« AnteriorContinua »
that it might have remained unknown, but for an extraordinary change which a few intelligent navigators remarked in the state of the arctic ice, and the reports of the unusual quantities of this ice observed in the Atlantic. As it is a subject in which the British islands are particularly interested, we shall enter into some detail of the facts and of their probable consequences.
It is generally admitted that, for the last four hundred years, an extensive portion of the eastern coast of Old Greenland has been shut up by an impenetrable barrier of ice, and, with it, the illfated Norwegian or Danish colonies, which had been established there for more than an equal length of time preceding that unfortunate catastrophe, and who were thus cut off at once from all communication with the mother-country;-that various attempts have been made from time to time to approach this coast, with the view of ascertaining the fate of the unfortunate colonists, but in vain, the ice being every where impervious; and that, all hope being at length abandoned, that part of this extensive tract of land which faces the east took the appropriate name of lost Greenland.
The event to which we have alluded is the disappearance of the whole, or greater part of this vast barrier of ice. This extraordinary fact, so interesting to science and humanity, appears to rest on no slender foundation. Both its disappearance from its long longrooted position, and its re-appearance in a more southern latitude, have been witnessed by various persons worthy of credit. It had been observed in the summer-months of the year 1815, and more particularly in those of 1816 and 1817, by ships coming from the West Indies and America, as well as by those going out to Halifax and Newfoundland, that islands of ice, unusual in magnitude and number, occurred in the Atlantic, many of them as far down as the fortieth parallel of latitude. Some of these were detached ice-bergs, from a hundred to a hundred and thirty feet above the surface of the water, and several miles in circumference; others were flat islands of packed ice, presenting so vast an extent of surface, that a ship from Boston is said to have been three days entangled in it, near the tail of the Great Bank of Newfoundland. The ship of the Unitas Fratrum, proceeding to the missions on Old Greenland, was, last year, eleven days beset, on the coast of Labrador, with the ice-bergs, many of which had huge rocks upon them, gravel, soil, and pieces of wood. The packet from Halifax passed, in April last, a mountain of ice nearly two hundred feet in height, and at least two miles in circumference. By accounts from Newfoundland, Halifax, and other northern ports of America, it would appear, that greater quantities of ice were seen in the months of May, June, and July, than had ever been witnessed by the oldest navigators; and that the whole island of Newfoundland was so com
pletely environed with it, that the vessels employed in the fishery were unable to get out to sea to follow their usual occupations. The source from which these enormous masses proceeded could not long be concealed. It was well known to the Greenland fishermen, that from Staatenhoek, the southern promontory of Old Greenland, an uninterrupted barrier of ice stretched north-easterly, or parallel nearly to the coast, approaching frequently to the very shores of Iceland; and that the small island, situated in lat. 71° 11' long. 5° 30′ W. called Jan Mayen's island, (a sort of land-mark which those engaged in the seal fishery always endeavour to make,) had of late years been completely enveloped in ice; and that from this point it generally took a more easterly direction, till it became fixed to the shores of Spitzbergen, from the 76th to the Soth degree of latitude.
The more central parts of this immense area of ice, which occupy the mid-channel between Greenland and Spitzbergen, separate from time to time into large patches, and change their position according to winds and tides; but the general direction in which they move with the current is from north-east to south-west, or directly towards that part of Old Greenland where the Danish colonies were supposed to be established, and which are immediately opposite to Iceland. Here it would seem those masses became a kind of fixed nucleus, round which a succession of floating fields of ice attached themselves, till the accumulated barrier, probably by its own weight and magnitude, and the action of the impeded current, at length burst its fetters, and has been carried away to the southward. This at least appears to be the most probable conjecture, though another circumstance will hereafter be adverted to, not unworthy of attention, in endeavouring to account for the phenomenon.
