Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/December 1906/The Bogoslofs

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

DECEMBER, 1906




THE BOGOSLOFS
By President DAVID STARR JORDAN and GEORGE ARCHIBALD CLARK

STANFORD UNIVERSITY

IN the southern portion of Bering Sea, about thirty-seven nautical miles northwest from the island of Unalaska, lies a group of small volcanic islets known as Bogoslof, in Russian, Joanna Bogoslova, St. John, the Theologian. There are now three of these, all of which have risen from the sea, hot and steaming, within historic times. An especial interest attaches to them just now from the fact that the third and largest of the group appeared at about the time of the great earthquake of April 18, 1906.

The possibility of a connection between the disturbances at Bogoslof and those which caused the California earthquake is heightened by the fact that the great earthquake rift, which extends through the Coast Range of California for a distance of 200 miles, follows a direction, which, if produced northward to Bering Sea, would pass near the islands of Bogoslof. Again this earthquake rift was largest, and its effects more violent, where it entered the sea in Mendocino County than at any other point throughout its course, the extent of the lateral movement along the crack increasing from about two feet in Monterey County to about 1612 feet at Point Arena, where it finally enters the sea.

In opposition to this view may be placed the improbability that an earthquake rift or fault would extend so far as from the center of California to Bering Sea, a distance of more than 2,000 miles, and through such great depths of water as intervene between Point Arena and Bogoslof. It is also stated that the evidence of the seismograph, so far as understood, favors the idea that the great earthquake was

PSM V69 D486 Old bogoslof or castle island.png

Old Bogoslof or Castle Island.

confined to California, although its center of disturbance was clearly in the sea in a westerly direction from Cape Mendocino.

It is evident also that the rise of the third Bogoslof was attended by little if any disturbance in the immediate vicinity. The advent of each of the other two islands was marked by earthquake shocks, the fall of volcanic ashes and displays of fire, observed and felt by the people of Iliuliuk on Unalaska Island. The people of this village in 1906 were unaware of the presence of the new island until the news was brought

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Fire Island, One of the Old Bogoslof Islands.

in by vessels touching at the harbor. Earthquake shocks lasting 30 seconds are reported for May 20 and 23 by the keeper of the light at Scotch Cap on Unimak Island, and a 'pretty severe shake' occurred at Dutch Harbor on June 2, but nothing is reported for April or early May, when the new island must have risen. Certainly there could not have been any activity displayed by Makushin or Akutan, both of which volcanoes overlook Unalaska and Dutch Harbor, without being observed by the people of these villages. Perhaps the rise of such an island, in a more or less plastic condition, as it must be, would not necessarily be attended by disturbance in the solid crust of the neighboring islands. On the Pribilof Islands, which had an origin similar to that of the Bogoslofs, no earthquake shock or other disturbance was noted, although

PSM V69 D487 Fire island one of the old bogoslof islands.png

Fire Island, One of the Old Bogoslof Islands.

these islands were affected at the time of the rise of New Bogoslof in 1883. The Pribilof group lie 120 miles to the north of the Bogoslofs.

On the whole, however, the weight of evidence at present seems to favor the idea that the Bogoslof disturbance of 1906 was local in character and the coincidence in date with the California earthquake involves no actual relation between the two phenomena.

The writers first saw the islands of Bogoslof in July, 1896, while en route for the Pribilof Islands in connection with the fur seal investigations. The U. S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross attempted to land the commission on Old Bogoslof, but was prevented by the heavy surf, and the thick weather made only a partial view of the islands possible. The vessel afterwards passed the islands on its way to the
 
PSM V69 D488 New bogoslof or fire island 1883.png
New Bogoslof, or Fire Island (1883).
 

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The New Bogoslof Island

Commander Islands under more favorable conditions. Dr. Stejneger of the commission obtained some excellent photographs. The senior writer, still later in the same season, passed both islands while on the British gunboat, Satellite, on the way from the Russian Islands to Unalaska.

At that time Old Bogoslof, known to the sealers as Castle Island, from its appearance, was cold and dead. It showed in the fog a sheer cliff or hill of ashes about 300 or 400 feet in height, seeming much higher in the uncertain light. It was apparently the home of countless sea birds and a small herd of the gray sea lions (Eumetopias stelleri) was hauled out upon one of its slopes.

