National Geographic : 1965 Nov
THE STARS AND STRIPES snapped briskly in the wind. Seldom had the United States flag flown over a stranger piece of real estate: an island of ice, doomed to die, adrift in the Denmark Strait. As Arlis II, a raft of heavy ice 21/2 miles long by 11/2 wide, drifted inexorably south ward between Greenland and Iceland, a score of men in foul-weather gear waited quietly beside the flagpole. The icebreaker U.S.S. Edisto stood seven miles "offshore" in the sur rounding pack ice. Its helicopter had just brought visitors to join in a brief but impres sive ceremony as the colors fluttered down. EKTACHROME© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Comdr. Norval E. Nickerson,USN,Edisto's skipper, addressed the little group: "We had the privilege and honor, less than six months ago, of establishing the newest United States station in the Antarctic. And here we find ourselves at the other end of the earth at the evacuation of Arlis II, an ice island that has been manned continuously since late May, 1961. "We all consider it a distinct honor to be here to evacuate the station, to welcome you aboard Edisto, and to take you back to civili zation as fast as we possibly can." It was "decommissioning day," May 9, 1965, and time for farewells by the 20 scien tists and staff members manning the super iceberg known as Arlis II-short for Arctic Research Laboratory Ice Station No. 2. Island Drifts to Certain Doom The maverick ice island had escaped from the Arctic Ocean last January. Now, a south ward current had captured it, and soon it would sunder and melt in the open North Atlantic. So, by tractor train and helicopter, its men, scientific data, and valuable equip ment were transferred to Edisto. Then, after an occupation that had lasted four years, it was farewell to Arlis II. The news of the ice island's abandonment saddened me, for I had known Arlis II as a cheerful place of human habitation, an oasis of hospitality amid polar desolation. I had visited this relic of ancient ice two times, to watch scientists probe the full spectrum of the Arctic environment, from sea-floor muds to outermost atmosphere. After World War II the discovery of ice islands (the first found by the United States was "T-l," picked up by an Air Force plane's radar in 1946) offered dependable drifting platforms for scientists. And why is it important that America have scientific platforms in the Arctic Ocean? Adrift on the Arctic Ocean, a scientist makes his frosty rounds. Silhouetted against a pale polar sun, Ron Priebe measures snow depth on floes edging ice island Arlis II. He carries a rifle as insurance against polar bears. The island, beyond the jagged pres sure ridge in background, supported a re search station from May, 1961, to May, 1965. Braving 50°-below-zero extremes, furious gales, and months of winter darkness, scien tists have manned seven U. S . floating labo ratories on ice islands and floes since 1952.