The New American Polar Expedition and Its Hopes
AS Columbus lay dreaming on his sick-bed, near the city of Belem, an unknown voice whispered to him that his mission was to “ unchain the ocean.”
From that time to this every period of history has witnessed the boldest adventures of men in search of undiscovered lands and unfurrowed seas.
The successful voyages of Bartholomew Diaz, of Vasco de Gama, and Magellan, followed in quick succession by a band of explorers who had imbibed the spirit and caught the fire of these geographers, had, before the seventeenth century, brought to light very nearly all that is now known of our planet between the Antarctic and the Arctic circles.
The forbidding regions about the South Pole, the open passage for ships round the storm-beaten rocks of Cape Horn, and the discovery of the Straits of Magellan, seemed, for a long time, to render explorations in the Antarctic Ocean unnecessary. But within the charmed circle of the Arctic lay the goal of geographical ambition. There the reasoning of Columbus, universally held to be almost inspired, had, by implication, promised the world it should find a Northwest Passage to the East Indies, and that along this passage would flow to Europe the wealth of the East, and, in return, civilization and religion would find their way to their earliest seats of influence and empire. There, too, modern commerce has fondly hoped to find a short and expeditious route of communication with the swarming millions of China. So heavily has the matter pressed itself upon the attention of the world, that, in the short space of two centuries, more than one hundred expeditions have been sent into the Polar Basin.
Eight of these expeditions have sailed within the last ten years. There is to-day, all over Europe, the greatest interest manifested in the discovery of a route to the Pole. It is now the subject of earnest inquiry in the geographical societies of London and Paris. More than one expedition from the Continent is in process of equipment, and in our own country no subject of a scientific or geographical bearing, not excepting the problem of a canal at Darien, has engaged equal interest.
The Congress of the United States, during the late session, voted a large appropriation for an Arctic Expedition, to be sent out, at once, under the direction of the President of the United States and the Secretary of the Navy. And it may be said that long years of fruitless effort and frightful suffering seem only to have whetted the appetite for discovery ; and the more we know of our planet, the more ardent becomes the desire of geographers to view the mysterious extremity.
In entering upon this subject, it will be important to distinguish between all efforts to explore the Frigid Zone for purposes of scientific inquiry, and efforts made with the exclusive design of penetrating its ices to the highest latitude possible.
It is, beyond doubt, due to the fact that this latter purpose has been misunderstood, and confounded with the old and widely different project of finding a Northwest Passage along the northern shores of America, that the efforts of explorers have been apparently spasmodic and guided by no fixed and settled policy. A distinctive interest is, however, gathering around the problem of finding a way to the Pole itself.
The honors and fame to be won in this enterprise, the benefits to science and commerce, the probability of discovering some fragments of the human race in the centre of the Polar Basin, are among the stimulants now at work on the minds of geographers.
“ As a family,” says the German geographer Behm, “ will, of course, know all the rooms of its own house, so man, from the very beginning, has been inspired with a desire to become acquainted with all the lands, oceans, and zones of the planet assigned to him for a dwelling-place.”
But to the thinking mind, the reward science and cosmography would be likely to reap invest the adventure with its greatest charms. The occupation of three hundred million square miles of unexplored polar country ; the determination by accurate geodetic measurement of the precise shape of our globe, observations fixing the power of the pendulum to measure heights ; the ascertaining the amount of solar heat received by the earth, and locating the point of greatest cold ; solving the important problem of the circulation of the atmosphere and the currents of the sea, upon which all future advances in the art of navigation must mainly depend; the clearing up of many meteorological, magnetic, and botanical questions, — these are some of the results that may confidently be expected from such an enterprise, if successful. In the words of M. Gustave Lambert, “ The scientific conquest of the Pole would fecundate all the sciences.”
If the accomplishment of this has in ages past seemed to be a mere diversion for restless and visionary geographers, it may be well to remember how often the world has, in pursuit of trifles, stumbled upon its richest treasures. An English mechanic once made an engine for pumping water from a coal-pit, little thinking he would revolutionize the world by steam machinery. A savage in Peru, climbing a hill, seized upon a bush which came up by the root, revealing at his feet what proved to be the exhaustless silvermines of Potosi. The philosophers of Greece, who amused themselves with childish sport on the Conic Sections, never suspected that these would serve for the mensuration of the heavens, and that unconsciously they were laying the foundations of astronomy.
