History of Axel Heiberg Island


During his Norwegian Polar Expedition of 1898-1902, Otto Sverdrup discovered Axel Heiberg Island (Trent University, 2006). He named it after an Oslo brewer who was one of the Expedition sponsors. Peary and Cook were brief visitors to the island, while D.B. Macmillan made more extensive journeys around the coast in 1916-17, as did Stallworthy and Hamilton of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1932 and Haig-Thomas in 1938. However, its interior was completely unknown until the first systematic aerial photography in the late 1940s.

In 1947 and 1948, extensive, but not cloudless coverage of Axel Heiberg Island by oblique air photos was provided by the U.S. Army Air Force's Operation Polaris (Trent University, 2006). During 1950-1953, this oblique coverage
Surveying
was repeated and completed under better conditions by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The photography of 1947 to 1953 seems to be the dawn of recorded history as far as Axel Heiberg Island glaciers are concerned. No material of real glaciological significance has been found in the published accounts of the early explorers; however, their archives, such as Sverdrup's at the National Archives of Canada and Macmillan's at Bowdoin College, still have not been researched.
Source: Trent University, 2006


The first scientific investigations were administered in the 1950s. In 1955 N.J. McMillan and Souther, two geologists of the Geological Survey of Canada, traversed the interior as part of Operation Franklin (Trent University, 2006). McMillan's observations of Bunde Glacier, in northwest Axel Heiberg Island, are the earliest glaciological observations on the ground which were later published.

Since 1959, Trent geographers have been a part of glaciological research on Axel Heiberg Island. In that year, Peter Adams, then beginning graduate studies at McGill University, assisted Fritz Müller in a reconnaissance of the Expedition Fiord (previously Sør Fjord or South Fiord) area of central Axel Heiberg Island (Trent University, 2006). They installed the first stakes of the mass-balance measurement networks on White and Baby Glaciers, the former named for its colour and the latter for the birth of Müller's daughter. They also began surveying for photogrammetric ground control which eventually lead to the creation and publication of several large-scale maps of the area. This was very significant in terms of the success of subsequent glaciological and other research programmes in the area.

The survey set the stage for the Jacobsen-McGill Arctic Research Expedition, a scientific venture having wide ranging interests across the natural sciences with a focus on glaciology. It was based at what is now the McGill Arctic Research Station at Colour Lake, close to the terminus of Thompson Glacier (MARS, 2006).

History of Axel Heiberg Island - Canadian Glacier Inventory ProjectBetween the years 1960 to 1962, Expedition activity was most intense, although scientific work has continued at the Research Station until today. In each of the 1960 and 1961 Expeditions, the personnel numbered greater than 20 MARS, 2006). Work done during those early years resulted in publications in botany, cartography, geology, geomorphology, geophysics, limnology and meteorology in addition to the glaciological studies which were the main goal of Fritz Müller, the expedition leader and principal investigator. Work in aerial photography and photogrammetry, ground survey and cartography was coordinated and had particularly long lasting results as far as later research was concerned. Maps

Source: Trent University, 2006

of the terminuses of White Glacier, Thompson Glacier and Crusoe Glacier, and of Baby Glacier in its entirety, were published at a scale of 1:5,000. Other maps were published at scales of 1:10,000 (White Glacier; two sheets), 1:50,000 (Thompson Glacier region) and 1:100,000 (Expedition Fiord area - Central Region).

The Centre for Northern Studies and Research, McGill University, Montreal, maintained the programme of glaciological measurement and investigation. It also published a series of "Axel Heiberg Island Research Reports" containing much of the scientific contribution made by the Expedition. Responsibility for the programme was later transferred to Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zurich; the institution Müller moved to in 1970 (MARS, 2006).. Glaciologists who were trained or who worked on Axel Heiberg Island during the 1960s and 1970s include Peter Adams, Keith Arnold, Heinz Blatter, Roger Braithwaite, Almut Iken, Atsumu Ohmura, Simon Ommanney, Koni Steffen and Gordon Young. For example Simon Ommanney's glacier inventory of Axel Heiberg Island was one of the first to be completed for a region of substantial size. Heinz Blatter drilled several holes to the bed of White Glacier, producing geophysical estimates of its thickness as well as exhibiting the fact it is a polythermal glacier. Atsumu Ohmura developed a pioneering model of microclimatic interactions between surfaces of glacier ice, tundra and sea ice, while Keith Arnold applied terrestrial photogrammetry methods in order to study the terminus fluctuations of White Glacier.

Fritz Müller died while leading a field party on a Swiss glacier in 1980. As a consequence the measurement series on White Glacier and Baby Glacier were terminated.

Peter Adams was invited to return to Axel Heiberg Island in 1983; under his direction and later that of Graham Cogley, the measurement programme on White Glacier has been maintained by Trent University (Trent University, 2006). However, measurements on Baby Glacier were not resumed until 1989. Miles Ecclestone has been the leading field worker for Trent since 1984, and has spent the longest scientific time at Expedition Fiord out of all researchers to date. Other Trent staff and students who have worked from the McGill Arctic Research Station include Jim Buttle, Greg Crocker, Peter Doran, Mike English, Frederik Jung-Rothenhäusler, Don Pierson, Candice Stuart and many others.

History of Axel Heiberg Island - Canadian Glacier Inventory Project
Source: Trent University, 2006


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