It had been conjectured by philosophers that the remarkable chilliness of the atmosphere, during the two last summers, and more particularly with westerly winds, could only be owing to the accumulation, or rather to the approximation of the polar ice to the southward. The reports of the Greenland fishermen, on their return in August 1817, connected with accounts of the ice seen in the Atlantic, corroborated this hypothesis. In that month there appeared in the newspapers a paragraph, stating, that, in the course of the season, the commander of a brig from Bremen, after making Jan Mayen's island, in about 71° N., stood to the westward in quest of seals; that in 70° he found land to the westward; that he then sailed nearly due north along this coast without seeing ice, observing the bays and inlets and other appearances of the land, till he came to lat. 81° 30', when he found that he could steer to the westward, which he did for several days; that he then lost sight of land, and directed his course to the southward and eastward, and in 78° N. fell in with the first fishing vessels he had seen.' We took some pains to
ascertain the truth of this statement, and found it corroborated in almost every particular by five different masters of whalers belonging to Aberdeen and to London, to whom, at different times, Olof Ocken, (the person alluded to,) master of the Eleanora of Hamburgh, (not of Bremen,) had given an account of the course which he steered along the eastern coast of Greenland, from Jan Mayen's island to the degree of latitude above mentioned; and it appears, from the joint testimony of the captain and surgeon of the Princess of Wales of Aberdeen, that the reckoning in his log-book was worked at the end of every watch, a practice which is also common among British whalers after making the ice;' and that both the master and mate were very intelligent navigators." Since that time we have received from Hamburgh a copy of Captain Ocken's log, a chart of his route, and a letter addressed by him to Messrs. Elliott and Co. of Hamburgh; from all which it appears that he coasted Greenland with the land in sight, and among loose ice, but that the most northerly point which he saw was about 80° N. lat.
But we have the direct testimony of Mr. Scoresby the younger, a very intelligent navigator of the Greenland seas, for the disappearance of an immense quantity of arctic ice. In a letter to Sir Joseph Banks, he says, 'I observed on my last voyage (1817) about two thousand square leagues (18,000 square miles) of the surface of the Greenland seas, included between the parallels 74° and 80°, perfectly void of ice, all of which has disappeared within the last two years.' And he further states, that though on former voyages he had very rarely been able to penetrate the ice, between the latitudes of 76° and 80°, so far to the west as the meridian of Greenwich, on his last voyage he twice reached the longitude of 10° west;' that, in the parallel of 74°, he approached the coast of Old Greenland; that there was little ice near the land; and adding 'that there could be no doubt but he might have reached the shore had he had a justifiable motive for navigating an unknown sea at so late a season of the year.' He also found the sea so clear in returning to the southward, that he actually landed on Jan Mayen's island, which is usually surrounded with a barrier of ice, and brought away specimens of the rocks.
Another fact deserves to be mentioned. Dr. Olinthus Gregory, who sailed from Shetland to Peterhead in the Neptune of Aberdeen, on her return from the fishery, is said to have reported that Driscole, the master, not only landed on the east coast of Greenland about the latitude of 74°, but found and brought away a post bearing an inscription, in Russian characters, that a ship of that nation had been there in the year 1774; which post with its inscription was seen on board by Dr. Gregory.* It would seem indeed that the northern *We strongly suspect, however, that instead of the east coast of Greenland, we should read the coast of East Greenland; a name which the whalers commonly give to Spitzbergen.
part of the east coast of Greenland has been approached at various times by different nations-Dutch, Danes and English. Hudson, in 1607, saw the coast nearly in the same latitude as that where Driscole is supposed to have landed; and actually sent a boat on shore in 80° 23'. It is from Hudson's Hold with Hope' in about 72° to Cape Farewell that the ice fixed itself to the land from which it has recently been detached.
That this is the case we can state from the best authority:-intelligence was received at Copenhagen, from Iceland, in September last, of the ice having broken loose from the opposite coast of Greenland, and floated away to the southward, after surrounding the shores, and filling all the bays and creeks of that island; and this afflicting visitation was repeated in the same year, a circumstance hitherto unknown to the oldest inhabitant.
