A recent blog post by Andreas Muenchow, a physical oceanographer who writes the Icy Seas blog got me thinking about Arctic tides. He writes about recovering a tidal gauge from Fort Conger – it had been deployed in 2003 and finally recovered in 2012. A photograph he included reminded me of this one:

Ft. Conger

Donald MacMillan and Jack Barnes at Fort Conger, spring 1909

Donald MacMillan and Jack Barnes spent two weeks at Fort Conger in the spring of 1909 measuring tides for the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as part of Robert E. Peary’s North Pole Expedition. That’s nothing compared to the 9 of so years of data so recently recovered, but was hard won, and considered very useful at the time.

But what has that got to do with Crocker Land? The tidal data from Fort Conger, along with readings taken at other locations during the North Pole expedition, and in the context of what was known about Arctic tides at the time, were used by Rollin Harris in 1910 to argue that there must be an as-yet undiscovered landmass in the Arctic Ocean: Crocker Land.

Cotidal lines, showing hypothesized landmass in the Arctic Ocean, R. Harris (1910) Arctic Tides

Cotidal lines, with dotted lines showing hypothesized landmass in the Arctic Ocean, R. Harris (1910) Arctic Tides

His theory played a big role in the expedition prospectus, giving Peary’s single sighting of a distant land a scientific grounding. Of course, there is no land there, so I wonder, what did his tidal data mean? Time to talk to some oceanographers, clearly. At least now I know where to start.

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