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    Natural Cold Storage

    Encyclopedia Arctica 2a: Permafrost-Engineering

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    EA-I. (Vilhjalmur Stefansson)




            When permafrost first came to the attention of scientific agricul–

    turists and engineers, it struck most of them as an unmitigated evil.

    Gradually they have been discovering mitigating features. To the agri–

    culturist, the chief credit item so far is that the prevention of under–

    ground drainage enables crops to get along with less rainfall; to the

    engineer, the largest patch of silver lining is in the field of cold storage.

            From time immemorial our ancestors made use of the relative chill of

    the ground to preserve longer than otherwise whatever tends to spoil through

    heat. We kept milk in the cellar to delay its getting sour, and potatoes,

    there or in outdoor pits called root cellars, to slow up their spouting.

    Northerly cellars worked better than those farther south, because they were

    cooler. We increased cellar efficiency by stored ice, or used this in

    separate buildings, our ice houses. But such methods did not permit the

    storage of fresh meat beyond days or, at the most, weeks. Near-perfect

    meat preservation by cold, through long periods, was feasible only during

    winter and so only in countries that had them long and cold enough. Then

    came preservation by artificial freezing through methods involving salt and

    ice, ammonia, and the like.

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            Meantime, Nature had developed better methods of underground storage

    than the Europeans, but not to the knowledge of western Europe; for eternally

    frozen subsoil was unknown, or at least unnoticed, farther west than Finland.

    Even in European Russia there was little understanding of permanent ground

    frost, since the condition is not found there except within narrow limits.

    And only when she is using permanently frozen subsoil does Nature excel

    the Egyptians in the preservation of normally unstable things such as animal

    tissue. Successful rivalry by a glacier would seem possible, in countries

    like Switzerland; but glaciers move, and different parts of them at different

    rates, with resulting dislocations and breakages as well as transport of the

    stored object from one place to another. In contrast, permafrost stays put

    unless disturbed by earthquake or destroyed by melting.

            Permafrost . What used to be called permanently frozen ground, or

    eternally frozen subsoil, is now referred to as permafrost. The term was

    coined by Professor Siemon W. Muller of the Department of Geology, Stanford

    University, during World War II, when he was the leading specialist in this

    branch for the U.S. Army engineers. (see his book Permafrost , Ann Arbor, Mick., Edwards, 1947.) Up to that time little attention had

    been paid to “eternal” ground frost by North American or West European re–

    search institutions, though considerable beginnings had been made by Russia

    even before the Bolshevik revolution, followed by notable progress in the

    U.S.S.R. (see historical article on Permafrost Studies).

            The word permafrost is used to describe earth which remains frozen

    throughout the longest and hottest summer. (Temperatures — extreme maxima —

    above 100° F. in the shade occur in permafrost country, running in some places

    up to 105° in the shade.) It is estimated that the Soviet Union is more than

    45% underlain by permafrost, Canada more than 60%, Alaska more than 80%. This

    will indicate that non European mankind has had considerable opportunity for

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    using this reserve of chill for refrigeration purposes, but there appears

    to have been little or no deliberate use of this resource . However, unin–

    tentional preservation of corpses though permafrost refrigeration took

    place here and there, and corresponding preservation of animals has been

    frequent, the best known of which are those of a prehistoric elephant,

    the mammoth.

            That recent European man, as colonist in North American and Siberia,

    has had considerable opportunity to capitalize on natural refrigeration

    appears when we plot on a map of the northern hemisphere the locations of

    southerly permafrost outposts. In North America, permafrost has been reported

    from New Hampshire, from the southern boundary of western Ontario, and from

    northern Minnesota. In high mountains it ranges farther south. As for

    Eurasia, the southern boundary of lowland permafrost is far more northerly

    than this in Europe but a good deal more southerly in Asia. We direct the

    reader to other articles in this Encyclopedia for a proper discussion, but

    mention here that, instead of being a heritage from glaciers, of one or

    another of the ice ages, the permafrost areas seem to correspond more nearly

    to regions that were never glaciated, or at least not in the most recent

    ice age. For instance, the northern Alaska flat land does not seem ever to

    have been glaciated, and it is just here that we have the greatest depth of

    permafrost so far reported in North America, more than 1,000 feet. To judge

    from the vegetation found in the stomach e s of grazing animals which have been

    frost-preserved, the climage of northern Siberia and Alaska must have been

    about the same when caribou and elephants grazed there together as it is now

    when only the caribou survives.

            In spite of the hot summers of decades, centuries, and millenniums,

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    that have intervened since the last elephant died, the flesh of these

    extinct beasts has been preserved to our time as fresh meat.


    Frost Preservation of Animals

            The animals most frequently reported as preserved in hair, skin,

    flesh and even in the identifiable character of plants found in their stomachs,

    are elephants; but we have the flesh and skin of several others, among them

    rhinoceros, camel, and horse — including native American horses that became

    extinct throughout the New World before Europeans began their western coloni–


            The best-preserved elephants so far reported have been dug up and

    exposed to view by meandering rivers. This has occurred where the stream

    is undercutting a steep bank, where the face of the cliff is turning into

    mud and sloughing away under the combined influence of warm summer wind and

    direct sun. For the cliff is permafrost, a mud frozen thousands of years ago

    which never since then has thawed enough to permit the water to drain out.

            As the stream and the sun work away, to thaw and undercut, the observer

    may note an elephant’s leg, tail, tusk, or trunk that begins to stick out of

    the bank. But an observer is not likely to be present, and scientists usually

    find the carcass deplorably late, when its thawed meat has rotted enough

    to attract, again deplorably, the attention of carnivorous beasts and

    scavengers, which, in turn, draw the notice of the traveler. Still it has

    happened that public-spirited men have found carcasses so nearly at the

    beginning of their exhumation that specimens are now available in museums,

    dressed in nearly or quite the whole of their own skins, with some of their

    own hair still in place. (See article on the mammoth.)

            We are here concerned chiefly with the manner of preservation, and so

    take our cue for the explanation from our river; for it seems clear that the

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    stream which is now digging the beast out is the same force that buried him,

    perhaps before, though perhaps after, what we think of as the age of the

    Pyramids, when Pharaohs were being mummified in Egypt. In that ancient

    time our river was meandering as now, but in the opposite direction. Our

    elephant, if he is one of those with undigested food in his stomach, may have

    fallen over the cliff to his death. Since he has been so well preserved, we

    infer that he took his tumble in the late fall or early winter while the

    snow was not as yet deep in the lea of the cliff. But during the winter

    the blizzards covered him feet and yards deep in snow.

            Before this snowdrift thawed next spring, the black cliff face above the

    dead elephant crumbled under the spring thaw, perhaps because there was in

    it a frost crack parallel to the bank. Had the river been meandering toward

    the cliff, the stream would have melted the snow, washed away the mud, and

    carried the rotting carcass down stream. But the direction of meander, at

    that time, evidently was away from the elephant’s burial mound; evidently

    the mud and snow over him were thick enough so the frost cover did not melt

    wholly away during that summer. The next and following years the same thing

    was repeated. The stream meandered farther and farther away, while the earth

    built itself up above the frozen carcass after the well-known growth principles

    that apply in such geological positions. For one or five thousands of years,

    perhaps ten or twenty or even a hundred thousand, the air and the heat of

    summer were kept away by the deep ground cover.

            Finally, after milleniums, our river comes back on a return meander

    and digs up the elephant it helped to bury, showing him to us practically

    as he was when he died (if we are lucky enough to be at the right spot on

    the right day when the right amount of understanding to grasp what we have

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    a chance to see).

            Rivers dig up for us the highest percentage of beasts that have been

    preserved from remote times with the meat still fresh (or at least eaten

    by and wholesome to dog). Seaside cutbanks, thawed by waves, are next most

    prolific. Of engineering works, hydraulic gold operations, are likeliest

    to discover frozen elephants. In the Alaska gold workings, the long watches

    are occasionally repaid by the discovery of some piece of a mammoth, camel,

    horse, or buffalo rolling down the slope with a bit of meat and skin attached.

    A collection of such may be viewed at the American Museum of Natural History,

    where they keep the meat frozen as it was when it came to New York by airplane

    from Alaska.

            Introducing the Mammoth to Europe . Credit for introducing the frost–

    preserved mammoth to the knowledge of western Europe should perhaps go to

    Nicolas Witsen when he published at Amsterdam, in 1692, his Noord en Oost

    Tartaryen and reported what the Russians in their European cities had told

    him about Siberia. The credit is usually given, however, to Ever e t Ysbrants

    Ides, who wrote a more circumstantial account and based it upon his own

    travels in the region of the mammoth, including the valleys of both the

    Yenisei and the Lena. He visited “Russia, Siberia, Great Tartary, and China”

    between 1692 and 1695, and published at Ameterdam, in 1704, his Driejaarige

    Reize Naar China , where he says on page 31 :

            “Not far from here” ( [ at Makov a s k north of the river Ket, confluent of

    the Ob, whence Ysbran d ts continued to the Yenisei ) ] in the mountains to the

    northeast, men find mammoth tusks and bones; they are found in particular on

    the rivers Jenize, Trugan, Mongamsea, on the River Lena, and near Jakutskoi

    up to the Icy Sea: so that when the ice breaks up on these rivers in the spring,

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    the ice and the heavily swollen waters wash off parts of the high banks

    and cause large pieces of earth to come down. There are then revealed in

    the nearly totally frozen ground as it slowly thaws whole animals, likewise

    bare tusks. I had a person with me on my way to China who went up every

    year to search for such bones; he assured me that he and his companions

    once found the head of an animal which appeared in one of such washed-up

    frozen banks. When they laid it bare, they found the flesh mostly rotten;

    the tusks, which like those of the elephant protrude from the mouth, were

    easily extracted, likewise some of the bones of the head; they finally got

    down to one of the frozen feet which they hewed off and took to the city

    of Trugan ( [ Tur n u khansk ) ] , and which was as thick as a moderately fat man is

    around the middle. There was a bit of red on the bones of the neck, as if

    it had been blood.”

            Perhaps because stories of blood still red in prehistoric animals

    resembled too closely travelers’ takes like those of Mandeville, which western

    Europe was learning to disbelieve, the Witsen and Ysbrants stories apparently

    failed to make on western Europe an impression both widespread and realistic;

    a really vivid impression may not have been created until P. S. Pallas

    when he published at St. Petersburg, in 1771, his De reliquiis animalium

    exoticorum per Asiam borealem repertis complementum (Novi commentarii Acad.

    Sc. Petropolitanae, XVII, pro anno 1772, p. 576).

            The Bereskova Beresovka Mammoth . The classic example of Siberian discoveries,

    says Dr. Harold E. Anthony in Natural History for September 1949, “is the

    Beresovka Mammoth found on the Beresovka River, a tributary of the Kolyma.

    This was apparently an entire specimen of the Woolly Mammoth when first

    found in August, 1900, by a native. He was led to the spot by his dog,

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    which was attracted by the odor of what was to it edible flesh. Wolves

    had already been working on the carcass. Not until September, 1901, did

    a competent scientist reach the spot...

