Showing posts with label arctic exploration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label arctic exploration. Show all posts

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Erik the Red and His Green Land

Erik the Red was a larger than life dude who knew how to leave a mark. He got kicked out of Iceland, and settled a previously uninhabited¹ island. In the world's first documented PR stunt, he named the icy wasteland 'Greenland' to entice people to move there, then proceeded to name every geographical feature he came across after himself. Erik was one hell of a dude.
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Erik the Red. What a handsome dude. Look at that
mustache. Hipsters kill for mustaches that
glorious.

Erik was born in Norway, but moved to Iceland after his father, Thorvald, was exiled for 'manslaughter' (read as 'probably murder'). He was called 'The Red' because of his fiery hair, beard, and temper. Also red was the color of the blood on his hands after he continued the family tradition of murder.

While living in the north of Iceland, Erik's thralls inadvertently created a landslide which destroyed the neighboring house. Erik's neighbor was, understandably, irritated. Less understandably, said neighbor decided to kill Erik's thralls. This aggravated Erik, who murdered his neighbor in return. Because of this, in 980 Erik and his family were banished.

Next, Erik moved to the island of Oxney, and picked up the pieces. He restarted his homestead, and all was going well, until he had more troubles with his neighbors. In about 982 Erik lent his setstokkr to his neighbor. Setstokkr were large, rune inscribed beams that held particular religious significance. It was pretty cool of Erik to loan them to his neighbor, but unfortunately his neighbor was rather uncool, and didn't give them back. In retaliation, Erik killed him², and was once again banished. This time he was banished from the entirety of Iceland for three years. Erik was left with two choices. He could sail back to Norway, or he could go somewhere else. Erik chose the latter.

Now, Erik wasn't totally sailing blind. Other vikings had been around the coasts of Greenland before, though none had ever gone ashore. Erik knew that Greenland was out there, so he packed his family in his longship and went. He spent several months navigating around the southern tip of Greenland. He went ashore at Tunulliarfik, and spent the two years after that exploring the country, and naming everything in sight after himself.

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Tunulliarfik fjord, where Erik came ashore
In 985 Erik's exile was up, and he was firmly of the opinion that his new home would be a pretty dope place to start a colony. He named the place 'Greenland' to attract settlers, and sailed back to Iceland. Erik was fairly successful, and managed to convince some 400 people to make the move. 25 ships set out from Iceland in 985, and within a few months, 14 had arrived on Greenland's shores (the rest having wrecked or turned back to Iceland.) They settled in two groups--the Eastern Settlement and the Western Settlement, with Erik elected leader of the Eastern Settlement. Erik died about 15 years later after a fall from his horse.



¹By Europeans
²Quite frankly, after the number of pens, pencils, bowls, and spoons I've lost to a neighbor, I do not consider this an overreaction on Erik's part.

Sources
Erik the Red-Biography
Erik the Red-Britannica
Erik the Red-Maritime Museum

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Knud Rasmussen

Knud Rasmussen was an Inuit-Danish explorer who established trading stations across Greenland, and made a thorough documentation of the folklore, traditions, and existence of all the Inuit tribes across Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. Though he died at only 54, he's a Danish national hero, and a hero to anyone interested in arctic exploration.

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Knud Rasmussen
Born in Ilulissat Greenland in 1879, Knud was the son of a Danish missionary and a part Inuit Danish settler. He grew up among the Inuit, being educated with all the other Inuit children. He learned how to kayak, fish, hunt, and travel by dogsled. He very much considered himself one of the Inuit children, and he struggled severely when his family moved to Copenhagen in 1891. Denmark didn't agree with Knud, and he only barely managed to graduate from high school. He briefly pursued a career as an actor and an opera singer, but was unsuccessful. He never attended university.

Despite his lack of university education, Knud accompanied Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen on an expedition to Iceland in 1900. The two hit it off, and started planning an expedition to Greenland. That expedition would come to be known as the Greenland Literary Expedition, and it lasted from 1902-1904.

The goal of the Greenland Literary Expedition was to study Inuit culture, and Knud certainly studied enough culture to be able to write a whole book about it, then go on a lecture circuit of Denmark. Knud was doing well financially and personally. In 1908 he married Dagmar Andersen.

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Knud and Inuit during the Third Thule Expedition
Knud couldn't sit still for long though. In 1910 he and Peter Freuchen went back to Greenland to establish a trading station. This station at Uummannaq was known as the Thule trading base, and became the launching pad for Rasmussen's seven expeditions across the polar north.

