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Greenland and The Ice Age.


In spite of the misfortunes which overtook the Miranda expedition to the arctic regions the enterprise was not altogether abortive. It has added soemthing to the knowledge of Greenland and increased the literature of the subject with two or three interesting books. The latest of these and the one which has the best claim to consideration by reason of the value of its contents to science is the result of the joint labors of Dr. G. Frederick Wright and Warren Upham, members of the expedition, who have compiled a volume to which they have given the title "Greenland Ice Fields and Life in the North Atlantic." The work is published by the Appletons and will be found not only an interesting record of the events of the expedition, but the glimpse which it gives of human existence in those high latitudes is interesting and valuable. For scientific students and readers we fancy the most interesting portion of the volume will be Dr. Wright's contributions relative to the ice fields and the conclusions which he draws from them concerning the ice age. He took advantage of the expedition to study the Greenland ice cap with some care and has embodied the results of his researches in this book. The surface of Greenland is today buried under an ice sheet similar to that which covered this continent in the geological era known to scientists as the ice age, or the Pleistocene period. It may well be expected therefore to supply the key for the interpretation of the processes of erosion, transportation and deposition of the glacial drift on the adjacent continents. Furthermore, the author says that we may well look to Greenland for aid in the solution of the vexed questions concerning the causes of the extraordinary Pleistocene accumulations. The author finds that Greenland is not only an important object lesson in glacial geology, but an intricate puzzle, as well. Contrary to all expectations Greenland is maintaining for itself an independent glacial period long after glacial conditions have disappeared in the corresponding latitudes of other portions of the Northern hemisphere. To understand the reasons for these diverse conditions, the author says, is probably to unravel the main cause of the ice age. From existing conditions Dr. Wright endeavors to fomulate a theory as to the cause of the glaical period. He finds the solution of present conditions in the ocean currents. He points out that the shallowness and narrowness of Behring (sic) strait prevent the warm currents of the Pacific from entering the Arctic sea from the west, so that they cannot now aid in ameliorating the climate of the lands about the pole. A moderate depression of Behring strait might admit sufficient warm water from the Pacific ocean to change the whole aspect of the region within the arctic circle. On the other hand, a slightly greater elevation of the bottom of the sea along the line of Iceland and the Faroe islands, between Greenland and Scotland, might shut off so much warmth as to greatly extend the conditions favorable to glaciers. These theoretical considerations, combined with what Dr. Wright is constrained to regard as much positive evidence, induce him to advance the theory that the glacial period was caused mainly by relative changes in the sea level in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, since these changes of level, would, so to speak, turn the currents of warm water flowing from the southern seas, on and off from the different areas, thus controlling their local temperature. In other words, the introduction of what might be called a system of warm water heating on a grand scale, would materially change the climate of the arctic regions, while the shutting off of the gulf stream from the North Atlantic, or the Japan current from the North Pacific, would produce in those regions a degree of refrigeration, which would seriously modify existing conditions. It is pointed out that previous to the ice age a warm climate did everywhere exist within the arctic circle. The geological evidence is that just previous to the advent of the glacial period there was an extensive elevation of Northern land. This resulted in a disturbance and diversion of the warm ocean currents, and refrigeration followed. Dr. Wright sums up the arguments and theories as to what would be the results if the ice cap would disappear from Greenland in an interesting fashion, pointing out the conclusions that seem to be most favored by present and known conditions. His book throughout is exceedingly interesting and presents a good deal of valuable sicientific matter in a way which cannot help but attract the unscientific reader. It is one of the best presentations of the results of the Miranda expedition that has been published.

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:
  Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn, NY. April 5, 1896  
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  Jennifer F. Holvoet, Ph.D.  
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