Cryospheric Sciences


Polar Exploration: Perseverance and Pea Sausages

Polar Exploration: Perseverance and Pea Sausages

Born on this Day

Portrait of Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen by Achton Friis. [Credit: Danish Arctic Institute].

On this day in 1872 – 145 years ago –Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen, Danish author and polar explorer, was born. He led two expeditions to Greenland and successfully mapped the then unknown northeastern part of the country. The second expedition was his last. The expedition was surprised by an early onset of spring and could no longer use their dog sledges. The two Danes, Mylius-Erichsen and Høeg Hagen died in November 1907 of cold and hunger. Their bodies have never been found. The last remaining expedition member, the Greenlander Brønlund, continued the journey alone but perished a few weeks later. His body and the expedition diary was found in 1908.

Thousands of Pea Sausages

The tin on the image above contains “pea sausage” and was essentially the world’s first ready meal: A mixture of ground peas, beef fat, bacon, spices and salt. Pea sausage was invented in 1867 in Germany and was a common part of military and expedition rations up until the beginning of the 20th century.

Mylius-Erichsen’s expedition brought along 1756 tins of this kind. Each tin contained 6 tablets of pea sausage, that mixed with ¼ water would make a nourishing soup. And the taste? On his first expedition, Mylius-Erichsen wrote:

“The evening meals in the three boxes consisted mainly of different kinds of sturdy soups, black pudding, meat pie, beef, pea sausage and sizeable portions of vegetable such as cabbage, beans and carrots. We only used one third of the evening meal rations on the way out. We did not like the taste of the meat but black pudding, peas and the different kinds of soup were heavenly”.

And later:

“Jørgen and I had dinner at Amarfik’s, and dinner consisted both days of little auks boiled in our last portion of pea sausage – a wonderful dish…”

Members of Mylius-Erichsen’s first expedition: Brønlund, Bertelsen, Mylius-Erichsen, Rasmussen and Moltke. [Credit: Danish Arctic Institute].

Photos and descriptions are from the Danish Arctic Institute (@arktiskinstitut) where you can also see a full 360 degrees photo of the tin.

Check out more historical footage from Greenland in a previous Image of the Week showing aerial photos from the 1930s.

Edited by: Sophie Berger

Image of The Week – 100 years of Endurance!

Image of The Week – 100 years of Endurance!

The 30th August 2016 marks 100 years since the successful rescue of all (human) member of Shackleton’s Endurance crew from their temporary camp on Elephant Island (see map). Nearly a year prior to their rescue they were forced to abandon their ship – The Endurance – after it became stuck in thick drifting sea ice, known as pack ice, trying to navigate the Weddell Sea. It was the last major expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and was well documented by Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer. Our post today brings you some of the stunning images he took over 100 years ago!

The Endurance

Ernest Shackleton. Image Credit: Scot Polar Research Institute.

Ernest Shackleton. Image Credit: Scot Polar Research Institute.

In August 1914 Ernest Shackleton set out with a crew of 27 men (chosen from over 5000 who applied!) on the ship Endurance, as part of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Their mission was to complete the first land crossing of Antarctica – from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. Unfortunately disaster struck the Endurance in January 1915 when it became stuck fast in pack ice in the Weddell sea. True to the ships name the crew were forced to endure a very long journey home!

Our image this week shows the Endurance finally sinking through that pack ice into the depths on the ocean on the 21st November 1915, after being stuck in the pack ice for 10 months. Luckily, due to the fact it had been interned for such a long time, no members of the crew were on-board and much of the cargo had been removed, leaving the crew with food supplies and three small whaling boats to continue their journey.

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.

E. Shackleton’s advertisement for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (source: Watkins, 2012, p.1)

The long journey home!

Frank Hurley and Ernest Shackleton at camp, first published in the United States in Ernest Shackleton's book, South, in 1919., via Wikimedia Commons

Frank Hurley (expedition photographer) and Ernest Shackleton at camp. First published in the United States in Ernest Shackleton’s book, South, in 1919., via Wikimedia Commons.

