National Geographic : 1965 Nov
Dripping icicles signal the approaching end of Arlis II. Drifting into warmer lat itudes, the island eventually broke up in the heaving swells of the Denmark Strait. Its abandoned village and glacial debris dropped to the ocean floor. ski-equipped Cessna 180-the same small plane that my wife Tay and I piloted over Af rica and the Middle East ten years earlier.* On March 11, the day after I reached Bar row, the mercury skidded to minus 40 degrees -"too cold to fly 180's safely," Max Brewer told us. Survival would be touch and go for a plane crew forced down in such weather. As Max put it: "You have to learn to be a little bit lazy in the Arctic." I knew what he meant; you must be infinitely patient until conditions tip the odds in your favor. For five days we waited at Barrow. Then, at last, on the afternoon of March 15, our three Cessnas headed northeast across the Arctic Ocean. Bob Fischer flew one ARL plane and Mal Staheli the other. About 200 miles from Barrow, the target came in sight-four tiny brown specks on the ice. When we landed, the temperature read minus 36. Bob and Mal dumped out their cargo of fuel and food. Muffled in his parka, Dr. Victor Hessler, aurora expert and station leader, came out to greet us. "Looks like the tourist season is here," he joked. "The birds are flying north." We stepped into the warm hut which served both as lab and mess hall, although only 12 by 16 feet. Total population at the time was three-two scientists and one ARL staff man. As we gulped cups of hot tea, Vic explained the choice of this location: The pack here floated over deep water-about 12,000 feet of ocean under ten feet of ice. Here the inter action of electrical currents between atmo sphere and conductive sea water could be studied without the distortions caused by irregular land masses. Soon the late winter day drew toward its close. "Better head for home," said Bob. By the time we zoomed in over Barrow, it was dark enough to flick on our wing lights. Arlis II Makes Fatal Turn South Now, more than a year later, my old friend is gone. Warm water has wiped out Arlis II. When this renegade drift station made its fateful move around the northeast corner of Greenland and swung south toward the At lantic, it was caught up in the enormous river of pack ice in the Greenland Sea. Arlis II fair 690 ly skimmed, at times making 20 miles a day, a speed that proved a headache to Vaughn Mar shall of the U. S. Geological Survey. Marshall was taking bottom temperatures and cores to learn the rate of heat flow into the ocean from the sea bottom, as part of a world-wide study of the heat loss through the earth's crust. When Arlis picked up speed, the movement bent Marshall's steel-pipe probe, jabbed into the ocean floor. As the latitudes got lower and lower-80°, 75°, 70°-pinochle and paperbacks lost their charm. Word came by radio that an icebreaker would meet the island somewhere between *The Thomases recounted these journeys in "Flight to Adventure," in the GEOGRAPHIC for July, 1957, and in "Sky Road East," January, 1960.