Excerpts From Fridtjof Nansen's 'The First Crossing of Greenland'
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“My plan, described briefly, is as follows:  With three or four of the best and strongest ‘skilöbers’ I can lay my hands on, I mean to leave Iceland in the beginning of June on board a Norwegian sealer, make for the east coast of Greenland, and try in about lat 66°N to get as near the shore as possible... the expedition will leave the ship at the farthest point that can be reached, and will pass over the ice to land...  If we reach land to the north of Cape Dan, we shall begin the ascent from the end of one of the fjords close by; if we land farther south, we shall push up to the end of Sermilikfjord before we take to the ice...

Once upon the ice, we shall set our course for Christianshaab, on Disko Bay, and try to reach our destination as soon as possible...  The distance from the point on the east coast where I intend to land to Disco Bay is about 670 kilometres or 420 miles.  If we calculate that we shall be able to cover on a daily average from 15 to 20 miles, which is exceedingly little for a ‘skilöber,’ the crossing will not tale more than a month, and if we carry with us provisions for double that time there seems to be every probability of our success...  We shall also, of course, take the instruments necessary for observations...”

It is not to be wondered at that several more or less energetic protests against a plan of this kind appeared in the newspapers...

In this connection I cannot deny myself the pleasure of reproducing some portions of a lecture delivered in Copenhagen by a young Danish traveller in Greenland, and printed in the Danish magazine ‘Ny Jord’ for February, 1888.  ‘Other plans,’ the lecturer says,

‘have never passed beyond the stage of paper, like the proposals to cross the ‘Inland ice’ in balloons, which were brought forward at the end of the last century.  And among these paper-schemes we must include the proposal which has just emanated from the Norwegian zoologist, Fridtjof Nansen, of the Bergen Museum...  The very method by which Nansen proposes to reach the coast, that is to say, by abandoning the firm ship’s deck and creeping like a polar bear from one rocking ice-floe to another on his way to the shore, shows such absolute recklessness that it is scarcely possible to criticise it seriously...

Let us suppose, however, that fortune favours the brave, and that Nansen has reached the east coast of Greenland...  How will he pass the outer edge, where peak upon peak rise through the ice mantle, and in all probability present at nearly every point an impenetrable barrier..?  Nansen’s proposal to climb the high mountains of the coast and from their summits step upon the expanse of ice which is dammed up against them thus betrays absolute ignorance of the true conditions...

But there is one very different question on which I think I am not only qualified but bound to speak.  And I say that, in my opinion, no one has the moral right, by setting out upon a venturesome and profitless undertaking, to burden the Eskimo of Danish East Greenland with the obligation of helping him out of the difficulty into which he has wantonly thrust himself...  He will either uselessly throw his own and perhaps others’ lives away, or that he will have to take refuge with the Eskimo...’

    [This sermon came very close to being an accurate prophesy.  Editor]

There is no doubt that these passages were written with every good intention, but they are, nevertheless, characteristic specimens of the almost superstitious terror with which many people, and among them some who pose as authorities...  have regarded the ‘Inland ice’ of Greenland and the passage of tracts of ice and snow generally, even in these latter days...

In England, too, the press delivered itself of several articles adverse to the plan of the expedition.

In another article, which betrays, if possible, even less knowledge of the subject, the writer declared that even if Nansen himself were mad enough to make any such attempt he would not get a single man to accompany him.

But, in spite of these warning voices and in spite of the general opinion that the whole scheme was simple madness, there were, nevertheless, plenty of men who wished to join me.  I received more than forty applications from people of all sorts of occupations, including soldiers, sailors, apothecaries, peasants, men of business, and University students.  There were many others, too, who did not apply, but who said they were more than eager to go, and would have sent in their names, had it been of the slightest use.  Nor were these applications all Norwegians, for I received many letters, too, from Danes, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, and Englishmen.

I could, however, take none who were not thoroughly accustomed to the use of ‘ski,’ and men, too, of proved energy and endurance.  Finally, I chose three Norwegians:  Otto Sverdrup, a retired ship’s captain; Oluf Dietrichson, First-lieutenant in the Norwegian Infantry; and Kristiansen Trana, a peasant from the north of Norway.