On the 27th October 1915, shortly before the Endurance sank, Shackleton had given the order to abandon ship. The crew started to march towards open ocean pulling two of the whaling boats filled with supplied behind them. After a few days it became apparent that it was too difficult to move and the crew established a camp on the ice floe, know as “Ocean Camp”. At their camp on the ice the ship’s crew slept in tents but the dogs were housed in “dog igloos”. From this position supplies (including three whaling boat) were retrieved from Endurance, before she finally sank in November 1915.

Over the next few months the crew attempted further relatively unsuccessful marches to the ocean before eventually establish “Patience Camp” in December 1915 on the ice – which would be their home for more than three months. By April 1916 the ice floe had broken up and all 28 men piled into their three boats to head for Elephant Island which they successfully reached 5 days later. However, their journey was not yet over!

Elephant island was very remote and uninhabited with no real possibility of rescue, especially considering it was the middle of the first world war and many ships capable of making the journey from England were occupied in battle. Realising they needed to find their own assistance Shackleton and a skeleton crew of 5 men set sail in one of the small whaling boats, The James Caird, for a perilous 1,500 km journey to South Georgia where there were known to be inhabited whaling stations. They eventually landed safely on South Georgia a few weeks later, only to discovered they were on the opposite side of the island to the whaling station they had been counting on for help. Shackleton and 2 of his men set off on a 36-hour trek to reach Stromness whaling station, where they were eventually able to raise the alarm on the 20th May 1916. First they rescued the remainder of the 5 man crew from the other side of the South Georgia and then set out to rescue the remaining crew Elephant Island.

The launching of the James Caird from Elephant Island, in an attempt to reach the South Georgia. Photo Credit: Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer via Wikimedia Commons.

It wasn’t until  the 30th August 1916 that the men on Elephant Island were rescued, having spent over 4 months stranded there during the harsh Antarctic winter. Shackleton had made four attempts to rescue them, starting on 22nd May 1916, just three days after he had arrived in Stromness, however, each attempt had been thwarted by sea ice surrounding the island. Finally Shackleton managed to reach his crew in Yelcho, a small steam tug loaned to him by the Chilean government. He found all the men in a bad condition but alive, sadly the same cannot be said of the 69 dogs. Some of which died from ill health and many of which were eaten by the crew to survive those first months stranded on the ice.

A timeline and map showing the journey of the Endurance crew. Image credit: Luca Ferrario, DensityDesign Research Lab. CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A timeline and map showing the journey of the Endurance crew. [Image credit: Luca Ferrario, DensityDesign Research Lab, via Wikimedia Commons.]

Where is The Endurance now?

Good question! There is a plan afoot to use Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to dive down to the sea floor and try to locate and film the remains of the Endurance, no firm details of the current state of this expedition seem to have been released yet, but it may be worth keeping your eyes on their twitter feed @IceProjectShack.

It still happens today!

On Christmas Day 2013 the Russian vessel the M.V. Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck in pack ice while returning from East Antarctica with a crew of scientists, media, and students onboard. Everyone was eventually rescued safely by collegues from China and Australia – unlike Shackleton’s era there is now a lot more support when people get into difficulty in Antarctica. However, a photographer onboard, Andrew Peacock noted that:

We have learned from nature, as humankind always does, that it’s possible to be caught by an unexpected and not predicted situation.

It seems that while the likelihood of rescue has improved over the past century, that we mere mortals are still at the command of nature!

Further Reading

Edited by Sophie Berger

Image of the Week — Historical aerial imagery of Greenland

Image of the Week — Historical aerial imagery of Greenland

A few month ago, we were taking you on a trip back to Antarctic fieldwork 50 years ago, today we go back to Greenland during 1930s!

When geopolitics serves cryospheric sciences

The Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague awarded Danish sovereignty over Greenland in 1933 and besides geopolitical interests, Denmark had a keen interest in searching for natural resources and new opportunities in this newly acquired colony. In the 1930s the Danish Government initiated three comprehensive expeditions; one of these, the systematic mapping of East Greenland, was set off by The Greenlandic Agency, The Marines’ air services, The Army’s Flight troops and Geodetic Institute. The Danish Marines provided pilots, mechanics, and three Heinkel seaplanes.

