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    Daylight and Darkness in High Latitudes

    Encyclopedia Arctica 7: Meteorology and Oceanography

    Daylight and Darkness in High Latitudes

    001      |      Vol_VII-0830                                                                                                                  

    (Edward M. Weyer, Jr.)


            The “long darkness of winter’” more than anything else except perhaps

    the fear of cold, has prevented people from going to the Arctic. For ages,

    the land “where the nights are six months long” baa been described as suit–

    able only for Eskimos and other primitive people adapted to its extreme


            Only at the Pole, about; 800 miles farther north than the northernmost

    Eskimos, does the extreme condition exist, and even there the sun shines

    for about [in margin — seems irrelevant to text] 28 25 / 53 weeks ? 88 28 weeks each year and remains invisible for the remaining 25.

    Moreover, the season of “useful light” is much longer than this would in–

    dicate. Defining daylight as the amount of light enabling one to read

    newspaper print out of doors under a clear sky, there are 32 weeks of con–

    tinuous daylight at the Pole and over 8 weeks more during which there is at

    least some twilight all the time. This leaves only about 80 days of real


            Where the northernmost Eskimos live, the sun is below the horizon

    continuously for only a little over 16 weeks each year. Of this period,

    only 11 weeks are without any twilight. And during these 11 weeks, the

    landscape is brightened much of the time by the moon, which behaves in a

    way that seems odd to people who live in lower latitudes, Among these

    northernmost people the sun shines continuously for about 18 weeks in the


    002      |      Vol_VII-0831                                                                                                                  
    EA-Met. Weyer: Daylight and Darkness

            About half of all the Eskimos in the world never see the midnight sun,

    for they live too far south; neither do they see the sun go below the hor–

    izon for a whole day even in the depth of winter. At the North Pole there

    are actually about 140 more hours of sunlight each year than at the equator;

    on the Arctic Circle there are about 230 more.

            Sunlight has far-reaching effects on human, plant, and animal life, and

    it is surprising that the influence of the cycle of illumination in high

    latitudes, where the seasonal distribution is so unusual, has not been studied

    more thoroughly.

            Anyone accustomed to the rising and setting of the sun in the temperate

    zone or the tropics will find interest in the midnight sun and other astron–

    omical happenings peculiar to the Arctic and the Antarctic. Many an argument

    has arisen on an Arctic expedition as to when and where the sun can be ex–

    pected to set on a given day. As the expedition moves northward in summer

    everyone agrees that the days are lengthening. But is the setting point of

    the sun moving northward or southward? Sides are taken.

            One man argues that at the equator the sun rises almost due east and

    sets almost due west. As you go northward, he insists, you leave kthe sun

    behind in the south. How, he asks, could the sun set farther north in the

    Arctic than in more southerly latitudes, when it is straight overhead at the


            Another man claims that it does just this. He admits that it seems

    illogical that the sun should set farther north as you travel north, but he

    has seen it do so. On May fifth he saw it set exactly northwest, when the vessel

    was a few miles south of the Arctic Circle.

            To understand how this can be so, you must remember that the earth is

    003      |      Vol_VII-0832                                                                                                                  
    EA-Met. Weyer: Daylight and Darkness

    spherical and visualize its position in relation to the sun in summer. At

    that time the earth is tilted on its axis so that the North Pole is nearest

    to the sun. A person on the Arctic Circle is then on the side closest to

    the sun when it is noon, and he sees the sun well up in the sky. As the

    earth rotates, the observer travels on a circle corresponding to his circle

    of latitude, and, as midnight approaches, he has to look northward over the

    top of the spherical earth to see the sun — up over the North Pole.

            If the sun rises and sets farther north the closer you get to the Pole

    in summer, where does it set exactly at the Pole? The logical answer night

    seem to be due north; but that is net correct. It actually sets due south ;

    for where else could it? All directions are due south at the North Pole.