But not to dwell upon the results, either present or prospective, of the demonstration of the pole, we hasten to consider the ways and means of reaching it. Among the routes now proposed may be named that of Captain Sherrard Osborne of the British Navy, by way of Smith’s Strait ; that of Dr. Augustus Petermann of Gotha, by the coasts of Spitzbergen ; and that of M. Gustave Lambert of France, by way of Behring’s Strait ; and, in our own country, that of Captain Silas Bent, the flag officer and hydrographer of the Japan Expedition under Commodore Perry.
In September, 1868, the last-named gentleman addressed a letter to the President of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, with a view of propounding his hypothesis. Reasoning upon the climatic influence of ocean currents, the author of this theory was led to believe that the two great hot currents of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf Stream and the Black Stream of Japan, move into the Polar Basin and keep open its chilly and otherwise ice-bound surface ; and as a practical sailor he suggested that these streams may be navigated and pursued by the use of the water thermometer. It is, perhaps, not too much to say that this proposition is the first of the kind ever offered upon a scientific basis. The gallant explorers of the last three centuries have sailed to the North to hunt for a way, not knowing whither they went and groping and guessing their track through the ice-fields of the Polar Ocean.
The proposition of Captain Bent throws at least a ray or two of light over the path of the mariner. Columbus’s promise of “ a way to the East by the West” has never been forgotten, and nearly every Arctic explorer, from 1553 to this time, has steadily labored to find a way to the Northwest. Nothing but the most urgent necessity has deterred seamen from prosecuting this track ; whilst they have scarcely ever seemed to consider the value of a northeasterly approach to the Pole.
Even the Germania, sent out by Dr. Petermann of Gotha, in 1868, moved immediately to the northwest cf Spitzbergen, and becoming endangered by ice in latitude 80° 30′ north, and longitude 6° 35′ west, steered to the south, latitude 74° 30′, and thence made an effort to run to Greenland. The officers were obliged to give this up by the heaviness of the ice in longitude 14° west, and to put back toward Spitzbergen, and three efforts of the kind proved unsuccessful ; and it would be easy to show that the long list of polar explorations have been but one slightly varied attempt to make a Northwest Passage.
These explorations were begun in the middle of the sixteenth century by Cabot, Cortereal, and Davis, whose failures seem to have been ignored by a host of other adventurers, not excepting, in our day, the illustrious and unfortunate Sir John Franklin. The fate of Franklin was justly regarded by the maritime world as setting the seal of final and perpetual doom upon every attempt to pass to the northeast of our continent. It is true, error in science ceases to be venial only when its character is detected by its victim, and there is even a limit, within which failures and disasters like Franklin’s are positively beneficial and useful, as, in the Red Sea, the wreck of an argosy, caught on the sunken reef, warns and guides the watchful sailor. It seems, however, that some of our explorers desire to use the past sad catastrophes of Arctic voyages as examples to be emulated rather than rocks to be shunned. It is for this reason, among others, that we now propose to review Captain Bent’s hypothesis of a way to the Pole as a new problem of modern geography. The theory in question is based upon the nature, the direction, and the volume of the great ocean currents of the Atlantic and Pacific. The elucidation of the subject necessarily takes us into the field of hydrographic research, and we begin with a notice of the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic Ocean. This grand flow of waters has been compared to a “ river in the ocean ” ; but the comparison is inadequate, for, as Major Rennel well says, “ it is not a stream, but a sea in motion.” Off the coasts of Senegambia and Cape Palmas the mariner beholds the beginning of the great Equatorial Current of the Atlantic. On his third voyage to the New World, while in the tropics, Columbus wrote in his Diary: “ I regard it as proved, that all the water of the ocean moves from east to west with the apparent motion of the sun, moon, and stars.” Should one sail from Africa, along the equator, he would find this verified. For two thousand eight hundred and fifty miles the equatorial surface of the sea is swept by the trade-winds, and thus is projected toward the Gulf of Mexico a current one thousand miles broad, and one that has been, at least, forty days under a fiery sun. As it moves to the west it meets no obstruction till it reaches the Windward Antilles. There forty-seven islands rise from vast depths of the ocean, as so many rocky bastions to dispute the passage of the great mass into the Caribbean Sea.
