« EelmineJätka »
a distance of 140 miles from the mouth of the Kolyma. The same weak unsafe ice was met with in April of the following year, and in their last journey over the Polar ice, in March, 1823, Wrangell's party were exposed to great danger by the ice, which was only 3 feet thick, and cracking in all directions. Wrangell also observed that north winds were always damp.
The observations of Hedenstrom, Anjou, and Wrangell, have led the Russian geographers to the conclusion that part of the Polar Ocean north of Siberia is always open water, and that this Polynia, as they call it, extends from twenty miles north of New Siberia islands to about the same distance off the coast of the continent, between Cape Chelagskoi and Cape North. This opinion rests on the instances in which the Russian explorers, in March and April, encountered either very thin ice indicative of the immediate vicinity of open water, or actual lanes of water, at different points of this line. In summer the current along the shore is from east to west, and in autumn from west to east; and the stupendous ice-hummocks, often 90 feet high, which line the Siberian coast, testify to the great pressure which takes place, and to the vast extent of the Polar ice-fields. The Siberian rivers bring down immense quantities of drift-wood, which is afterwards carried off by the currents, and scattered far and wide over the Arctic shores. On the breaking up of the ice the rivers contribute to drive the floes away from the coast, and the westerly currents then carry them in heavily-packed masses towards the Atlantic. Millions of tons of ice are thus sent to swell the size of the Polar pack, and are finally melted between Greenland and Nova Zembla. Admiral von Wrangell, using an allowable poetical licence, has called the open water off the Siberian coast the wide immeasurable ocean.' Ever since the translation of his work, the great Polynia of the Russians' has been a phrase on which geographical theorists have founded the wildest speculations. Anjou and Wrangell, during the months of March and April, found the ice to be thin and rotten at a distance of about 100 miles from the coast, and on two occasions an open water-hole, covered with floating pieces of ice, was seen in the offing. The observation of open water near Cape Taimyr, in August, by Middendorf, and of a water-hole in Kennedy Channel by Morton, in the end of June, is nothing remarkable, as the ice is more or less in motion in all parts of the Arctic regions, during those months. Dr. Hayes found Morton's Polynia completely frozen over in May, 1861.
There is clear evidence that, owing to strong currents and gales of wind, the ice is in motion off the coast of Siberia very early in the spring, giving rise to Polynias, or water-holes. Any
extensive land, such as universal tradition among the Siberian tribes declares to exist north of Cape Jakan, would favour the formation of such lanes of water under its lee. But there is nothing in the observations of the Russian explorers to warrant the belief in a wide immeasurable ocean.' The rising vapour, so often mentioned by Anjou, may have been caused by tidal cracks in the ice, and does not necessarily indicate an open sea ; and the phenomena of damp winds and rotten ice betoken just what Hedenstrom and Anjou saw-a limited expanse of sea caused by movements in the Polar pack. There is no evidence whatever that the Siberian Polynias of the early spring are of greater extent than the action of currents and gales of wind would easily explain.
It is probable that the south-westerly drift during the summer months gives rise to considerable expanses of open water in the Polar pack, which disappear as soon as the ice begins to form in September ; and that currents and gales keep the ice in motion near the land, even in the winter months. In this sense there may be a Polar basin, but the theory of an extensive navigable ocean round the Pole is directly opposed to a series of wellascertained geographical facts.
The theory of a Polar basin, in its wildest form, has been persistently forced into notice by Dr. Petermann, a German doctor, who publishes a geographical magazine at Gotha. Without practical knowledge of the Arctic regions, or any special right to speak authoritatively on the subject, he is also peculiarly disqualified from giving an opinion, owing to his habit of twisting facts gleaned from books to suit his preconceived theory. We should not, therefore, consider it necessary to examine his argument in favour of the Spitzbergen route, if it had not been endorsed, to some extent, by four naval officers of Arctic experience. Dr. Petermann first made himself notorious at the time of the Franklin search, when he declared that the • Erebus' and Terror' were beset near the Siberian coast, and that the best way of reaching them was by sailing across the Polar ocean between Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla, in the middle of winter! This scheme might have proved very mischievous, by diverting the search from the proper direction. Fortunately its absurdity was sufficiently apparent, and it received little or no attention. But Dr. Petermann has now resuscitated his theory in two long letters to Sir Roderick Murchison, in which he advocates the Spitzbergen route for North Polar exploration.
For his preference of this route he assigns eight reasons, which may be disposed of in a few words. He advocates it, 1st..be
voyage from England to the North Pole is shorter by Spitzbergen;' a matter which may be important to a Company wishing to establish a line of packets between the two points, but which has no bearing on the question of exploration. 2nd. Because
the Spitzbergen seas form the widest opening into the unknown region.' This is one of the strongest objections to the route ; for the ice-navigation must be conducted in a drifting pack, instead of along land-ice, as in Baffin's Bay. 3rd. “Because the Spitzbergen seas are more free of ice than any other part of the Arctic regions. This statement is directly opposed to the experience of every navigator who has ever reached the edge of the pack on that meridian. They have all, without a single exception, found an impenetrable barrier of ice between Greenland and Nova Zembla. 4th. The drift-ice north of Spitzbergen offers just as much or as little impediment to navigation as the ice in Baffin's Bay. When it is remembered that no vessel has ever penetrated through the stupendous ice-fields north of Spitzbergen, while a fleet of whalers has annually got through the middle ice of Baffin's Bay since 1817, an idea may be formed of the value of this assertion. 5th. The sea north of Spitzbergen will never be entirely frozen over, not even in winter, nor covered with solid ice fit for sledge-travelling. This is true, as we have already shown, and it forms the strongest objection to the Spitzbergen route; for these lakes and pools of water, while making sledge-travelling impossible, will add to the danger of wintering in the pack. 6th. “From Sir Edward Parry's furthest point a navigable sea was extending far away to the north ; and old Dutch and English skippers vowed they had sailed to 88°, and beyond the Pole itself. At Sir Edward Parry's position, in 82° 45', there was a perfectly navigable sea. This is a specimen of the assertions which serve to prop up Dr. Petermann's theory. The statement is not only incorrect, but the very reverse of the real fact. Parry, at his extreme point, found the ice thicker, and the floes more extensive than any he had previously met with ; and there was a strong yellow ice-blink always overspreading the northern horizon, which showed that the Polar pack was still stretching away to the northward; for the yellow tinge denotes field-ice.* The vows' of the old Dutch and English skippers were fully disposed of by Scoresby many years ago ; and Captain Jansen, after carefully investigating the Dutch records, has come to the conclusion that no vessel has ever been north of 83o. 7th. "The Polar region north of Spitzbergen consists of sea, and not land.' This is the very reason that the Spitzbergen route is the
* Scoresby, i. 300.