    And at the South Pole, all directions are due north. But anywhere between

    65°30′ N. and the North Pole, as the summer sun circles the sky without

    setting, it comes closest to the horizon when it is due north each day. And

    when after the period of continuous sunlight it again sets, it does so in the

    north. As the days become shorter, the situation is reversed. Instead of

    dipping toward the northern horizon, it rises above the southern horizon.

            The accompanying chart will show at a glance the direction in which

    the sun will rise and set on any day in the year in any latitude from 0° to



    Duration of Sunlight

            Another pair of charts reproduced here show quickly the number of hours

    of daylight and twilight in the Northern Hemisphere on any day in the year

    and in any latitude from 30° to the Pole.

            An example will best show how the sunlight chart is used. Suppose you

    want to know how many hours of sunlight there will be at Reykjavik, Iceland,

    004      |      Vol_VII-0833                                                                                                                  
    EA-Met. Weyer: Daylight and Darkness

    on May 20. The latitude of Reykjavik is 64°N. On the sunlight chart find

    where the curve for 64°crosses the line for May 20. Where these two lines

    cross, set a ruler so that it is also lined up with the small X that is

    halfway between the figures for 85° on the horizontal line. This is always

    used as the pivot point in working the chart. The ruler will show on the

    circular scale at the top that there will be 18 hours and 50 minutes of sun–

    light at Reykjavik on May 20.

            To compute this result mathematically would require considerable time

    and a knowledge of the formulas of spherical trigonometry. This chart will

    therefore save much time and simplify all problems connected with the season–

    al sunlight cycle in high latitudes. It will prove useful in scheduling

    airplane flights and various other activities where daylight is a considera–

    tion. It also offers a rapid method of determining the effect of daylight

    on seasonal color changes in animals and on other phenomena such as the time

    of migration and hibernation, the ripening of seeds, and the rate of growth

    in plants.

            Because one half of the year repeats the other in reverse, the calendar

    scale is half at the top and half at the bottom.

            For the Southern Hemisphere, use a date half a year later and follow

    the same method.


    Equation Of Time

            If the exact time of sunrise or sunset is wanted, longitude and the

    Equation of Time must be taken into consideration. If there are ten hours

    of sunlight on a given day, half of it will come before noon and half of it

    after, as measured by local sun time . To convert this to the kind of time

    005      |      Vol_VII-0834                                                                                                                  
    EA-Met. Weyer: Daylight and Darkness

    that the clock shows, add four minutes of time for every degree of longi–

    tude you are west of the meridian to which the clock is set, or subtract

    four minutes for every degree you are east of it.

            For example, New York City is in longitude 74° W. and is on Eastern

    Standard Time. This is 75th-merldian time. Therefore you have to subtract

    four minutes from clock tine to get the time of sunrise or sunset. And if

    there are to be ten hours of sunlight on a given day, the sun will really

    rise at 6:56 instead of 7:00.

            In addition to this correction, you must take into account the Equation

    of Time. This is necessary because it is not exactly 24 hours from noon to

    noon on two successive days. The interval varies because the earth is not

    only rotating on its axis but revolving about the sun in a path that is not

    exactly circular. The result is that our clocks are sometimes several min–

    utes “behind the sun.” (behind the time as shown by a sundial), sometimes

    ahead. The extreme amount is about 16 minutes, plus or minus. The accomp–

    anying chart of the Equation of Time shows how to add or subtract this cor–

    rection at any time of year to change “apparent,” or sun time, to “clock

    time.” Note that during those seasons when the equation of time has a minus

    value, the sun does not rise or set until that many minutes after the time

    as reckoned from the sunlight chart. You would therefore add the time in–

    dicated by this chart when the sign is minus to clock time to get the actual

    time of sunrise or sunset, and vice versa.