As I had originally thought of taking reindeer, and imagined, besides, that some Lapps would be of use to me, as possessing that sense of locality and power of adaptation to all sorts of circumstances which such children of nature have as a common birthright, I had written to two well-known men living in Finmarken, asking them if they could find me a couple of Mountain-Lapps willing to join the expedition.  I stipulated that they should be plucky men, who were known to be clever mountaineers and to possess powers of endurance above the average; that they should be made fully aware beforehand of the dangerous nature of the undertaking, and that the fact must be clearly impressed upon them that there was just as much probability of their never returning home again as of surviving.  And I further added that they must be unmarried men of an age between 30 and 40, as I considered that at this time of life the powers of both body and mind are best prepared to meet the trials of such an undertaking.

It was a long time before I received an answer to my inquiry.  The post among the inland districts of Finmarken is leisurely, and is taken across the mountains in reindeer sledges every fortnight.  At last when the time fixed for our start was approaching I received an answer telling me that I could have two good men from Karasjok, if I was willing to pay them handsomely.  I accepted their terms and telegraphed to them to come at once.  The next thing I heard was that they were on the way and would arrive on such and such a day.  I was exceedingly anxious to see them, of course.  They were expected one Saturday evening, and I had some people down at the station to meet them and take them to their lodgings.  But no Lapps arrived that day or on Sunday either, and we all wondered what had become of them.  Then on Monday, I was told that they really had come, and indeed they had, but by a goods train instead of the ordinary express for passengers.  I hurried down to their lodgings at once, found their door, and, as I entered, saw standing in the middle of the room a good looking young fellow, but more like a Finn than a Lapp, and away in the corner an old man with long black hair hanging about his shoulders, small in stature, and looking more stunted still as he sat huddled up on a chest.  He had a much more genuine Lappish look about him than the other.  As I came into the room the elder man bent his head and waved his hand in the Oriental manner, while the younger greeted me in the ordinary way.  The old fellow knew very little Norwegian, and most of my conversation was with the younger. 

I asked them how they were, and why they came by the goods train. 

‘We do not understand trains,’ answered he, ‘and besides, it was a little cheaper.’ 

“Well, how old are you both?”

‘I am 26, and Ravna is 45,’ was the answer. 

This was a pretty business, for I had stipulated that they should be between 30 and 40. 

“You are both Mountain-Lapps, I suppose? 

‘Oh, no!  only Ravna; I am settled at Karasjok.’

This was still worse, as I had made a point of their being Mountain-Lapps. 

“But you are not afraid to go on this trip?” said I.

‘Yes, we are very much afraid, and people have been telling us on the way that the expedition is so dangerous that we shall never come home alive.  So we are very much afraid, indeed!’

This was really too bad, for the poor fellows had never even been told what they had undertaken to do.  I was very much inclined to send them back, but it was too late to get anyone else to take their place.  So, as I had to keep them, it was best to console them as well as I could, and tell them that what people had been saying was all rubbish.  It was no manner of use to discourage them at the outset, for they were likely to lose their spirits quite quickly enough anyhow…

Balto, my younger Lapp, on his return home wrote a short account of his experiences while he was away.  This has been translated into Norwegian from the original Lappish by Professor Friis, of Christiania, and I propose to include in my narrative those passages of his which seem to... afford most interest to the reader…

Both the Lapps had come, as they declared themselves, merely to gain money, and interest and adventure had no place in their minds.  On the contrary, they were afraid of everything, and were easily scared, which is not to be wondered at when it is remembered how very little they understood of the whole business at the outset.  That they did not come back so ignorant as they went will be seen from some of Balto’s observations, which I shall subsequently quote….

Ravna and Balto were good-natured and amiable… and I grew very fond of them both.
Hairy Feet!

