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Near the North Pole.

Lieutenant SchwEtka presented the scientific features of his recent expedition to the Arctic region before the Academy of Sciences, in New York, November ist: —Beginning with the use of alcohol, Lieutenant Schwatka emphasises the fact that not a drop of ardent spirit of any kind was used in his sled journey of 3,251 miles. In short journeys and hunting expeditions , where there was ample room for baggage it was considered that alcohol might be carried, and, if used in moderation, would raise the temperature of. the body slightly, and tend, as elsewhere, to increased comfort. But on long journeys ardent spirits could not be carried in bulk without displacing other indispensable articles. Alcohol was not regarded as necessary and was not considered a good healing agent. The injurious effects of intense cold, however, had sometimes been wrongly ascribed to the use of liquor. On shipboard the general use of alcoholic stimulants was considered bad, and only allowable when every possible chance of scurvy was removed by the character of the food. In regard to the temperature, Lieutenant Schwatka said that his party had encountered the most intense cold ever recorded by white men—71 degrees Fahr., or 103 degrees below freezing point. On that day the camp was moved ten miles, and nounusualinconvenience was felt. It was not the intensity of the cold that was unpleasant. All suffering was caused by the direction and violence of the wind. With the thermometer at 60 degrees Fahr., no especial trouble was met with, but at a temperature of 15 degrees higher, with a wind blowing straight in the faces of the men, frostbites and great suffering were common. The white men would freeze their noses or the exposed portion of their cheeks. The coldest days were perfectly calm ; on the warmer days, with exception of a few days in midsummer, the wind blew constantly. But it was considered that, to men clad in warm clothing, temperature was not material, and the longest journeys could be undertaken without fear. When the thermometer sank to 71 degrees Fahr. the skies were of a leaden hue, varied with brownish red near the sun. Clouds of vapor rolled from everything animal. When the expedition stopped it was enveloped in steam. Musk oxen and deer could be detected at a distance of five or six miles by the vapor about them, and the Esquimaux claimed to be able to distinguish the kinds of animals by peculiarities in this vapor. Water poured on ice caused a crackling like minature fire-crackers, and the surface of sheets of ice was grey and opaque from the unequal expansion. The sound of the runners was like that caused by a resined bow or tuning-fork, and, heard at a distance, resembled an yEolean harp. In the most extreme cold the acclimatisation of the white men proved as perfect as that of the natives. At a very low temperature the beard became a block of ice, and the lips and nostrils were nearly glued together. Exercise, though important, was not so essential as has been stated, there never being a necessity for exercising to the point of fatigue. For Arctic explorers a strong circulation and a tendency not to perspire profusely are desirable. The common theories regarding the danger of using snow were at variance with Lieutenant Schwatka’s experience. At 30 degrees Fahrenheit the snow freezes temporarily the mucous membrane of the mouth, causing a burning sensation. If this be done often, and rapidly repeated, it is highly injurious ; but snow and ice taken in moderation at long intervals are of great service in quenching thirst. Drowsiness was not experienced in connection with great cold, and it was considered as resulting usually from a sudden change from ship-board to out-of-door life, or from an insufficient acclimatisation. Near - sightedness, though attended with some discomforts, gave certain important advantages. The glasses became readily covered with congealed moisture from the heat, but with the squinting common to nearsighted persons were an efficient protection against the glare of the sun upon the snow. No one who was near-sighted suffered from snow-blind-ness, while the Esquimaux were troubled with this more than the white men. They also suffered from chronic opthalmia and the deposits caused by cateracts. In very cold weather the huts were buried two or three feet in the snow. It was advisable to change these huts as often as possible, because the constant freezing and thawing make them a mass of translucent ice, and exhalations from the breath, bodies, and fires become congealed to the walls, continually falling off and causing a little snow storm in the interior. The effect produced by the darkness of the long Arctic night upon human beings was considered to be much more real than the discomforts occasioned by lonliness and home sickness. According to physicians, it has been found that darkness decreases the respiratory movements in proportion to its intensity. It was therefore held that in the long dark Arctic winter the respiratory movements would become much retarded, and a consequent injurious effect would be exerted, the circluation being slow and the blood imperfectly oxidized. To prevent this crews should be exposed as much as possible to the light.

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Bibliographic details

Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 276, 23 February 1881

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Near the North Pole. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 276, 23 February 1881