    Hours of Twilight

            The twilight chart is used just like the sunlight chart. It shows the

    length of time between the beginning of twilight at dawn and the end of twi–

    006      |      Vol_VII-0835                                                                                                                  
    EA-Met. Weyer: Daylight and Darkness

    light at dusk. Thus it includes all the sunlit hours between. At Reyk–

    javit, for example, which is about 2-1/2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle,

    there is continuous twilight or sunlight for about 20 weeks, from April 11

    to September 1. On March 1 there are about 15 hours and 25 minutes of twi–

    light and sunlight. The sunlight chart shows that 10 hours and 10 minutes

    of this are sunlight. This leaves 5 hours and 15 minutes of twilight, which

    is divided, of course, between morning and evening. So there will be about

    2 hours and 37 or 38 minutes of twilight before sunrise, and the same amount

    after sunset.

            Because twilight lasts so much longer in high latitudes, the periods of

    full darkness are shorter than one might imagine simply from the hours of

    sunrise and sunset. One must travel to within 6 degrees of the Pole to get

    continuous darkness for 24 hours one day in the year. At the Pole, there are

    only about 80 days without twilight.

            Early in the history of astronomy, it was realized that the duration of

    twilight depended upon the distance of the sun below the horizon, and cal–

    culations were made to define the limits of twilight. Alhazen, Tycho Brahe,

    and others concluded that l80° was the best figure. Thus, 18° is the standard

    that comes down to us today for what is known as Astronomical Twilight. In

    other words, Astronomical Twilight ends when the sun is more than 18° below

    the horizon. This is the kind of twilight shown on the chart.

            Actually, twilight is, of course, a variable condition. What might be

    considered twilight to a sailor might not to a traffic officer. The sailor

    may want to know when he can “shoot the stars” or when he should light his

    running lights, while the officer may be more worried about when the street

    limits should be turned on. Thus, two other kinds of twilight have come to

    be recognized. Astronomical Twilight ends when the setting sun is more than

    007      |      Vol_VII-0836                                                                                                                  
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    18° below the horizon. Nautical Twilight ends when the setting sun reaches

    only 12° below the horizon. It is therefore brighter than Astronomical Twi–

    light. Even as far north as about 75°N. one does not find a complete 24-hour period

    period without Nautical Twilight at any time of the year. In latitude 80°

    there are about 37 days without Nautical Twilight, from about December 4 to

    January 10.

            So-called Civil Twilight lasts as long as the sun is no more than 6°

    below the horizon. If one were traveling northward he would still have about

    an hour of Civil Twilight within 17-1/2° of the Pole on the darkest day of

    the year. Three degrees farther north there is no Civil Twilight for a total

    of over a month and a half in midwinter. And at the Pole there is none for

    about 150 days. But all the rest of the year, about 215 days, there is

    either sunlight or Civil Twilight at all times at the very top of the world.

    Charts giving the duration of Civil Twilight from 65° to the Pole can be

    found in The American Air Almanac .

            At the North Pole the sun becomes visible on about March 19. Then for

    about 190 days there is continuous sunlight. On September 24, the sun dis–

    appears, and for 15 days there is continuous Civil Twilight. Then for 34

    days there is either Nautical or Astronomical Twilight, until November 12.

    Twilight again returns on January 30; and by about March 5 there is contin–

    uous Civil Twilight. This increases for about two weeks, whereupon the sun


            The following observations indicate the amount of useful light during

    the different kinds of twilight. They were made by the writer in gently

    rolling, snow-covered country near sea level with excellent visibility under

    a cloudless sky.

            During the entire period of Civil Twilight there was plenty of light

    for traveling over the snow-covered landscape. Indeed, travel was easier

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    EA-Met. Weyer: Daylight and Darkness

    than during the day owing to the absence of glare on the snow. There was

    enough illumination in the shadows to show plainly every unevenness in the

    snow, and distant objects were clearly visible.

            At the end of Civil Twilight there was plenty of light to read a news–

    paper. Only one star, a planet, had come out by the end of Civil Twilight

    on the night these observations were made. A pink glow from the setting sun

    illumined a third of the horizon, where there was a low haze. A half moon

    high in the sky made no appreciable contribution to the general illumination.

    A second star became visible when the sun was about 7° below the horizon,

    and seven others came faintly into view before it had sunk to 8°.

