XXIV. SCIENTIFIC FIELDS OF RESEARCH (Historic Information)
With the material development of Alaska there have risen many questions in which a thorough knowledge of so-called purely scientific character has been of great economical importance. Researches as to climatic and geologic conditions, once discouraged by the Federal authorities in the Territory, are now pursued as indispensable to successful mining operations. As elsewhere mentioned the work of the United States Geological Survey has progressed with astonishing rapidity, owing to its recognized bearing on the exploitation of material resources, which thus elicits liberal governmental support.
The United States Bureau of Fisheries has also been able to add much relative to subjects allied to the duties which have devolved on it in connection with the great and remunerative industries over which it exercises a general and indefinite supervision. Similarly, the various bureaus of the Department of Agriculture have improved every opportunity to extend scientific knowledge of the vast and most imperfectly known regions of the Territory. Officers of the army, of the navy, of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, of the Census Bureau, and of the Revenue Marine Service, living up to the high standards of modern civilization, have very materially contributed to the world's knowledge by investigating and reporting on all matters, though foreign to their duties, falling under their observation during Alaskan service.
It is obvious, however, that subjects pertaining to the domain of pure science have received scant support from the United States as regards Alaska.
It is not surprising, therefore, to know that the most extended scientific researches in Alaska have been those made independently of the Government. Reference is had to those made possible by the liberality and broad-mindedness of a well-known citizen, Mr. E. H. Harriman, whose private expedition of 1899 was accompanied by many distinguished scientific men as his guests.
The history of the Harriman Expedition has been published under the supervision of Dr. C. Hart Merriam, in volumes that are highly creditable to all concerned, whether viewed from the standpoint of typography, reproductions, its popular form, or the scientific treatment. In this work Professor Dall, in his valuable article of "Discovery and Exploration," says.
While the sublime scenery of the southern coast will long be the goal of tourists, we may confidently anticipate for years to come a rich harvest for the scientific explorers and naturalists whose good fortune may lead them to the fascinating study of the virgin north.
The Biological Survey, of the Department of Agriculture, has made biological reconnoissances of Cook Inlet, 1900, Yukon River region, 1899, and base of Alaska Peninsula, 1902, and thus materially contributed to the previous scanty data as to fauna and flora of these almost unknown localities.
The investigations on the Alaska Peninsula were important as a meeting ground of some of the life areas of the borders of the Hudsonian and Arctic zones." Here, also, is the only locality at which normally meet the Aleuts, the Esquimaux, and the Athapascans. The delimitation of the coniferous trees, and of the tundra areas, was supplemented by careful observation of the fauna, which disclosed the presence of 34 land mammals and 136 species of birds.
The Yukon reconnoissance resulted in an annotated list of 171 species of birds, and of 52 mammals, including a few noted in adjacent Canadian territory. Among these were 9 new species and subspecies of mammals, and 3 new forms of birds.
In the Cook Inlet region notes were made as to 24 mammals, 77 birds, and 1 batrachian. The future thorough examination of this region would doubtless add much, as the English hunter, Radclyffe, says.
As a happy hunting ground for ornithologists I can recommend the valley of the Amakchak River, since nowhere in Alaska did we find such a variety of sandpipers, waders, and ducks as frequent this region.
With innumerable demands on its funds, the Smithsonian Institution has given some attention to Alaska through the investigation of the fauna and flora of the early geological periods, especially of extinct animals.
Among the many attractions that the vast expanse of the Yukon watershed offers to students and lovers of nature, perhaps there is none more fascinating than the search for extinct mammals. The world's knowledge of remains of extinct vertebrates in Alaska began with Otto van Kotzebue's discovery, in 1816, of the remarkable ice-cliffs in Escholtz Bay, where teeth and bones of the mammoth were found. Similar discoveries were made in this region by Beechey in 1827-1828, by Seeman with Kellett in 1848, and by Dall in recent years. The remains thus found comprise the mammoth, the horse, bears, deer, and the musk-ox. From time to time trappers and prospectors have found similar remains at various points in the Seward Peninsula, thence north to the Point Barrow region, and east to the valleys of the upper Koyukuk and the central Yukon.
The scientific search for further remains has been prosecuted under the Smithsonian Institution by Mr. A. G. Maddren in 1904, and by Mr. C. W. Gilmore in 1907. The journey of Maddren proved most interesting. It involved small-boat travel on the Great River and its tributaries during the long summer period of starless nights, almost uninterrupted sunlight and balmy airs, amid such aspects of nature, varieties of experience and vicissitudes of camp life as are scarcely equalled elsewhere.