The larger part of the current is turned to the northwest. A portion, however, runs the gauntlet of the Islands, penetrates the Caribbean Sea, and finding its way through the Yucatan Pass, enters the Gulf of Mexico. Here is the cradle of the great heathearer and climophorous of the North Atlantic. The whole surface of the oceanic regions, which are under the sway of the perpetual or trade-winds, moves to the westward at the rate of about twelve or fifteen miles a day. This motion is of course greater or less, according to the locality ; variable winds produce a temporary drift, and the powerful monsoon a periodical flood. But under no circumstances does it appear that any current caused by the disturbance of the atmosphere extends to a great depth beneath the surface of the sea. According to the most authentic accounts, the waves, during the greatest gales, do not exceed sixty feet in a perpendicular line in height, and experience shows that the most severe storm is not felt more than thirty feet under the hollow of the wave. It is therefore safe to presume that the Equatorial Current, moving toward the Gulf of Mexico, does not flow at a greater depth than one hundred feet below the crest of the billows. Bearing these facts in mind, let us observe the Gulf Stream as it leaves the place of its genesis. No other current of the globe, at least like this part of the Gulf Stream, runs between banks so well defined. On one side these banks are formed by the Florida Reef and the peninsula of that name, and on the other by the island of Cuba, the Sal Key Bank, and the Great and Little Bahama Banks.
These banks must not be regarded as banks of sounding, a term applied to those seas whose bottom is within the reach of the sounding line, i. e. a hundred fathoms deep; but the Sal Key and the Bahama Banks are proper banks. They emerge with great suddenness and from vast depths. The surface near the edges of the banks is but a few fathoms below the common level of the sea, and toward the centre of the banks many places are found which are shoal and within a few feet of the top of the water, and at low tide some are even quite dry. Such banks of course control the movement of the Gulf Stream as imperatively as if they were banks of land. Hemmed in on either side, the waters are compressed into a narrow space, increasing the velocity, so that before the current enters the Atlantic Ocean its rapidity is like a mountain stream. Having passed along the northern edge of the Sal Key Bank, the warm current rushes in a northeastern direction against the western edge of the Great Bahama Bank, and is there repulsed and compelled to flow along this bank northward. Thus it pours into the narrows of the Strait of Florida, where the sea area between Cape Florida and the Bemini Islands is reduced to a width of less than forty miles. It is this majestic movement of waters that now leaves our shores for Northwestern Europe, acting under the double impulse of the earth’s diurnal rotation throwing its waters to the eastward, and the peculiar specific gravity of its volume causing it to seek an interchange with seas of different weight toward the north. It thus courses across the great Atlantic canal (for this ocean much resembles and has often been compared, by physical geographers, to a canal) in the path of a trajectory.
Off the coasts of Carolina the Florida stream receives an immense accession from the northwestern branch of the Equatorial Current turned aside by the Windward Antilles ; and as both bodies of water are tropical and possessed of similar affinities chemically, they early unite, and flow on in an immensely magnified volume with all their burden of equatorial heat.
Owing to the volcanic character of the Mexican Gulf, — the caldron in which for many days the gulf current has been detained, — the temperature of the water is considerably raised by submarine influences, as has been ably shown by Gérard Molloy and by Arthur Mangin. We might therefore expect, in the absence of any positive information, that the great stream would transfer the surplus caloric of superheated tropical water in large quantities towards the Arctic Ocean. So far-reaching is its influence, that the rivers of Western Europe are seldom congealed in higher latitude than Labrador ; the river Thames has been frozen over only fourteen times in eight hundred years. At Penzance, on the coast of England, the plants and vegetables appear out of the ground in February, and are soon on the table. Camelias, magnolias, Mexican agaves, require there no protection from frost, so that Humboldt called Devonshire “ the Montpelier of the North.”
Professor Ansted of England, in his Physical Geography, describes the peculiarity of the Gulf Stream in these words : “ It is a great, wide stream of heated water, larger than all the rivers of the world together, running in a definite channel through colder water of a different color, so that when a ship enters the stream in smooth water, one may see the bow dashing the spray from the warm and dark blue waters she is entering, while the stern is still within the pale green and cold water of the bank of Newfoundland.”
Alexander Buchan, the eminent secretary of the Scottish Meteorological Society, in his beautiful book, “ The Handy Book of Meteorology,” tells us that “ in May, 1861, when H. B. M. ship the Nile sailed out of the harbor of Halifax for Bermuda, under Admiral Sir Alexander Milne, the water at the stern of the ship was 40°, and on plunging into the Gulf Stream the next moment the mercury rose to 70°.”
The climatic effect of the Gulf Stream has been traced to great distances. “ This stream,” we are told by Professor Tyndal, in his lectures before the Royal Society of London, “ entirely abolishes the difference of temperature due to the difference of latitude of North and South Britain ; so that, if we walk from the Channel to the Shetland Isles in January, we encounter everywhere the same temperature. The isothermal line runs north and south. The harbor of Hammerfest, in Norway (73° north) derives great value from the fact that it is clear of ice all the year round. This is due to the Gulf Stream, which sweeps around the North Cape, and so modifies the climate there that at some places by proceeding northward you enter a warmer region.” Buchan has shown that “ Shetland is benefited 36° and London 20° from their proximity to the warm water of the Atlantic.” “ In Iceland and the Norwegian coast,” he adds, “ the increase thus accruing to the winter temperature is very much greater. To these places, the Atlantic may be conceived of as a vast repository of heat, in which the warmth of the summer months and the warmth of more southern regions is treasured up and reserved against the rigor of winter.”