            “A broken foreleg and fractured pelvis indicated and accident, such as

    a heavy fall. This was a sudden event, for there was half-chewed food in

    the mouth... The time of the accident was late summer or early fall, be–

    cause the grasses in the stomach had seeds on them... It was mounted and

    placed in the muse m um of the St. Petersburg ( [ now Leningrad ) ] Academy of

    Science, posed in the attitude in which it had been found,” which is that of

    an animal not instantly killed by the fall but unable to stand erect because

    of the broken hip and leg.

            Until recently, all the best-preserved elephants have been found in the

    Old World. Dr. Anthony, in the quoted article, says that the “record for

    arctic America does not approach that of Siberia. In 1929, Tolmachoff

    reported no less than 34 frozen mammoth carcasses known to him. It is possible,

    however, that Alaska’s score may rise in future years.” Most of the remains

    found there have been uncovered in hydraulic gold mining; but this is carried

    out mostly in the forested parts of Alaska, and the mammoth, though he entered

    the forests and no doubt secured his food in their glades, was essentially a

    prairie animal, to be found chiefly on the grasslands and in the northern edges

    of the woods.

            The Siberians travel their arctic rivers more than the Canadians and

    Alaskans do, and so have a better chance to discover emerging mammoth, for it is

    under river cut-banks that preservation conditions were best. But, with

    dozens of finds in Siberia, the chances were that at least a few would show

    in Alaska, and some of these are already coming through.

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            In the first years of the century, a fairly well-preserved specimen

    was evidently washed out at Elephant Point, Kotzebue Sound, for L. S.

    Quackenbush, in 1907, discovered bones which still had on them some flesh

    and tendons, and there was one reasonably well-preserved piece, the end of

    the tail with hide and hair (so the creature see i mingly emerged from the

    frozen mud head first when he was being washed out). This was an histori–

    cally appropriate place, for the Russian explorer Otto von Kotzebue, first

    known European visitor, reported elephant remains from Kotzebue Sound in

    1816, to be confirmed ten years later by the British expedition under

    F. W. Beechey. Neither expedition reported seeing mammoth flesh, but

    Kotzebue noted “a strong smell, like that of burnt horn” and Beechey “a dis–

    agreeable smell similar to that which was supposed to proceed from the de–

    cayed animal substances in the cliff near Elephant Point.”

            Alaska’s Baby Mammoth. From 1692, when Ysbrante reported dogs eating finds of

    mammoth flesh near Makevsk in Siberiain the Yenisei valley, it was 156 years until enough mammoth

    to make a meal for a dog reported from the vicinity of Fairbanks in the Yukon

    valley of Alaska. The best so far, of the expected Alaska finds, resulted

    from the sluicing of a cliff of frozen mud in the central part of the Yukon

    basin, where the forest now is interrupted here and there by grass patches

    and brush glades, as it doubtless was in the time of the elephants. We

    abridge the story from M D r. Anthony’s cited article:

            “The latest find to qualify as mammoth in the flesh really brings us

    face to face with the animal. This specimen is the skin covering the face

    and one forelimb and also the trunk. The animal was a baby in its first year

    and was washed out of the muck on Fairbanks Creek, August 28, 1948, by the

    Fairbanks Exploration Company.”

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            The estimated weight of the creature in life was 200 pounds, estimated

    age about 5 months. “This mammoth skin had some flesh and connective tissue

    adhering to it, but the skull and limb bones had dropped away... The skin

    and trunk were embalmed, sent by air express to the American Museum, and

    stored in a cool place. On June 14, the special exhibit featuring this

    material and a few other samples of Alaska’s Pleistocene fauna was opened

    to the public in the 77th Street Foyer. The baby mammoth was placed in a

    Home Freezer and kept at a low temperature, which simulated the condition

    under which it had been preserved for so many years.

            “How long the creature may have been preserved in nature’s deep freeze

    is a matter of conjecture at best, but the evidence permits us to set limits

    within which the baby mommoth must have had its day on earth. A conservative

    estimate places the extinction of the Woolly Mammoth at some 15,000 years ago.

    But this species first appears well back in Pleistocene time, and its sojourn

    in Alaska is measured in the hundreds of thousand of years. With the mammoth

    parade passing across the Alaskan stage for so many years, it is not easy to

    say just when one animal dropped out, particularly if it came from an undisclosed

    site in the muck and was discovered with other debris at the foot of the bank.

    Certainly thousands of years have passed sinc d e the baby mammoth lived and

    breathed, perhaps tens of thousands, possible a hundred thousand years or more.

            “... Prior to the discovery of the baby mammoth, the Museum had received

    from the Fairbanks muck the following speciments showing skin and hair: the

    foot of a horse, the foot of the super-bison, the foot of a young mammoth with

    long reddish hair, and nearly the entire carcass of an extinct musk ox. This

    material was dry and hard, and it would be misleading to describe it as in the

    flesh . It may have been frozen in the muck at one stage, but if so, it dried

    out as soon as it thawed.”

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    Frost Preservation of Humans

            In Greenland . The European colony which was planted on the west coast

    of Greenland, in and following 986, accepted Christianity during and imme–

    diately following the year 1000, and therewith Christian burial customs,

    which were only a slight modification of the previous heathen ones. Since

    moderately deep burial is the usual Christian way, we would have expected

    frost preservation of the bodies, and we still hope to fin e d some in Greenland

    in at least fair condition. But many things worked hindrance, among them the

    idea that salvation would not be possible unless a priest officiated, for

    which reason the corpses of those who died in winter were usually kept un–

    buried til l summer, when the priest could visit the district. Besides, even

    if a priest were in residence, it was considered that the ceremony of burial

    should await the possibility of actual burial, meaning early summer when the

    ground had thawed enough to permit digging; but during this wait the body

    would start decaying.

            The churchyards of Greenland, though they have not yet revealed anything

    to compete with the best Egyptian mummies, have at least preserved medieval

    European clothing to an extent for which scholars are thankful. For there

    are certain medieval European clothing fashions that are known to modern

    Europe itself only through paintings, sculpture, wood carving, and tapestry,

    but which exist in condition suitable for museum exhibit from Greenland.

            In many Greenland burials we find no better preservation than typical

    for Europe, meaning skeletons only. The exceptional graves which there

    preserved the costumes of the European Middle Ages were apparently not so

    much deeper than the rest as dug in more fortunate locations. No doubt the

    original covering of earth was so thin that during the first few years the

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    body thawed out completely in early summer and remained thawed long enough

    for moderately rapid decay. But the deepest thaw occurred while the new

    earth over the grave was black and thus absorbent of the direct rays of

    the sun. Next year there would be some grass, the year after still more;

    and grass is, next to moss, the best friend of permafrost, the most success–

    ful apponent of the deep thaw. In some cases the grass on the grave would

    capture dust blown by the wind, to thicken the earth-covering over the body,

    making the period of its summer thaw still shorter. Eventually the burial

    would get to be, in effect, a deep one; deep enough so that the clothes,

    wrapping their skeleton, no longer thawed out. Thus were the woolens pre–

    served, some of them in such good condition that they could be cleaned and

    worn, had there been among the archeologists who discovered them any who

    wanted to do so.

            In Siberia . An early, if not the first, printed reference to the now

    famous pit tombs of the Altai is in a book published in German at Stockholm

    by a Swede who, as Philip p Tabbert, had been captured by the Russians at the

    battle of Poltava in 1709, to become one of many Swedish officers sent into

    exile to remote parts of Siberia. This book is Das Nord- und o O stliche Theil

    von Europ e a und Asia ; it appeared in English translation at London during

    1738 as An Histori al co -Geographical Description of the North and Eastern

    Parts of Europe and Asia . Both editions are signed by Philipp Johan n von

    Strahlenberg, which was the name Tabbert assumed after his return to Europe

    under a general amnesty. Apparently some time between 1719 and 172 9 2 ,

    Tabbert-Strahlenberg visited that part of the Altai mountain region, between

    latitudes of 52° and 54° N., whence the newspapers two centuries later

    reported the discovery of bodies perfectly preserved by frost; but he could

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    [Newspaper clipping]

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    not discover this remarkable fact because he was there only in winter.

    He writes, as given in the 1738 English edition:

            “These graves are so deep in the ground that, looking down, they

    appeared to me as of great depth, as if I had looked down from the top of

    a high house to the bottom of the lowest cellar. Had it not been winter

    and so excessively cold and full of snow, at the time when I visited this

    place, I should have adventured to have been let down into one of these pits.”

            That the graves have ice throughout the summer and contain frost-preserved

    corpses may not have been reported in print before 1856. At any rate, that

    is the first such date mentioned by M. P. Griaznov in his article, “The Tombs

    of the Noblemen of Pazyryk,” which appeared in the Moscow journal Chelovak

    ( Man ) in 1928; Griaznov discussed the subject further the next year in Priroda

    ( Nature ). Typically, he says, there was a pit 20 feet on each side and

    20 feet deep. The bodies of the dead, sacrificed horses, and articles of

    value, had been placed in the pit, which was then filled to the brim with

    as many as 500 timbers in a single pit. On top was piled a mound of stones

    100 or 150 feet in diameter and 6 or 7 feet high. It is beneath such accumu–

    lations that “perfectly preserved” human bodies have been discovered, frozen.

            As discussed hereinafter, under “Principles of Natural Cold Storage,”

    a deep pit sunk into the earth just outside the normal limit of permafrost,

    will develop its own permafrost area, in and immediately surrounding the pit.

            A discussion of how the “noblemen of Pazyryk” were frost-preserved to

    our time is found in General Permafrostology by M. L. Sumgin and others,

    Moscow, 1940. In the chapter “Origin of Permafrost,” V. F. Tumel first points

    out that permafrost is not general in the region of the Pazyryk burials but is

    found only in and just around each pit. Then he says:

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            “The archeologists have established that, despite their heavy construction,

    these graves were plundered soon after interment took place. In order to

    get at the rich store of implements and ornaments, the thieves had to sink

    shafts through the timber structure. It was through these shafts, according

    to Griaznov, that cold air penetrated into the given grave the following

    winter, froze the corpses, and steadily built up a permafrost layers.”

            Tumel does not date the Altai grave finds; but a time estimate with

    added detail of other sorts, has resulted from further Altai field studies

    and further laboratory research.

            A United Press dispatch from Moscow in the Chicago Daily News for Decem–

    ber 15, 1947, tells that “A Soviet archaeological party has reported the

    discovery of a 2,000-year-old natural Icebox tomb in Siberia in which they

    found the nearly perfectly preserved bodies of a beautiful young girl and a

    young man. Food, particularly cheese, was so well preserved that it could be

    eaten by members of the excavation party, they reported.”

