Archive for February, 2010

Warm winters distress reindeer herders

February 28, 2010

AFP – Reindeer stand in a holding pen at a farm in Lovozero. In a billowing cloud of white, Russia’s Arctic …
by Alissa de Carbonnel – Sun Feb 28, 12:52 am ET

LOVOZERO, Russia (AFP) – In a billowing cloud of white, Russia’s Arctic herders drive thousands of panting and wild-eyed reindeer through the knee-deep snow to the first slaughter this year.
But warm winters in recent years have forced herders here in the far northern Kola Peninsula to delay for months the rounding up of their reindeer from the vast tundra — at great economic cost.
“We’ve had to move the slaughter forwards from December to February because the lakes haven’t frozen over,” said Vladimir Filippov, an ethnic Komi herder who heads the farm Tundra, the main employer in this remote village.
These reindeer have lost roughly 20 percent of their weight during the extra months spent in the tundra while herders waited for the ice to thicken enough for the forced migration.
“It’s not a small but a huge problem for us and a constant worry,” said Filippov.
With meat sold at 4.34-6.01 dollars per kilogram (2.2 pounds), it can amount to a loss of up to 167,000 dollars per year. “That’s a huge loss,” Filippov sighed.
Over the past decade average temperatures have risen by 0.7 degrees C (1.25 degrees F) and satellite images show melting ice cover on the Arctic pole, said Anatoly Semyonov of the regional Murmansk state climate monitoring agency.
Even though 2010 has been relatively icy, herders who have faced more than a decade of mild winters dismiss the general scepticism amongst the Russian public over global warming.
Climate changes has also disrupted the breeding cycle and made it tough for reindeer to feed on lichen beneath the snow as late thaws and freezing rain create an impervious ice coating, veterinarian Vasili Pidgayetsky said.
At Tundra, global warming is forcing innovation.
Last year, the farm entered a proposal to build freeze-storage sites powered by wind turbines near grazing grounds to avoid the need to cross the vast tundra for slaughter in a grant contest run by the World Bank.
“We could kill the reindeer in situ in December and carry the meat back to the village by snowmobile,” said Tundra’s director Viktor Startsev.
It is a radical idea that is not without opposition amid the indigenous Saami and Komi-Izhems herders clinging fast to age-old way of life on the peninsula.
“Of course, the older generation says this isn’t right,” admitted Startsev.
— ‘The young don’t want this life’ — The herding crisis began here with the Soviet experiment: Herders were moved from their pastures to Lovozero in the collectivization of the 1930s and forced resettlements in the 1960s to make way for military and industrial activity.
Valentina Sovkina, an expert with the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, was one of hundreds of Saami children who were torn from their parents and placed in dormitories.
“They were tragic years when families were split, mine too. I saw it fall apart,” she said. “I use to live half a year in the tundra… We slept on reindeer pelts but then the authorities insisted each child had to have a bed.”
The Soviet changes led many commit suicide and turn to drink, she said.
Today, many have left Lovozero and few young people in the impoverished village of 3,000 want to take up their forefathers’ profession.
Rubbing his mittened hands in frigid exhaustion, 42-year-old Grigory Khatanzei said he began herding at 16 and recalled how much tougher the job was without cell phones and snowmobiles — using sleighs and dogs.
Despite satellite television and other improvements at bases in the tundra, “My kids, the young don’t do this; they don’t want this work probably because it pays so little,” he said.
The average herder earns 7,000 rubles (234 dollars) a month and lives in the tundra in shifts between March and November.
With less people to mind the herd, squeezed by industrial growth and powerless before armed poachers, reindeer numbers have dropped drastically.
By the end of World War II — during which reindeer brigades transported Soviet armed forces — the Tundra farm had 43,000 animals. In 2010, some 26,000 reindeer are left.
The reindeer and caribou herds are in steady decline across the Arctic, the first global study of their numbers published in 2009 found.
“The vast degree of global change in the north casts doubt on the species’ ability to recover,” study author Liv Vors of the University of Alberta, Canada told AFP.
In the last sprint of the day-long, 50-kilometre (30-mile) rampage over the tundra, herders chase alongside, flapping their arms to spur on reindeer.
When one sinks exhausted into the snow, they swoop in and drag it by the antlers onto wood sleds at the back of their snowmobiles.
“We’re always worried, not only because of climate change,” Filippov said. “I’m afraid that if people don’t pay attention to reindeer herding, it may die away.”

Original article here

New World’s first humans may have come via Arctic

February 27, 2010

Did the original inhabitants of the Americas take a detour through Nunavut?
NunatsiaqOnline

Two scientists from the University of Utah argue that the first humans to inhabit the Americas may have arrived as early as 30,000 years ago, then headed south after travelling through the High Arctic.
This map shows the possible routes that early humans from Asia may have followed on their journey into North America.
This map shows the possible routes that early humans from Asia may have followed on their journey into North America. (ILLUSTRATION COURTESY CANWEST NEWS SERVICE)
RANDY BOSWELL

Canwest News Service

Two U.S. scientists have published a radical new theory about when, where and how humans migrated to the New World, arguing that the peopling of the Americas may have begun via Canada’s High Arctic islands and the Northwest Passage — much farther north and at least 10,000 years earlier than generally believed.