As the temperature is uniform from Shetland to Wales, physicians recommend the Scottish coast as highly as any other, except the southwest of England.
Captain Maury, considering only the stream issuing at Florida, thus reasons : “ The maximum temperature of the Gulf Stream is 86°, or about 9°, above the ocean temperature due at the latitude. Increasing its latitude 10°, it loses but 2° of temperature, and having run three thousand miles to the north, it still preserves, even in winter, the heat of summer. The heat it discharges over the Atlantic in a winter’s day would be sufficient to raise the whole volume of atmosphere that rests upon France and the British Isles from the freezing point to summer heat. A simple calculation will show that the quantity of heat daily carried off by the Gulf Stream, from the regions of Central America and Mexico, and discharged over the Atlantic, is sufficient to raise mountains of iron front zero to the melting point, and to keep in flow from them a molten stream, of metal greater in volume than the waters daily discharged from the Mississippi River ! ”
Rightly to estimate the thermal power of the Gulf Stream, we must remember its origin, as already hinted, over the volcanic basin of the Gulf of Mexico. It is around this that the most striking evidences have been given of subterranean furnaces.
Since 1750 six magnificent volcanic cones have been thrown up from the soil of Mexico. One of these, Jorullo, on the night of September 29, 1759, rose 1,683 feet above the plain. The volcanoes of Central America display great activity. Humboldt tells us it alone has twenty-nine volcanoes.
The waters of the Bayou Plaquemine have been seen at times to be agitated almost to ebullition ; and the late earthquakes of California seem to have been caused by volcanic forces acting in a line running from the Gulf of Mexico towards San Francisco. Indeed, the bed of the Atlantic abounds in vigias of submarine volcanic origin.
The axis of the Gulf Stream, according to Lieutenant Bache’s Coast Survey, lies
80 miles from Charleston
50 “ “ Hatteras
210 “ “ Sandy Hook
240 “ “ Nantucket.
If we run a great circle through these points, and extend it in the Polar Basin, we shall find that it enters the Arctic Ocean between Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla. But for the cold current that deflects and underruns it at Newfoundland, it would enter the Arctic Ocean and wash the shores of Spitzbergen ; but diverted by the cold rush of water on the Grand Bank, it probably flows more to the east, and thus would give Spitzbergen a berth of some distance.
But the most important feature is the Gulf Stream’s volume and flood. It has been supposed that this is merely the current passing out of the Straits of Florida. So all our authors represent it. But this subject is now undergoing new' study.
It has been found that no explanation of the great flow of waters here will exclude an equal flow off the Windward Antilles. There are reasons for believing that the volume of the Gulf Stream is at least twice as large as any author has ever yet ventured to state.
1. Because it receives the Antilles current, or “ northwest branch of the Equatorial Current,” coursing around San Domingo.
2. There are times when the Gulf Stream is very slow in passing through the Florida Straits, and yet its flow is undiminished north of Hatteras, — a fact to be accounted for only by the reinforcement from the Antillian current.
3. Bache’s measurement by thermometer shows that from Florida to Hatteras the Gulf Stream has greatly increased. From being forty miles wide at Florida, it has increased to nearly four hundred, and has become at least twelve hundred feet deeper. At four hundred and twenty-five fathoms off Hatteras the heat of the water was “ over 6o° ! ”
THE KURO SIWO.
So much for the Gulf Stream. Let us turn now to the Kuro Siwo, the other factor in the result claimed by the new theory for a thermometric approach to the Pole. The Equatorial Current of the Pacific is wider and grander even than that of the Atlantic. It is the parent stream, out of which so many other bodies of water obtain their volume. It moves, as do all such currents of the ocean, on the line of a great circle, and this circle intersects the equator at an acute angle of only a few degrees. It sweeps to the westward, in “ uninterrupted grandeur,” as one expresses it, around three eighths of the circumference of the globe, until diverted by the continent of Asia, and split into innumerable streams by the Polynesian Islands. Reaching the Ladrones, it imparts a much warmer climate than it has given to the Sandwich or Marquesas. The Philippines are made oppressively hot even in winter, and one familiar with it has said : “ The fervor increases as we reach Malacca, is all aglow in India, and becomes stifling in its intensity as these equatorial waters, after travelling fifteen thousand miles and being fully three hundred days under a vertical sun, are thrown against the eastern shores of Africa.” This Equatorial Current is as broad as the Torrid Zone, and out of it comes the Kuro Siwo.