            On January 7, 1950, the New York Herald Tribune , again through the United

    Press from Moscow, brought the results of continued Soviet study. The find

    was now given as 500 years older, dated at 2,500 years ago; it was said an

    additional number of the Altai graves had been opened, and the persons involved

    were now referred to as princess and princesses; the conditions of preserva–

    tion were called those of permafrost, and the story now centered not so much

    on the perfection of body preservation as on that of the rugs in which some

    of them had been wrapped. The newspaper Evening Moscow is quoted:

            “One of the two rugs discovered is as fine an example of the rug-maker’s

    art as the best Persian rugs known, and perfectly preserved.” Farther on the

    story describeds the rug as “four by six meters. It depicts a divine being

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    sitting on a throne with a tree in his hands. The other rug, also in good

    condition, is velvet and of extraordinary quality. Both are of many colors.”

    There are further details, among them that “The tomb itself was luxuriously

    appointed. The walls were covered with felt cloth on which were intertwined

    pictures of griffons.” There are details of bridles, saddles, saddlecloths

    made of felt, and silks embroidered with flowers and birds of paradise. The

    preservation is sometimes described as perfect, again as nearly perfect. It

    is said that the burial mounds are called “ N n atural ice boxes” because they

    are in permafrost.

            In the mentioned Permafrostology , Tumel quotes both recent Soviet and

    earlier Russian authors who have described perfect, near-perfect, and good

    preservation of human bodies through long periods by frost. He says that

    “N. A. Menshikov reports that the undecayed bodies of Cossack contemporaries

    of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great were found in the twenties of

    the present century in the graves of a washed-out cemetery near the ‘Fortress’

    find along the river Anadyr on the Chuk to ot sk Peninsula.” An earlier Menshikov,

    Alexander, favorite of Peter the Great, was banished by Peter’s successor to

    Berezov on the river Ob 63° 56′ N. Lat., 56° 03′ E. Long. and died there in

    1723. Some 92 years later he was exhumed and “found in a perfect state of


            M. I. Sumgin’s work, Permafrost Soild Soils Within the Boundaries of the U.S.S.R.

    Moscow, 1937, mentions a body found well preserved in Yakutia after having

    been in the grave 163 years, and another from the Olek n m a-Vitim district which

    had been buried fifteen years.

            In Canada . Siberia, beyond question, has to date the oldest records for

    well-preserved corpses, 2,500 years. But for bodies where the precise year of

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    burial is known, frequently with the name of the person buried, the oldest

    records are of British subjects who died in Canada. For, addressing the

    Royal Society of Canada (their Proceedings , 1930, Section IV), W. A. Johnston

    said: “It is reported that coffins containing bodies over 200 years old,

    that were well preserved by being frozen, were exposed on the banks of the

    river at York as a result of river erosion of the bank.”

            Johnston’s reference is to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort York on

    Hudson Bay, northeastern Manitoba. A more circumstantial story, but involving

    a shorter burial, comes from their Fort McPherson on Peel River, which is

    just to the southwest of the Mackenzie delta in extreme northwestern mainland


            “On the fifteenth day of March, 1853, Augustus Richard Peers, a fur

    trader and post manager in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, departed

    this life at Fort McPherson, Peel’s river, in the Mackenzie River District,

    Arctic America.” Thus wrote Chief Factor Roderick MacFarlane in 1883 to

    More Adey of Oxford. MacFarlane does not give details of how the body was

    handled, but no doubt it was the usual procedure — the corpse was laid out in

    a storeroom where it would soon freeze, to remain till the weather began to

    become springlike. Then the grave would be dug by alternately building wood

    fires, to melt the permafrost mud, and shoveling the mud out. Upon burial,

    the coffin would have over it a good deal more earth than normally thaws in

    the McPherson summer.

            “In 1855 the widow married Alexander McKenzie, who succeeded Mr. Peers

    at Fort McPherson,” MacFarlane relates. She worried because her former

    husband did not rest in consecrated ground. “In the autumn of 1859, at the

    urgent request of Mrs. McKenzie and her husband, it was decided that the long

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    contemplated transfer of the remains of Mr. Peers from their place of

    interment at Peel’s River to Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie should be

    carried out that winter. Mr. Charles P. (now [1883] Chief Trader) Gaudet,

    then in charge at Fort McPherson, agreed to convey the body by dog train

    to my trade post at Fort Good Hope, a distance of three hundred miles,

    while I undertook to render it at its final destination, some five hundred

    miles further south. Fort McPherson is situated about one degree north of

    the Arctic Circle... Frost is never present at a shallow depth beneath

    the surface. On being exhumed by Mr. Gaudet, the body was found in much

    the same condition it had assumed shortly after its burial.”

            MacFarland was nearly or quite the foremost contributor to science in

    the Hudson’s Bay Company’s nearly 300 years of far northern history. He

    was cautious in words, if not given to understatement, as appears in his

    numerous communications to the Smithsonian Institution and in his published

    natural history writings. Perhaps it is this caution which appears in the

    wording “much the same condition.” For Stefansson reports that the exhuma–

    tion still remained vivid in the tradition of Fort McPherson in 1906, and

    that it was then said that Mr. Peers, when exhumed after six years, “looked

    as if he had died yesterday.”

            Permafrost Museums and Mausoleums . In 1937, M. I. Sumgin, leader in

    Soviet studies of permafrost, issued at Vladivostok his book, Permanently

    Frozen Ground in the Territory of the U.S.S.R. , and in it sketched a plan for

    an underground museum to frost-preserve plants and animals through centuries

    and milleniums. Such a collection would have advantages beyond those of the

    usual museums. It would be practicable, for instance, to freeze large

    numbers of certain small animals and keep them for hundreds or thousands

    of years in such condition that comparative anatomists of the future could

    thaw them out as needed, say one every 10, 50, or 100 years, for dissection

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    and comparison with members of the same specie d s then currently living.

            To provide the greatest permanence, an underground museum should

    perhaps be located in the middle of its permafrost layer, in case a warming-up

    of the climate might start a gradual thinning of the frozen strata, for the

    thawing might be from inside the earth as well as from the air. These middle

    depths would range down to 1,000 feet, since permafrost of more than 2,000-foot

    thickness has already been determined in certain places, Even a 500-foot

    depth in a 1,000-foot layer would surely promise that storage chambers and

    display galleries would be available, conservatively, for tens of thousands

    of years; since, volcanism apart, our geologic thinking predicates the slowness

    of natural earth processes.

            Such museum galleries as we are here discussing would not be deeper than

    many shafts and galleries of mines that are now commercially operated, some

    of them with hundreds and even thousands of workers, corresponding to the

    expected sightseers and students in the proposed permafrost galleries and

    research laboratories. For the preservation of some of the museum specimens,

    mere refrigeration will suffice; but for others, where high fidelity is re–

    quired, the further precaution of exclusion of air, by the use of sealed

    caskets and rooms, would be indicated. Again, normal permafrost temperature

    will generally be low enough; but temperatures can be lowered by opening the

    shafts at the top during midwinter nights of low temperature, allowing the

    colder air to sink down with its own greater weight, or the chilling might

    be speeded up by forced draft.

            This kind of museum has the prime advantage that, apart from calculated

    destructive effort, nothing can go wrong with the preservation conditions.

    Suppose, for instance, that the roof of the building at the top of the shaft

    were destroyed, so that rain water could begin to pour down. This water

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    would freeze as it trickled down along the walls, and it would not be long

    until the shafts were blocked by the thickening ice, shutting out the water.

    For to have the shaft remain open through the hottest summer weather would

    not matter, since warm air is light and so disinclined to penetrate downward;

    while the cold air below is heavy and has no tendency to flow upward. Besides,

    as said, the shaft would gradually close itself by congealing any water which

    flowed downward. So, were there to be the complete ruin of the city, as by

    shelling or bombing and later abandonment of the site by the inhabitants,

    archeologists of the future, using their regular methods, still could find

    the shaft, reopen it through the sealing ice; and descen t d to the museum for

    their studies.

            For religious and other motives, men have tried to preserve their dead

    in the nearest possible simulation of life. Best known are the mummies of

    Egypt and the embalmed body of Lenin in Moscow. It is customary in many

    lands to keep the ashes of the dead in the equivalent of filing cabinets.

    Where permafrost chill is available, frozen bodies might be kept permanently

    somewhat as they are now temporarily in morgues. Such a mortuary is both

    inexpensive and permanent, in those respects quite different from institutions

    that might preserve human bodies by artificial freezing, where decay would take

    place if the machinery broke down or if the funds gave out by which the

    preservation was endowed. As mentioned above for permafrost museums, a

    catastrophe involving ruin and desertion of a city would not interfere with

    human bodies would, if anything , further guarantee — a preservation that

    depends on the earth’s natural cold.

            The planned use of natural earth chill by our mechanized civilization

    is possible not merely in those far northern regions which are as yet

    uncolonized; for there is permafrost within reach of many a community which

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    is already large and well known. For instance, if it were desired, a

    permafrost museum or mortuary could be set up about midway between Boston

    and Montreal on the slopes of Mount Washington in the state of New Hampshire,

    at an altitude above the sea not greater than that of a few cities in the

    western United States or of many cities in South America and Asia. And what

    New Hampshire can do is possible also for most of the province of Canada,

    as well as for more than three-quarters of Alaska and for nearly half of

    the Soviet Union.


    Frost Preservation of Perishable Foods

            With all our concern for science, as promoted by museums, and for all

    our preoccupation with the dead, as ministered to by sepulchers, our main

    efforts of the future which relate to permafrost are likely to be directed

    toward ends we look upon as more “practical,” such as the storing of perishable

    foods. To the forward-looking it will appear significant, then, that vast

    areas of North America and Eurasia have natural facility in the storing of

    perishable foods through means that are cheap, easy, sa v f e, and permanent.

            Is Permafrost Self-Limiting ? The permanence of ground frost storage

    has been impugned through the contention that, since the activities of man

    are necessarily accompanied by the generation of heat, as in the operation

    of machinery or in the mere entra n ce of a warm-blooded creature into a

    storage chamber, there is in a frequented permafrost chamber an inevitable

    upsetting of the temperature balance in favor of thawing. The corollary

    has been suggested that, since no conceivable method of insulation reaches

    perfection, we can do no more than put off the evil day if we attempt to

    use permafrost storage and desire to prolong it indefinitely. But this

    reasoning is sound only within the limits of arbitrarily selected premises;

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    nature insists on thrusting upon us factors which upset such conclusions.

            The Natural Creation of Permafrost . If by heat we mean a temperature

    above freezing, and by cold a temperature below freezing, then we may say

    that we have in a difference between the behaviors of wet surface s toward heat

    and cold a significant part of the explanation of how permafrost may survive,

    and may even be created, in certain regions which have a climate warm enough

    to show a mean annual temperature somewhat above the freezing point.

            For illustrative clarification of how plus and minus temperatures may

    differ in their effect upon a given surface, we might perhaps borrow from

    the lore of hot deserts the most striking of widely known proofs that a

    cooling instead of heating effect may be produced when a damp layer meets

    a plus temperature. It has long been a common practice in deserts to carry,

    exposed to the sun, water bags of such canvas that the contained water soaks through

    them enough to keep them wet, and in the greatest heat it is found that the

    water keeps pleasantly cool for drinking purposes. But if a like bag is hung

    up when an Alaska January temperature is as much below freezing as the African

    July temperature was above freezing, it is quickly apparent that the wet canvas

    does not have an equal, or even remotely similar, power to resist both plus

    and minus temperatures. No more does a wet turf, which is the characteristic

    surface cover of most permafrost lands of the northern hemisphere.

