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What Polar Expeditions Do For Science.

Mr. Borchgrevink On Antarctic Exploration -- Wonder That No Attempt Has Been Made To Finish The Work Begun By Ross.

In view of the recent Nansen agitation, there comes up in the mind of persons given to the consideration of live subjects of the day a question as to the worth and value of these expeditions whose object is the discovery of the North Pole, and the investigation of that wide stretch of unknown territory called, in a general way, "the Arctic region." Should the Pole be found, should the lines dividing Arctic land and water be carefully gone over and accepted as authentic, what will be the value of such definite knowledge to mankind, to science, to commerce, to navigation?

Originally the spirit of exploration had its incentive in the greed of gain, national or individual. The hope that new lands were to be found, rich in mineral and other products of commercial value, led many a daring spirit to peril and deprivation; but territory of this kind has all been taken up. The Arctic and the Antarctic alone remain shrouded in the cold, icy impenetrable mystery maintained from the beginning of the world. From the eleventh century to the present day, attempts more or less frequent and of large or small importance have been made to reach the Pole. Large sums of money have been spent, many lives have been lost and much time consumed. As a result, certain knowledge has been acquired to the effect that above a given latitude no life exists, nor can exist; that no buried treasure awaits the invader to reward him for his trouble, and that his pleasure and satisfaction must rest in the accomplishment of a prodigious feat, and the additions to scientific knowledge that would thereby accrue.

The Knowledge Of Great Value.

Men of science are agreed that definite knowledge of the Pole and its region will be of great value to the world. Ex-Judge Charles P. Daly, president of the American Geographical Society, once made an address at one of the meetings, in which he said:

"Why should we try to reach the North Pole? Why send out costly expeditions involving peril to life and property, when we all know that the approach to the Arctic Zone is surrounded by insurmountable barriers? If it involved nothing more than the feat of reaching the Pole, it would be very difficult to answer such questions, but the general answer to them is that there is no portion of the globe where observations in respect to scientific matters affecting the whole globe (every part of it) are so important as in the polar basin and its vicinity. The tremendous forces which are there at work and which are the cause of the difficulty of exploration and observation are physical phenomena which it is most important to observe and study. As they have to do with the winds, the ocean currents, magnetic influences and numerous other questions of the most practical nature in their application and in results to which they lead. The amount of knowledge in the world which has been discovered by accident is small in proportion to that which has been the result of previous investigation. In the polar region will be found the key to unlock those mysteries in respect to the laws of magnetism. All know that magnetism is a polar force, that it directs the needle which guides the seaman upon an around the earth. But it is only the scientific man that knows the insurmountable difficulties that beset investigation of its laws, and how important to the world is a thorough knowledge of those laws.

"The best answer ever given to the query, 'Well, what is the use of these expeditions?' was that given by Franklin, when asked one day as regards his discovery of electricity, 'What is the use of your discovery?' Franklin's reply was this: 'What is the use of a child? Make use of it.' The most ordinary things in our present civilization owe their origin to what in their day was scientific information and they are due to the close observation and patient labors of men who could not have predicted the great results that followed their researches."

At the time these remarks were made by ex-Judge Daly, there were members of the Council of the Geographical Society who did not agree with him on the question, and who held to the opinion that the game was not worth going after.

The Advantage To Science.

At the present time should success reward the Arctic explorers, it is expected that science would receive its most valuable information as regards the laws of the ocean and air currents, and the laws of meteorology. Positive knowledge will be obtained to fill out the gaps of science which are now occupied by theory and hypothesis. So far as the United States is concerned, it has expended comparatively little money in fitting out expeditions of this nature. American activity in this direction has received its financial support largely from private sources. In the case of Peary the cost of his expeditions was borne almost entirely by himself. From this fact, it may at least be inferred that the Nation's representatives have never considered it a profitable investment, either from a commercial or scientific standpoint, to give financial support to enterprises of this nature.

England has expended large sums of money on explorations. It began in expeditions to find a waterway to the Pacific, and when this hope had been blasted, English navigators were kept hammering away at the Arctic Zone as a matter of National pride.

C. E. Borchgrevink has this to say on the subject of Antarctic Explorations:

Antarctic Exploration.

"Since Sir James Ross in 1841 discovered the South Victoria Continent no one had visited these southern shores until last year, when the steam whaler Antarctic ran into that large ice-free bay which stretches from Cape Adair down to the volcanoes the Erebus and the Terror. It seemed strange that fifty-four years should have been allowed to elapse without any attempt having been made to finish that work which was so bravely begun. The more strange does this part seem, as the journals of the Erebus and the Terror speak about the vast new and promising fields for science and commerce.

"It is more than probable that the Antarctic land is a large continent about twice the size of Europe, which from Melbourne easily can be reached in fourteen days by a good whaling steamer following in Sir James Ross's track. Cook, Weddell and Ross were the only navigators who had ever crossed the seventieth parallel before; the other Antarctic expeditions had seen the ice-pack, but no others had ever passed through it.

"Captain Cook reached its edge in 71 deg. 10 min. south, and in 1823 Captain Weddell had the extraordinary good fortune to attain a latitude of 74 deg. 15 sec. South without meeting it, the latest voyage, that of Ross in 1843, having taken place more than half a century ago.

"When we consider that the northern part of the South Victoria land does not lie further south of the equator than does Norway northward, and when we consider those startling facts which we already have at hand from that southern continent, it seems remarkable that we should be at the end of the nineteenth century and not know more about those southern shores. So much more strange does it seem, as that land of the south holds in its icy grasp the yet undiscovered south magnetic pole, the culminating point of terrestrial magnetism in the south.

"It will be remembered that the south magnetic pole has not yet been reached, and that magnetical observations near the south magnetic pole at present are highly needed for navigation, inasmuch as the meteorology within the Antarctic circle forms a missing link in that most important science.

"It cannot be denied that the nearer we get to the fount from which those two powers magnetism and electricity flow the more likely we are to gain valuable scientific and commercial knowledge. It seems to me that these two matters alone are worth that comparatively small outlay of man's energy which is necessary for the outfit of an expedition.

"Discoveries in science have always benefited human kind at large, although but few will take the trouble of tracing the benefits back to where they originated. But there are so many other vacant places in our knowledge of the globe we live upon which would be filled if I bring my coming expedition to a successful issue, vacant places in our knowledge which become proportionally more felt by each new discovery in the Arctic regions. It might be of some interest to know the exact work I intend to do in the south next year, and I will state some of my objects briefly: With the necessary outfit of scientific men, huts, dogs, sledges and ski, etc., I intend spending one year on the South Victoria Land. Especially would the expedition have the following objects at heart:

"A land party will work toward the south magnetic pole, there to make magnetical observations; the coast line in the neighborhood of the open bay should be surveyed, fjords and bays explored and sounded; zoological, botanical, mineralogical, geological, dredging; barometrical, thermometrical, meterological (sic) and pendulum observations, and air and water current observations should be made."

Reproduced with permission: L.L. Dyche, Explorations (Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2. University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS.


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Original Source:
  N.Y. Tribune. New York, NY. February 23, 1896  
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  Jennifer Holvoet, University of Kansas  
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