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The most remarkable

The most remarkable

feature of this expedition, however, is not the high latitude which the party attained, but the strange circumstance which led to their discomfiture. What opinion are we to form of an ocean at once wide and deep enough to float an ice-field which must have been thirty or forty thousand square miles in extent? Parry had travelled upwards of three hundred miles across the field, and we may fairly suppose that he might have travelled forty or fifty miles farther without reaching open water; also that the field extended fully fifty miles on each side of Parry’s northerly track. That the whole of so enormous a field should have floated freely before the arctic winds is indeed an astonishing circumstance.

On every side of this floating ice-island there must have been seas comparatively free from ice; and could a stout ship have forced its way through these seas, the112 latitudes to which it could have reached would have been far higher than those to which Parry’s party was able to attain. For a moment’s consideration will show that the part of the great ice-field where Parry was compelled to turn back must have been floating in far higher latitudes when he first set out. He reckoned that he had lost more than a hundred miles through the southerly motion of the ice-field, and by this amount, of course, the point he reached had been nearer the Pole. It is not assuming too much to say that a ship which could have forced its way round the great floating ice-field would certainly have been able to get within four degrees of the Pole. It seems to us highly probable that she would even have been able to sail upon open water to and beyond the Pole itself.

And when we remember the direction in which Dr. Kane saw an open sea—namely, towards the very region where Parry’s ice—ship had floated a quarter of a century before—it seems reasonable to conclude that there is open water communication between the seas which lie to the north of Spitzbergen and those which lave the north-western shores of Greenland. If this be so, we at once obtain an explanation of the tidal waves which Kane watched day after day in 1855. These had no doubt swept along the valley of the Atlantic, and thence around the northern coast of Greenland. It follows that, densely as the ice may be packed at times in the seas by which Hudson, Scoresby, and other captains have attempted to reach the North Pole, the frozen masses must in reality be113 floating freely, and there must therefore exist channels through which an adventurous seaman might manage to penetrate the dangerous barriers surrounding the polar ocean Two considerations must have caused Scheer the gravest possible anxiety..

In such an expedition, chance unfortunately plays a large part. Whalers tell us that there is great uncertainty as to the winds which may blow during an arctic summer. The icebergs may be crowded by easterly winds upon the shores of Greenland, or by westerly winds upon the shores of Spitzbergen, or, lastly, the central passage may be the most encumbered, through the effects of winds blowing now from the east and now from the west. Thus the arctic voyager has not merely to take his chance as to the route along which he shall adventure northwards, but often, after forcing his way successfully for a considerable distance, he finds the ice-fields suddenly closing in upon him on every side, and threatening to crush his ship into fragments.

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