Maddren made a journey of nearly 300 miles through an unknown country, across the drainage basins of the Ungalik, Inglutalik, and Kobuk Rivers, starting from Kaltag on the Yukon. He was accompanied by an assistant, with two Esquimaux packers and guides, though aided for fifty miles by two additional packers. Of his outfit he says:
The camp equipment for this trip was reduced to the minimum. It consisted of a tent made of balloon silk, weighing twelve pounds, measuring eight feet square on the floor, with a water-proof canvas ground cloth. A fight robe made of four large caribou skins sewed together served as a common mattress for all, and a blanket apiece completed the bedding. Three kettles, a frying-pan, with a tin cup and spoon apiece, were all the utensils found necessary. The provisions carried, exclusive of the supplies required for the two additional packers, consisted of 150 pounds of flour, 30 pounds of rice, 30 pounds of beans, 60 pounds of bacon, 25 pounds of sugar, 3 pounds of tea, 2 pounds of baking-powder, and 2 pounds of salt. Seventy pounds to each man, or an average of 2 1/2 pounds per man per day. This supply, supplemented by a few fish and a number of ptarmigan shot from day to day, with a 22-calibre rifle, proved ample.
Of the fossil animals discovered in Alaska the most interesting is the Northern Mammoth, or fossil elephant, which evidently roamed, with the bison and the horse, through the entire watershed of the Yukon River, the Seward Peninsula, Kowak Valley, and the Kotzebue Sound region. The largest mammoth tusk is probably that found by Seeman, in 1848, at Escholtz Bay, which weighs 243 pounds: its base had a circumference of twenty-one inches, and though broken at the point its length was eleven feet six inches. It is possible that another tusk, which is twelve feet ten inches long may be larger, while the Fort Gibbon imperfect tusk of ten feet four inches, though broken at both ends, may equal the two others in size. Several species of bison have been found, as also remains of the horse, musk-ox, reindeer, bear, and beaver.
The ice-cliffs of Alaska are worthy of special scientific investigation, both on account of their remarkable formation and also to explain fully the phenomena, which have given rise to various differing opinions.
Their discoverer, Kotzebue, describes the ice-cliffs as Masses of the purest ice, of the height of a hundred feet, which are under a cover of moss and grass. . . . The covering of these mountains, on which the most luxuriant grass grows, is only half a foot thick, and consists of a mixture of clay, sand, and earth.
Beechey declared that Kotzebue was mistaken, and reported that the cliffs were not mainly ice, but were simply ice-faced.
Seeman, in 1848, justified Kotzebue's views, saying:
The ice-cliffs . . . are from forty to ninety feet high, and consist of three distinct layers. The lower layer is ice, the central, clay, containing fossils, and the uppermost, peat. The ice, as far as it can be seen, above ground, is from twenty to fifty feet thick, but is every year decreasing.
Hooper, in 1880, thought that both Kotzebue and Beechey were partly in error. H. Dall visited them the same year, 1880, and after careful examination reports. It appeared that the ridge itself, two miles wide and 250 feet high, was chiefly composed of solid ice overlaid with clay and vegetable mould. He adds: "It certainly remains one of the most wonderful and puzzling geological phenomena in existence.
(Growing Forest on Malaspina Glacier, near Mt. St. Elias.)
In his explorations in 1884, Lieut. J. C. Cantwell discovered similar cliffs along the Kowak River, which he reports to be navigable for 375 miles. He says.
Among the many novel and interesting features, none were more striking than a remarkable series of ice-cliffs observed along the banks of the river about eighty miles from the mouth. . . . One cliff measured by sextant angles showed 185 feet. The tops of the cliffs were superposed by a layer of black, siltlike soil from six to eight feet thick, and from this springs a luxuriant growth of mosses, grass, and the characteristic arctic shrubbery, consisting for the most part of willow, alder, and berry bushes, and a dense forest of spruce trees from fifty to eighty feet high and from four to eight inches in diameter.
The fossil flora of Alaska also offers wide, interesting, and almost untouched fields of investigation and exploration. F. H. Knowlton, United States National Museum, has shown that of 115 forms of fossil plants collected in Alaska, no less than 46 are peculiar to that region. Of the 64 having an outside distribution, 39 species are found in Greenland, Spitzbergen, and Sachalin Island, thus indicating synchronous deposits in the four semi-arctic regions. The family of oaks, chestnuts, etc., furnish 22 species, the conifers 18 species, and the willows 13 species. Practically every part of Alaska offers opportunities for extension of our knowledge of fossil plants.
There are few departments of science which would not profit by the work of specialists in the Territory. The language and customs of the vanishing natives, the determination of life zones of existing fauna and flora, the solving of glacial progression or withdrawal, these and many other investigations would be most interesting, even if without practical bearing on material matters. It is to be hoped that more and more the inclinations and efforts of American scientists may be turned to Alaska, where important results may be expected and professional reputation may be gained.