            A special guarantee, then, that the use of a given permafrost storage

    chamber need not be destructive to the local permafrost is the circumstance

    that, when the hot sun strikes it, a sward of damp vegetation acts as a

    cooling agent, much like perspiring human skin or a set canvas bag, with

    such result that a warm season long enough for the ripening of wheat on a

    local field, with thaw extending down perhaps 8 or 10 feet, does not result

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    in more than half a foot or a foot of thaw in an adjoining mossy or grassy

    swamp. But this slight layer of damp and matted vegetation, which acts

    not merely as an insulator but also as an evaporation cooler, becomes a

    very good conductor as soon as it freezes, so that the thawed layer which

    resulted from three or four months of summer warmth is frozen solid in three

    or four autumn days.

            If shade from awnings were used in summer to help out, with the further

    precaution of scattering sawdust, shavings, straw, or the like, the care

    taken can produce the rapid repair of a permafrost layer that may have been

    impaired or even lost by some kind of mistreatment, like p l owing or drainage.

            We have already referred to the creation of new permafrost in the Altai

    mountains, where pits were dug twenty feet into dry ground that contained no

    permafrost. Human bodies and sacrificed horses were placed at the bottom of

    the pits; timbers were piled on top of them, cordwood fashion; rocks were

    finally piled over and the graves left to the weather, which proceeded to

    [ ?] build up local permafrost centers around each burial pit. Some of these

    pits have kept their dead lifelike for 2,000 or 2,500 years, testifying to

    good, if not ideal, permafrost storage conditions.

            Since the permafrost is found only within the pits and in the walls of

    each pit, and since the evidence points to none having been there when the

    pit was dug, the intrusion of human activity clearly did not have the negative

    results which some have postulated, but instead the positive one of creating

    a situation favorable to the development of permafrost. Now, when we know

    the effect, the cause appears obvious and the result logical. Stones, we

    recognize, are generally poor conductors of heat; so the direct warming effects

    of the sun upon those covering the pit is not readily transmitted downward.

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    Heaped stones have spaces between them through which air passes readily;

    but the warm air of summer being light, does not seek downward penetration,

    so the winter air that was in the pit, being heavier, remains undisturbed

    within the pit, below the rocks and piled logs, and in among them.

            Now comes winter and the situation is reversed. The air in the pit,

    though never warmed by the summer heat, quite to the thaw point, is neverthe–

    less warmer than the atmosphere, thus lighter and ready to work its way

    upward, permitting an exchange through the downward seeping of cold air.

    The chill of this inflowing cold air is preserved in part by such freezing

    as the winter temperature produce d s in the walls of the pit. With the ready

    entrance of chilled air during winter, and the difficult entrance of warmed

    air during summer, man has created an imbalance favorable to the development

    of permafrost.

            This effect, so readily noticed and clearly demonstrable in the Altai

    burial pits, is more difficult to notice in ordinary wells, for the situation

    is complicated by draining into them from surrounding unfrozen strata and of

    a warmth which partly or wholly neutralizes the winter tendency to form ice.

    Still it is common in some of the northern states and most of the Canadian

    provinces, as well as in northern Eurasia, that wells outside the permafrost

    belt will develop ice that persists far into the summer, in spite of the

    inseeping water. Many of these wells, if the access of new water could be

    prevented, would obviously keep part of their ice from one winter to the next

    and would thus develop their local permafrost centers, like the Altai grave pits.

            In certain caverns, where the gravity control of air is similar to that

    of the grave pits, frost has been observed to persist late into the summer,

    even far outside the regular permafrost territories. Some of these caverns

    have ice in them the year round.

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            Permafrost Promotion . In the literature of Russia n before the revolution,

    and particularly with the intensification of northern studies since the estab–

    lishment of the Soviet Union, evidence is readily come by on both the local

    decay of permafrost, as under the influence of plowing, and the local growth

    of permafrost elsewhere with such activities as the building of sheds and

    the grading of roads. The cited volume Permafrostology is among the works

    which bring together both classes of reports. For instance, the same farm

    may show both the decrease of the permafrost beneath a grain field and its

    increase beneath some of the buildings.

            A single farm building may be the victim of both processes at once,

    finding both of them architecturally dep l orable. Its south wall may sink

    because the sun strikes there with added efficiency, due to reflection from

    the building that produces a deeper thaw; its north wall may be shoved up–

    ward by the thrust from below of permafrost which has had an improved chance

    to grow because the earth there is in the shade of the building.

            Notable developments of permafrost have been reported in connection with

    railway and road construction. Take, for instance, an earth grading, ten,

    twenty or thirty feet high, with a correspondingly wide base, upon ground

    that has permafrost lying, say, three feet beneath the sward in neighboring

    territory. After a few years it will be found that form underneath the cause–

    way the permafrost has worked upward not merely to take over the whole of

    the three-foot previously active layer, but to thrust itself upward within

    the causeway as a frozen inner ridge or core. If the grading runs roughly

    north and south, this core will occupy a medium position; but, if the causeway

    trends east and west, the frozen core will be found, toward the end of summer,

    much closer to the northern than the southern slope of the earthwork.

    025      |      Vol_IIA-0253                                                                                                                  
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            Principles of Natural Cold Storage . The first principle in the appli–

    cation of permafrost chill to the storage of such perishables as vegetables

    and meat, is one to which we have made several references, that cold air

    is heavier than warm. This means that the entrance to a permafrost storage

    gallery must be downward, through a shaft, as to a mine or a city’s passenger

    subway. In relation to storage, this comes natural to European thinking,

    for we are used to cellars beneath houses.

            It may seem that downward entrance to a permafrost chamber is in any

    case necessitated by the uniform condition that we live on top of the earth

    and that the frost is in the ground beneath us. However, this necessity is

    not always rigorous; a hill may be so located nearby that a tunnel rounding running

    into it horizontally would have its floor level with the floor of the

    storage vault. Certainly this can be done; it was done, for instance, in

    the northwestern Canadian Arctic by the Yankee whalers of 1889-1907, who

    for meat-storage reasons tunneled horizontally into the side of the hill

    back of Pauline Cove, Herschel Island. There could even be special cases

    where ground-level tunneling would be advisable. But the vertical shaft is

    normally preferable; for the horizontal ones need a series of doors which,

    during the summer operation, have to be opened one at a time to prevent the

    outrush of cold air along the floor of the tunnel and a corresponding inrush

    of warm air along its roof. To construct this series of doors and to look

    after them, is a bother.

            The chief trouble s w ith a series of doors in a horizontal tunnel would

    come if it were desired to place in storage a large quantity of perishables

    on a very hot day. The doors would have to be opened frequently; or they

    would all remain steadily open for hours, while the supplies were being

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    brought in. this would permit the entrance of so much warm air that the

    permafrost nature of the hill would soon be destroyed. Instead of hoar–

    frost forming on walls from such slight warmth as that of unfrozen

    vegetables or the heat of the bodies of workmen — instead of this, the

    walls would now “sweat” and they would begin to slough into Mud, to cover

    the floor and run out through the tunnel.

            By contrast, taking goods up and down through a shaft by elevator

    causes but a slight interchange of the warm upper with the cold lower air —

    slight because of the gravity differential. There will be, of course, a small

    interchange on the principle of the diffusion of gases, and tiny amounts of

    warm air will get carried down inside packages and along with a descending


            It has been found with small-scale storage that the natural chill of

    permafrost refrigeration, derived from walls, floors, and ceilings of shafts

    and storage chambers, is cold enough to preserve meat from year to year, even

    through warm summers that are nearly as long as the cold winters. The most

    obvious reason is, of course, that some air comes in each winter that is

    colder than the permafrost. This enters most rapidly when elevators are

    going up and down a shaft, for to an extent they act as pumps; but since

    air is the heavier the colder it is, the outdoor air will in any case squeeze

    down a shaft every chance it gets. However, it is undoubtedly sound policy

    for a large underground storehouse to force cold air down and circulate it

    during the whole of the very cold part of winter, so as to store up addi–

    tional chill in the walls of shafts and galleries by deliberately lowering

    the temperature of the surrounding earth.

            It is desirable that underground storage chambers be hollowed out from

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    material that is a good head conductor, such as ground ice or mud. It

    has been reported that some storehouses in Siberia, or at least their

    shafts, are in very dry earth. The first worry then is that the dust

    from such walls may get on meat and vegetables that are being store s d ;

    normally this is not serious, for the body heat of personnel, and warmth

    from unfrozen materials being stored, will produce a clean hoarfrost

    cover on the walls. A more serious trouble is that, if the walls are dry

    earth, rock, or other poor conductor, there is danger that the warmth from

    the workmen and the unfrozen food may be enough to bring the temperature

    of the walls to the freezing point, whereupon the hoarfrost on the walls

    may begin to melt, with mud soon flowing and the storehouse becoming

    useless until the next winter comes with its renewed chill. Trouble of

    this kind is, however, seldom reported. For one thing, constructors of

    permafrost refrigerators try to select ground that contains ice and mud,

    on the mere strength of knowing they are easier to work than rock and dry


            Some permafrost vaults, after years of perfect functioning as store–

    houses for meat, become infected with fungi and molds. These have not

    proved hard to get rid of. Charles D. Brower, who for fifty years used

    a storage chamber at Cape Smythe, Alaska, (near Point Barro s w ) did not have

    this trouble the first three decades or more. When it did develop, he

    temporarily removed all meat, chipped away much of the accumulated

    hoarfrost, and then fumigated with sulphur smoke. He did not keep a record

    of temperatures but though the shaft was getting less cold; he blamed this;

    and the accompanying growth of mold, upon the advance of the sea, which

    was chewing up the coast in the vicinity, a thaw of the ground advancing

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    some distance ahead of the water. Eventually this shaft thawed out com–

    pletely, the sea having come too close.

            Some users have considered it advisable to freeze meats before they are

    placed in permafrost chambers. The Lomen Corporation, the largest Alaska

    users of natural cold storage and pioneers is its commercial use, arranged

    their reindeer butchering so that the autumn weather was already cold

    enough to freeze the meat before it was stacked in the refrigerator bins.

    In the Soviet Union it is reported to be a common practice to freeze the

    meat, either through the weather or through artificial freezing, and then

    to dip each piece in ice water, to glaze them before they are stacked in

    the permafrost chambers. However, excellent results have been secured in

    other cases by bringing in warm meat and letting it freeze, suspended

    from hooks, before it is stacked. This, however, increases rapidly the

    hoarfrosting of walls and ceilings.

            Analogizing from what they are used to, Europeans have sometimes

    arranged ventilating systems for permafrost refrigerators. There is, of

    course, the mentioned advantage that by means of forced ventilation it is

    possible, in very cold weather, to bring in more of the atmospheric chill

    to lower the temperature of the permafrost walls, with an effect on them

    which lasts throughout the next summer. Bu the heavy use of forced

    ventilation in summer will naturally destroy the freezer value of the

    permafrost walls, turning them into m i u d.

