extensive observations, as he had allowed the watches to run down and wished to calculate the time from his observations. He had also determined not to try to get any further north on that trip and had shaped his course for Cape Fligely. But he was puzzled by his observations. He says:
"I have calculated our previous latitudes and longitudes over again, to see if I can discover any mistake in them. I find that we should yesterday have come farther south than 86 degrees, 5.3 minutes north; but
according to our reckoning, assuming that we covered fifty miles during the three days we should have come down to 85 degrees and fifty odd minutes."
Meanwhile, he was also in doubt about his longitude. He assumed that it was 86 degrees East but adds in a footnote, "I felt convinced that we could not have reached such a westerly longitude, but assumed this for the sake of certainty, as I would rather come down on the east side of Franz Josef Land than on the west side. Should we reach the latitude of Petermann's Land or Prince Rudolf Land without seeing them, I should in the former case be certain that we had them on our west, and could look out for them in that direction, whereas in the event of our not finding land and being uncertain whether we were too far east or too far west, we should not then know in what direction we ought to look for it."
Nov, we ask the reader if that passage does not prove conclusively that finding one's position in the Arctic region is largely a matter of guess work and approximation and luck? Is it not possible that this difficulty is due to the downward curvature of the earth's surface?
Meanwhile, the explorer had sunshiny, mild and
balmy weather. On April 16th, in fact, the sun scorched quite unpleasantly. The tent was pitched in broiling sun, and for days after the atmosphere was equable and stagnant.
On April 26th, Nansen has something very significant to report:
"I was not a little surprised yesterday morning when I suddenly saw the track of an animal in the snow. It was that of a fox, came about W. S. W. true, and went in an easterly direction. The trail was quite fresh. What in the world was the fox doing up here? There were also unequivocal signs that it had not been without food. Were we in the vicinity of land? I looked around for it, but the weather was thick all day yesterday, and we might have been near it without seeing it. In any case, a warm-blooded mammal in the eighty-fifth parallel. We had not gone far before we came across another fox-track; it went in about the same direction as the other, and followed the trend of the lane which had stopped us and by which we had been obliged to camp. It is incomprehensible what these animals live on up here, but presumably they are able to snap up some crustaceans in the open water ways. But why do they leave the coasts? That is what puzzles me most. Can they have gone astray? There seems little probability of that."
Well, this is not the first animal whose presence in the remote Arctic has startled explorers, and as we shall see it is by no means the last. They are so abundant in those supposedly bleak and inhospitable regions that there is only one possible explanation of their presence: they must come from the interior. They could not possibly have come from the south for, as we have seen it is further south than where they have been found that the Arctic explorer finds most of his difficulties. No, these animals and birds have their homes and breeding places in the interior of the earth, near the polar orifice, and it is from there they come and thither do they go. Have we not the explorers' testimony time after time that these animals and birds have actually been seen on their way north?
On May 4th, the explorer is again found commenting on the mild weather. One night, he says, he could hardly sleep for heat. In the day time he can lie in the tent basking in the heat from the sun. "Last night," runs another entry, "it was almost too warm to sleep".
About May 19th, Nansen is again off his bearings:
"We can hardly be far from 83 degrees, 10 minutes, North, and should have gained Petermann's Land if it be where Payer supposed. Either we must be unconscionably out of our bearings, or the country
very small. Meanwhile, I suppose, the east wind is driving us westward, out to sea, in the direction of Spitzbergen. Heaven alone knows what the velocity of the drift may be here."
A few days later he writes:
"We ought to have latitude 83 degrees behind us, but as yet no sight of land. This is becoming rather exciting."
On May 27th he writes:
"We are in latitude 82 degrees, 30 minutes, North, perhaps even a minute or two farther south. But it is growing more and more remarkable that we see no sign of land. I cannot explain it in any other way than that we are some degrees farther east than. we suppose."
By May 31st we find him saying "It is impossible that we can have far to go now." But there is "still no glimpse of land; this is becoming more and more of an enigma."
On June 5th, he has still the same story to tell. He wishes for a "final solution of this riddle which is constantly before me". But by June 11th there is still no sign of land and Nansen says, "We do not know where we are, and we do not know when this will end."
A few days later he says: "I have calculated and
calculated and thought and thought, but can find no mistake of any importance, and the whole thing is a riddle to me. I am beginning seriously to doubt that we may be too far west after all. I simply cannot conceive that we are too far east."
On July 19th Nansen notes the large number of Ross's gulls, which strike his attention as he cannot imagine where they can come from. He is still completely lost.
It is only on July 24th that he catches his first glimpse of land, which he had really seen a little time before but had mistaken for clouds on the horizon. The two explorers made incredibly slow progress in their attempt to reach it. After traveling day after day and having to fight a bear that had followed them, they actually reached it early in August. After traveling on the land for a few days, Nansen makes this startling entry:
"This land grows more of a problem, and I am more than ever at a loss to know where we are."