His expeditions, which later came to be known as the Thule expeditions, are what garnered Rasmussen his real fame. The first Thule expedition mapped the northwest passage by dogsled. The second explored the north coast of Greenland. The third Thule expedition built a depot. The fourth expedition Rasmussen gathered stories and cultural information from the Inuit in eastern Greenland. The fifth saw him cross Greenland, and the entire arctic of North America by dogsled. He would have crossed Russia as well, but he was unable to get a visa. The sixth and seventh Thule expeditions were official Danish attempts to claim sovereignty over Eastern Greenland.

During the seventh expedition Knud suffered from food poisoning, and then pneumonia. He was shipped back to Copenhagen to recover, but the doctors were unable to save him. Knud Rasmussen passed away in December of 1933.

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Statue of Knud in Copenhagen
Rasmussen left behind an enormous legacy. He wrote some four books, and left behind innumerable journals and letters. He collected thousands of pictures and lithographs of the Inuit and Inuit artifacts at the time, and he is widely considered to be the father of the modern study of the Inuit.

While Knud is quite famous in Denmark and Greenland, he's not well known in other countries. This is because all of the writing he left behind is in Danish, and his works tend to be ignored in favor of works written in English by native English speakers. However, the first English language biography of Knud was released in 2015, and a Canadian film about his expeditions was made in 2006. Hopefully this will be the start of a trend of memorializing this amazing man.

Sources
Rasmussen, Knud Johan Victor (1879-1933)--Encyclopedia of World Biography
This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretle Ehrlich
Knud Rassmussen--Britannica
Knud Rasmussen-Arctic Thule
Knud Rasmussen-Knud Rasmussens Hus
White Es*imo: How Knud Rasmussen Opened the World to Arctic Travel

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Documentary Review- The Polar Sea

Something you may not know about me is that I am in love with the arctic. I think it's beautiful, and completely improbably that people manage to survive there. And for someone who starts complaining when the temperature drops below 73 degrees Fahrenheit, I want to go there a whole lot. So when I saw this documentary on Netflix, naturally I watched most of it in a day.

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"The Polar Sea" chronicles the adventures of Richard Tegner and various companions as he sails through the Northwest Passage. It chronicles his journey as an 'arctic hitchhiker' from Reykjavik Iceland to Dutch Harbor, USA.

For those of you who are unaware, the Northwest Passage is a sea route that stretches from Baffin Bay to the Aleutian Islands. It weaves its way through the many islands and ice floes of Canada's northern territories: Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon. The Northwest Passage is frozen for most of the year, and when it's not frozen it has some of the most treacherous waters in the world.

Tegner, originally from Sweden, was persuaded by a friend to undertake the journey. An inexperienced sailor, Tegner departed with his friend on the Dax, a small sailboat. Sailing from Iceland, the Dax broke down around Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Tegner's friends returned to Sweden, while Tegner decided to stick it out, and hitch a ride through the passage.

Image result for northwest passageAt first, I was really worried for this dude, because hitchhiking is known to be notoriously unreliable below the arctic circle, and I would think that it would be even more so above, but Tegner made it work, hitching a ride first with a Russian cruise ship, then with a Swiss catamaran, which, I take, is a type of boat.

(It is a type of boat, and that particular catamaran was the first boat of its kind to sail the Northwest Passage, sailed by the youngest sailors to make the journey)

Along the way they stopped at multiple Inuit communities and research stations. One of the biggest focuses of this documentary, or really, the main focus, was how global warming has changed the arctic.

It's climate change that made Tegner's journey possible. The ice in the passage has started melting earlier, and freezing later every year. This has had a bad impact on the Inuit who live in the arctic regions. While this does open up streams of ecotourism to boost the Inuit economy, it is driving the local wildlife from the region. As the Inuit have traditionally relied on hunting to survive, this is something of a problem.

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Narwhal are real?? And they live in the arctic?
Additionally, erosion is threatening Inuit communities. The ice melting leaves their communities vulnerable to the explosive autumn storms. The documentary focused on the town of Kivalina in Alaska, which experienced extreme flooding in 2004, but a quick google search turns up dozens of other towns with the same plight.

If you've ever doubted that climate is changing, this is a good show to watch. If you've ever wondered about Inuit culture, and the history of the Inuit in the arctic, this is a great show to watch. If you just really like the arctic, this is a good show to watch. It can be a bit of a bear to get through, but it's well worth it.

If you want to learn more about the show, and more about Tegner's arctic experience, you can visit their website here.