Danish expeditioner Lauge Koch, centre, along with his pilots all dressed in suits made from polar bear. (Credit: The Arctic Institute)

Danish expeditioner Lauge Koch, centre, along with his pilots all dressed in suits made from polar bear. (Credit: The Arctic Institute)

Aerial photography in the 1930s – practical constraints

The airplanes had three seats in an open cockpit. The pilot was seated in the front, the radio operator in the center and in the back the photographer – this seat was originally for the machine-gun operator.

At the outset, the idea was to take vertical images, but that was impossible at the time due to the height of the mountains and the limited capability of the aircraft to reach adequate heights. The airplanes couldn’t reach more than 4000 m – similar to the height of mountains in Greenland. Oblique images were therefore recorded. The reduced view of the terrain when photographing in oblique angles required many more flights than originally planned. The photographic films were processed immediately after each flight. 45,000 km were covered during the first season, which lasted about two and a half months. In the following years, each summer a flight covered parts of the Greenlandic coast. During the Second World War, the mapping was temporarily stopped due to safety reasons.

The aircraft had an open hole in the floor for the photographer, originally where the machine gunner would sit. (Credit: The Arctic Institute)

The aircraft had an open hole in the floor for the photographer, originally where the machine gunner would sit.(Credit: The Arctic Institute)

An unexplored treasure trove of climate data

The tremendous volume of aerial images obtained from several expeditions and hundreds of flights not only constitutes the cornerstone of mapping in Greenland, but is invaluable data for studying climate change in these remote regions. The 1930s survey, compared to modern imagery, provides crucial insight into coastal changes, ice sheet mass balances, and glacier movement. Glacier fluctuations in southeast Greenland have been identified, showing that many land-terminating glaciers underwent a more rapid retreat in the 1930s than in the 2000s, whereas marine-terminating glaciers retreat more rapidly during the recent warming (Bjørk et al, 2012).

An ongoing project between the University of Copenhagen, INSTAAR (Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research) in Boulder, Colorado, and Natural History Museum of Denmark is currently focusing on analysing deltaic changes in Central and Southern Greenland; linking shoreline development to climate changes – these historic aerial images are essential for detecting such coastal evolution. However, there are still many other links between the past and present climate to be discovered from these images. Interested in hearing more about the project or the aerial images? Please contact Mette Bendixen (


Bjørk, A. A., Kjær, K. H., Korsgaard, N. J., Khan, S. A., Kjeldsen, K. K., Andresen, C. S., … & Funder, S. (2012). An aerial view of 80 years of climate-related glacier fluctuations in southeast Greenland. Nature Geoscience, 5(6), 427-432.

Edited by Alistair McConnell, Sophie Berger and Emma Smith

Mette BendixenMette Bendixen is s a PhD student at the Center for Permafrost in Copenhagen. She investigates the changing geomorphology of Greenlandic coasts, where climate changes can have huge impact on the local environment.

Image of the Week – Antarctic fieldwork 50 years ago!

Image of the Week – Antarctic fieldwork 50 years ago!

So far this blog has published many pictures of current polar field work campaigns. Today, we would like to take you back to Antarctic expeditions during the 1960s. The photos presented in this post date back from the Belgian-Dutch Antarctic field campaigns of 1964-1966.

The first picture shows Ken Blaiklock (red overalls) with a Belgian surveyor. Ken was part of the 1955–58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition – completing the first overland Antarctic crossing via the south pole. This shot was taken during the 1964-1965 summer campaign, as they were surveying the displacement of glaciers in the Sør Rondane Mountains, East Antarctica.  At that time, the men had to leave the base station for three weeks with two dog-sled pulled by a small skidoo-like vehicle. Remarkably, this shot doesn’t look too dissimilar to many field campaigns today, where the same type of sledges are still used and the clothing worn is also very similar. However, logistical support was very different, with no technicians or field guides those who were part of the polar expeditions of 50 years ago had to be experts at everything!

The second picture illustrates how precise positions (and relative displacements) were measured at that time. No fancy GPS technology, but a network of markers and theodolites. The shot was taken on a pinning point, close to the front of the Roi Baudouin Ice shelf, during the overwintering campaign of 1965 (where people had to stay in Antarctica for 15 months).

A geodesist measuring the precision position of a marker with his theodolite, overwintering campaign in Antarctica, 1965. (Credit: Jean-Jacques Derwael)

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