The beginning of systematic observations

The modern basis of Arctic science, and meteorology in particular, was the outcome of Karl Weypricht's suggestion for an International Polar Expedition. Planning began at a conference in Hamburg in 1879, with 11 nations pledging support. Weyprecht died in 1881, but the first International Polar Year (IPY) was mounted in 1882-3. Barr (1985) provides a detailed account of the various national expeditions. Figure 1.2 shows the distribution of the 12 principal stations established in the North Polar Region. Unfortunately, the Dutch expedition bound for Dikson at the mouth of the Yenisey River became beset by ice in the Kara Sea. An auxiliary program of observations, supervised by the physicist K. R. Koch (1891) was carried out at six Moravian Mission stations along the Labrador coast. Important contributions to polar science were made during the IPY (e.g. Dawson, 1886; von Neumayer and Boergen, 1886), but the widely spaced stations made it hard to use the data for meteorological studies. Moreover, the drama of Adolphus Greely's tragic expedition to Lady Franklin Bay, Ellesmere Island and his expedition's "farthest north" (83.40° N on the North Greenland coast) tended to overshadow the IPY's scientific achievements. After relief ships had failed to reach his camp at Ft. Conger, Greely followed strict orders to retreat down the coast. Winter overtook his party. Of 26 men, only 7 (including Greely) lived to see the relief ship in June 1884. Some of the meteorological records nevertheless survived (Greely, 1896).

The drift of the Norwegian vessel Fram across the Arctic Ocean from the New Siberian Islands to Spitsbergen was a bold new direction in Arctic exploration. The discovery on the coasts of Greenland of wreckage from the Jeanette, and finds of Siberian driftwood, gave Fridtjof Nansen the idea of utilizing the drift of the Fram. Despite widespread criticism by leading polar explorers, his views were vindicated and the successful voyage represented a major advance in knowledge of ice motion and Arctic Ocean circulation. The specially designed vessel was lifted up by the ice, instead of being crushed, and in this way drifted with the ice for most of its journey, September 1893 through August 1896 (Nansen, 1898). Mohn (1905) published the meteorological results of the expedition and these data are now included on a CD-ROM (Arctic Climatology Project, 2000). Nansen and H. Johansen left the ship on 14 March 1895 and traveled over the ice to 86.23° N before being forced to head south to Franz Josef Land. Meteorological observations were made in Franz Josef Land by the Ziegler expedition of 1903-5 (Fleming, 1907).

Icebergs in the Labrador Current became a major concern for shipping after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. As a result, the International Ice Patrol Service was established to document and count icebergs drifting southward. Oceanographic and sea ice conditions in Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea were also first studied in detail by US Coast Guard expeditions between 1928 and 1935 (Smith et al., 1937).

The 1910s and 1920s witnessed the advent of Arctic exploration by aircraft and airship. Regular airborne reconnaissance of ice conditions in the Kara Sea began in the Soviet Union in 1924. This was later extended to the Russian Arctic (Borodachev and Shil'nikov, 2002). Important oceanographic and meteorological observations were collected by the Maud expedition (1918-25) under Harald Sverdrup. Meteorological data from the Maud are readily available (Arctic Climatology Project, 2000). The first serious attempt to explore the Arctic Ocean beneath the sea ice was made by Sir Hubert Wilkins and H. Sverdrup in 1931. Their ship reached 82.25° N, north of Spitsbergen, before storms and damage to the primitive diving equipment forced their return.

In the 1930s, meteorological studies were carried out on the Greenland Ice Sheet. In support of their work, the British Arctic Air Route Expedition led by Gino Watkins

(1932) had two aircraft equipped for ice or water landings. An Ice-Cap weather station (67.1° N, 41.8° W, 2440 m) was manned from September 1930 to May 1931 (Mirrless, 1934). Due to blizzards and supply problems, A. Courtauld operated the station on his own from December to March and he was trapped inside the shelter from late March until the beginning of May 1931. At the same time, a German expedition under Alfred Wegener established the station Eismitte (70.9° N, 40.7° W, 3000 m) near the crest of the ice sheet. The records were analyzed and interpreted by Loewe (1936), who supervised the measurements. Ice thickness measurements suggested for the first time that the bedrock of Greenland was a saucer-shaped depression.

A Second International Polar Year was conducted in 1932-3, 50 years after the first one, with some 94 Arctic meteorological stations in operation (Laursen, 1959). However, World War II prevented much of the data from being published and fully analyzed. The plan to archive the data at the Danish Meteorological Institute was apparently never fulfilled although the synoptic maps were finally completed in London in 1950 (Laursen, 1982). In the summer of 1932, the Russian icebreaker Sibiryakov completed the Northern Sea Route from Arkhangelsk to the Far East in a single season (Barr, 1978). Another major pre-war milestone was the establishment by aircraft of the North Pole 1 station under Ivan Papanin. This was the first of the Soviet Union's Arctic Ocean drifting stations (the North Pole drifting station program). Utilizing the experiences of Long, Nansen, and the scientists from the Chelyuskin (which sank in the Chukchi Sea in February 1934), the four-man ice camp drifted from 89.4° N, 78.7° EinMay 1937 to 70° N, 20° EinFebruary 1938, carrying out meteorological and oceanographic measurements. Also during 1937-9, there was an unplanned drift of the icebreaker Georgy Sedov after becoming beset in the northern Laptev Sea. The Georgy Sedov drifted for 812 days in a more northerly trajectory than that taken by the Fram.

One of the last epic "firsts" was the two-way completion of the Northwest Passage by the tiny Royal Canadian Mounted Police vessel St. Roch. The vessel sailed east-west via Bellot Strait between Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island during 1940-2 and west-east via Prince of Wales Strait, Melville Sound and Lancaster Sound in the summer of 1944. A demonstration of commercial possibilities for the passage was made by the transits of the nuclear-powered US tanker Manhattan in 1969 and 1970, but regular commercial usage of the passage is still unrealized.

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