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BLOG: Archive for the ‘Arctic History’ Category

The Freighter Canoe – Uniquely Canadian, Uniquely Northern

November 4th, 2015 | By | Filed in Arctic History, Trips

Freighter canoe, Eeyou Istchee

Freighter canoe with the Canots Nor-West decal.

Freighter canoes are hybrids, part motor-boat, part canoe. They are large, long and oddly beautiful. Note the straight stern, on which an outboard engine can be attached. The photo to the right was taken on the eastern shore of James Bay in the Cree territory known as Eeyou Istchee. The people of Waskaganish, a small coastal Cree village on the southern coast of Eeyou Istchee, has a 300 year history of building canoes designed to carry the freight associated with the fur trade. It is thought that the current design was based on those more traditional canoes used by the Hudson Bay Company. Igloolik Freighter CanoeWhat those of us in the south often forget is that the North is Canada's third sea coast. James Bay and its northern and larger extension - Hudson Bay - are subject to strong winds, ice and currents. The motorized freighter canoe was designed to navigate that treacherous seacoast. The photo to the left was taken in the summer of 2015 near Igloolik, an Inuit community far north of Hudson Bay on the banks of the Northwest Passage. Our Kings of the Arctic Safari is staged there. Riding in the canoe are members of our Field Staff, showing off their skill in the canoe that Northern peoples have adopted as their own.

Something Fishy in the Ancient Arctic

September 19th, 2011 | By | Filed in Arctic History, SCIENCE

The ancient arctic was nothing like the frozen north we know today. Warm, with subtropical conditions, its prehistoric waters might have appeared a little more inviting than the icy deeps we know today (though personally, we're partial to the icy deep). That is, until you get a load of what lurked beneath. The recent discovery of 375-million-year-old fish fossil on Ellesmere Island up in Nunavut reveals that the subtropical paradise was home to a large predatory fish. According to Live Science,
The lobe-finned fish, now called Laccognathus embryi, probably grew to about 5 or 6 feet long (1.5 to 1.8 meters) and had a wide head with small eyes and robust jaws lined with large piercing teeth. The beast was likely a bottom-dweller, waiting on the seafloor to lunge at prey passing by.
The Laccoganthus embryi, in addition to its intimidating jaws, was a lobe-finned fish, sporting what scientists believe might have been an early evolutionary stage in the development of limbs. Another transitional fish (believed to be the "missing link" between fish and land animals) was previously discovered in the same location, leading scientists to believe that they interacted, and even competed for food. But for me, the takeaway is this: There are some amazing things lurking beneath Arctic waters. But luckily? The fossil record is as close as we'll get to this. Image credit: Jason Poole/ANSP Read more over at Live Science

Norway Seeking To Raise The Wrecked ‘Maud’

May 20th, 2011 | By | Filed in Arctic History, Current Events, IN THE NEWS

Here’s how the Maud looked in the early 1900s when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen wanted to the drift with the Maud through the Northeast Passage. (COURTESY/ FRAM MUSEUM via Nunatsiaq Online))

Cambridge Bay's mayor, Syd Glawson, is opposed to a plan backed by wealthy Norwegian investors to raise the 80 year-old wreck of the 'Maud'. This local tourist attraction is the ship of explorer Roald Amundsen, the first European explorer to make it through the Northwest Passage in 1906 and to the South Pole in 1911. Nunatsiaq online reports -
Officials from Parks Canada, the Government of Nunavut, and the International Polar Heritage Committee, whose president, Susan Barr, works in Oslo, are also wary of the plan to take the Maud away from Nunavut. But the Norwegians are serious, Barr told Nunatsiaq News during a recent interview in Oslo. Bringing the Maud back to Norway is all about the enduring hoopla that surrounds their home-grown polar hero Roald Amundsen, the first European explorer to make it through the Northwest Passage in 1906 and to the South Pole in 1911. “A future Maud Museum… will present the remains of the ship, which will become a national treasure, well taken care of,” says a website called The plan is to raise the Maud from underwater with balloons, drag the hulk over to a barge and bring it back to Norway — a 7,000-kilometre journey. To that end, a Norwegian investment company, Tandberg Eiendom AS, has already purchased a barge and is willing to spend $5 to $6 million — or more — to bring the Maud back to Norway. Espen Tandberg of the company Tandberg Eiendom AS recently told the Norwegian broadcasting organization NRK that patriotism and cultural history are the driving forces behind its plan to bring the Maud back to Norway. The wrecked Maud actually belongs to the Norwegian community of Asker, a wealthy seaside suburb of Oslo, which bought the Maud, as is, for $1 back in 1990.