worst that could be selected. 8th. "Sir Edward Parry's expedition only took six months.' This argument has been endorsed by others, as if a hasty and perfunctory cruise was as satisfactory as a deliberate and careful exploration. The only other point raised by Dr. Petermann which requires notice is contained in his second letter, where he argues that there will be no difficulty in boring through the Polar ice-fields north of 80°, because Sir James Ross got through an extensive pack in the Antarctic regions in latitude 62°, after it had drifted and become loose for many hundreds of miles over a boundless ocean. The fallacy of the comparison was fully exposed by Admiral Collinson, at a recent meeting of the Geographical Society.* Dr. Petermann asks for any reason, however slight, why it would not be as easy to sail from Spitzbergen to the Pole and back as to go up Baffin's Bay to the entrance of Smith Sound. The reason is clear enough, and is well known to all Arctic navigators. North of Spitzbergen there is a pack composed of fields of immense size and thickness; and any vessel taking that route is at the mercy of the drifting ice. In Baffin's Bay there is land-ice, along which a ship can creep while the pack drifts past. The consequence is, that whereas a fleet of whalers passes up Baffin's Bay every year, no vessel has ever penetrated through the Polar pack. Dr. Petermann, of whom we have now had enough and to spare, characteristically completes his theory with a Polar map, on which he converts Kennedy Channel into a bay, by means of land expressly invented for the occasion. This method of propping up a theory recoils upon its author; and the Petermann land will probably share the fate of Ross's Croker mountains and Wilkes's southern continent.
But the Spitzbergen route was recommended by General Sabine long before Dr. Petermann was ever heard of; and it is advocated by four Arctic officers, Sir Edward Belcher, Admiral Ommanney, Captain Richards and Captain Inglefield. We desire, of course, to treat the opinions of these officers with respect, while we dissent most emphatically from the conclusions at which they have arrived. We have seen that the edge of the Polar pack, along its whole distance from Greenland to Nova Zembla, has been examined over and over again by navigators who sought a passage or lane by which to enter it. The ice of the Spitzbergen seas has been carefully and scientifically reported upon by many able explorers, and especially by Scoresby. We know, from the results of their investigations, that a body of heavy field-ice, cracked and broken in places by the action of currents and gales of wind, extends
* See · Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society,' vol. ix. p. 118.
from latitude 75° to the Pole, during the winter, and that the navigable summer season is very
short. Parry, during an exceptionally favourable year for navigation, walked for 192 miles over small floes and weak ice, and at his extreme point, in 82° 45' N., he at last came to the more formidable ice-fields; and the yellow ice-blink on his northern horizon showed that they extended far to the northward. It is certain that this Polar pack is several hundred miles in extent; that the ice-fields composing it are of immense size and thickness; and that no navigable lane or opening has yet been discovered along its edge. Any attempt, therefore, to penetrate into it would probably end in failure; and the only reason for expecting a more fortunate result is based on the advantages that steamers have over sailing-vessels. These advantages are undoubtedly very great; but they consist chiefly in the rapidity with which steamers can take advantage of a sudden opening in the ice, and in the immense saving of labour to the men. Under the ordinary circumstances of the Polar pack a steamer is not exempted from any of the difficulties of ice-navigation; while the moment the young ice begins to form, the screw will be choked and become useless. Success depends on a fortunate season; and in one year fast screw-steamers have been forty-five days getting through the middle ice of Baffin's Bay, while in another a weak little sailing schooner has sailed up without any detention at all.
In the improbable event of exploring-ships penetrating to any considerable distance through the Polar ice, in the direction of the Pole, there will be imminent danger of their being beset, and obliged to winter in the pack. A more perilous situation cannot be conceived. The ice is frequently in motion during the winter, at a time when the cold renders navigation impossible, and furious gales of wind press the floes together. These surely are not circumstances to which any vessel ought voluntarily to be exposed. Sledge-travelling has been shown to be impossible over such a pack, and retreat would thus be hopelessly cut off
. Sir Edward Belcher, who now unaccountably advocates the Spitzbergen route, thus reported upon the Polar ocean to the northward of the Parry Islands, in one of his despatches: “The more I have seen of the action of the ice, the partially open water, and the deceitful leads in the pools, the more satisfied I am that the man who once ventures off the land to seek a passage is in all probability sacrificed.'
But after all, the great objection to the Spitzbergen route is that few of the scientific results of North Polar exploration would be attained, even in the event of comparative success. It