The hypothesis — described as “speculative” but “plausible” by the researchers themselves — appears in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology, which features a special series of new studies tracing humanity’s proliferation out of Africa and around the world beginning about 70,000 years ago.

The idea of an ancient Arctic migration as early as 25,000 years ago, proposed by University of Utah anthropologists Dennis O’Rourke and Jennifer Raff, would address several major gaps in prevailing theories about how the distant ancestors of today’s aboriginal people in North and South America arrived in the Western Hemisphere.

The most glaring of those gaps is the anomalous existence of a 14,500-year-old archeological site in Chile, near the southern extreme of the Americas, that clearly predates the time when East Asian hunters are thought to have first crossed from Siberia to Alaska via the Bering Land Bridge at the end of the last ice age some 13,000 years ago.

The new theory may also have implications for a lingering Canadian archeological mystery.

For decades, the Canadian Museum of Civilization has stood largely alone in defending its view that the Yukon’s Bluefish Caves hold evidence of a human presence in the Americas — tool flakes and butchered mammoth bones — going back about 20,000 years.

The Utah scientists, pointing to genetic affinities between certain central Asian populations and New World aboriginal groups, suggest an Arctic coastal migration may have begun from river outlets in present-day north-central Russia.

Two scientists from the University of Utah argue that the first humans to inhabit the Americas may have arrived as early as 30,000 years ago, then headed south after travelling through the High Arctic.

Using skin boats and hunting along glacier-free refuges while the last ice age was still underway, the prehistoric travellers could have moved quickly along the northern Siberian coast to northern Alaska, Canada’s Arctic Islands and beyond to eastern and southern parts of the Americas, they say.
“Movement to the interior of the continent via the Mackenzie River drainage,” the authors assert, “is plausible.”

And suspected gaps among Arctic glaciers means “open coastal areas for continued movement eastward would have provided access to the open water of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait and a coastal route along the eastern seaboard of North America,” the study states.

O’Rourke told Canwest News Service the theory doesn’t exclude existing models, but offers a new way of thinking about the movements of the earliest North Americans that deserves to be considered and “to be tested in rigorous ways.”

In recent years, the routes and timing of New World migration have been among the most contentious issues in science.

The Siberia-to-Alaska pathway for early hunter-gatherers, followed by a southward migration down a mid-continental “ice-free corridor” in present-day Northwest Territories and Alberta, is widely accepted and backed up by numerous archeological findings.

But a growing number of scientists, troubled by the age of the Chilean site and other wrinkles in the conventional migration story, have recently touted the likelihood of an earlier migration by seafaring people along the Pacific Coast.

However, purported coastal archeological sites that could yield traces of humans from 16,000 years ago or earlier are underwater today. Canadians scientists and others are probing potential sites in British Columbia and Alaska, but evidence remains extremely sketchy.

Equally puzzling is the fact that eastern North America has generated far more artifacts from the continent’s first known civilization, the Clovis people, than archeological sites in the West, where more relics would be expected.

Finally, DNA studies of current aboriginal populations — which can provide evidence of the geographic origins and migration patterns of ancient ancestors — have been at odds with the conventional migration models.

“As neither archeological nor genetic data have yet been able to unequivocally resolve many of the long-standing questions regarding American colonization, the generation of new models and hypotheses to which new and more powerful analyses may be applied is essential,” O’Rourke and Raff state in their paper.

In an interview, O’Rourke said the possibility of a very early northern migration is supported by recent research in Russia. In January 2004, a team of Russian scientists reported the remains of a 30,000-year-old human settlement near the Arctic Ocean outlet of Siberia’s Yana River, the most convincing evidence ever found for such an early, northerly human presence near the Bering gateway to the New World.

David Morrison, the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s director of archeology and an expert in Canada’s prehistoric Arctic peoples, applauded the U.S. researchers for floating a fairly “wild” theory because “that’s how science advances.”

But he said “count me skeptical” about the hypothesis, citing the “unspeakably harsh” conditions that the ancient Asians would have encountered in Canada’s Arctic before the full retreat of the glaciers.

“It was,” says Morrison, “a terrible environment.”

While he still thinks the Bluefish Caves predate the migration times in prevailing theories, he says such remote history is still only dimly understood pending the development of more comprehensive and credible scenarios.

“Going back 30,000 years requires you to speculate,” he says, “because we really don’t have much of an idea what was going on.”

But he added that Bluefish “has got to tie into the solution somehow.”

New research: Forbears of today’s Inuit sought trade

February 27, 2010

Did the first Inuit migrate to Nunavut chasing metal?
Original article: NunatsiaqOnline

The probable migration route of Inuit from Alaska to Greenland, part of Robert McGhee's paper, “When and why did the Inuit move to the Eastern Arctic?” The paper was published in the book <I>The Northern World AD 900-1400: the Dynamics of Climate, Economy, and Politics in Hemisphere Perspective.</i>
The probable migration route of Inuit from Alaska to Greenland, part of Robert McGhee’s paper, “When and why did the Inuit move to the Eastern Arctic?” The paper was published in the book The Northern World AD 900-1400: the Dynamics of Climate, Economy, and Politics in Hemisphere Perspective.