About half a mile to the northwest lay the islet of New Bogoslof, of about twice the height of the other and considerably greater area. This island was locally known as Fire Island, having but recently ceased to steam and smoke. There was in 1896 no evidence of activity in it, but the water was said to be still warm in the crevices of the rocks. The name Grewingk, in honor of the Russian geographer who compiled an early account of Old Bogoslof, has been given to this island by Mr. Dall.

Both islands were surrounded with deep water. In fact the space occupied by the second island had formerly been safely traversed by vessels. Dredge hauls by the Albatross about the islands resulted in the taking of a number of deep sea forms of fishes, among them three 'grenadiers' (Albatrossia pectoralis, Bogoslovias clarki, and Macrourus cinereus). These were obtained at a depth of 664 fathoms or 3,984 feet. Conspicuous in the group of islets was an isolated pillar of rock, of considerable height, known as Ship or Sail Rock. It had existed from the earliest times, having been reported as early as 1768. It was seen by Captain Cook in 1778, who mistook it for a ship under sail, hence its name. This was eighteen years before the rise of Old Bogoslof. Ship Bock crumbled and fell in ruins about 1888.

About April, 1906, midway between Old and New Bogoslof, a third island, larger than either of the others appeared. Captain Dirks of Dutch Harbor estimates its size as five times that of New Bogoslof, although the photographs do not seem to bear this out. This new island was first seen by the U. S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross, Captain L. M. Garrett, on May 28, 1906, while on her way to the investigation, under direction of Professor Charles H. Gilbert, of the fisheries of Japan. Soon after this date the U. S. Revenue Cutter Perry visited the islands. Photographs were taken under the direction of Lieutenant Hepburn, of the Albatross, and these, sent us by Mr. H. H. Taylor, of the North American Commercial Company, are here reproduced, together with photographs of Castle Island and Fire Island, taken by Mr. N. B. Miller of the Albatross in 1892.

The early history of these very interesting islands is given by Professor George Davidson in the Bulletin of the American Geological Society, Vol. XXII. . p. 267, and a detailed and exhaustive account of them by Dr. C. Hart Merriam, profusely illustrated, appears in the Report of the Harriman Expedition of 1899, Vol. II., p. 291-336.

PSM V69 D490 Bogoslof of may 1906 seen from new bogoslof island.png

Bogoslof of May, 1906. From New Bogoslof, or Fire Island.

Of the advent of the first island, in 1796, the following account is given in Kotzebue's narrative of discovery in 1817. The story is that of a Russian trader, Kriukof, who found himself with some native hunters forced to seek refuge from storm on the north end of Umnak Island, the island of the Aleutian chain, nearest the Bogoslofs. It was in May and when the storm cleared on the 8th, Kotzebue tells us:

They saw to the N., several miles from land, a column of smoke ascending from the sea; toward evening they observed under the smoke something black, which arose but a little above the surface of the water. During the night fire ascended into the air near the spot, and sometimes so violent, and to such height, that on their island, which was ten miles distant, everything could be distinctly seen by its light. An earthquake shook their island, and a frightful noise echoed from the mountains in the S. The poor hunters were in deadly anxiety; the rising island threw stones towards them, and they every moment expected to perish. At the rising of the sun the quaking ceased, the fire visibly decreased, and they now plainly saw an island of the form of a pointed black

PSM V69 D491 The three bogoslof islands may 1906.png

The Three Bogoslofs, May, 1906.

cap. When Kriukof visited the island of Oomnak, a month afterward, he found the new island, which during that time had continued to emit fire, considerably higher. After that time it threw out less fire, but more smoke: it had increased in height and circumference, and often changed its form. For four years no more smoke was seen, and in the eighth year the hunters resolved to visit it. as they observed that many sea lions resorted to it. The water round the island was found warm, and the island itself so hot in many places that they could not tread on it.

The eruption of 1883, which resulted in the rise of New Bogoslof, seems to have had no eye-witnesses and the exact date of its appearance is unknown. Captain Anderson of the schooner Matthew Turner saw the new island in September, 1883, and reported that great volumes of steam and smoke, accompanied by showers of ashes, were thrown out from the summit and through fissures • in the sides and base, the bright reflections from the heated interior being visible at night. At the time of this eruption a severe earthquake was felt in the sea off Cape Mendocino, apparently in the line of the PortoláTomales rift of April, 1906.

