Daily Mercury, Mackay, Qld. Saturday 7 April 1923
Science is asking these questions (says “Popular Science Siftings”). Reports from fishermen, seal hunters, and explorers who sail the seas around Spitsbergen and the eastern Arctic all point to a radical change in climatic conditions, with hitherto unheard-of high temperatures on that part of the earth’s surface.
Observations to that effect have covered the last five years during which the warmth has been steadily increasing. In August the Norwegian Department of Commerce sent an expedition to Spitzbergen and Bear island under the leadership of Dr. Adolf Hoel, professor of geology in the University of Christiania, the object in view being to survey and chart areas productive of coal and other minerals. The expedition sailed as far north as 81 deg. 29 min. N. latitude in ice free water. Such a thing, hitherto, would have been deemed impossible.
The United States Consul at Bergen, Norway, Mr. Ifft, also reports the recent extraordinary warmth in the Arctic. He quotes incidentally the statements of Captain Martin Ingebrigstsen, a mariner who sailed those seas for 54 years.
The captain says that he first noted an annual warmth in 1918; and since then temperatures have risen steadily higher. Today the eastern Arctic is “hardly recognizable as the same region of 1868 to 1917.”
Many of the old landmarks are greatly altered, or no longer exist. Where formerly there were great masses of ice, these have melted away leaving behind them accumulations of earth and stones such as geologists call “moraines.” At many points where glaciers extend far into the sea half a dozen years ago they have now entirely disappeared.
The change in temperature has brought great changes in the plant and animal life of the Arctic. Formerly vast shoals of whitefish were found in the waters round Spitzbergen, but last summer the fishermen sought them in vain.
Seals which used to be plentiful in those seas, have almost entirely disappeared. It would seem as if the ocean must have become uncomfortably warm for some of its denizens which formerly frequented those latitudes, causing them to flock north ward towards the Pole.
On the other hand other kinds of fishes, hitherto unknown so far north have made their appearance. Shoals of smelt have arrived, and immense schools of herring are reported by fishermen along the west coast of Spitzbergen.
Formerly the waters about Spitzbergen have held an even summer temperature in the neighborhood of 5 degrees above freezing. This year it rose as high as 28 degrees. Last winter the ocean did not freeze over even on the north coast of Spitzbergen. This is on the authority of Dr. Hoel.
This state of affairs is a cause of much surprise and even astonishment to scientists, who wonder whether the change is merely temporary or the beginning of a great alteration of the climatic conditions in the Arctic, with consequent melting of the polar ice sheet.
How great the change is that has come over the climate in the Arctic regions may be understood by the struggles of the early explorers to discover the north-west passage, or the open body of water existing around North America, leading eventually to India. The passage was first undertaken by way of Spitzbergen, but the thick ice repeatedly beat back the ships of the explorers.
From exploits to discover the north west passage many of the trips for the conquest of the North Pole were eventually undertaken.
Parry was First.
Parry, the great British explorer, was first to negotiate the open passage between Greenland and Bering Sea, reaching half-way across the top of North America before he was hedged in by the ice, and with supplies becoming low, dared go no further.
He was first to discover the north magnetic pole and to report the astonishing fact that the needle of his compass turned and pointed directly south.
Unquestionably his conquests in the frozen Arctic led to the actual penetrating of the north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific by McCure, Collinson, and Amundsen later on.
From the difficulties besetting these great Arctic adventurers some idea of the tremendous thickness of the ice may he had. Even at the very spot north of Spitzbergen where open water was seen this summer, such well-known explorers as Hudson and Phillips had great difficulties in penetrating on account of the thickness of the ice, and, in spite of their equipment, one of them could not go even as far over the ice at the spot where the open water showed a few months ago.
Fur Clothes Too Warm.
Not only are the seals and polar bears finding the climate unpleasantly warm for them, but it is said that the Eskimos in some localities are complaining and are finding their fur clothes too warm for them.
The region about the North Pole is covered by an ice cap which, towards the east, extends over nearly the whole of Greenland to what is practically a single enormous glacier. To cross the great glacier has been the quest of many adventurous spirits.
On account of the severity of the winds that sweep over the immense slowly moving cake of ice, it was never successfully accomplished until Nansen managed to go from the east coast of Greenland across the top of the ice barrier to the west coast at about the sixty-fourth parallel of latitude.
Nansen and his five companions reached a height of 8922 feet at the top of the barrier, showing how thick the ice had become through ages of freezing.
Peary and Astrup.
Later on Peary and Astrup crossed the island much further north and had to climb a solid hill of ice about 8000 feet high. But there was not always an ice cap.
In time long gone by the region about the North Pole had a warm climate and all of Greenland was covered with a luxuriant tropical vegetation. This is positively known because fossil remains of palms, breadfruit trees, and other plants properly belonging to warm latitudes have been dug up there in quantities.
It seems at least possible that the extraordinary warmth in the Arctic during the last few years marks a step in a return to this condition.
Such a change as that suggested cannot be suddenly or even rapidly accomplished; but, if there shall come a time when the North Polar ice cap is entirely melted, and Greenland incidentally freed of the ice sheet which covers it, other latitudes will also experience a wonderful climatic alteration, and climates all over the world may become steadily and gradually warmer.
– – Daily Mercury, Mackay, Qld. Saturday 7 April 1923