The direct ancestors of today’s eastern Arctic Inuit may have come looking for iron.

A new theory by a Canadian archaeologist argues that the ancestors of modern Canadian Inuit traveled rapidly from Alaska to Greenland, in search of iron for tools and trade.

Ruin Island, between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, may be the earliest Inuit settlement outside Alaska, Robert McGhee, former curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s Arctic archeology department, says in an essay.

“The Ruin Island complex would not appear to be the product of a slow Inuit expansion from the Western Arctic, but of a purposeful expedition across approximately 4,000 kilometres of Arctic geography that had no previous Inuit occupation,” McGhee said in his essasy, “When and why did the Inuit move to the Eastern Arctic?”

Ruin Island lies near Cape York in Greenland, where an iron meteor fell from the sky sometime in the past.

The region was also frequented by Norse hunters, and many Norse-style iron tools were among the artifacts uncovered at Ruin Island.

McGhee asserts that rumours of the iron at Cape York and-or the potential for Norse trade reached the ancestors of today’s Inuit in Alaska through the Dorset people, or Tuniit, who inhabited the eastern Arctic at the time.

Also, McGhee said Ruin Island’s Inuit artifacts have more in common with the societies of the western or northwestern Alaskan coast than with the northern coast.

Citing earlier research. McGhee said the people of that region were involved in trading metal between Asia and North America, so rumours of eastern iron could have acted as a magnet, drawing Inuit explorers and settlers east.

Previous theories hold that the migration of Inuit from the west took decades at least, driven by environmental factors.

But McGhee points to Knud Rasmussen’s expeditions and the documented travels of 19th century Inuit to argue that a group of families could have traveled the distance in only a few years by dog-sled and umiak.

So, according to McGhee, the Inuit mounted what amounts to a mercantile colonial expedition into the eastern Arctic.

“In not comprehending this interpretation earlier, we may have been led astray by the deeply-rooted archaeological tendency to ascribe different sets of motives and different cultural processes to aboriginal peoples than we apply to Europeans or other societies with a written historical record of individual accomplishment,” he wrote.

“Future archaeological work may indicate that ancestral Inuit may be more accurately viewed as an entrepreneurial people from the coasts of the Bering or Chukchi seas, who were attracted to the Eastern Arctic during the 13th century in order to trade with Europeans, and whose way of life has developed as a part of the European world ever since.”

In the essay, McGhee took a new look at older evidence, especially radio-carbon dating that he says is not reliable.

Radio-carbon dating is a method by which a modern laboratory can test an artifact made from a plant or animal.

Such a test gives the approximate date when the plant or animal stopped living, and therefore when the artifact was made by a human being.

The method is one of the lynchpins of archeology.

But in the Arctic, radio-carbon dating is often based on artifacts made from willow trees or driftwood. In both cases, the original tree may have died long before being made into a tool.

So reliance on wood-based radio-carbon samples isn’t a good way of estimating the age of an artifact and where it came from.

McGhee looked at older research and took out the data that came from such unreliable sources, and came up with new, later, dates for the approximate ages of Inuit settlements.

Based on the new dates McGhee estimated, the Inuit settlement on Ruin Island started around AD 1330, rather than the established estimate around of AD 1280.

An Inuit settlement at Creswell Bay on Somerset Island had been thought to begin around AD 1190

After removing data from wood radiocarbon dating, McGhee estimated the site there only dates back to about AD 1360.

Hornorkesteret posted news of this interesting theory earlier, as this touches on one of our favourite subjects: The habit historians have of completely underestimating the abilities of ancient peoples. Of course ancient man travelled the oceans long before the british naval empire. They knew the world was round, they navigated by the stars. Of course the early inuits would cross the tundra in less than a generation for such a precious resource like iron.

Alaska village embraces Native dances banned by church

February 25, 2010

(Rachel D’Oro/Anchorage Daily News, 22 February 2010) — NOORVIK — Bobby Wells has lived all his life in this remote Alaska village, where the Eskimo dancing of his ancestors was banned by Quaker missionaries a century ago as primitive idolatry. Now Wells, 53, and other residents of Noorvik have wholeheartedly embraced the ancient practice outlawed in the Inupiat settlement, which was established in 1914. “This is the way God made us, to express our thankfulness to him with dancing,” Wells said. The belief of traditional dancing as somehow evil, however, remains deeply ingrained in scores of Native villages around the state. But some communities have broken away from that ideology in recent decades. One by one, they have resurrected the old dances and songs of the long ago past, along with culture camps and language immersion programs. Mike Ulroan can’t imagine life without dance. It was already revived in the Cup’ik village of Chevak when he was born 21 years ago, long after the practice was prohibited by Russian Catholic missionaries. Dancing has always been a constant for Ulroan, even after he left four years ago to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage. In Alaska’s largest city, he dances with several groups. “It’s just a way to make me feel happy,” he said. “With the movements we do, we push away bad spirits and keep away sickness.” Noorvik’s decision to lift the ban last fall came after residents learned they would be the first in the nation to be counted in the 2010 U.S. Census. The idea had been kicked around before, but this time locals wanted to make it a reality for a celebration with visiting census representatives and other officials. Tribal leaders formally approved the proposal after it received the blessing of the Noorvik Friends Church, despite opposition from a few elders. It’s a huge change because dancing had never been done in the current location of Noorvik, which means “a place that is moved to” in Inupiaq. “I don’t speak for the church, but in my own view we’re going to come to a place in the afterlife where we sing and dance to the Lord,” said church pastor Aurora Sampson. “While we are on this earth we might as well practice.”