            “Practical” Development Tardy . Positive approach to below-freezing

    temperatures, thinking of how to utilize them rather than how to counteract

    them, was in Europe slow, even among the philosophical thinkers. For instance,

    Robert Boyle, English pioneer in chemistry and a leader in the founding of

    029      |      Vol_IIA-0257                                                                                                                  
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    the Royal Society, was much impressed with whatever information on cold he

    was able to get from arctic travelers, particularly with what he got from

    that Thomas James for whom James Bay was named after he wintered there

    in 1631-32). Seemingly, low temperatures were to Captain James chiefly

    a hateful nuisance, nor does Boyle’s point of view differ much; anyway,

    the writings of Boyle, which translate some of the James observations into

    scientific terms, fail to suggest the practical use of ground chill in the

    over-summer storage of perishables, such as of meat.

            One of the northern travelers to be honored, and deservedly, by

    election to the Royal Society was Christopher Middleton, who drew upon his

    wintering experience for the paper, “Account of the Extraordinary Degree

    and Surprizing Effects of Cold in Hudson’s Bay, North America,” which he

    read before the Society on October 28, 1742, and for which he received the

    Copley Medal. This paper does consider the preservative value of cold

    weather, for Captain Middleton says that “Beef, Pork, Mutton, and Venison,

    that are killed at the beginning of the winter, are preserved by the Frost,

    for six or seven months, intirely free from Putrefaction.” He studied also

    the condition of the ground: “The Frost is never out of the Ground, how deep

    we cannot be certain. We have dug down 10 or 12 Feet, and found the Earth

    hard frozen in the two summer months.” But he makes no suggestion about

    how this natural winter cold storage, which he reckons at six or seven months,

    could be prolonged to cover the other five or six months, including the

    “two Summer Months,” by making a storage chamber at the bottom of such a

    pit as he had dug to probe the earth for its temperature secrets.

            So far as the thinkers got away from the “too bad” idea about the frost,

    it was chiefly along the line of gratification over the scientific good

    fortune that, whereas other sorts of earth preserve little except things

    like bone or shell for the paleontologists to work upon, there is in cold

    030      |      Vol_IIA-0258                                                                                                                  
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    climates the additional possibility that soft parts may be preserved.

    Trust Darwin to be among those who realized this advantage. His Journal

    of Researches (London, 1860) speaks of Kendall’s finding on Deception

    Island, the South Shetlands, of the “body of a foreign sailor which had

    long been buried, with the flesh and all the features perfectly preserved”;

    and he was evidently in the scientific mood to think fortunate such results

    of the climate. There are many like references and implications in popular

    and scientific literature; but, in the English branch of it at least, sug–

    gestions which might lead to systematic use on a commercial or even a

    householding scale must be rare, for we have not come upon them.

            Native Use of Permafrost Storage . It is not clear whether non - Europeans

    in the Arctic formerly utilized the chill of the ground for such effective

    refrigeration that meat remained taintless from one year to the next. Some

    Europeans have said that the natives did so in northern Siberia; others

    have reported from the same districts that the local custom was merely to

    dig down to the permanent frost, pile unfrozen meat into shallow pits and

    cover with earth, these reports saying that the method resulted only in

    retardation of decay; others have specified that when these burials took

    place in winter the meat had to be dug up early the next summer or it would

    be tainted. Stefansson tried to investigate in northwestern Arctic Canada

    and northern Alaska, and found evidence only of such burials as permitted

    the meat to decay slowly during summer. So far as he could learn, the idea

    that meat could be kept for several years without becoming tainted was

    derived in Alaska by the Eskimos of his time (1906-18) from the freezing

    shaft dug by the U.S. Army’s expedition of 1881- 2 8 3, as told below. The

    expedition sank the shaft for ther o mometric studies of underground temperature;

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    its use as a refrigerator seems to have been an afterthought.


    Pioneering in Natural Cold Storage

            Although the possibilities of the use of ground chill for year-to-year

    refrigeration were apparently first suggested from northern Siberia, the

    large-scale pioneering does not seem to have been there. A. M. Chekotillo,

    in his 1946 paper that will be cited hereafter, says: “The need for cold

    storage places during the warm part of the year is acute even in the northern

    regions ( [ of the Soviet Union] ) ] . Actually, however, the permanently frozen

    ground has been utilized for cold storage to an insignificant degree,”

    until just recently.

            It may be that be first definite suggestion for large-scale use by

    whites was made by the New England zoologist, William Healy Dall, in his

    Alaska and its Resources , Boston, 1870: According to that book, he wrote

    in his diary on November 14, 1866: “I cannot understand why Kane and other

    Arctic travelers could not preserve fresh provisions in a frozen state for

    winter use. In this country (W [w estern Alaska ) ] immense quantities of meat

    and fish are preserved without taint the year around. Excavations are

    made in the earth to the depth of two or three feet, where it is usually

    frozen, and the contents are thus protected.” (But note what we said, above,

    about this kind of shallow storage retarding rather than preventing decay.)

            From the summer of 1881 to the summer of 1883 Lieutenant Patrick Henry

    Ray, U.S. Army, commanded a scientific expedition in northernmost Alaska.

    Ray says, on page 24 of his Report of the International Polar Expedition

    to Point Barrow, Alaska , Washington, 1883:

            “In January, 1882, work was commenced on a shaft for the purpose of

    getting the temperature of the earth. . . . The formation for the whole

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    distance was sand and gravel, mingled with a deposit of drift-wood and

    marine shells, showing that each stratum represented the successive lines of

    ancient sea-shores. The earth was saturated with water. At a depth of

    thirty-five feet a deposit was found of clear water, unmixed with earth, too

    salt to be congealed at a temperature of + 12, which was the unvarying tem–

    perature of the earth at this depth.

            “At a depth of twenty feet a tunnel was run to the east a distance of

    ten feet, and at the end of it a room ten by twelve was excavated out of

    the hard frozen ground. In this the temperature never rose above 22°.

    The walls were always dry and free from moisture, and the accumulation of

    hoar frost was very light. Here we stored whatever fresh meat, in the way

    of ducks, reindeer, walrus, or seal, that we were able to accumulate beyond

    our daily consumption. Our main supply was eider-ducks, which, during the

    spring flight in May, were easily killed. We took four hundred in 1882, and

    five hundred in 1883; we found them excellent food, and when stored in the

    subterranean store-house they were at once frozen solid, and would keep for

    any length of time.”

            Ray was believer in the importance of fresh local foods for the health

    of his men, so the permafrost storage seemed to him important. In that con–

    nection he says: “Fresh meat is the great safeguard against scurvy in this

    region; I never saw a trace of it among the natives, and meat is their only

    food. The immunity of my party from all disease or sickness of any kind I

    deemed was owing to the fact that through our own exertions, and with some

    assistance from the natives, we were seldom without it.”

            Among northern travelers Ray was one of only a small number who have

    pointed out in books the specific value of fresh meat as an antiscorbutic : ;

    033      |      Vol_IIA-0261                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    but nearly or quite all book-writing explorers, whalters, and northern

    traders are on record as believers in fresh meat as an important part of

    the diet, conducive to general health. Charles D. Brower, Ray’s successor

    at Point Barrow (really Cape Smythe), was no exception; so he took over the

    use of the Army’s permafrost refrigerating gallery when he settled there in


            Missionary activities of the Moravian church were extended to north–

    western Alaska in the eighties. They were active in getting native villages

    throughout western and northern Alaska to take up the use of deep-storage

    galleries, similar to Ray’s , to replace what had been their way of burying

    meat above the permafrost (which gave no better results than the ice houses

    of our ancestors). The largest share of individual credit for bringing the

    new storage method into local Eskimo use should no doubt go to the Reverend

    John Henry Kilbuck, an Indian in Moravian service (Delaware on his paternal

    side, Mohican on his mother’s), who came to the village of Bethel on the

    Kuskwokwim in 1884 but apparently did not begin to use of advocate permafrost

    storage until later, when he learned of the Barrow v s uccess. According to

    Moravian informants, “it was through his ( [ Kilbuck’s ) ] efforts . . . that

    under-surface refrigeration of g f oods became the rule in native villages,

    where before the provisions of food had been stored above ground” — i.e.,

    above the permafrost, in shallow pits, the meat covered with grass and earth.

            The first commercial need for large-scale storage in the permafrost

    country developed from that temporarily fabulous growth of the Alaska

    reindee d r industry which is described elsewhere in this Encyclopedia through

    a special article and through the biographies of a number of its key figures,

    among them the missionary Sheldon Jackson and the business men Carl, Ralph,

    and Alfred Lomen.

    034      |      Vol_IIA-0262                                                                                                                  
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            With charity toward the Eskimos in mind, the United States Government,

    through its Coast Guard service, had brought 1,280 reindeer to Alaska from

    Siberia between 1892 and 1902. The animals proceeded to double in number

    every three years; so that by the late 1920’s there were about a million

    head belonging to Eskimos, to Laplanders who had been brought over to teach

    reindeer herding, to missions, and to some private white owners as well as

    stock companies, far largest of which was the Lomen Reindeer Corporation.

    Not realizing that their success would arouse that hostility of U.S. cattle

    and sheep men which finally ruined the Alaska reindeer industry, and dis–

    counting the hostile attitude of the U.S. Government at the time, the

    Lo em me ns went ahead developing a market for their products, which involved a

    3,000-mile steamer shipment to Seattle (or farther, if to more southerly

    coastal cities) and then rail distribution. The meat had to be delivered

    to selling points in the best condition and so refrigeration became crucial.

    How this led to the large-scale use of permafrost storage is described by

    the President of the Lomen Reindeer Corporation, Carl J. Lomen, in the

    following section of this article.


    Natural Cold Storage in Alaska

            Elephant Point Storage (by Carl J. Lomen). In the development of

    the Alaska reindeer industry, one of the requisites was refrigeration.

    Subsequent to 1915, the surplus male animals of the rapidly expanding

    industry produced more meat than local markets could absorb e . Such

    surplus could look to but one market and that was the United States. To

    reach this market, with a product that must compete with packing house

    meats, many improvements over previous Alaska practice were necessary: the

    reindeer had to be scientifically butchered, the carcass neatly dressed and

    properly wrapped, solidly frozen in ammonia cold-storage plants, and shipped

    035      |      Vol_IIA-0263                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    to a port in Washington, Oregon, or California.

            The reindeer herds were many, each with its own grazing unit occupy–

    ing much of the area of western Alaska, from the Kuskokwim River in the

    south to Point Barrow, the northernmost point of Alaska, a distance up–

    ward of one thousand miles. The number of deer in the combined herds

    totaled approximately one million. Ten per cent of such numbers should be

    available for market, each year, and the number would increase with the

    further expansion of the industry, for it was estimated that the Territory

    could permanently support some four million reindeer.

