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LIFE AT THE NORTH POLE
Probability That Human Beings Are Living There
Polar Animals and Birds.
Not A Frozen Mass of Ice, But Land and Clear Water During Certain Seasons.
What is the North Pole like? Suppose Nansen has really reached it, what did he find there? Is it all a continent of solid ice or is there some land there? Is there any life there, any vegetation? Can human beings exist there? The answers to these interesting questions are given below, based on the best scientific knowledge.
That the North Pole is situated on land seems to be almost a certainty. There is land bare of ice in that part of the world, and clear water, too. Good and scientific reasons lie back of these assumptions. That the region in question is inhabited by various animals is an undisputed fact. It cannot be asserted with confidence that human beings do not live there.
It is known that several species of birds live and breed in regions far to the north of any point reached by explorers. They are seen migrating toward the Pole, their flocks vanishing into the unknown beyond. Obviously they cannot lay their eggs or rear their young on ice floes or bergs, and so it must be taken for granted that they find bare land suitable for the purpose.
The rosy gull, most beautiful of all its fleet-winged tribe, spends Summer and Winter within the mysterious and unexpored (sic) area. Its species is actually restricted to that area, only occasional specimens being seen outside of it, driven to the southward by storms. Only once has a flock of rosy gulls been seen; it passed Point Barrow, the most northerly point of Alaska.
There must be no small extent of land in a region that exclusively maintains a whole species of animals. Open water there must be all the year around, else the rosy gull would starve. Doubtless, the bird skirts the ice fields in Winter, looking for fish. Two species of sandpipers breed in the unexplored area. The same may be said of at least one species of goose. Every spring brant are seen from Point Barrow, flying northward, whither no human being has yet been able to follow.
If there be a polar continent there is no reason for picturing it as devoid of animal or vegetable life. In its surrounding waters are plenty of fishes doubtless, as well as numerous specie (sic) of crustaceans; in its bays seals disport themselves, perhaps, and possibly walrus are not absent. As for the flora, there is apt to be as much of it as is found on Spitzbergen -- that is to say, plenty of mosses and lichens, with even a few flowering plants such as the yellow Arctic poppy.
The most interesting question about the North Pole is as to whether human beings are to be found in its vicinity. Such a notion is not so absurd as might be imagined. From decade to decade bold explorers have ventured further and further toward the northern extremity of the earth's axis, but however high the point reached people have always been discovered dwelling there. A short time ago, Nansen outlined the north coast of Greenland, proving it to be an island. Yet at the north end of the island he came across a colony of 279 Esquimau (sic) pursuing a contented and fairly prosperous existence by means of hunting and fishing.
The man who is lucky enough to discover the North Pole may well feel somewhat discouraged if he finds a lot of people living there. Yet why not? The climate cannot be so dreadfully severe; it is certainly not nearly so cold as north latitude 68 degrees. On that coldest latitude is situated the town of Werkojansk, in Siberia. And just here may as well be told a remarkable story that rests on the authority of Captain Herendeen, formerly engaged in the Arctic whaling service, and now employed in the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington. The event he describes occurred in the Winter of 1885, which he spent at Point Barrow.
There is an Esquimau village at Point Barrow, and also a whaling station. One day there was a great commotion, and Captain Herendeen saw half the people of the village running, evidently much excited. They came to him and told him that three strange looking men had been seen on the ice off the Point. They were dressed peculiarly -- not in deer skins, but in a white fur, which was supposed to be that of the polar bear. They acted as if very tired, and it was noticed that they had no guns. This last point was particularly surprising inasmuch as nobody in that part of the world ever goes out without a gun. Now the Esquimau are proverbial for their hospitality and amiability toward strangers, and they were astonished when the three men took fright on seeing them and ran away over the ice to the northward. This was what had caused the excitement.
The Esquimau declared positively that the three men were not of their people. Their dress and actions made this a certainty. If so, whence did they come? The only tenable theory seemed to be that they had drifted on an ice floe from an unknown land far to the north, the existence of which was asserted by a tradition among the Esquimau. They say that some of their people were once carried away by a storm and reached this land, subsequently returning. One of the natives was so confident of the truth of the story that he begged Captain Herendeen to secure for him a passage on a north-bound whaler, in order that he might go with the ship as far as possible, and then leave it to complete the adventurous journey in his little boat.
General Greely, the famous Arctic explorer, believes that the North Pole region is a continent. He says that immense masses of land-made ice are seen floating southward through Kane Sea and Smith Sound under such circumstances as render it certain that they must come from a land area far to the north. The very size of the bergs prove that the land area must be of great extent. On one occasion he saw, in Smith Sound, such a floeberg that was 800 feet thick, and that must have required something like 2, 400 years for its formation.
The old notion of a Palaeocrystic sea, or sea of ancient and never-melting ice around the Pole, was long ago exploded. It was originated by the explorer Nares, who believed that the water in that part of the world was frozen down to th every (sic) bottom of the shallow ocean. On the other hand, the idea of an open polar sea, as conceived by Kane, is no longer entertained; that is to say, of an ever-open sheet of water surrounding the Pole. The fact seems to be that there is always more or less open water in that region, though where there is ice in one Winter there may be no ice in another. In other words, the conditions vary.
As yet, more than 3,000,000 square miles of Arctic territory remain unexplored. There has been a tendency of late to cry down Arctic exploration as unprofitable and uselessly wasteful of life. Yet the fact is that enterprise in this direction has been enormously valuable to mankind. Within the last two centuries it has furnished to the civilized world products aggregating a thousand million dollars in market value, the most important of them being yielded by the whale fisheries.
Reproduced with permission: L.L. Lewis, 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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