Posted 22 February 2010; 3:37:52 PM.   Permalink

Vil ha snøleopard til reinområde (NRK, norwegian only)

February 24, 2010

NRK 23.02.2010 19:28.

Forsker vil sette ut den utrydningstruede snøleoparden i Nord-Sverige. Svenske samer sier bestemt nei.

– Det er god plass i Sverige, og vi har et globalt ansvar for å bevare utrydningstruede arter, sier forsker Carl-Gustaf Thulin ved senter for vilt- og fiskforskning i Sveriges Landbruksuniversitet i Umeå.

Snøleoparden er nest etter tigeren det mest truede kattedyret i verden, og arten finnes nå for det meste i Sentral-Asia.

– Arrogant

Dette forslaget møter sterk motstand fra de svenske samene.

Sara Larsson (Foto: Åse Pulk/NRK)Det svenske sametingets leder Sara Larsson fnyser av forslaget om å innføre snøleopard til Nord-Sverige

Foto: Åse Pulk/NRK

– Forslaget er arrogant og vi sier bestemt nei til at nye rovdyr skal inn i reindriftsområder, sier det svenske Sametingets politiske leder Sara Larsson.

I disse dager er det sametinget samlet til plenumsmøte, og rovdyrsproblematikken er høyt oppe på dagsorden.

– Vi må først få svar på om det i det hele tatt skal finnes reindrift i Sverige. Så må vi få svar på hvordan næringen skal få erstatning for de rovdyr som allerede fins. Det er allerede altfor mye rovdyr som truer med å ødelegge hele reindriftsnæringen, sier Sara Larsson til SVT.

Permalenke http://www.nrk.no/kanal/nrk_sami_radio/1.7009208
Her slutter Hornorkesteret seg fullt og helt til Sara Larsson. Dette er jo det rene tøv. Snøleoparden er jo fin, og det er trist at den er utrydningstruet, men arten har ingenting i Nord-Skandinavia å gjøre. Dette minner om hippie-miljøvernere som fokuserer på å redde delfiner, koalabjørner, snøleoparder og andre dyr som er søte og vakre med store øyne, samtidig som de driter i alvorlige miljøproblemer og måten vi driver industrielt dyreoppdrett på. At et slikt forslag kommer fra en forsker ved Sveriges Landbruksuniversitet er mildt sagt sjokkerende!

Sami languages disappears

February 24, 2010

Barents Observer 2010-02-19

Two Sami women on the Kola Peninsula.The world’s smallest language, Ter Sami, is only spoken by two persons. Also, Ume Sami and Pite Sami will not last long.

According to Pravda, there are only two people left speaking Ter Sami, a Sami dialect spoken in villages in the eastern part of the Kola Peninsula. In the end of the 19th ventury, there were six Ter Sami villages, with a several hundred inhabitants. Now, there are some 100 ethnic Ter Sami in the area, of whom only two elderly persons speak the original languages. The rest have shifted to Russian.

The Sami languages are also challenged in the southern part of the Barents Region. In, Sweden there are only some 10 people who can still speak the Ume Sami, traditionally a Sami language spoken on the course of the Ume River.

Also Pite Sami, traditionally spoken on both the Norwegian and Swedish side of the border in the Arjeplog area, is a dying language. According to Wikipedia, there are only some twenty native speakers left and only on the Swedish side of the border.

In Finland, a severe lack of teachers could threaten the future of Sami people in the north, YLE News reports this week.

A study carried out at the University of Oulu says that an investment is needed in training Sami language teachers and other educators who speak the language. It suggests that teacher training be organized at one of the universities in the north of the country and in Sami-speaking areas.

It calls for special attention to be given to the future of the languages spoken by the Inari Sami and the Skolt Sami, YLE News reports.

Population growth in northern Norway

February 24, 2010
Barents Observer 2010-02-19

Northern NorwayIn 2009 northern Norway experienced the highest population growth since 1974. For 35 years northern Norway has had a steady decline in population, but last year the population grew with 2196.

It is the three northernmost counties of Norway, Nordland, Troms and Finmark, which is defined as northern Norway. This is the most scarcely populated areas of Norway, and there has been a steady decline in population through since the mid 70ties.

The latest population countings from Statistics Norway states that the negative demographic trend is beginning to turn. With the 2196 new northern citizens, there were a total of 465.621 people living in the three northernmost counties on January 1st 2010. The largest county is Nordland with 236.271 inhabitants, while there are 156.494 inhabitants in Troms and 72.856 inhabitants in Finnmark. All three counties had a population growth in 2009, and an important part of the growth is that the birth rate is also growing considerably.

However, it is the most populated municipalities and the city centers which count for most of the population growth. Still the smaller remote communities suffer from depopulation.

Original article here.