The latter possesses a temperature more striking in its contrast with the surrounding waters than does the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic.
Striking off at Formosa from the great Equatorial, it moves with majestic powers, heedless of the fiercest gale, and to the eye of the thoughtful observer is bent upon the discharge of some momentous mission. Reaching the fortieth parallel of north latitude, its surface is swept by the “ brave west winds ” of the northern hemisphere. It now seems to turn aside from its course, and curve away to the American shores. On the track of its northeasterly flow the map-maker writes another name, as if some mighty power had diverted it. But it has not been turned; only a little of its foamy surface has been borne along in the easterly set. The vast torrent is only skimmed. The recurvation which pours around the southern coasts of Alaska, and laves the western shores of Sitka Island,1 is but a drift. The tremendous bulk of equatorial water rushes on in a changeless course. It is moving in obedience to a steady and almighty hand. Every drop feels the impulse of a force it cannot resist. Every drop is lighter than the drop of polar water, with which it is hastening to exchange places, lest the equilibrium of nature be overthrown.
But on its way it receives, every moment, an impact from the earth’s rotation. And thus it moves on the line of a great circle to the northeast, and entering Behring’s Sea knocks for admission at the very gates of the Polar Ocean. In its course its pathway is strewed with the marks of its thermal and climatic power. If the Gulf Stream has clothed Ireland with its robe of verdure, and made it the “ Emerald Isle,” the Kuro Siwo has done as much for the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. They are mantled with living green. The flocks scarcely need shelter in winter. If their soil is treeless, their Gulf Stream richly supplies them with timber for their canoes, and camphor-wood of Japan and China for their furniture.
The hills of Russian America, like those of Norway, bristle with pines and firs down to the very sea-shore. “ There never was,” says the author of “ The Physical Geography of the Sea,” “ an iceberg in the North Pacific Ocean, and consequently the tender plants along its shores are never nipped by the cold that the drifting islands of ice always engender. Therefore, we may conclude that, parallel for parallel, and altitude for altitude, the climates along the sea-shores of our new possessions are quite as mild, if not milder, than those of Northwestern Europe, and we know that the winter climate of England is not so severe as that of Virginia.”
Kotzebue, as long ago as 1815, remarked these facts, and especially commented upon “ the riches of the arctic flora, amidst manifold variety of soil on the rocky coast of St. Lawrence Bay.”
The same great voyager has also remarked that the transition from the American coast to the Asiatic, beyond Behring’s, was, “ like passing from summer to winter.” In the colonial days of America, and long after, a vessel from England to New York, meeting a “ northwestern ” (storm) became so clogged with ice as to be almost unmanageable. Her captain had only to turn her course into the region of the Gulf Stream.
Vessels trading to Petropaulowski and other ports on the coast of Kamtchatka, when becoming unwieldy from the accumulation of icy crust on their hulls and rigging, run over to a higher latitude on the American coast, and thus thaw out.
Allusion is sometimes made to the climatic influence of the Japan stream on America. This proceeds, not from the main stream, but from its eastern recurvation. The recurvation of the Kuro Siwo, a mere surface drift, is, however, a most potential climatic agent. Fragment, or skimming, as it is of the southeastern fringe of the “ black ” river in the sea, it is powerfully felt on the northwestern shores of America. General Thomas, it is said, in his recent trip to Alaska, confirmed by his observations the deductions that have been drawn as to its climate.
In Puget’s Sound, latitude 48° north, snow rarely falls and the inhabitants rarely fill their ice-houses for summer. These climatic results are due to a mere surface skimming, a pellicle of drift from the great body of the Kuro Siwo. What may be expected of the mass that penetrates the Polar Basin ? If the part is armed with so much potency to modify climate, how vast the thermal energy of the whole ! 2
THE CLIMATIC FORCE OF OCEAN CURRENTS.
These currents of the sea are mighty agents. One of the feeblest of them is a set of water from the South Pole along the west coast of Africa. It presents a striking contrast with that running off the east coast and coming out of the superheated Indian Ocean. On the east coast of Africa, the flow of heated waters gives rise to the grandest and most terrible displays of thunder and lightning that are anywhere known. Missionaries at Natal report the occurrence there of storms in which for hours consecutively they have seen an uninterrupted blaze of lightning, and heard a continuous peal of thunder.
The soil is so baked and parched, that it is almost as deadly for its pestilential poison as was the region of the Pontine Marshes around the city of Rome in classic times. But on the west side all is different. Bishop Payne of Africa has said that for twenty years he had suffered less near Cape Palmas from the summer heat than on our Atlantic coast.