For our feet we took, besides ordinary boots, the peculiar form known in Norway as 'lauparsko.'  The soles of these latter consist of a piece of pliant leather turned up along the sides and at the toe, and sewn to the upper leather on the upper surface of the foot… 

Inside these 'lauparsko' we wore first a pair of thick, well shrunk woollen stockings, and over them thick, rough goat's hair socks, which in addition to being warm, have the excellent quality, likewise possessed by the 'sennegræs' (Carex vesicaria) of the Lapps, of attracting moisture to themselves and thus keeping the feet relatively dry.  These 'lauparsko' are thoroughly adapted for use with the 'ski' or snowshoes.  They are… made of half tanned or quite raw hide with the hair left on.  Sometimes we found it quite difficult to get our feet free of their covering in the evening, as the stockings, socks, and shoes were all frozen hard together.  The two Lapps had two pair of 'finnesko' each, as well as one pair which Balto insisted on presenting to me.  These 'finnesko' when good are made of the skin of the legs of the reindeer buck, the pieces with the hair on being laid for 24 hours or so in a strong decoction of birch or similar bark, or sometimes tar-water.  The skin of the hind legs is used for the soles and sides, and that of the fore legs for the upper leather, the hair being left outside throughout the boot...

These 'finnesko,' then, which as I have said, are worn with the hair outside, and which the Lapps fill with the above mentioned sedge or 'sennegræs,' wrapping their bare feet in the grass and using no stockings, are a preeminently warm covering for the feet and very suitable for use on 'ski' or snowshoes… the pair of shoes which Balto gave me I wore nearly the whole way across the 'Inland ice,' as well as during the following winter, and brought them back to Norway with a good deal still left in them.  Nor was this all, for they were not new when I got them, as Balto had already used them for a winter...  They must, however, as I have already said, be very carefully looked after if they are to be made to last.  The best treatment if they are wet when one takes them off for the night is to turn them inside out and then sleep in them.  The skin or inner side is thus dried first, which is an important point, as the hair is otherwise liable to fall out…

We also had with us socks made of sheep's wool and human hair, which were both warm and durable…

The Eagle’s Nest

The ice was here packed rather close and a tearing current was playing with the great floes in a very unpleasant way.  These monsters were now crashing one against the other, now floating apart again, and we had to be more than usually careful to keep our boats from getting crushed.  The farther we got, too, the worse things looked.  Once we were just between two long floes; they were driven violently together by the movements of their neighbours, and it was only by a very rapid retreat that we saved ourselves.  Late in the evening, however, we reached the other side of the inlet in good order, but here the shore was so steep that it was no easy matter to find a camping place. 

But we presently came across a cleft in the rock, which gave us just enough room to haul up the boats by the help of the hoisting tackle which we had with us.  Higher up again in the cliff side was a ledge just big enough to hold our tent.  The whole position was eminently suggestive of an eyrie, and 'The Eagle's Nest' we consequently named it.  The Eskimo name is Ingerkajarfik and the place lies in lat 62° 10' N and long 42° 12' W.

The ledge which formed our camping ground was not the most convenient sleeping place I have known.  It sloped to such an extent that when we woke next morning, after an excellent night's rest, nevertheless, we found ourselves all lying in a heap at one side of the tent.

Melting of the Greenland Ice Cap

The most remarkable fact in connection with the temperature was the great difference between night and day limits.  It was more than 40° F (20° C), a difference which cannot occur in many parts of the globe.  Something corresponding to this state of things has been observed in the Sahara, where in January it may be intolerably hot in the day and so cold that water left in the open air will freeze at night...

As to the question of the highest temperature attained in the middle of summer in these regions, and whether there is any considerable melting of snow, we can form some estimate by examining the strata of the upper surface of the snowfield and finding whether the older layers show signs of having melted.  This was done by us as often as we had time and opportunity...

On the evening of August 31 we found, to our astonishment, when we were ramming our staffs in, preparatory to the pitching of the tent, that, though there was certainly a solid crust under the upper layer of fresh snow, yet when we had passed through this we could drive the poles down to an indefinite depth.  This was clear proof that we had already reached a height - it was all but 7,500 feet - at which the sun even at midsummer has only power enough to make a thin layer of snow wet and sticky, and that this freezes afterwards as the sun gets low again.  At this height, therefore, melting can do absolutely nothing to reduce the quantity of snow, for the insignificant amount of water thus formed can get no way, as it is at once intercepted by the following night frost.  We found a similar state of things throughout the upper plateau, there being practically no melting of the snow...  I tried the snow several times and found, as a rule, uppermost about 3 inches of fresh snow, then a crust about half an inch in thickness, then 7 inches of loose snow again, then another crust which could only be bored with difficulty, and that after this the staff could be driven down for a foot or more through a mass which grew harder and harder, till about two feet from the surface it came to a standstill...