No radiation danger as scrapped nuclear sub catches fire in north Russia

February 20, 2010

Up to 70 people are involved in the effort to put out the fire© RIA Novosti. Mikhail Mordasov

A nuclear submarine being scrapped caught fire on Friday at the Zvezdochka shipyard in northern Russia’s city of Severodvinsk, but there is no radiation danger, the city administration said.

“A fire started in the hold of the third compartment of the K-480 Ak Bars nuclear submarine. The submarine is being scrapped, nuclear fuel has been removed from the reactor. There is no radiation danger for the population,” it said in a statement.

No one was reported injured.

Up to 70 people are involved in the effort to put out the fire.

RELATED NEWS

Thanks to Circumpolar Musings for reporting this one!
Original article here

Arctic Glacial Dust May Affect Climate and Health in North America and Europe

February 20, 2010

ScienceDaily (Feb. 20, 2010)

Residents of the southern United States and the Caribbean have seen it many times during the summer months — a whitish haze in the sky that seems to hang around for days. The resulting thin film of dust on their homes and cars actually is soil from the deserts of Africa, blown across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, there is new evidence that similar dust storms in the arctic, possibly caused by receding glaciers, may be making similar deposits in northern Europe and North America, according to Joseph Prospero from the University of Miami in a February 19 presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Our recent work in Iceland has shown that most of the dust events there are associated with dust emitted from glacial outwash deposits, which may be carried into the northern latitudes and into Europe by synoptic weather events,” says Prospero, professor of marine and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, in his talk “Intercontinental Dust Transport: The Linkage to Climate and its Environmental Impact.”

Satellite data have shown large dust plumes in the arctic, but persistent cloud cover has made finding the origins difficult. The glaciers have been retreating in Iceland for decades, and the trend is expected to continue with the changing climate. Prospero predicts that dust activity from the newly exposed glacial deposits will most likely increase in the future in Iceland and possibly from other glacial terrains in the Arctic.

Prospero’s lifelong work has been to measure the effects of airborne dust. Since 1965, he and his colleagues have been measuring dust particles in Barbados, West Indies, thus creating the longest dust measurement data set in science. They found that dust transport increased greatly during the late 1960s and early 1970s at the same time as a severe drought in Northern Africa.

“The first 30 years of the dust record showed a strong relationship between dust transport across the ocean to rainfall amounts in the Sahel and Soudan regions of Africa,” says Prospero. “It’s important to note that the level of dust transport is not necessarily related directly to rainfall but possibly to other climate factors associated with the variability of rainfall.”

Some of the most intense periods dust transport are associated with strong El Nino events, which may affect such factors as wind speeds and variability as well as rainfall — the same factors that affect dust mobilization and transport. However, since the late 1990s, the pattern of drought and dust transport has been disrupted — dust transport rates were actually greater than what Prospero’s earlier model would indicate.

“We still have work to do to understand the fundamental processes and relationship between climate, rainfall, and dust transport,” says Prospero. “Predicting the long-term effects of climate and dust transport is exacerbated by the fact that many of the climate prediction models for lower latitude Africa are not consistent.”

Also needing more study is whether the dust particles pose any health threat to the people below. More than half of the particles in the dust mass transported over the Atlantic to the Americas is smaller than 2.5 microns, defined as “respirable particles” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Over the Caribbean region, the atmospheric concentration of fine dust particles frequently is within the range of and sometimes exceeds the US EPA’s standards for respirable particles.

“Although to date there is no strong evidence that African dust constitutes a health hazard, this possible impact would seem to warrant study especially since some climate change projections show increased dust transport in the future,” concludes Prospero.

Prospero is a panelist in a symposium called “Dust in the Earth System,” which will examine dust and its effects in the Earth system while considering societal impact at the local and global levels by exchanging information, ideas, and perspectives across diverse disciplines.

Story Source:
Adapted from materials provided by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, viaEurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Original article here

Primus in Antarctica – passages from Roland Huntfords “Scott and Amundsen”

February 20, 2010

27-01-10 11:14 AM – Post#142031

Scott and Amundsen by Roland Huntford
Hodder & Stoughton 1979

Also published in 1985 and thereafter under the name “The Last Place on Earth” after the title of the series produced for Central TV. Currently available in the original title in soft cover via Amazon.co.uk:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Scott-Amundsen-Last-Place-…

p 307

There was on board a seaman called Ludvig Hansen, who had been selected for his skill as a tinsmith. A fortnight out of Funchal, he started making paraffin tanks for the sledging journeys.

On the North-West Passage, Amundsen had observed that paraffin has a capacity to “creep”. Tins left in depots were inexplicably depleted after a few weeks, something to do with the behaviour of petroleum products at low temperatures. Then it had merely been an annoyance, but in the sterile fastnesses of the south, it might be a matter of life and death. Thus warned, Amundsen decided to have tanks specially made up from galvanised iron sheet. To make them absolutely tight, all seams were to be brazed, and the contents eventually sealed in by soldering the spout. Hansen made ten tanks in all, holding fifteen litres each.