            The first three ammonia plants constructed in the reindeer country

    for the sole purpose of preserving reindeer meat, during the early 1920’s,

    were small and costly. Lumber and other construction materials, the neces–

    sary machinery, fuel oil, and other supplies, had to be shipped from the

    States. The operating company, Lomen Reindeer Corporation, discovered that

    the initial cost was $30,000.00 per plant, each with a capacity of 1,000

    carcasses, weighing 150 pounds. The plants could not be filled and emptied

    more than twice each year. The cost and capacity elements of refrigeration

    were the great problems of the industry.

            Meat animals were at their prime the first of October and the butchering

    season was considered to extend from mid-September through to the first of

    the year. A great obstacle was the short season of ocean navigation between

    northwestern Alaska and the United States. Bering Sea ports closed November

    first, while those north of Bering Strait closed several weeks earlier.

    Plants not emptied in the fall of the year, prior to the close of navigation,

    were forced to hold the product until the return of the steamers the following

    June and July. This proved very costly, as fuel oil was the motive power

    036      |      Vol_IIA-0264                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    for the plants, which were thus forced to operate for several months

    during the spring of the year. (During the winter no artificial refrigera–

    tion was necessary, since winters are cold in this region.)

            With an ever-increasing number of surplus animals in the rapidly

    growing herds, the refrigeration problem caused the first spect o e r of doubt

    to arise that the C c orporation might not be able to maintain its position

    as the marketing agency for the Eskimo-owned herds as well as for the

    company-owned animals. How to finance the construction of a sufficient

    number of cold-storage plants throughout the reindeer country, and to operate

    at an expense level that would permit the product to complete with other

    meats on the American market? That was the great question. Carl, Ralph,

    and Alfred Lomen, the active officers of the corporation, each had a share

    in answering it.

            The two largest company herds ranged in the Kotzebue-Buckland area,

    north of Bering Strait. Meat animals from those herds could be driven on

    the hoof across country to join up with the company herds south of the Strait

    and thus be made accessible to fall steamer transportation. Some help toward

    securing the equivalent of enlarged storage plants was obtained through

    preparing boned products (steaks, chops, roasts and boned meats) — to save

    space by eliminating the bones.

            During the summer of 1919, Alfred Lomen investigated the possibilities

    of natural cold storage in the valley of the Buckland River, dividing line

    between the company’s Kotzebue and Buckland herds. Under a large area of

    the valley lies what was then locally considered the remnant of a prehistoric

    glacier, now called permafrost. Along the seashore, and in places where

    streams out through, exposed permafrost melts in the summer and allows the

    037      |      Vol_IIA-0265                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    soil to slough away. Here and there is revealed a bank of several feet

    of clear, solid ice topped by a layer of soil, two or three feet thick.

    At one point the local Eskimo reindeermen had sunk a shaft twenty feet

    deep, at the bottom of which they kept their meat during the summer months.

    Alfred Lomen examined this local “refrigerator,” found it cold at the bottom,

    and of sufficiently low temperature to preserve the meat through the summer

    months. If a large chamber of this type could be hollowed out in the sub–

    terranean ice-bed, it would prove far cheaper than any artificial cold–

    storage plant. Assuredly the idea seemed feasible, be reported, but whether

    it would be so on the scale required by the company could be determined

    only by actual experiment.

            The following summer, Carl Lomen visited the Buckland area, armed with

    several tested thermometers. The meat shaft of the Eskimos was first examined.

    The shaft itself was 3 by 4 feet by 20 feet in depth, with a ladder down one

    side. The shaft mouth was covered by a walrus hide, to keep out rain and

    dust. The open-air temperature the day of the examination was 72°F. Three

    feet down the shaft the thermometer fell to less than 50° and on the bottom

    the reading was 23°F.

            This shaft was located at the mouth of the Buckland River, at what was

    known as Igloo Point. A contract was let and the following winter a small

    room 25 by 7 feet high, was chiseled out of the frozen earth, close to the

    Eskimo shaft. Temperatures proved satisfactory, and meat stored in the room

    continued in perfect condition through the following summer.

            It is usual to prospect for gold and other precious minerals. The Lomen

    Reindeer Corporation now organized a prospecting expedition to look for suitable

    conditions for natural cold storage. Several factors had to be considered:

    038      |      Vol_IIA-0266                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    ( 1 ) accessibility to safe anchorage for ships; ( 2 ) area suitable for large

    expansion; ( 3 ) proper site, including sufficient elevation above sea level

    for height of rooms plus sufficient overburden of moss and muck for pro–

    tection of rooms against thawing during summer months.

            Following weeks of prospecting, a location was selected at Elephant

    Point, 14 miles to the westward of Igloo Point. The new location was first

    visited by the Russian explorer Kotzebue in 1816, who noticed the smell of

    decaying flesh. The British explorer, Captain Frederick William Beechey,

    of the Royal Navy, was there in 1826, noticed the small and gave the place

    its elephant name “from the bones of that animal being found near it.”

    Bones of the prehistoric elephant (mammoth), ox and horse were each summer

    washed out of the high banks of Elephant Point: and in the near vicinity a

    mammoth, with flesh and hair, was found around 1900, proving the preserving

    qualities of the frozen ground. Elephant Point is on the south shore of

    Eschscholtz Bay, Kotzebue Sound.

            Realizing the great advantage natural cold storage would give the

    industry, the company made plans for work on a plant as soon as the winter

    season opened. They thanked Mother Nature for her kindness to the Alaskans

    in their reindeer business, for she not only supplied free fodder for the

    animals the year round but now was also ready to furnish a refrigerating

    system which would run itself and require no fuel.

            A crew of thirty men, many of them seasoned gold-placer miners, expert

    in such work, were engaged to carve out of the frozen hillside, with pick

    and shovel, six large storage holding-rooms, with a total capacity of [ ?] ten

    thousand reindeer carcasses (see Fig. 1). The composition of the material

    excavated was approximately 85 per cent clear ice and 15 per cent frozen

    muck and gravel.

    039      |      Vol_IIA-0267                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

            A long tunnel was run into the frozen hillside, with a slight upgrade,

    for drainage, should it be necessary. A series of room was then chiseled

    out in a manner similar to a hallway with rooms on each side, except that

    the partitions of frozen earth and ice were six to eight feet in thickness.

    Several modern, insulated cold-storage doors were placed between the

    entrance of the tunnel and the rooms, and a door placed in the entrance to

    each room. Ventilation was secured by means of double pipes driven through

    the roof, one just penetrating the ceiling at one end and the other reaching

    close to the floor at the opposite end of the room, which would give a free

    circulation of air. With open-air temperatures ranging from 55 degree s below zero

    Fahrenheit in winter to 80 degrees above in summer, the temperature of these

    rooms proved to vary only from 10 degrees above, to 18 degrees above, during

    the twelve calendar months, thus a range from 22 degrees of frost to 14.

    This kept the meat in perfect condition.

            Two shafts were sunk from the surface, tapping the tunnel, one at the

    extreme end of the tunnel, the other midway to the entrance. Small cabins

    were constructed over the shafts and, in addition, the shafts were covered

    with tight wooden lids. A wooden shed, well insulated by packed “reindeer

    moss” (lichens) inside and out, was built to connect with the entrance of

    the tunnel (see Fig. 2). A narrow-gauge track was laid from the beach to the far end of

    the tunnel and small flatcars were used to transport the meat from storage

    to scows or lighters, for transportation from the beach to the anchorage of

    the ship which would carry the cargo to the States.

            The Elephant Point natural cold storage plant was apparently the first

    large one of its kind in the world, with six rooms of 18 by 36 feet by 7 feet

    high (27, 216 cu.ft. storage capacity), and would readily lend itself to almost unlimited expansion at a

    minimum cost (see Fig. 1).

    040      |      Vol_IIA-0268                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

            The first winter a small butchering of about 2,000 head tested the

    the plant, with satisfying results. During the second summer, water

    flowed over the roof of the plant and caused small trouble, but ditches

    cut to lead the water to a distance corrected the difficulty.

            Following the storage of meat, hoarfrost gathered on the walls of the

    rooms, as well as on the ceilings, the shimmering crystals reflecting any

    light and giving a brilliant illumination from even one candle. At first the meat was stacked on

    boards which were placed on the floors of the rooms, but it was noted that

    dust gathered. When snow was placed on the floor, and the boards on the

    snow, the difficulty was overcome.

            The second year eight thousand deer were butchered and stored in the rooms, the

    record butchering on one range in the history of the industry.

            For fear that unusual conditions of weather might some day be encountered,

    the middle room on the east side of the plant was lined and piped and a small

    ammonia refrigerating plant constructed just beyond the entrance to the tunnel,

    Should temperatures in the room rise to a dangerous points at any time, the

    artificial plant could easily lower the temperature desired. It was never

    found necessary to operate the artificial plant.

            Meat hold in the rooms for three years was found to be in excellent

    condition. During the winter months, the shafts and doors could be opened

    and fresh air forced through the rooms. With this precaution taken in winter,

    the temperatures varied but the mentioned eight degrees.

            Elephant Point was a winter butchering station and summer headquarters

    for the Kotzebue and Buckland herds. It was equipped with modern buildings

    for the preparation of the meat and hides of the reindeer for market, such

    as a large abattoir, “holding” and “bon e ing” rooms, bins for the salting

    041      |      Vol_IIA-0269                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    and stacking of hides. There was also a large corral system for the handling

    of the deer, and living quarters for the crew. When the animals were butchered,

    the carcasses were first hung within the holding-room of the abattoir, and

    later placed in the open air, with temperatures sometimes ranging from −30°

    to −50°F., until frozen solidly; then they were transferred to the natural

    cold-storage rooms. It was considered that placing so much warm meat in the

    storage chambers might have raised their temperature too much, causing ceiling

    and walls to slough.

            The construction of the natural cold-storage plant, together with the

    necessary buildings, at Elephant Point, showed an initial cost of one hundred

    thousand dollars; upkeep was practically nil.

            Information about the recent use of natural cold storage at Point Barrow

    by the U.S. Navy, in connection with operations in U.S. Naval Petroleum

    Reserve No. 4, has been supplied by Commander Palmer W. Roberts, formerly

    Officer in Charge.

            Point Barrow Storage (by Palmer W. Roberts) . Positive flow of cold

    air is maintained in cellars with vertical shafts by the gravity principle.

    The greater density of the cold air results in movement downward and the

    resultant remov e a l of the warmer air by circulating upward and out of the

    cold storage chamber. At Point Barrow, during the summer of 1946, the U.S.

    Navy found it necessary to increase the cold food storage facilities. These

    were then entirely of the aboveground mechanical type. In July, an under–

    ground food storage chamber was excavated in accordance with previous

    experience gained by the people at Barrow Village regarding underground

    042      |      Vol_IIA-0270                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    temperatures, and excavation practices followed by drift mining operations

    in Alaska.

            The formation in which the excavation was made was frozen silt, fine

    sand, fine gravel, and ice, which at that depth had a year-round tempera–

    ture of 22°F. A shaft 8 by 8 ft. was sunk vertically to a depth of 21 st. ft.