1961 Antarctic Explorer Operates On Himself

March 23rd, 2011 | By | Filed in Arctic History, IN THE NEWS

The setting - 1961. Antarctica. Novolazarevskay, the recently constructed Russian base housing the sixth Soviet expedition to the south pole. The goal of the 12 men expedition was to build the inland base and winter there, completely cut off from the outside world. But then their physician began to fall ill. The Atlantic shares this harrowing account of Russian surgeon Leonid Rogozov and his auto-appendectomy -
He noticed symptoms of weakness, malaise, nausea, and, later, pain in the upper part of his abdomen, which shifted to the right lower quadrant. His body temperature rose to 37.5°C.1 2 Rogozov wrote in his diary:

“It seems that I have appendicitis. I am keeping quiet about it, even smiling. Why frighten my friends? Who could be of help? A polar explorer’s only encounter with medicine is likely to have been in a dentist’s chair.”

As a surgeon Rogozov had no difficulty diagnosing acute appendicitis. In this situation, however, it was a cruel trick of fate. He knew that if he was to survive he had to undergo an operation. But he was in the frontier conditions of a newly founded Antarctic colony on the brink of the polar night. Transportation was impossible. Flying was out of the question, because of the snowstorms. And there was one further problem: he was the only physician on the base.
All possible treatments were attempted, taking medicine and cooling his body. It soon became clear that an operation was his only chance for survival, and only Rogozov was qualified to undertake the task.
Operating mostly by feeling around, Rogozov worked for an hour and 45 minutes, cutting himself open and removing the appendix. The men he'd chosen as assistants watched as the "calm and focused" doctor completed the operation, resting every five minutes for a few seconds as he battled vertigo and weakness.
What an amazing story of human determination! You can read more (gory) details of this account on the Atlantic article, there's also some slightly graphic black and white photos from a case study account on the British Medical Journal's website.

Robotic Snowmobiles To Aid Researchers

March 16th, 2011 | By | Filed in Arctic History, Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY

The SnoMote Rob Felt/Georgia Institute of Technology

These little robots are useful - and cute! Called 'SnoMotes', these tiny, remote-controlled snowmobiles were developed to help scientists gather climate change data in areas too dangerous or fragile for human exploration. Designed to work as a team, the robots can monitor specific target areas, and are fitted with sensors as well as cameras to help navigate terrain - while sending back important data to scientists at a home base. reports -
The current version of the SnoMote, built by Georgia Tech engineer Ayanna Howard (who previously worked on NASA’s autonomous Mars rovers), was field tested last month on Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. If you’re thinking the SnoMote looks suspiciously like a toy—well, it is. The three prototypes, each just two feet long, were engineered from off-the-shelf remote control snowmobile kits and souped up with advanced electronics and monitoring equipment. Despite their humble origins, they withstood the harsh Alaskan conditions just fine. The final version of the SnoMote is expected to be twice as large and include a heater to keep the circuits from icing up. The idea is to deploy a fleet of 30 or 40 SnoMotes in the Arctic or Antarctica to give researchers comprehensive real-time data concerning climate change. They’re designed to be cheap enough that an accident or two won’t bust the budget.
SnoMotes are currently being tested in the field, with one researcher starting a blog to report in on some of their results - Eurekalert shares more information on the development of the SnoMote -

Ayanna Howard, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, with a SnoMote. Photo by Rob Felt/Georgia Institute of Technology

“In order to say with certainty how climate change affects the world’s ice, scientists need accurate data points to validate their climate models,” said Ayanna Howard, lead on the project and an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. “Our goal was to create rovers that could gather more accurate data to help scientists create better climate models. It’s definitely science-driven robotics.” Howard, who previously worked with rovers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is working with Magnus Egerstedt, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Derrick Lampkin, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Penn State who studies ice sheets and how changes in climate contribute to changes in these large ice masses. Lampkin currently takes ice sheet measurements with satellite data and ground-based weather stations, but would prefer to use the more accurate data possible with the simultaneous ground measurements that efficient rovers can provide.

Early Color Photography of Shackleton’s Antarctica

March 10th, 2011 | By | Filed in Arctic History, IN THE NEWS

Kodak has a really amazing interactive website up, telling the story of early Antarctic photography and exploration, specifically focusing on photographer Frank Hurley's work on Shackleton's infamous 1914-1916 trip. The site contains a wealth of information on the day to day realities of polar exploration back then, so very different than what we experience today utilizing the latest modern technology, vehicles, and warm weather gear.
From England the Endurance sails southward via Madeira, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires. There she loads supplies and picks up both Ernest Shackleton, leader of the expedition, and Frank Hurley, an Australian photographer who will film the expedition for Shackleton’s fund-raising Imperial Trans Antarctic Film Syndicate. Hurley had been photographer and filmmaker for Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s 1911 expedition. Shackleton had picked Hurley after seeing his film of the Mawson expedition, “Home of the Blizzard.” Kodak contributed equipment to the expedition and exhibited Hurley’s photos in Kodak stores.
This site showcases some exceptional examples of early color photography -

The Endurance under full sail held up in the Weddell-Sea, 1915

Frank Hurley considered his color photos “amongst the most valuable records of the expedition.” He was an early user of a method of color photography called the Paget process, which was introduced commercially little more than a year before the Endurance sailed. To make a color photo using the Paget process, Hurley exposed a negative plate through a color screen plate scored with a pattern of dots and lines. He then made a transparency positive by contact-printing the negative. The transparency was then bound to a color screen whose pattern matched that of the screen used in the original exposure. The process was eclipsed by autochrome and later by Kodachrome.