            At this time (about one-third the way through Nautical Twilight) it

    was possible to distinguish eight-inch tree trunks a mile away against the

    western sky, and about one-fourth mile away against the darkest part of the

    sky. It was still easy to travel over the ground.

            It continued possible to read a newspaper until the sun was 9° below

    the horizon, but it became difficult about that time, though there remained

    enough light to write by. When the sun was between 9° and 11° below the

    horizon, the light from the half moon took the ascendency and produced dis–

    tinct shadows.

            It is the writer’s opinion that one’s activity outdoors in snow-covered

    country will depend largely on the moon when the sun is more than 11° below

    the horizon. Thus on a moonless night, travel over rough or dangerous ground

    will become difficult toward the end of Nautical Twilight. Contours in the

    skyline may be distinguishable, but one would want moonlight in order to

    negotiate steep grades. However, with no more than a half moon, travel would

    009      |      Vol_VII-0838                                                                                                                  
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    be possible over fairly rough ground.* Stall branches of trees would be

    distinguishable 100 feet away against the darkest part of the sky. The

    skyline would be clearly visible, though the intervening slopes might not.

            It must be remembered that a good bit depends upon whether the eyes

    have become accustomed to the darkness (an adjustment that takes longer than

    might be imagined), and that individuals differ in their ability to see at

    night. Also, the amount of light reaching the earth from the moon and stars

    varies considerably depending upon the clarity of the atmosphere — its

    freedom from mist or haze, as well as from dust and smoke, which are notably

    absent in the Arctic.


    Effect of Atmospheric Refraction

            We have seen that the year at the Pole is by no means divided into two

    equal periods of sunlight and darkness. The season of sunlight is more than

    half of the year (190 or 191 days), because the sun is actually visible when

    it is below the horizon. This is because the light rays curve as they pass

    through air of different temperature and density. This happens in all lati–

    tudes to varying degrees depending upon conditions. It is conventional to

    evaluate this factor of refraction at 34′ of angle. This means that when a

    star is 34′ below the horizon it will appear to be just on the horizon.

            Since we consider that the sun has not set until its upper edge, or

    limb, has disappeared, a correction must also be made for half its diameter,

    *This wording seems conservative here and elsewhere. Some northern

    travelers would use this phrasing for an arctic moon four days old. The

    reader may rely on it that the useful daylight is either as great as stated

    by Dr. Weyer or greater . (Note by V. Stefansson)

    010      |      Vol_VII-0839                                                                                                                  
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    or 16′. In other words, from the time the center of the sun in at its

    highest point in the sky to the time when its upper edge passes below the

    horizon, the sun has actually gone through 90°16′. Adding to this the cor–

    rection for refraction, we get 90°50′ as the true zenith distance of the sun

    when it sets.

            Refraction causes more extreme “mirage effects” under unusual circum–

    stances, and of course it varies with seasonal weather conditions. But it

    would scarcely be advantageous to take fluctuations of this sort into ac–

    count when computing sunrise and sunset in the Arctic, because the weather

    conditions during the sunnier part of the year do not differ radically from

    those accepted as standard for the refraction factor used, and the difference

    in the over-all picture would not be great in any case.


    Effect of Observer’s Altitude

            The figures given in this discussion and in the charts are for an ob–

    server about 6 feet above sea level. There is considerably more sunlight

    for an observer looking out to sea from a mountain top or from a plane. At

    an altitude of 15,000 feet, for example, an aviator would see the sun for 77

    minutes after it had “set,” in latitude 64° N. early in July. It would also

    rise 77 minutes earlier. This difference varies widely with the seasons in

    high latitudes. For tables giving it, the reader is referred to The American

    Air Almanac . It scarcely need be pointed out, on the other hand, that the

    sun appears to set earlier if there are mountains on the skyline and that the

    light conditions may be altered considerably for a person in a deep valley.