Amundsen refused to entrust his work to a commercial enterprise. He could only trust the workmanship, if it was in the hands of someone spurred on by the knowledge that on his skill and conscientiousness depended the lives of his companions. The faith in detail; the knowledge that every little item of equipment can be trusted absolutely, is an essential part of the psychological armour in a hostile environment. Doubt is a dangerous travelling companion.

On the heaving deck, Nodtvedt, the second engineer, a skilled blacksmith, set up his forge and, off watch, produced countless gadgets, like patent shackles for the dog harnesses.
There was a reason for this uncharacteristic flurry. For his original Polar drift, Amundsen intended having much of his sledging equipment made on board during the long winters in the ice. He could not alter this without giving himself away. Instead of pleasant immobility in the pack, his craftsmen now had to work on a ship that everlastingly lurched and rolled in the ocean swell. But at least the voyage was now filled with useful work, creating a mood of urgency and purpose from the start.

P 352

Amundsen had viewed the way Scott and Shackleton marked their depots as verging on criminal negligence. That, too, he pro¬posed to avoid. The problem was an awkward and vital one in a featureless desert. The method he adopted was a line of black pennants on short sticks running east-west across the course. Twenty were laid out half a mile apart; ten on each side of the depot, making a transverse marking often miles in all. This was well within any conceivable instrumental error, so that even in thick weather, the chances of missing a pennant were small. Each pennant was numbered, giving the distance and bearing of the depot.

Onwards from the 80th parallel the temperature dropped to 30-40 degrees (C.) of frost. The difficulty, as in most skiing, was not freezing, but sweating. Running with the dogs, they were kept all too warm. In deep cold, sweat condenses in its passage through the clothing, forming a deposit of rime, which then melts with horrible discomfort. Amundsen had to sit up late, drying his Netsilik reindeer fur kamikks over the Primus stove. But there are no complaints of feeling cold, which suggests that food (especially the supply of Vitamin C) was in order.

On March 3rd, they reached the 81st parallel, or to be precise, 81° 1′. There they put up the next depot, containing half a ton of dog pemmican. Hassel, Bjaaland and Stubberud then turned home. Amundsen, Prestrud, Helmer Hanssen, Wisting and Johansen continued south to try to get to 83°.

Until 81°, the going had been reasonable. The animals were tired and hungry, but willing. The only casualty was Odin, one of Amundsen’s dogs, chafed by an ill-fitting harness. He was put on a sledge and sent home tale. Johansen’s diary for March 6th sums it up: with the returning party.

P 383

There, in a snow cave, with a few boards laid on a snow shelf for a workbench, Bjaaland turned out his little masterpieces of the ski and sledge-maker’s art. The wood he used was hickory; tough, pliable, well seasoned; the same hickory that Amundsen had so prudently bought in Pensacola a decade before* With primus stoves and tin plate from old paraffin tins, Bjaaland made the steaming chamber to bend the runners. In another workshop, Wisting and Helmer Hanssen assembled the sledges with rawhide lashings. This is a little craft in itself; upon it depends the elasticity of the sledge, and hence the ease of running. Helmer Hanssen, who had driven sledges for thousands of miles had the particular touch for this work; he knew how a sledge ought to behave.

The old Fram sledges were adapted to difficult ice, Bjaaland’s for speed on level snow. The former were intended for the glaciers leading to the Polar plateau. Once that climb was over and mobility was at a premium, they would be depoted, and Bjaaland’s light¬weight models would continue. These weighed twenty-four kilos to the renovated Fram models’ thirty-five, and Hagen’s seventy-five. Bjaaland also prepared two pairs of skis for each man, one for running, and one in reserve, to be stowed on the sledges. The work was finished by July 20th.

In deep cold, Amundsen wrote with his wry humour, “if one is not properly shod, one can soon be without feet, and then, you see, it’s too late to shoe yourself properly”.
For the third time the ski boots, having still proved too small, were eviscerated and enlarged with a wedge in the toecap – each man his own cobbler – emerging big enough for two Eskimo reindeer fur socks, plenty of sennegrass, a thick woollen sock with space to move the feet inside, essential to avoid freezing. The original stiff canvas uppers were now replaced with thinner material. After almost two years, the original concept appeared finally to have been realised, and a boot emerged that was rigid enough to control the skis and be used with crampons, but flexible enough not to impede the raising of the heel or (it was hoped) to constrict the circulation.

P387
Because of all the work, recreation was necessarily limited. Prestrud gave an optional English course to a few of the men, teaching in the kitchen to avoid disturbing the others. Bjaaland started making a violin, but found that he did not have enough free time to finish it in the course of the winter. In the end, he took it back to Norway, where it was finished by a professional craftsman, and turned out to be a very good instrument.

For the rest, there was a little reading – mostly Polar literature, of which a small but comprehensive library had been brought – some desultory card playing and, craze of the early winter, darts. This game was new to most of them; a present from Malfred, Gustav Amundsen’s wife. Amundsen organised a competition, presenting a pocket chronometer as prize.

To prevent ennui, Amundsen broke the weekly routine with little occasions to look forward to. On weekdays, there was no drinking with meals, but every Saturday there was hot brandy toddy, every Sunday, holiday and birthday, aquavit for dinner. The idea was partly to nip quarrels in the bud: among Scandinavians there is a ritual significance in drinking spirits. The skdl is a pledge of friend¬ship.