The cool current along Cape Palmas is very slow, scarcely more than an ooze. Yet, according to Du Chaillu, the African explorer, at 1° 30߰ below the equator, almost under the line, the mean temperature of summer is only 77° Fahrenheit.
The similar cool flow, off the west of South America — Humboldt’s Current — is so potential that the citizens of Lima and Callao, 12° south, dress in woollen clothes through the summer; and Mr. Darwin found that the coral insect was driven from the waters around the Galapagos Islands, which are upon the equator.
In the Mediterranean, Naples in the southern part of Italy, and Genoa in the latitude of Toronto, have a vernal climate. And even at Genoa oranges are ripe early in February ; this evidently from the indrift of hot water through the Straits of Gibraltar.
Doubtless the admission of the Suez Canal water into the Mediterranean will still further affect the climate of Southern Europe. These are striking illustrations of how far the ocean current may affect the climate of any region, even after its velocity seems to be abated and its volume seems to be lost amidst the unbounded waste of waters.
Every question of a thermometrical approach to the Pole rests upon the meteorological power of the ocean current.
It is clear that the two great currents of hot water move with mighty thermal energy toward the Polar Basin. Analogy will show what effect they will have.
If the current known as Humboldt’s penetrates to the equator and cools its seas there to the delicious temperature of the Galapagos and Marquesas Islands, why should not the Gulf Stream pierce to the Pole with heat sufficient to preserve its waters from perpetual congelation ?
If we are to believe the reports and records of Dr. Kane and Dr. Hayes, the open Polar Sea seen by their expeditions was, in temperature, above 36° Fahrenheit; and hence far above the temperature at which sea-water becomes a solid (28°). There are several arguments for this theory which are of great importance, and which those who have criticised it seem either incapable of understanding or else determined to ignore.
There certainly issues from the space around the Pole a ceaseless and mighty flow of waters to the tropics. Its course is sadly attested by the huge icebergs, upon which perhaps many vessels never heard from have foundered. These icy masses are often so numerous in floating clusters as to defy computation. Captain Beechy saw a small one fall from a glacier in Spitzbergen over 400,000 tons in weight. The Great Western, in 1841, in her Transatlantic trip, met three hundred icebergs. Sir John Ross saw several aground in Baffin’s Bay, in two hundred and sixty fathoms deep ; one he computed to weigh 1,259,397,673 tons. A Danish voyager saw one measuring 900,000,000 cubic feet. Sir J. C. Ross met with some of these floating mountains twice as large as this ; and in Davis Strait, where there is deep water, icebergs have been met having an area of six square miles, and six hundred feet high.
The hyperborean current which bears these monsters on its bosom has formed by the deposit from their dissolution the Grand Banks of Newfoundland,
The single drift of ice which bore on its Atlean shoulders the English ship Resolute, abandoned by Captain Kellett, and cast it twelve hundred miles to the south, was computed to be at least three hundred thousand square miles in area and seven feet in thickness. Such a field of ice would weigh eighteen billion tons. We say this was a single drift through Davis Straits, only one of the avenues of this current from the Pole, and only a fractional part of the year’s drift. And yet these huge masses are insignificant beside some that are even now emerging out of the South Polar Basin. A circular was issued last winter from the Bureau of Navigation at Washington, warning mariners of one of the most fearful icebergs yet known. This circular contains the following extract from a communication of Mr. John T. Towson, F. R. G. S., dated January, 1870: —
“ In September, 1840, an iceberg was seen in Lat. 41° S., Long. 14° E., a mile in circumference. In January, 1858, in Lat. 53° 30′ S., Long. 14° W., an iceberg three miles long was observed. But these appear insignificant when compared with a body of ice reported to have passed by twenty-one ships during the five months of December, 1854, and January, February, March, and April, 1855 ; floating from Lat. 44° S., Long. 28° W., to Lat. 40° S., Long. 20° W. This mass has received the various denominations of an immense iceberg, an ice island, ‘groote ijseland,’ and a connected mass of icebergs. Its elevation in no case exceeded three hundred feet, but its horizontal dimensions were sixty miles by forty. It was of the form of a hook, the longer shank of which was sixty miles, the shorter forty miles, and embayed between these mountains of ice was a space of water forty miles across. The first account of it was received from the Great Britain, which, in December, 1854, was reported to have steamed fifty miles along the outer side of the longer shaft. This longest range of ice then bore northeast and southwest the bay, before alluded to, being open to the northeast. Whilst in this position it exposed ships to but little danger, since the bay could only be entered on the opposite course to that of ships on their homeward passage from Australia. But during the next three months it swung round 90° to the left, and drifted east-northeast, about one hundred miles, which brought it very near to the route of outward-bound ships, with the bay open to their track. We can scarcely imagine any mass of ice in an equally dangerous form, and I regret to add that one emigrant ship, the Guiding Star, was embayed and lost among it with all hands. The Cambridge and Salem were also embayed in it in March and April, 1855, but through the skill of their commanders they were extricated from the most perilous situation in which we can conceive a ship to be placed by ice in any form.