    Sun and Climate

            Since there are more hours of sunlight in the Arctic than on the equator

    011      |      Vol_VII-0840                                                                                                                  
    EA-Met. Weyer: Daylight and Darkness

    and since they are bunched much more in one half of the year, one may ask

    why it is not hotter in the Arctic. A partial answer is that the thermometer

    does sometimes go higher in the Arctic during the long days of sunlight than

    it ever does in certain parts of the tropics. This happens mostly inland,

    away from the moderating influence of water and ice. In general, however,

    summer temperatures in the Arctic become warm rather than hot. This is chief–

    ly because the sun, although visible for long periods, does not rise so high

    in the sky. Its rays consequently have to pass through a thicker blanket of

    atmosphere, which lessens their strength; and since they strike the earth at

    a lower angle, the same quantity of heat is spread over a larger area.


    Sunlight and Animals

            It is now well known that length of daylight determines the breeding

    cycles and seasonal color changes in many animals and birds. As early as

    1803, the Spanish are said to have used lights to increase the egg production

    of hens, but they thought that the light simply kept the birds up in the

    night and caused them to eat more. Today the practice of artificially

    lengthening the daily period of light to increase egg production is so gen–

    erally recognized that specially designed clocks for controlling illumination

    are a standard commodity in the mail order catalogues.

            Until about 1942 it was commonly argued that the increasing cold of

    approaching winter caused the ptarmigan to don the white plumage which en–

    ables it to escape the many enemies that otherwise might spot it against the

    snow. By experimentally controlling the lighting, Per Höst induced the willow

    ptarmigan to change its plumage regardless of high or low temperatures. He

    caused the birds to whiten out of season and to lay eggs in winter. Indeed,

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    they went through their molts and even skipped some depending upon the light


            The ermine of regal reputation, more prosaically known as the weasel,

    loses the whiteness of its pelt in the warmer season. Here again, the length

    of daylight is the prime factor, as demonstrated by T. H. Bissonette, to whose

    published works the reader is referred for further details. It was once

    thought that cold or the “sight of snow” caused these animals to put on their

    white coat for winter. Daylight is now known to be the explanation. Indeed,

    it seems that female Bonaparte and New York weasels don theirs sooner than

    the males even though the latter, being more venturesome, are out in the cold

    more. The females, being more inclined to enjoy the security of the den, are

    less exposed to daylight, and they change sooner.

            In these changes, the length of daylight rather than its brightness is

    believed to be the chief cause. The stimulus is received through the eyes

    and affects the anterior pituitary gland, whose secretion causes the change.

            On sixteen hours of light a day, weaver finches that do not normally

    case into nuptial plumage until two years of age, have been caused to do so

    the first year. Through artificial lighting, mallard drakes have been in–

    duced in February and March to undergo the plumage change that usually takes

    place in June and July.

            The effect of day-length on birds does not stop with plumage and the

    development of the reproductive organs, for this latter gives the urge to

    migrate and sing. Even in Pliny’s time, the extreme regularity with which

    birds migrate was noted, and fluctuations in temperature were too variable

    to be held accountable. It is now known that the length of daylight controls

    the migration dates of many birds. .And since the arrival of birds in spring

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    and summer in the Far North is a spectacle of great magnitude, it is to be

    hoped that further studies will be made in the near future. All migrating

    birds do not respond to the length of day; some seem to be influenced by

    other factors, possibly temperature, food supply, or other forces too in–

    volved to discuss here.

            The animals of the Arctic have not been studied adequately in this re–

    spect, and a fertile field awaits investigation. From the lowest animals

    to the highest, in the sea and on the land, the life of the Arctic will

    probably show many strange adaptations to the sunlight cycle when fully


            We know that in lower latitudes, animals can be classed according to

    whether they are adapted to activity in the daytime (diurnal animals) or

    during the darker hours (nocturnal animals). The diurnal group must become

    adapted to meet or avoid relatively high temperatures, high evaporation rate,

    bright light, and decreased conductivity of air for odors. The nocturnal

    group must become equipped for decreased temperature, high humidity, dim

    light, and increased conductivity of air for odors. Each group faces dis–

    tinct problems in the securing of food and in the escape from enemies. The

    animal’s sensory apparatus has sometimes undergone extreme specialization

    in response to the conditions of life as determined by the sunlight cycle.