Saturday was sauna night. That, too, was a kind of ritual; a ceremonial cleansing of body and spirit. A small sauna had been rigged up in an igloo, heat and steam provided by two Primus stoves under a metal tray. A naked sprint through an icy communication tunnel in the Barrier to the hut did duty for the obligatory rolling in the snow.

In many ways, circumstances favoured Amundsen in his concern for morale. Although most of his men lived in towns, they were still Northern country-dwellers under the imperfectly urbanised surface; men of simple tastes, adapted to isolated habitation and, indeed, without being recluses seeking isolation as relaxation and uplift. In their separate workshops under the snow, they were alone for much of the day, so that by evening they were positively glad to see the old, familiar faces. And the dogs were always there as a diversion, as they banished monotony on the march.

Each man had fourteen or fifteen dogs to tend and feed- seal meat (and blubber) and stockfish on alternate days. By midwinter they were fed up with stockfish.

p 415

The party swinging southwards into the drift, slowly rising and falling as they followed the undulations of the Barrier, like a squad¬ron of warships speeding over the swell, represented the culmination of an era. The men were clad in Eskimo garments, the dogs tearing away with them over the snow were harnessed in Eskimo fashion; but the sledges, the skis, the food waiting at 80° South, the sextants and Primus stoves, tents and all the impedimenta, were the products of Western ingenuity. It was the marriage of civilisation and a primitive culture. The technique was already on the point of obsolescence. Aircraft and tractors were waiting in the wings. This was the last classic journey in the old style; and it was to end the era of terrestrial exploration that began with the explosion of the human spirit during the Renaissance.
Everything turned on the personal quality of the men riding placidly on their sledges towards the south. They were the best of their kind; embodying a formidable combination of physical and mental qualities. They were tough, resourceful, inured to cold. But, beyond that, they had been through their trial; weaknesses had been ruthlessly eliminated. They now unreservedly accepted Amundsen’s leadership, since he had shown himself in command. Once their dogs had been hitched to the sledges and fanned out in full cry, the
dismal atmosphere of Framheim was swept away by a gale of action and self-confidence. It was a small, cohesive undivided party now speeding over the snow, hurrying to the attack, this time with an indefinable sense that the gods were with them. They were soon required to put this confidence to the test.

P 436
Forty-five dogs were now left, pulling just under eighty pounds each. They scampered off, the sledges coming away easily; and hour after hour they moved in their tireless trot, tails in an upward curve, and accompanied by the nostalgic sounds of panting breath, paws pattering, the quiet creak of the sledge and the silk-like rustle of skis on powder snow.

Amundsen deliberately selected the intervals between the cairns to rest his animals every hour. Dogs need frequent rests to preserve stamina; they work best in a succession of sprints. So do their drivers, at least if they happen to have the Norwegian temperament. Amundsen had got his animals and his men working in tune.

They followed a routine devised for economy of effort. When they stopped for the day, the tent was first unloaded. Amundsen would then crawl inside, erect it with the single pole and while his companions drove in the pegs and arranged the guys outside, he got the Primus going and started supper. Getting the food was a matter of opening the small lid of a provision case like a tea canister; the sledges were left permanently lashed and loaded.* The dogs were unhitched, fed with their pound of pemmican and allowed to roam free until harnessed the next day — the best for their comfort. Bjaaland then detached the ski bindings, bringing them into the tent for the night to avoid their disappearing into the dogs’ stomachs: the Eskimo dog will devour anything. A low snow wall was thrown up to stop the dogs urinating on the fabric of the tent. In an hour, camp was made, men and animals fed.

Under Amundsen, each sledge-driver was responsible for the supplies he was carrying, keeping a precise tally in a combined provision and navigation book as each meal was served. This meticulous accounting was absent from the British expedition, with fateful results.

In their tent at night, the Norwegians were silent, not from surliness, but because it was their nature. The evening meal was eaten quietly; the roar of the Primus, the dull clink of pemmican being scooped out of the saucepan, broken only by an occasional remark.
Bjaaland was the chatterbox; as in the dark days at Framheim; he brought a touch of humour to the tent.
“It’ll be Dad himself who first sees the mountains!” he said, in his idiosyncratic way, the day after leaving 82 degrees.
“Why do you think that?” asked Amundsen, with a glint in his eye. “Because you are so ridiculously tall”.