“ Although I have received three reports of ice observed in September last, between Lat. 41° and 46° S., Long. 40° to 48° W., I had no reason to believe that any was of such dimensions as is reported. The Alice Davies, commanded by Captain John Jones, arrived at Liverpool about the 13th instant. She brings the report of having on the 30th of September, in Lat. 45° 30′ S., Long. 38° 40′ W., passed on the east side of a large ice island, the extent of which, from north to south, was about twenty-five miles, and in a northwest direction further than could be seen. They also counted thirtyone icebergs, passing the last on the 1st of October, 1 h. 20 m, P. M., distant from the ice island about one hundred and thirty miles north by east magnetic.”
What a mighty and majestic flow of waters must take place from the equator toward the poles, to wedge out and to bear down to low latitudes such terrific masses as easily as the piston of the fire-engine ejects the jet d’eau !
We dwell upon the might and magnitude of this ice-bearing river from the Pole, because in gauging these we gauge the energy of the reciprocal heathearing river from the tropics, i. e. the Gulf Stream.
The agency of the winds in the North Temperate Zone combines powerfully with the currents. The chart shows the winds prevailing there. The water - current and the wind-current move together. As the winds sweep over the ocean they evaporate the Kuro Siwo and the Gulf Stream.
But the heat given off by these hot streams and otherwise wasted and lost is stored away in the vesicles of vapor, as latent heat, and by the winds transported to the Pole and piled up around it, there to be liberated at Nature’s calls by condensation, as sensible heat.
In London, for eight or nine months in the year, southwesterly winds prevail. Were it not for the rotation of the earth, we should have there the dry, hot blasts of Africa; but owing to this rotation, the wind, which starts northward from the Gulf of Mexico, is deflected to Europe. Europe is therefore the recipient of the stores of latent heat amassed in the Western Atlantic. “ It is this condition of things,” says Tyndal, “ which makes our fields so green and which gives the bloom to our maidens’ cheeks.”
The amount of latent heat alone furnished by the southwest winds to England daily, and set free by precipitation overhead, is computed to be nearly equal to that created by the combustion of all the coal consumed in the island annually.
There is, therefore, every reason to believe that the Pole is mantled with a moist atmosphere. In 1827, when Captain Parry travelled “ northward from Spitzbergen,” he states that in a journey “ of thirty-five days it rained nearly all the time.”
An atmosphere charged with aqueous vapors would prove as a blanket to the Polar Basin, and would arrest the radiation of heat. If the plains of Siberia were covered with a moist sky, they would be comparatively pleasant in winter.
The only other direct argument for thermometric gateways to the Pole, which we have time to mention rests upon the facts recorded by the second Grinned Expedition, relating to the zoölogy of the Arctic Basin.
Beyond the eightieth parallel of north latitude Dr. Kane writes : “ Here the brent goose (Anas bernicla), the eider, and the king-duck were so crowded together that our Esquimaux killed two at a shot, with a single rifle-ball.” The brent goose had not been seen before since entering Smith’s Straits. It is well known to the Polar traveller as a migratory bird of the American continent. Like the others of the same family, it feeds upon vegetable matter, generally on marine plants with their adherent molluscous life. It is rarely or never seen in the interior, and from its habits may be regarded as singularly indicative of open water. “ The flocks of this bird,” Dr. Kane adds, “ easily distinguished by their wedgeshaped line of flight, now crossed the water obliquely and disappeared over the land to the north and east. I had shot these birds on the coast of Wellington Channel, in latitude 74° 50′, nearly six degrees to the south. They were then flying in the same direction.” Many such observations as these of Dr. Kane and Dr. Scoresby, attesting an open Polar Sea, will suggest themselves to the student of Arctic research.
How far soever the sun in winter may decline, we must remember that our stores of heat are not obtained solely from the sun, but also from space. The quantity of solar heat is capable of melting a layer of ice thirty-one metres thick (one hundred feet) ; the quantity of heat received from space is enough to liquefy a layer of Ice covering our globe twenty-seven metres thick (eighty-nine feet). Thus, in sum, the earth receives a quantity of heat expressed by a layer of ice spread over the globe fifty-seven metres in thickness.