            An example from the temperate zone is the rattlesnake. Being unable

    to endure the high temperatures of the desert during the day, it hunts largely

    at night and depends not so much upon eyesight to locate its prey, as upon

    a pair of heat receptors, located on the head, These are so sensitive that

    a blindfolded rattlesnake can search out and strike a small warm-blooded

    animal with remarkable precision.

            Many animals adapted to activity in the daytime, on the other hand, have

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    poor sensory equipment for seeing at night and are relatively helpless.

            Specialization in either of these directions follows a recognizable

    pattern in moderate latitudes, where daylight and darkness succeed each other

    with what we are accustomed to think of as normal rapidity. Rest alternates

    with activity on a 24-hour cycle. North of the Arctic Circle, nocturnal spec–

    ializations are of course valueless at the season when there is continuous

    daylight. No animal depending upon nighttime prowling could survive long in

    this situation. Nor could the diurnal animal conceal itself by the same methods

    that are used when the cover of darkness can be depended upon in each 24-hour


            In winter, the sun disappears for more than 24 hours everywhere north

    of about 67-1/2°. At the North Pole it disappears for about 175 days. She

    animals living in these high latitudes must to greater or less degree be equip–

    ped to forage during twilight, if they do not hibernate or live on stored


            Biologists have become increasingly aware in recent years of the import–

    ance of the daylight-darkness cycle in causing anatomical and physiological

    adjustments for rhythmic or periodic activity. Many basic tests have been

    made, but few studies have been carried out on the creatures living where the

    midnight sun imposes the most interesting and extreme conditions.


    Moonlight in the Arctic

            Another reason why the Arctic night is not so black as it has been painted

    is that the moon remains above the horizon for long periods during its bright–

    est phases. Also, the lack of dust in the atmosphere and the reflective power

    of snow-covered land make moonlight especially bright.

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            At the poles the moon remains above the horizon continuously for about

    two weeks each month. Then it disappears below it for a period that is some–

    shorter. Its monthly schedule is therefore comparable in general to the sun’s

    yearly cycle. It is above the horizon longer than it is below it because of

    atmospheric refraction and because its upper edge, rather than its center, has

    to disappear before it has actually set. The apparent diameter of the moon is

    about the same as that of the sun, as anyone can see during a total eclipse.

            However, the moon’s motions are not as simple as the apparent movement of

    the sun. For this reason and because our calendar is geared to the sun rather

    than to the moon, it is not possible to chart the cycle of moonlight as simply

    as we have done for sunlight.

            More important to the hunter and traveler than slight variations in the

    length of time the moon remains above the skyline is the question of whether

    it is full, quarter, or new. The moon goes through its phases in the Arctic

    on the same schedule as elsewhere in the world. But this schedule is related

    to its time of rising and setting in such a way that the situation is peculiar–

    ly favorable for those who dwell in high latitudes. To understand this, one

    must picture the relative positions of the sun, earth, and moon as shown in

    the accompanying drawing.

            The earth travels in a curved path around the sun, rotating on its axis

    as it does so. But it is inclined on its axis so that in the middle of winter

    (December 22) the North Pole is tipped away from the sun at an angle of about

    23-1/2°. This is the time of greatest darkness in all high northern latitudes.

    Continuous night or twilight exists for one or more days north of about 65-1/2°.

    The sun cannot shine over these regions even at “noonday.” The tilting of the

    axis of the earth has taken them into the shadowed side. This tilting is what

    016      |      Vol_VII-0845                                                                                                                  
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    makes it winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It also is what determines that

    there shall be the most favorable distribution of moonlight at the season when

    it is most needed.