Frank Hurley photographing under the bows of the Endurance

1937 Newspaper Reports On Climate Change

February 24th, 2011 | By | Filed in Arctic History, IN THE NEWS

Via stephengoddard -

View the original source of the article here. I could waste many hours browsing through google's newspaper archives! The old advertisements are particularly good.

Inspiration Friday – Historical Arctic Photography

January 21st, 2011 | By | Filed in Arctic History, IN THE NEWS

Inuit man with a kayak, Photographed by Captain Edward Augustus Inglefield, 1854

Group portrait of Inuit boys, Photographed by Captain Edward Augustus Inglefield, 1854

Winter quarters of the 'Alert'; Cape Rawson in the distance; Mr White and ‘Nelly' , Photographed by George White; Thomas Mitchell, 1875-76

The National Maritime Museum has shared an astounding set of early arctic photographs from their collection on Flickr. Titled 'Freeze Frame', these photographs are licensed under creative commons. Do take a bit of time to peruse the whole set, some of these images are mind blowing.

'Endurance' in the ice Photographed by James Francis Hurley, 1915. Materials: Gelatine dry plate, From the Henley Collection

Interested in a trip? Check out our webinar archive for firsthand information on some of our unique adventures. You can also peruse more photography in our inspiration gallery for some modern (but no less stunning) images of the arctic.

2011 Arctic Regatta

November 29th, 2010 | By | Filed in Arctic History, Current Events, IN THE NEWS

The history of sailing in the arctic is one of adventure - seasoned with just a little danger. And not just the danger of misplacing a few cases of whiskey. Plenty of early explorers found themselves lost, stranded, or were thwarted in their goals. Without the aid of technology indispensable today, some of these stories ended in tragedy.

View over broken ice of steam and sail powered ship 'Maud' with sails set. Eclipse and Maud Voyages 1888-89. Photo Via Scott Polar Research Institute photo archive.

The same drive which led early adventurers to the arctic by sea continues still. This summer, 12 crews from a variety of countries will be participating in the 2011 arctic regatta, enjoying the thrill exploring the northwest passage by sailing vessel (and benefiting from the modern technology we rely upon to ensure a far safer journey than in the past!) From Barents -
The organizer of the regatta is the captain of the yacht “Peter I”, Daniil Gavrilov. “Peter I” was one of the two boats to first sail around the North Pole in one season. The record was set this summer, when “Peter I” and the Norwegian sailing boat “Northern Passage”, led by the Norwegian explorer Børge Ousland, managed to sail through both the Northeast and Northwest passages in less than three months.
Talk about the spirit of adventure, the captain and crew of the 'Peter I' are all between the ages of 21-25 years old!
The brave crew left their home port of Saint Petersburg on the 4th June and sailed around Scandinavia to arrive in the port of Murmansk on the 6th July.  From here they set off on their Arctic passage on the 16th July and 2 months, 4 days later on the 20th September, they successfully completed their challenge.
They have a website, with blogs and photos from their trip (all in Russian, but you can use google translate to get some idea of the content)

Viking Silver Discovered in Arctic Region

November 28th, 2010 | By | Filed in Arctic History, IN THE NEWS, Uncategorized

The vikings keep popping up in Arctic history. Remember this story about possible Viking building remains on Baffin Island? A new cache of silver jewelery has been unearthed in the arctic area of Norway. Now you might think, Norway's a bit far from Baffin Island, but this demonstrates the incredible range of Viking exploration.  The hoard was discovered in the far north of the country, in a town called Tromsø. Archaeologist Martin Rundkvist explains -
One of the more charming habits of the day was silver hoarding. Let's not get into how they got the silver. But Scandinavians at the time clearly felt that for some reason a lot of it should be hidden and left. And so, in some parts of Scandinavia, silver hoards of the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries keep popping out of the ground. On Gotland, the verdant limestone slab in the middle of the Baltic, people are so jaded about this that the local paper will simply say "this year's hoard has been found, call off the search".
In northern Norway, though, hoards are extremely rare. So it came as a surprise to everyone last August when two boys in Tromsø found one in a rock cleft under their club house.
Tromsø is unbelievably far north, a small island town with a university and a museum, both of them employing archaeologists. I was there for a few days two years ago to study brooches, and everybody was very friendly.
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