P 450

But the sheer scale of things discouraged scouting. Even with dogs, it would have taken days to move from the mouth of one glacier to another. The contours were so broken that, from where Amundsen stood, all directions seemed equally impenetrable. He could afford to look neither to right nor left. He had no guarantee that another route existed. The only realistic alternative was forwards.
“Men are the doubtful quantities in the Antarctic”, Amundsen liked to say. The Norwegian character is not adapted to defence or holding ground; it must attack or give way. Amundsen took a risk going up the Axel Heiberg Glacier. He would have taken a bigger risk not to, because he might have demoralised his men. They were not made to linger in uncertainty. They had to ride on their momen¬tum or they were lost. They were happier carrying the ice falls by storm. And, in the event, the Axel Heiberg, with its short, concentrated strain, matched the Norwegian temperament. Amundsen had surmounted his chief obstacle in the style that became him best.
He was in no doubt to whom the credit was due. “It was a sheer marvel, . . that the dogs accomplished today,” he wrote in his diary on the evening of November 21st, at the edge of the Plateau, “17 miles, with 5,000 ft. climb. Come and say that dogs cannot be used here.”
As soon as they arrived, the dogs were put down. Each man shot his own – that had been agreed. Amundsen, having no team of his own, was excused. As usual, being cook, he was first into the tent. But
what went faster that evening than usual was to get the Primus going and pump it to high pressure. I hoped in that way to make the most noise possible and avoid hearing the many shots that soon would sound . . .
It was hard, but it had to be. We had agreed to stop at nothing to reach our goal . . . There went the first shot. I am not nervous, but I admit, that I started. Shot now followed shot – it sounded gruesome over the wastes. A faithful servant lost his life for each shot . . . The festive mood which should have reigned in the tent that evening – the first on the plateau – did not come. There was something oppressive, miserable in the air; we had grown so fond of our dogs. The place was called “The Butcher’s Shop”.37
At least Amundsen made no attempt at self-delusion, nor did he resort to sentimental cant. He faced the fact that, for his own ambitions, certain creatures had to pay the price. He could also truthfully say that, from the moment they arrived at Kristiansand from Greenland, eighteen months ago, his “faithful servants” had lived a good life. They had eaten, slept, made love and drunk to their hearts content.

P 457

The next day, December 2nd, Amundsen described how
the plateau over which we are now travelling resembles a frozen sea – a domed cupola of ice … excellent going for a skater, but unfortunately unsuitable for our dogs and ourselves. I drag myself with my sticks ahead on skis. It is not easy. The dog drivers are without skis, at the side of their sledges, ready to help the animals.

Bjaaland solemnly headed his diary that day, “The Devil’s Nameday”. Besides the assortment of other miseries, they were travelling in the teeth of a Force 7 gale, with thick snow and drift so that
we couldn’t see in front of our nose tips, and our faces were white and hard as wax candles . . . Wisting’s jaw looks like the snout of a Jersey cow. Helmer [Hanssen] has thick scabs [from frostbite] and skin as rough as a file. It was a damned hard day, the hounds slid on the ice, and stopped when the sledges hit a sastrugi, but we forced our way 13 miles against the . . . wind which burned like a flame, oh, oh what a life.46
Looking back, Amundsen chose “The Devil’s Nameday” to por¬tray a typical picture of tent life:
“It was a Saturday evening. . . Outside the Sou’Easter howled [but inside] it looks cosy enough. The innermost half is occupied by 3 sleeping bags. The respective owners have found it most conve¬nient … to go to bed . . . nearest the entrance . . . Wisting and Hanssen are still up. Hanssen is cook . . . Wisting is his sworn friend and helper . . . Hanssen appears to be a careful cook. He doesn’t like to scorch the food. The spoon goes round uninterruptedly in the contents of the saucepan . . . cups are filled with [piping hot] pemmican [which] disappears with amazing speed [and then] everyone clamours for ice cold water [which] disappears in vast quantities . . . the Primus roars gently during the whole meal, and the temperature in the tent is quite pleasant. After the meal . . . the polar travellers are observed to tidy themselves for the coming Sunday. Beards are cut short with clippers every Saturday evening . . . Lumps of ice easily form on a beard. For me, a beard on such a journey seems quite as impractical and uncomfortable as, for example, to walk with top hats on your legs.47

P 502

Reaching the depot, they loaded the contents on to the sledge, after first giving their dogs a double ration of pemmican, and eating a little chocolate themselves. Without delay, they then began the return journey which, as Bjaaland said, “went like a bomb. . . .After 10 hours on the march we were back at the camp [and] now we are rich in provisions.”
Amundsen stayed up the whole time waiting for them, restlessly prowling up and down in the snow, watching the weather anxiously, searching the distance with his telescope, unable to rest. When, at last, he saw them reappear on the crest of a frozen wave he rushed into the tent to wake Hassel and Wisting, who had prudently turned in. “They must have found the depot,” he said, unusually excited, “for neither is sitting on the sledge. They’ve got something else to carry on it.” He immediately started the Primus in order to melt snow, so that there was plenty of water ready to slake their thirst, and then to boil up the pemmican, for they would surely be ravenous. He was beaming when they arrived, and insisted on taking care of their dogs.

Bjaaland and Helmer Hanssen, he recorded, had done forty-two miles with no rest and very little food “at an average speed of 3 miles an hour! Come and say that dogs are useless in this terrain.”

Now it was about five days to the next depot, and Amundsen had ten days’ food for men and dogs, besides emergency reserves. He was, as he put it, “on the right footing” again.

He now discovered why he had been lost. Through some error of navigation, he had been one and a half points (17 degrees) off course. But that had been a blessing in disguise, since it had steered him away from land, and led him to the easy crossing of the Devil’s Glacier. With a rational explanation, Amundsen was calm again.

He now had to make for the Butcher’s Shop, and find the start of his route down the Axel Heiberg Glacier. He had an urgent desire to see around him when he did so. Since the weather now was fine, he logically made a dash while the going was good.

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