Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/573

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THE unknown spaces of the earth's surface are being rapidly narrowed by the enterprise of indefatigable explorers. Some considerable patches remain that have not been penetrated, but their collective area is relatively small. There is a large region in the interior of Australia that has not been traversed, owing to the absence of water and vegetation. Central Africa is the field where the geographical discoverer has recently made his most brilliant conquests, both by narrowing the outline of the unknown region, and by the importance of the knowledge that has been gained. Less than half a century ago inner Africa was supposed to be in a great measure an arid and unproductive desert; but the explorations of Livingstone and Stanley have proved it to be well watered, fertile, and densely populated. There has been less success with Arctic exploration, though it has been vigorously pushed for the last fifty years. Latitude 83° 26' is the northernmost point hitherto reached by any explorer. This leaves an unpenetrated blank surrounding the north pole which at the narrowest point is about 800 miles across. There is little promise of any commercial utility that can come from getting access to this frigid region, but it is enough that it is a mystery which the whole civilized world has determined, if possible, to clear up, and in doing this the rivalries of national enterprise have been called into active play.

It is fortunate for geographical progress that the proprietor of the "New York Herald," Mr. James Gordon Bennett, not altogether satisfied with the excitements of yacht-racing, has developed an ambition in the direction of exploring unknown tracts of the earth's surface. He has spent a good deal of money on mid-Africa with highly satisfactory results, and now turns the princely revenues of his newspaper into a channel for the promotion of Arctic research. It is an expensive business, as the cost of Arctic expeditions has increased from $30,000, three hundred years ago, to $4,166,665 for the Franklin expeditions of 1848–’54. Mr. Bennett, after furnishing the necessary funds, and preparing the expedition, has made it a national affair by requesting the United States Government to take charge of it. By act of Congress it has been put in control of naval officers, and is cared for by the Navy Department. Besides these peculiarities of the project, it is novel as being the first Arctic expedition fitted out from the west coast of the continent, and which proposes to push forward to the north pole by the way of Behring Strait. According to Lieutenant De Long, commander of the Jeannette, which carries the exploring party, no vessel has penetrated farther north by this route than latitude 71°. Beyond that parallel the explorers will encounter a hitherto unobserved region.

A new element comes into play in this venture which has been thus far regarded by Arctic navigators as one of peril. In the other routes that have been taken to reach the pole the currents set downward, so that if the adventurers have to abandon their ship and take to the ice they have a chance of being brought back, as was marvelously exemplified by the ride of Tyson's party. But on the Pacific side there is a current of water known as the Kuro Shiwo, or Japanese Warm-Stream, a branch of