Everything shows that in the very interior the only melting that goes on is the moistening of the upper surface just at the warmest period of the year, while this layer is solidified again immediately.

Just how far Nansen could have pushed his ski staff into the deepest areas of ice was only discovered when the Greenland Ice Core Project finished in 1992.  Starting work in the late 1980’s,  scientists drilled out a column of ice from the surface down to bedrock.  The ice core recovered was about 2 miles long.  The work was repeated at a different site by the U.S.-Greenland Ice Sheet Project, with similar results.  Nansen was absolutely correct in his deduction that there is considerable snowfall, and very little melting each summer - just enough, in fact, for scientists to be able to count each summer’s slight melt as a change in density of the ice - rather like the growth or annual tree-rings seen when a tree is cut down.  The lowest layers contain snow laid down about 250,000 years ago.

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The ice traps not only dust, but also pollen from various species of plants, and gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane.  The annual ice layers trap different quantities in proportion to the concentration present in the atmosphere at the time the snow fell.  This yields a detailed record, providing our most precise estimate on the pattern of climate change in the northern hemisphere.  About 50 measurements can be taken which reflect the type of climate prevailing at the time the ice was laid down.  For example, the concentration of carbon dioxide trapped is often said to be proportional to the prevailing temperature - on this basis it can be deduced that there have been several sudden changes in climate over the last 250,000 years.  The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been shown to have increased by more than 30% since pre-industrial times.  However, the average temperature rise, attributed to carbon dioxide released by  human related activities, has increased by only about 0.6°C over the twentieth century.  This disparity has puzzled environmentalists.  Attempts have been made to show that relatively large, rapid and short-term changes in the sun’s activity are more important contributors to ‘global warming’ than previously thought. 

Dr. Gerald Stanhill, working at the Agricultural Reseach Organisation in Israel, noticed a 22% drop in solar energy reaching the ground between the 1960’s and 1980.  Dr. Stanhill applied the name ‘global dimming’ to this phenomenon.  The cause of his observation, and its implications, were not appreciated until the end of the twentieth century. 

Atmospheric pollution comes in two forms: invisible greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, and particulates such as soot and ash.  While the invisible gases may increase the average temperature by trapping heat within the atmosphere, the particles tend to reduce this effect by reflecting sunlight back into space.  It has been found that these airborne particles cut down sunlight by about 10% in areas of high pollution, much more than previously thought.  The particles make clouds more reflective by increasing the number of water droplets while reducing their size.  Smaller water droplets are more efficient at reflecting sunlight.  Many of the energetic photons from the sun are therefore returned to space before they can heat the lower atmosphere.

Global dimming has masked the effect of global warming in areas exposed to small-particle pollution.  However, there is less airborne particle pollution in the Arctic and therefore the net effect of global warming has not been greatly diminished by global dimming in these regions.  The ice of the Arctic is consequently beginning to melt at a rapid rate.

During the last few years there has been a change in the pattern of ice deposition in Greenland.  Instead of a steady annual increase, there has been a net loss.  That is, the enormous volume of ice which forms the Greenland Ice Cap is beginning to melt away - with future consequences for both the climate of northern Europe and for sea level.  It has been suggested that if the Greenland Ice Cap were to melt completely, then sea levels would rise by about 6 meters [20 feet].  This would be enough to inundate many low lying cities and much of Bangladesh.

The global rise in temperature has resulted in a clamour to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  However, reversing greenhouse gas production  may be impossible in the short term.  As well as slowing the release of these gasses, various schemes have been suggested to absorb and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  But the enormously painful changes required to annul the vast quantity released since the start of the industrial revolution may be unnecessary.  By mimicking the global dimming processes, it should be possible to reflect sunlight from sensitive areas such as the Greenland Ice Cap.  It has been suggested that cloud formation could be initiated by spraying sea-water into the atmosphere.  The salt particles act as nuclei around which tiny water droplets form.  During the day, these clouds then reflect the sunlight back into space.  Clouds can also be formed by the release of an aerosol of sulphur compounds which also directly reflect sunlight.  The same process occurs naturally within the plume from a volcano. 



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