The declination of the sun cannot affect the quantity of heat thrown down upon the Pole from the skies above it, that never cease to look down upon its yet unknown area.
Were the sun blotted out from the heavens, the heat of space alone would, according to Pouillet, liquefy eightynine feet of ice per annum.
But, after all, in tracing the climatic power of these currents of the sea, and their agency in breaking through the bars of latitude, We have reasoned upon them as forces, acting from a given and fixed base of supply for their volume. The reader must for himself judge how far they are capable of unsealing the ices of the Arctic and Antarctic Seas, and clearing a path through the crystal solid to the goal of the geographer. But what if the base of these potential masses which move into the Polar Basin be advanced toward the Pole through an are of twenty degrees of latitude ? Suppose the equatorial currents should shift their position toward the north as much as twelve hundred or fourteen hundred miles, how would this affect the thermometric gateways ? Evidently they would have far less space and time to spread out their volume and radiate their heat, before washing up into the Arctic Sea itself, judging by the velocity of the Gulf Stream and Kuro Siwo, they would, in such a case as we have supposed, be shortened, in their course to the Pole, at least thirty days. The difficulty of preserving their tropical heat of course diminishes as the time of flow diminishes. Now this advancement of the base of supply for these hot currents is just what annually takes place. In a word, the mathematical equator and the thermal equator are only twice in the year the same line. The latter is thrown to the north at least twelve hundred miles. As it is thrown northward, the trade-wind zone is moved with it. The trade-winds, however, set in motion the equatorial currents of the Pacific and Atlantic. These mighty masses, flowing to the west, have their northern banks transported over twelve hundred miles nearer the Pole ! And it follows that the Kuro Siwo and the Gulf Current of the Atlantic are thus and then, once every year, pushed and pressed the same distance nearer the Polar Basin,
Such are some of the chief facts and principles of physical geography which underlie the final solution of the polar problem, — a problem that has cost the world more than any or all beside.
There is reason to hope much from the American Arctic Expedition. It will not sail too late in the season, if we are guided by the judgment of old polar navigators.
The detachment of ice masses and their dangerous presence in the frozen ocean doubtless will continue till late in July. During the early summer the diffusion of fresh water from the melting snow over the surface of the Polar Sea would seriously obscure the presence of the warm current, and render its movement less discernible by the thermometer.
“ The months of August and September,” says Lambert, “ are, I believe, the best for explorations along the coasts of the Arctic Ocean. Whalers have pushed to the east of Point Barrow, and taken whales until the 15th of September, without seeing ice from the north, and I have seen whales taken as late as October 12th under the 71° of latitude.” Captain Bent also, in a late note to the writer, observes : “ Were it not for the absence of daylight, I should recommend midwinter for the experiment, not only on account of the lessened chance of meeting floating ice at that season, but also from the fact that less dissolution of ice is taking place then ; and the thermal difference between the waters of the warm stream and those of the counter-currents being greater in winter than in summer, the former (or warm currents) could be more easily traced then than they probably can at other seasons.”
That the method of testing this theory is not an experiment we have a guaranty in the fact of its coming from a skilful and trusty seaman.
How far the thermometer avails as a practical guide at sea is beautifully suggested by Humboldt. Sand-banks and shoals, he says, may be recognized by the coolness of the waters over them. By his observations, Franklin converted the thermometer into a sounding-line. Mists are frequently over these depths, owing to the condensation of the vapor of the cooled waters. I have seen such mists in the south of Jamaica, and also in the Pacific, defining with a sharpness and clearness the form of the shoals, below them, appearing to the eye as the aerial reflection of the bottom of the sea. In the open sea, far from land, and when the air is calm, clouds are often observed to rest over spots where shoals are situated, and their bearings may be taken in the same manner as that of a high mountain or isolated peak.
The new expedition will be conducted in the interests of geographical science. We shall look for rich results.
T. B. Maury.
- Russian meteorological observations conducted through a period of fourteen years at Sitka give the mean winter temperature there as 31° + Fahrenheit, and the mean annual temperature at 42°. American observations give mean annual temperature at 44°. See Dall’s Alaska and its Resources.↩
- “ As far the appearance of currents,” says M. Gustave Lambert, the leader of the French Expedition, “ this is what I have seen, moving along Behring’s Sea by the coasts of Asia, in the month of June, a very strong current, running from south to north. Later in September, the current in latitude 70° had a velocity of three knots an hour from south to north.” — Bulletin de la Société de Géographie. Paris, Janvier, 1867.↩