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Explorer Bryant's Scheme To Test The Arctic Drifts - May Solve Problem


When the revenue cutter Bear sailed from San Francisco north a few days ago, it carried a number of oak casks. The mission of these casks was that perilous one which has cost so many lives -- the determination of the Arctic currents.

If these casks emerge some day, as it is believed they will, from the Arctic Sea and find lodgment on the shores of Greenland, the scientists believe that this will be conclusive proof that it is possible for a vessel properly constructed, to make the circuit from Bering Sea to the Atlantic without harm to itself or those aboard.

These casks are not to be placed in the water and allowed to float, but instead are to be firmly lodged on the ice surface so that, perhaps, it would be as well to say they will demonstrate the ice drift, instead of the current, for the experience of Dr. Nansen and the Fram showed that these two things are oftentimes different. How long it will take the casks to make the trip no one knows, but it will certainly be several years.

Henry G. Bryant, the President of the Geographical society of Philadelphia, stands sponsor for the experiment. Mr. Bryant is an old arctic traveler, having made two voyages with Lieutenant Peary, and, like every scientist who delves in such matters for the love of science and not money, is an enthusiast. A man of means, he is paying the entire expense of this trial of casks out of his own pocket. When asked what he thought would be the practical result of the experiment he said:

Vessel May Follow.

"What we hope and believe is that some of the casks will find their way to Greenland and be thrown upon either the west or east coast by that current which first sweeps down on the west side of Greenland, curves about it, and then trends along the eastern coast for a distance. If these casks, or any of them, succeed in making this trip intact, it is fair to draw the deduction that a vessel, if it were properly built, could do the same thing. Of course, it is impossible to speak definitely of this, because so many circumstances have to be taken into consideration, but it will be no more than reasonable to believe that a vessel constructed with the same degree of care in reference to possible pressure as the casks have been will stand more than a moderately good chance of getting through safely.

"The casks are the invention of Chief Engineer Melville, and I regard them as furnishing the most common sense and practical plan for getting at the secret of the arctic drift and currents yet devised. I have thought enough of it to pay the expense myself, and believe that eventually by means of this experiment we are more than likely to find a way to reach the pole. Every one knows what Nansen achieved with the Fram, and it is now also known to be a fact that he believes if he had drifted with the current instead of with the ice he would have been quite likely to drift directly across the pole. While it is all guesswork to say where these casks will again appear, when they are found they will tell a famous story.

Description of the Casks.

"Here is what Chief Engineer Melville has to say about the casks and what he thinks should be done with them: 'It will be observed that the casks are made after the ordinary manner, with solid wooden ends fitted to bear on the ends of the staves, not on the heads, held in place by a brass rod, with conical brass nuts to hold the cone ends in place -- the rods and nuts being made of brass to avoid corrosion, and the diameter of the rod being five-eighths of an inch. The cone ends are shouldered to fit inside the ends of the staves to avoid slipping, and an elastic india rubber washer is compressed between the cone and the head of the cask, to make it watertight where the rod passes through the head. The cask is painted a heavy black to preserve it from decay and to help keep it watertight -- black, that it may readily be seen.

They should be placed, if possible, on heavy ice floe pieces, that they may drift with the ice. Being black, under the action of the summer sun they will sink down into the body of the ice and be preserved from harm by possible crushing. If thrown into the open water they are apt to be drifted with the winds. The deep ice being affected by under currents, will probably carry the casks on a more correct drift. The customary bunghole and bung are fitted, the intention being to place within each cask a bottle, tightly corked, to preserve, in case the cask should leak, such records as it may seem proper to place therein.

"'The casks, being properly prepared, should be carried on a government vessel through Bering Strait and set adrift in sets of five, numbered consecutively; commencing with the first five at or near Herald Island, then proceeding to the northward along the eastern edge of the ice pack, until the highest safe latitude is obtained -- say latitude 75° north, longitude 170° west of Greenwich. I suggest this latitude and longitude, because the polar pack in the above latitude commences to crowd well over to the eastward and toward the North American archipelago, where other currents are known to exist.

Siberian Driftwood.

"'At this point final sets of casks should be set adrift, to demonstrate if possible the currents to the eastward or northward and eastward, if any there prevail. There is no doubt the casks will come out somewhere. Siberian driftwood has been found on the northeastern shores of Bennett Island, on



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:
  Chicago Tribune , Chicago, IL. May 28, 1899  
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  Jennifer F. Holvoet, Ph.D.  
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