(Ned Rozell / Alaska Science Forum via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 1 April 2012) -- FAIRBANKS - More than a century ago, Roald Amundsen and his crew were the first to sail through the Northwest Passage, along the way leaving footprints in Eagle, Nome and Sitka. Pioneering that storied route was a dream of Amundsen’s since his boyhood in Norway, but he also performed enduring science on the three-year voyage of the Gjøa. Amundsen, from Norway, was 30 years old when, in the early 1900s, he envisioned and then executed this plan: “With a small vessel and a few companions, to penetrate into the regions around earth’s north magnetic pole, and by a series of accurate observations, extending over a period of two years, to relocate the pole observed by Sir James Ross in 1831.” ... Though the conquest of the Northwest Passage brought Amundsen worldwide fame, his devotion to science was real. Instead of blasting through the passage, he and his crew halted the Gjøa to spend the winter in a bay off King William Island in Canada’s Arctic. There, they set up a base called “Gjøahaven,” or Gjøa Harbor. They killed 100 reindeer for winter meat to feed man and dog, met the local natives, exchanged their wool clothes for furs and watched the ice form on the ocean in early October 1903. They also built a magnetic observatory out of shipping crates. They held it together with nails containing no iron. They covered the hut with tundra to keep out the light, because photographic paper recorded their magnetic observations. Inside the building were four instruments sensitive to variations of Earth’s magnetic field. A few oil lamps heated and lit the observatory, which was so snug that Amundsen and crewman Gustav Wiik probably both suffered heart-muscle damage from carbon monoxide poisoning during the 19 months they faithfully tended the instruments. ... The data set is so good that Charles Deehr, a space physicist and aurora forecaster at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute, who posts forecasts of northern lights at http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast, said the information is similar to data he gets today from satellites parked in the solar wind, a flow of the sun’s particles that excites the aurora into action.
Posted 1 April 2012; 7:01:51 PM. Permalink