Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 131.djvu/706

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THE SEA OF ANCIENT ICE.

if unbridled, may lead men into actions which would make knowledge sin. It is well, therefore, to realize that even some of the most beneficent results of knowledge have yielded consequences of a double kind, have weakened the winnowing power of physical disease on the human stock, by virtue of the very principle by which they alleviated its assaults. This should teach us that if at anytime we have to choose between extending knowledge at the expense of what is noblest in us, and leaving a window closed which we might otherwise open into the secrets of nature, we may be quite safe in preferring the latter course, if only because to violate our moral ideal is a certain and irreparable evil, while the extension of knowledge is at best in comparison but an uncertain good."




From The Academy.

THE SEA OF ANCIENT ICE.

One of the very interesting subjects of investigation connected with the discoveries of the Arctic Expedition is that relating to the ancient ice met with north of Robeson Channel, which is similar to that described in Admiral Sherard Osborn's "Discovery of a North- West Passage." We used to call this ancient formation "M'Clure's ice," for want of a better name, but a special name is much needed to obviate confusion, and to distinguish this ice from ordinary old pack. The name palaeocrystic was adopted by the officers at the time; but for present purposes I will use the expression "the sea of ancient ice." By ancient I mean the ice many years old of the area about to be defined, as distinguished from the old pack-ice met with in any other sea.

It now appears that this sea of ancient ice is of much greater extent than was supposed by Admiral Sherard Osborn. We know that it extends from near the coast of North America to the northwest extremity of Prince Patrick Island, a distance of 420 miles. There is then an unknown gap of about 420 miles from Prince Patrick Island to Aldrich's furthest, which is probably occupied by islands and coastline. Thirdly, there is the coast-line discovered by Captain Nares, extending over about 300 miles from Aldrich's to Beaumont's furthest. We thus have a line extending from the American coast to Beaumont's furthest, in a north-east and south-west direction, for a distance of 1,140 miles, upon which this ancient ice rests.

The sea of ancient ice was first seen by Captain M'Clure when, on August 19, 1850, the "Investigator" ran into apparently open water off the mouth of the Mackenzie River in a north-eastern direction. But it was soon discovered that they were running into a trap in the main pack, consisting of ice of stupendous thickness, the surface rugged with the frosts and thaws of centuries, and totally unlike any ice ever met with in Baffin's Bay and adjacent seas. They ran up the blind lead in this dangerous ice for ninety miles; but, fortunately, the ship was put about in time, and escaped before the ice closed. There were no two opinions in the ship as to what would have been her fate if the floes had closed upon her.

In August, 1851, the "Investigator" passed along the west coast of Banks Island, and Captain M'Clure again had opportunities of examining the sea of ancient ice. The pack was of the same fearful description as that encountered in the offing of the Mackenzie River, at least eighty feet thick. The surface of the floes resembled rolling hills, some of them 100 feet from base to summit; and the edge of this wonderful oceanic ice rose in places from the water as high as the "Investigator's" lower yards.

Captain Collinson, in the "Enterprise," also passed along the southern flank of the sea of ancient ice, and his description agrees with that of his second in command. In the spring of 1854, when wintering at Camden Bay on the coast of North America, Captain Collinson made an attempt to travel over it with a sledge. He came upon it at a distance of about seven miles from the ship, but he found it to be of such a character as to render all travelling impracticable. His sledge was broken, one of the men fractured his thigh, and he was obliged to return after a few days. McClintock and Mecham found the same ancient ice along the west coast of Prince Patrick Island. Mecham terms this ice "tremendous;" and no one who has travelled elsewhere in the Arctic regions has ever met with similar oceanic ice. Along the coast discovered by Captain Nares the same ice was met with, not as a narrow belt along the shore, but becoming worse and more formidable to seaward, and composing the whole surface of this palaeocrystic sea.

The officers of the "Alert" had longer and better opportunities of carefully examining this most important phenomenon in