The islands were visited in 1884 by the officers of the U. S. Revenue Cutter Corwin. and Lieutenant J. C. Cantwell and Surgeon H. W. Yemans made the ascent of New Bogoslof. Lieutenant Cantwell thus describes his experience in the 'Cruise of the Corwin':

The sides of New Bogoslof rise with a gentle slope to the crater. The ascent at first appears easy, but a thin layer of ashes, formed into a crust by the action of rain and moisture, is not strong enough to sustain a man's weight. At every step my feet crushed through the outer covering and I sank at first ankle-deep and later on knee-deep into a soft, almost impalpable dust which arose in clouds and nearly suffocated me. As the summit was reached the heat of the ashes became unbearable, and I was forced tp continue the ascent by picking my way over rocks whose surfaces, being exposed to the air, were somewhat cooled and afforded a more secure foothold.

On all sides of the cone there are openings through which steam escaped with more or less energy. I observed from some vents the steam was emitted at regular intervals, while from others it issued with no intermission. Around each vent there was a thick deposit of sulphur which gave off suffocating vapors.

The islands were visited by Drs. C. Hart Merriam and T. C. Mendenhall of the Bering Sea Fur Seal Commission in 1891. Dr. Merriam writes thus of New Bogoslof as seen at that time:

The new volcano was enveloped in steam, which issued from thousands of small cracks and crannies and poured in vast clouds from a few great fissures and crater-like openings, the principal of which was near the northwest corner, only a few feet above high water mark. From this opening, the shape of which we could not see, it rushed out with a loud roaring noise. So great was the quantity of steam that it completely concealed the upper part of the island except when wafted to and fro by violent gusts of wind. . . . The steam was usually impregnated with fumes of sulphur, and deposits of sulphur, some in very fine needles, were observed along the margins of the cracks.

Of the third Bogoslof, Dr. Charles H. Gilbert, of Stanford University, who was in charge of the work of the Albatross when the 'brand new mountain' was first seen on May 28, 1906, writes thus in a personal letter regarding it:

When I saw it (Bogoslof) in 1890 there were really two small islands about 112 miles apart, one of them steaming and the other already cooled off. This has been the condition for a number of years, so the hot one had received the name of Fire Island, the cold one, Castle Island. When they came in sight yesterday, we were astonished to find that Fire Island was no longer smoking and that a very large third island had arisen half way between the other two. It was made of jagged, rugged lava and was giving off clouds of steam and smoke from any number of little craters scattered all over it. Around these craters, the rocks were all crusted with yellow sulphur.

In a later letter, written from Yokohama, Dr. Gilbert said:

I wrote you a full account of Bogoslof, but the letter seems to have miscarried. Our discovery seems to have been corroborated later by some revenue cutter, but if the newspaper report agrees with their findings, very extensive changes took place in the interval between the two visits. When seen by us, the new cone, occupying much of the space between the two older ones, was somewhat higher than either, but was certainly far from 900 feet high—300 feet would be an extreme figure. There was no evidence of a central crater. The steam and fumes were given off most abundantly from cracks and fumaroles on the slopes. About these were heavy incrustations of sulphur. We saw no indications of boiling water, nor did we believe that landing would be impossible.

In an account of the physical history of the Bogoslofs, written in 1899 for the report of the Harriman Expedition, Dr. Grove K. Gilbert, of the U. S. Geological Survey, noting the rapid disintegration of the islands, said:

One might predict that in the next century the name Bogoslof would attach only to a reef or shoal, were it not for the possibility of new eruptions. The pulse of the volcano is so slow that we have noted only two beats in more than a century, but such sluggishness must not be taken as a symptom of death, or even decline, for volcanic organisms are characteristically spasmodic in their activity. Long before the sea has established its perfect sway the arteries of the mountain may again be opened and a new and larger island put forth to contest its supremacy.

Nearly a century elapsed between the arrival of the first and second Bogoslof, only twenty-three years between the second and third.

The floor of the depths of Bering Sea in this region seems to be still unsettled, and astonishing changes may be looked for at any time. If it should prove true that the geological faults of California extend out from this center, a new interest would be attached to the outbreaks of Bogoslof.