    At this level a chamber 14 ft. by 20 ft. and 9 ft. high was excavated. The

    work was accomplished by thawing the material with steam points and hoisting

    the muck out of the shaft with a bucket attached to a hoist line of a Trackson

    tractor crane. Pillars of frozen ground were left at the shaft to support

    the overlying formation. The capacity of the chamber was 2,520 cu.ft. and

    the shaft 1,344 cu.ft., totaling 3,864 cu.ft. c A 3- by 4-ft. trap door was

    installed over the shaft at ground level and protected so that groundwater

    could not seep into the shaft.

            On September 6, 1946, more than 1,500 cu.ft. of frozen boneless boxed beef,

    port loins, pork ribs, chicken, turkey, liver, bacon, and butter were placed in

    the chamber. Outside temperature was 28° to 35°F. The shaft was sealed and not

    entered again until April 12, 1947, when the first items were withdrawn for use.

    At that time the cellar temperature was 6°F. with the outside temperature 20°F.,

    which indicates that the cold had penetrated into the chamber during the winter

    months and had lowered the temperature of the locker below that of the sur–

    rounding formation. At the time of the withdrawal, the food had been in

    underground storage 7 months, was frozen solid and in good condition. All

    containers were in their original state and there was no moisture or mold

    present. After this withdrawal, the shaft was again sealed.

            On June 13, 1947, r t he remaining food was removed. a A t the that time the cellar

    temperature was 9°F. and the outside temperature 32°F. These last items had

    043      |      Vol_IIA-0271                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    been in storage for 9½ months and were completely frozen. The containers

    of wood and paper were in their original state, and food products and con–

    tainers showed no sign of mold, moisture, or deterioration.

            In the summer of 1947, because of the success of the use of the under–

    ground cold storage chamber, the capacity was increased by adding another

    room at the same level (21 ft. below ground level). This additional

    chamber was 18 by 20 ft. with a 9-ft. ceiling, an increase of storage capacity

    of 3,564 cu.ft. The total net size of the storage chambers then because 6,084

    cu.ft. These vaults, utilizing one vertical shaft 8 by 8 ft., have been in

    use for the storage of frozen food for 4 years with little or no maintenance

    and a minimum operating cost.


    Natural Cold Storage in Arctic Canada

            Yankee whalers, hailing chiefly from New Bedford and the Vineyard, spent

    their first Canadian winter at Herschel Island the season of 1889-90. This

    was at Sou’ West Sandspit, which was found a less desirable location than

    Pauline Cove where the chief whaling center of the northwestern Canadian

    Arctic was to develop, with as many as a dozen ships wintering at one time.

    Some of the officers and men had done shore whaling from Cape Smythe and

    Point Barrow; nearly all of them must have known, at least from hearsay,

    about the U.S. Army’s permafrost storage shaft and gallery of 1882-83 and

    about its continued and satisfactory use by Charles D. Brower following 1884.

    So the development of this storage practice at Herschel Island was a trans–

    plantation from Alaska.

            The practice of using underground storage chambers spread, in turn,

    from Herschel Island through northwestern arctic Canada. Among the points

    where the method is used, or was used while the stations were occupied,

    044      |      Vol_IIA-0272                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    are Arctic Red River, Aklavik, Reindeer Station, Tuktuyaktok, all on or

    near the Mackenzie delta; Nicholson Island (really peninsula), in Liverpool

    Bay; Cape Bathurst and Langton Bay (at the head of Franklin Bay); Cape

    Parry and Pearce Point, on either side of Darnley Bay; and DeSalis Bay,

    southeastern Banks Island. On the withdrawal of the whaling fleet (follow–

    ing the collapse of the whalebone market around 1906), some of the storage

    places were adopted by Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachments, by traders,

    missionaries, or Eskimos, while some have fallen into disuse. Both whites

    and Eskimos have provided themselves with new ones.

            The most extensive use of permafrost storage has been at Aklavik,

    partly because this is the largest community in arctic Canada (population

    about 200 in 1950) but more because of local enterprise. A special reason

    for extensive use is the Aklavik custom of quarrying a lot of ice during early

    winter and storing it in permafrost chambers for household use during the

    summer. That permafrost storage has not been much practiced east of Cape

    Parry is considered to be in the main because the ground is likely to be

    solid rock, or at least pit digging frequently hampered by running into

    a boulder.

            In a personal communication, W. P. Johnston, Hudson’s Bay Company,

    Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories, given from personal experience an

    account of how cold storage was used at one trading post:

            “The staff of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Baillie Island post erected

    an ice house for storing meat and fish at Cape Bathurst during the fall of

    1928. This was built on the plan of one previously built by the whalers at

    Southwest Sandspit, an old whaling winter harbour on the southwest tip of

    Baillie Island. This cache being built close to the high water level was

    045      |      Vol_IIA-0273                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    demolished by repeated storms over a period of years washing out the bank . . .

            “Fortunately for natural refrigeration purposes the permanent ground

    ice at Cape Bathurst is to be found about twenty inches below the soil.

    Along the shore this ice is constantly exposed to view, and can be clopped

    out of the bank and used in an emergency for cooking.

            “A shaft approximately six feet square was sunk in the ground to the

    six foot level; this space was then extended on either side to form a

    chamber twelve foot in diameter and eight foot from the bottom of the shaft,

    making a total depth of fourteen feet from the surface. A slanting roof

    was built of split drift logs, resting on the log supports of the entrance

    porch. This porch was composed of an inner and outer door, and lined with

    drift logs. The roof and entrance porch were then covered with two layers

    of tarred paper before adding layers of sod. Each sod measured twelve inches

    square and six inches thick — the entire exposed surface being covered to

    a depth of two feet. Both doors were built about eight inches off the ground —

    one at either end of the porch and each opening inward. As there was a slight

    slope in the ground toward the rear of the building, a small drain was dug

    all around, so that any moisture from spring thaw could run off. A small

    ventilator with an opening three inches square was placed in the roof.

            “As the ice house was used mainly for storing quantities of fish for

    winter dog feed, some method had to be adopted to prevent meat and fowl

    being tainted by the fish. Belaying pins from an old whaling vessel were

    driven into the walls and used for hanging up fowl; openings three foot in

    depth and four feet long were dug through the ice wall to hold meat for

    mess use.

            “The fish run at Cape Bathurst Sandspit usually comes in the latter

    part of August when large quantities of California Herring are caught with

    046      |      Vol_IIA-0274                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    sweep nets (150 to 200 feet long).

            “These fish were taken over to the ice house in lots of about five

    hundred and spread over the floor to freeze. Two days later they were

    frozen enough to be stacked like cordwood.

            “Although no record was ever kept of the temperature in the ice house

    it is estimated that it must have been in the region of ten degrees above

    zero (Fahrenheit). During the time the writer used this ice house (four

    years) there was no trouble with water seepage, although each year we had

    to break off long icicles suspended from the roof, and sweep off with a

    broo k m frost which was no doubt caused by our breath and from the heat of the

    lamp used for illumination while we were at work.

            “In the spring after all the fish had been removed, the ice floor was

    chopped clean, and all dirty ice, pieces of old fish, etc. cleared away in

    readiness for the new season’s fish.”

            Excepting the Mackenzie delta and other river deltas, and the lowland

    of Cape Bathurst, the northwestern Canadian mainland likely to be solid

    rock, or at least stony ground; so excavation of permafrost storage vaults

    has been found, on the average, more difficult than in Alaska, which goes

    toward explaining the more limited Canadian use.

            Whereas the Lomen Reindeer Corporation, and other Alaska, users, have

    reported satisfactory meat storage for an indefinite number of years with

    temperatures as high as only 10 degrees of frost (22°F.), the Canadian

    northwest reports some cases of trouble with mold if the temperature gets

    warmer than 17 degrees of frost (15°F.). But it might be noted that Brower

    at Barrow, as cited, removed mold by chipping part of the hoarfrost coating

    from the walls, and disinfecting chemically, thereafter having no mold

    trouble for several years.

    047      |      Vol_IIA-0275                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

            Some Canadian users report taking care to cover the ground in the

    neighborhood of the mouth of the shaft with enough insulating material, such

    as moss, to convert the upper, active layers, into permafrost, which end

    Soviet users report attaining with awnings that keep the direct sun away.

    In northwestern Canada some users have failed to take these and like pre–

    cautions, with the result that thaw water and rain poured into the shafts,

    with one of two results, determined by local conditions — either the shaft

    thawed out and became worthless for storage purposes, or else the water froze

    as it trickled down and filled the shaft with ice.

            The Venerable Archdeacon D. B. Marsh, Church of England, says, on the

    basis of his experience in northwestern Canada: “Over the Mission ice house

    at Eskimo Point, muskeg insulation was placed around for yards and kept the

    ice house completely frozen at all times of the year. The Royal Canadian

    Mounted Police ice house was a failure because the walls were not insulated

    and the heat and water got in. At Aklavik the ice house (Anglican Mission)

    was dug out at the bottom of a long shaft and … in the hot t est months every–

    thing froze.”

            In Alaska, perhaps because many of the people there are miners, or

    engineers trained under temperate zone and tropic conditions, the reports

    often have it that the entrance of water into permafrost shafts is prevented

    by the use of drainage ditches. Instead of ditching, the Canadians (and,

    apparently, the Siberians) have generally adopted the native method; for a

    Canadian Department of Defence summary has it that “care must always be

    taken to ensure that the entrance to cold storage rooms is higher than the

    surrounding ground, to prevent seepage of water into the underground chamber.”

            A summary by the Defence Research Board of Canada says: “The ice cedlars

    048      |      Vol_IIA-0276                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    of Aklavik were first dug in order to provide storage for winter ice which

    was then used as a source of drinking water during summer. As the resident

    population increased, the need for additional space for the storage of meat

    within the settlement led to a wider use of natural cold storage. The Anglican

    and Roman Catholic Missions have deep cellars in the frozen ground, as they

    have a storage requirement for several tons of reindeer or caribou meat

    needed for the hospitals and boarding schools.

            “Dr. L. D. Livingstone who at one time was Medical Health Officer at

    Aklavik writes ( [ we abridge slightly ) ] : ‘I had developed the underground cold

    storage at Aklavik both at the medical headquarters there and also on my local

    farm. These plants were built in similar style to those already in existence

    there, only on a larger scale. My farm plant contained two chambers, one for

    deep freezing and the upper one for cooling purposes, with a building on top.

    This unit of mine was intended for the manufacture of milk products but as I

    left about the time I was ready to produce, nothing much was done. At Aklavik

    I have frozen deer meat within twenty-four hours in the month of July.’”

            Of storage at Cape Bathurst, the Defence Board says: “Two types of

    storage cellar are in use, one a deep vertical excavation to well within the

    permafrost and the other a horizontal tunnel. The former method is more satis–

    factory and always adopted where possible.

            “Excavation of a vertical shaft is usually done during the winter months,

    for the frozen silt can be removed easily, without danger of cave-in or of

    surface water interfering with the work. The low winter temperature prevents

    melting inside the shaft. When the shaft has been dug to a depth of six feet,

    it is then widened as it goes down, forming a storage space of from eight to

    fourteen feet square at the bottom, which is commonly at a depth of around

    twenty feet.