We have said that the most probable cause for the sudden departure of all this ice, is that of its having brokeu loose by its own weight. It has been observed, however, as a remarkable coincidence, that its removal was contemporaneous with the period about which the variation of the magnetic needle to the westward became stationary. It is well known that in the sea of Baffin (gratuitously called a bay) the compass is affected in a most extraordinary manner; and that the variation is greater there than in any other known part of the world; so great indeed, as to lead to the belief that one of the magnetic poles must be situated in that quarter:-But how does this, it may be asked, furnish a clue for the disappearance of the ice, which it would seem has also floated from thence in greater quantities than usual?
The connexion is certainly not very obvious, though there is reason to believe that it exists. The aurora borealis, for instance, is supposed to owe, if not its origin, at least its intensity to the changes which take place either in the freezing, thawing, or collisions of the polar ice; and in winter, even in Sweden, this intensity is so powerful, and the motions of the aurora so rapid, that a crackling noise is heard not unlike that of the furling of a fan, or the emission of sparks from the cylinder of an electric machine. At such times the magnetic needle has been observed to be so much affected, as to vibrate violently with a tremulous motion, and sometimes to fly round the whole circumference of the horizon. The theory of Dr. Franklin to account for the phenomenon of the aurora is not inapplicable to the present state of the polar ice. He supposes this meteor to be owing to the vast quantity of electricity accumulated in the atmosphere, and unable to pass off into the earth on account of the non-conducting substance of ice with which the land and sea are there incrusted; this theory might serve to explain the first notice of the aurora borealis about a century after the
fixing of the ice along the coast of Greenland, as well as the rarity of its appearance of late years. At any rate, however, if the electricity of the atmosphere has so extraordinary an effect on the magnetic needle, and the changes which take place in the ice on atmospherical electricity, it would seem not unfair to infer, that the departure of the immense fields and mountains of ice, which for so many centuries have covered the arctic seas, may have had some effect in stopping the career of the western declination of the needle. We merely throw out the hint, to draw the attention of those scientific men, who may be employed on the expedition of discovery now in preparation; in the mean time, in our present ignorance of the immediate cause, we must be satisfied to ascribe the revolution that has taken place to the decree of Providence, who, as Paley observes, is the author of infinitely various expedients for infinitely various ends;' to consider it as the result of one of those prospective contrivances, which are appointed to correct the anomalies, and adjust the perturbations of the universe.
The fact, however, of the disappearance of the ice being established beyond any doubt, it becomes a subject of no uninteresting inquiry, Whether any and what advantages may arise out of an event which for the first time has occurred, at least to so great an extent, during the last four hundred years?
Among other objects which present themselves as worthy of research, the following are no less interesting to humanity than important to the advancement of science and the probable extension of commerce.
First-The influence which the removal of so large a body of ice may have on our own climate. Secondly, the opportunity it affords of inquiring into the fate of the long-lost colony on the eastern coast of Old Greenland. Thirdly, the facility it offers of correcting the very defective geography of the arctic regions in our western hemisphere; of attempting the circumnavigation of Greenland, a direct passage over the pole, and the more circuitous one along the northern coast of America, into the Pacific.
1. It would be a waste of words to enter into any discussion on the diminution of temperature, which must necessarily be occasioned by the proximity of vast mountains and islands of ice. The authentic annals of Iceland describe that island as having once been covered with impervious woods; and numerous places still bear the name of forest, which produce only a few miserable stunted birches of five or six feet high, and in which all attempts to raise a tree of any kind have for ages proved unavailing. The most intelligent travellers,* who, in our time, have visited this island, bear
Sir Joseph Banks, M. Von Troil, Sir John Stanley, Sir George Mackenzie, Mr. Hooker, Doctor Holland, &c.