Certainly, one would think that even if the explorer were lost as long as he was on the ice he would instantly find his bearings when he reached solid and permanent land. But as a matter of fact Nansen admits that he does not know even whether he is on the west coast of the archipelago of Franz Josef Land or whether he has fetched up on some other
coast altogether. He keeps on going, however, and a few days later writes:
"Where we are is becoming more and more incomprehensible. There appears to be a broad sound west of us, but what is it? . . . . . . . .
"We must have come to a new land in the western part of Franz Josef Land or Archipelago, and so far west that we had seen nothing of the countries discovered by Payer, but so far west that we had not even seen anything of Oscar's Land, which ought to be situated in 82 degrees, North, and 52 degrees East." This was, indeed, incomprehensible, but was there any other explanation?
A few days later Nansen notices that red snow on the glaciers which has been such a puzzle to explorers but which can only come from the interior of the earth.
It may sound incredible, but in February, 1896, Nansen and Johansen have still not succeeded in discovering their whereabouts. They were speculating about getting home, and as to whether the Fram would reach Norway before them, and Nansen writes:
"But where were we? And how great was the distance we had to travel? Over and over again I reckoned out our observations of the autumn and
summer and spring, but the whole matter was a perpetual puzzle. It seemed clear, indeed, that we must be lying somewhere far to the west, perhaps off the west coast of Franz Josef Land, a little north of Cape Lofley, as I had conjectured in the autumn. But, if that were so, what could be the lands which we had seen to the northward? And what was the land to which we had first come? From the first group of islands which I had called White Land to where we now lie, we had passed about 7 degrees of longitude--that our observations proved conclusively. But if we were now in the longitude of Cape Fligely, these islands must lie on a meridian so far east that it must fall between King Oscar's Land and Crown Prince Rudolf Land; and yet, we had been much farther east and had seen nothing of these lands. How was this to be explained? . . . . No, we could not have been near any known land. . . . There were other things, too, that greatly puzzled me. If we were on a new land near Spitzbergen, why were the ross-gulls never seen there, while we had found them in flocks here to the north? And then there was the great variation of the compass. . The whole thing was, and remained, an insoluble riddle."
The reader will at once see how the question of the presence of the ross-gulls only added to Nansen's perplexity, as he could not know of the real facts: that these gulls were seen to the north because
they came from the north. And the extreme variation of the compass in the arctic regions is not due to the fact that the magnetic pole does not coincide with the north pole, but is due to the peculiar conformation of the region. In calculating the magnetic pole's position, geographers have not allowed for the actual shape of the earth at the polar regions. But that is a matter which belongs in another chapter.
How Nansen gradually made his way south until he came to land that he knew and found his way to Cape Flora, where he met white men, does not concern us here. Suffice it to say that he could not even then discover, with all the maps at his disposal, just where he had spent the previous summer and winter. He says:
"Much of Payer's map I found to coincide well enough with our own observations. But the enigma over which we had pondered the whole winter still remained unsolved. Where was Dove Glacier and the whole of Wilczek Land? 'Where were the is-lands which Payer had named Braun Island, Hoffmann Island, and Freden Island? The last might, no doubt have been identified with the southernmost island of White Land but the others had completely disappeared. I pondered for a long time over the question how such a mistake could have crept into
a map by such a man as Payer--an experienced topographer, whose maps, as a rule, bear the stamp of great accuracy and care, and a polar traveler for whose ability I have always entertained a high respect".
No further argument ought to be necessary to convince the reader that the polar regions are not as well known as we are given to suppose. Here is Nansen admitting that even with the maps before him, he cannot identify the mysterious land which he found after making a sledge voyage in which he did not once know just what his bearings were. And here is his pronouncement that lands which were definitely marked on the map of one of the best known explorers and a man used to map making simply did not exist. Surely from those significant facts the reader can draw his own conclusion: that the statements of Arctic travelers relative to reaching the pole and discovering this land or that land, must be taken with a great deal of reserve. When in the near future an æroplane or dirigible shall actually travel over all these regions, the observers thereon will see much that no Arctic explorer has ever told us about, and they will fail to see some things which Arctic explorers have claimed they found. Such observers will see the great barrier of northern ice come to an end at the edge of a great polar ocean, and they will sail high over that ocean until they see,
even though it be in the midst of the Arctic winter, a sun that is shining all the time. And then they will know that they have followed the curve of that great ocean surface as it dipped out of sight of our horizon and began to wash the shores of the inner surface of the world, a surface divided even as the outer one is, into land and water, both steeped in perpetual but cloud-engirt sunshine, and both the abode of animal and vegetable life. There will be found the home of the ross-gull and the haunt of Arctic bear and fox. And beyond that polar orifice they will not only find those animals roaming and breeding, but they may see the mammoth alive there that is so often found dead in the Siberian ice. But to that immense animal, long thought extinct, we shall devote a later chapter.