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    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

            “The entrance to the shaft is usually framed with logs, and double

    trap doors are built into the entrance. The wider part of the shaft is

    frequently divided into two storeys, the upper being used to freeze cuts

    or carcasses individually before they are placed in the lower chamber for

    permanent cold storage. A slanting roof of logs is usually built over the

    site and extended to form an entrance porch in which double doors are built.

    This is covered with an insulating layer of turf approximately six inches

    thick, and the excavated material is heaped over this structure. A typical

    storage cellar of this type is shown in Figure 3.

            “The excavation of a horizontal tunnel is an easier matter, particularly

    in rocky terrain. It suffers, however, from the grave disadvantage that it

    is impossible to prevent the escape of cold air in the summer. As a result,

    the temperatures within such tunnels are not low enough for satisfactory

    storage over long periods.

            “A modification of this method, which has been used with limited success

    in the Canadian Arctic, is borrowed direct from local Eskimo practice and takes

    the form of a comparatively shallow excavation in a sand or gravel ridge. Meat

    may be preserved if placed in such a trench and covered with the excavated

    material and an additional layer of sand or gravel, though after one or two

    summer months it will become tainted.”


    Natural Cold Storage in Siberia

            Nature’s Siberian achievements in permafrost cold storage received

    early notice from Europeans, but adoption of the method by Europeans in Siberia

    came late. A. M. Chekotillo (“Underground Storage Places in Permafrost Ground,”

    Priroda , Vol. 2, 1946, pp. 27-32) comments on the lateness. He points out that

    Soviet territories in which this cheap storage method is available are not merely

    050      |      Vol_IIA-0278                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    but also that they extend far south, to the vicinity of great cities like

    Irkutsk, and goes on: “It appears that the presence of such reserves of

    cold would be widely utilized for the purpose of storing fish, game and

    other products. The need for cold storage during the hot part of the year

    is very acute even in the northern regions ( [ where midsummer temperatures

    range toward 100°F. in the shade ) ] . Actually, however, the permafrost has

    been utilized for cold storage to an insignificant degree.” He considers

    future possibilities to be without limit, even on the southern fringe of

    the permafrost territory, “inasmuch as these reserves of cold in the ground

    can be replenished during winter systematically from year to year” — this

    last with reference to his pointing out that the introduction of unfrozen

    food into a permanent storehouse subtracts chill from its walls, which loss

    needs to be compensated for each year by circulating winter air through the

    storage chambers.

            In his survey Chekotillo first sketches the native practice of digging

    down on farther than to the top of the permafrost, using its chill somewhat

    as we formerly used ice in our European-type ice houses, to slow up rather

    than to prevent decay. He points out that sometimes these native storage

    places were mere pits, unlined. In some cases there was a flooring of logs

    or a lining of timber. Some of the pits had sheds over them.

            Chekotillo says that “until recently no underground storage places for

    industrial use were constructed anywhere in the permafrost region” of the

    Soviet Union; but that, by 1945, the practice was growing “as a result of

    the economic developments of our northern regions and the resulting need

    for isothermic storage plants. The great economic and technical difficulties

    of constructing refrigeration plants with machine equipments, in places remote

    and difficult to reach, forced our economists to arrange for the use of the

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    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    ever-frozen ground, with its unlimited reserves of natural g c old. In the

    thirties a number of cold-storage places were constructed for industrial

    purposes but they were comparatively small; these were at Ust-Yenisei, at

    the mouth of the river Khatanga, at Kuzur on the lower Lena, and at a few

    other points in northern Siberia.”

            As an example of what the early and small storage plants were like, the

    one at Ust-Yenisei port is described. It was intended for storing fish and

    was built in May-June, 1932, the ground blasted with dynamite. The entrance

    to it was about 100 feet above the level of the Yenisei and 75 yards from a

    plant in which the fish were processed. The horizontal chamber was at a

    depth of 25 feet and there were two entrance shafts, one for people to go up

    and down, the other for the elevators that raised and lowered the fish. The

    shafts were timbered with logs near the top, to strengthen the active ground

    layer, and below that with boards. The storage chamber had no lining for

    walls or roof; the floor was of boards laid on the earth. There was the

    difficulty that the walls, which were of a sandy clay, would dry out and

    get crumbly. The moisture from them, and other moisture, rose to the roof,

    where it formed in crystals. Chekotillo describes the process by quoting

    Dr. Stephen Taber, University of South Carolina, from his Perennially Frozen

    Ground in Alaska, Its Origin and History , New York, 1943, where Taber is

    dealing with the Lomen plant at Elephant Point (described heretofore):

            “Because of sublimation, ground ice is slowly being removed from the

    walls and deposited on the ceilings of the rooms . . . Loss of ice from the

    walls leaves the silt in relief. Some of the ice crystals formed on the

    ceiling are beautiful. Individual crystals consist of several hexagonal

    plates centered on a stem that hangs downward. The plates range up to 1.5

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    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    inches in diameter and tend to be smaller toward the lower tip of the

    central stem.”

            The inside storage space of the Ust-Yenisei plant’s horizontal chamber

    was 398 cubic meters. Both vertical shafts were housed over with small

    cabins, which were banked with moss and peat to a thickness of between

    2 and 3 feet and to a height of 6 or 7 feet.

            The accounts of the Ust-Yenisei plant do not mention a trouble fre–

    quently dwelt on in Alaska descriptions, a thawing out of the walls, or a

    warming to where meat preservation was no longer perfect, through the

    entrance of too much heat when workmen spent long and continuous periods

    bringing in meats to be frozen. Chekotillo says: “In the summer, during

    the run of the fish, the loading and unloading of fish in the storage place

    occurs almost daily, and the men work several hours at a stretch below.

    Various quantities of fish are brought into the storage plant where it is

    placed on the shelves to freeze, and then preserved in this state until it

    is delivered to the canning factory.”

            It could be that some of the difference between the Siberian and the

    Alaska-Canadian experience is due to greater body warmth in reindeer than

    in fish, but the main difference have no doubt been caused by features of

    design and method. In some of the statements from both Alaska and Canada

    we find the idea that a permafrost storage plant need special provision

    for “ventilation” — which, in summer, means bringing in warm air deliberately.

    This is strange, in a way, for the U.S. Army’s plant near Point Barrow had

    no special ventilating arrangements, and it was the success of this plant

    which led to the development of all the rest.

            At Elephant Point, as described already, there was a special reason to

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    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    make ventilating provisions, since they were installing (as what turned out

    to be an unnecessary precaution) an artificial refrigerating unit in one of

    the permafrost storage alcoves, the operation of which would have required

    large supplies of fresh air. The Soviet descriptions do not mention arti–

    ficial refrigeration auxiliaries; there is from them no mention of special

    provision for ventilating permafrost refrigerators, nor do such appear in

    their published architectural drawing. (The Alaska reindeer meat store–

    houses minimized the harm of their ventilation provisions by not stocking

    up their refrigerating chambers until September, when the weather in north–

    western Alaska is already cool in the day, with frosty nights. Describing

    the Elephant Point plant, the quoted work by Taber says that “during summer

    all doors are kept tightly closed.”)

            In the Ust-Yenisei plant, the temperature varied during the first

    summer between 2° and 12° below freezing. We have no later figures for this

    refrigerator, but the temperature will have been lower in later years, since

    it appears to be general Soviet practice to circulated cold air freely through

    storage room during midwinter, by which practice it is considered they can

    lower next summer’s average plant temperature, as compared with the first

    year of operation, by from 5° to 9°. There are references to lowering

    first-year averages by as much as 14 degrees, and to different summer tempera–

    tures in different rooms of a given plant, this difference having resulted

    from calculated difference between the amounts of cold air circulated through

    these chambers the previous winter.

            At Igarka, some 50 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Yenisei, is

    one of several research stations devoted to permafrost studies. The recommenda–

    tion of Sumgin, mentioned in the introductory part of our discussion, for the

    establishment of a permafrost museum, was tentatively acted upon at Igarka in

    1936 and museum studies have since been carried on there by the Permafrost

    054      |      Vol_IIA-0282                                                                                                                  
    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    Institute, a branch of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. In 1942 these

    underground laboratories were enlarged by an additional chamber of 467-cubic

    meter capacity. “The cooling of the ground in this experimental chamber

    is accomplished during winter by the natural cold of the outside air, the

    temperature of which in Igarka runs to 50 and 55 degrees centigrade below

    zero (58 to 67 degrees below, F.)”

            Soviet writers make a point of the suitability of rooms excavated from

    permafrost, and maintained at permafrost levels of temperature and moisture,

    as laboratories in which to study permafrost conditions and behavior. The

    different laboratory rooms, like different storage rooms, can be maintained

    at different temperatures, if desired, through the admission of different

    amounts of outside air, whether currently or by previous exposure of the

    walls of the permafrost chambers to air of winter temperatures, which tempera–

    tures will have been, to an extent, stores in the walls. Then there can be

    auxiliary mechanical refrigerating or heating units for modifying laboratory

    temperatures as desired.

            Partly as a result of the studies carried on at Igarka, there has been

    since 1942 a rapid extension of permafrost storage activity throughout the

    northern Soviet Union, “particularly in the Kolyma district.”

            Summarizing facts, conclusions, and recommendations, Chekotillo’s

    paper closes by forecasting a marked extension of the use of permafrost

    storage; for it is applicable not merely in the extreme north of the Soviet

    Union but throughout the middle of the country, as far south as Irkutsk

    (which American travelers have called “the Chicago of Siberia”). This south–

    ward extension of the underground storage practice will have to make careful

    use of winter chilling; but with that sort of care the method can be extended

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    EA-I. Stefansson: Natural Cold Storage

    as far south in Siberia as Paris is in France. The construction of permafrost

    shafts and chambers is simple, for timbering is required, like that of the

    mines to which we are used; no linings are required for walls or ceilings,

    since the formation of hoarfrost keeps them white. No repairs are ordinarily

    necessary; for, so long as the underground frost continues, the chambers

    are practically as lasting as if carved from rock. If small repairs are

    needed, as from walls getting too dry and so starting to crumble, the remedy

    is easy. Slushy snow can be applied like mortar and will freeze hard in

    position; cold water can be sprayed on, like paint from a paint gun, and

    will form a glazing.

            Permafrost storage chambers are easy to keep at a uniform temperature

    and moisture. Even near the southern limit of permafrost, it is considered

    that judicious chilling during winter will permit the maintenance during

    summer of a temperature that varies only between 14 and 18 degrees Fahrenheit

    below freezing. Operating this sort of refrigerating plant is so simple that

    anyone can do it, on the basis of a few written or printed rules, whereas

    operating the ordinary artificial refrigerating plant requires engineers

    and other skilled personnel. There is no danger from fire in the permafrost

    chambers; there is no danger from such things as monoxide poisoning, as no

    machinery is used within the plant (any power plant, for elevators and such,

    is located above ground); nothing can explode, as with gas or steam equipment.

    There is thus a minimum of construction cost and maintenance difficulty, a

    maximum of safety and permanence.


    Vilhjalmur Stefansson

    Carl J. Lomen (Section on

    Natural Cold Storage in Alaska)

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