            The moon continually revolves around the earth, completing the circuit

    once every month. When the moon is between the sun and the earth, we have

    new moon, when it is out at the side, approximately a week later, we have

    “quarter” moon. And when it is on the opposite side of the earth from the

    sun, we have full moon. At this time of the year, the arctic regions are

    tilted away from the sun. They are therefore tilted toward the moon when

    the moon is full. This means that in winter the moon will always be highest

    and longest in the sky when it is fullest. New moon and crescent moon will

    not appear above the horizon at the Pole in midwinter. The two weeks when the

    moon is above the horizon in midwinter are the two weeks when it is at its


            The same seasonal relationship favors the Antarctic, though at the

    opposite time of year, of course, because it is winter there when it is summer

    in the Arctic.

            When it is summer in the North, the moon does not waste its light in

    competition with the midnight sun. At that season, the axis of the earth is

    tipped so that the North Pole is nearest to the sun and the South Pole forth–

    est away. The light of the sun shines over the North Pole and down the far

    side of the earth. The nearest thing to night for a person on the Arctic Circle

    comes when the earth, in its daily rotation, takes him around to the side that

    is farthest from the sun. He then has to look up over the North Pole to see

    it, but the sun remains visible above the horizon. Whether or not the observer

    can see the full moon in this position will depend upon what year it is, but

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    we shall discuss this later. In any case, he will not see it for long each

    day. Latitudes north of about 70-1/2° never do see the full moon exactly in

    midsummer (unless more than normal atmospheric refraction produces a mirage

    effect). Right at the North Pole, the moon is continuously below the horizon

    for about two weeks during its brightest phases in midsummer.

            As the moon wanes, it shows itself more and more above the horizon during

    the northern summer. Since by the very nature of its motion it has to be be–

    low the horizon almost half of the time each month at every season, it is for–

    tunate that it gives the Arctic its weaker phases in summer when there is so

    much sunlight and that it reserves its stronger phases for the season when the

    sun provides the least light.

            In this explanation we have pretended for the most part that the path of

    the moon around, the earth lay in the same plane as the path of the earth around

    the sun. Actually, the moon’s orbit is tipped at an angle of about 5° from the

    earth’s. And the “high” and “low” points of its orbit are slowly but contin–

    ually moving around in relation to the inclination of the earth on its axis.

    This does not materially modify the seasonable relationship we have been dis–

    cussing. But it does change the height to which the moon rises in the sky at

    any one time and place from year to year. And it determines how far north one

    has to travel, to see the lunar equivalent of the midnight sun.

            If the orbit of the moon lay in the plane of the earth’s orbit, an ob–

    server at the Pole would see the moon rise above the horizon to a height of

    about 23-1/2° each month, year-in and year-out. But because the moon’s orbit

    is tilted about 5°, a man at the Pole would sometimes see the moon rise to about

    28-1/2° and at the opposite extreme only to about 18.1/2°. This is because the

    5-degree tilt of the moon’s orbit is sometimes added to the earth’s 23-1/2-degree

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    tilt and sometimes subtracted from it. This cycle is completed about every

    18.6 years.

            In 1932 the moon reached its peak altitude. About nine and a third years

    later, in 1941, it rose only to 18-1/2° at the Pole. In September of 1950,

    it again reached its highest altitude. The exact height varies slightly from

    one peak to the next but not enough for us to consider here.

            Tracing the circle back through history, we see that the noon was at about

    its lowest point in the sky at the time Sir John Franklin’s expedition of over

    100 men perished in the central Canadian Arctic. Pure coincidence certainly,

    but tragedy also overtook the Greely expedition in northern Greenland when

    the moon was approaching its lowest point. Peary made his famous polar hourney

    when the condition was about average. It was considerably better when Roald

    Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott both reached the South Pole. The moon hung

    high when Vilhjalmur Stefansson began his celebrated expedition of 1914-18,

    and he completed it under an average moon. Five years later, when the Wrangel

    Island expedition perished, the moon was again at its worst.

            What this means is that at the Pole during What we have been calling

    favorable periods, the moon rises more than 50% farther above the horizon

    in its circuit of the sky than it does at the opposite point in the 18.6-

    year cycle, As a result, It rises more rapidly and is higher and therefore

    brighter for a greater percentage of the time. It is not visible appreciably

    longer each month. But even so, it is more useful for certain types of hunt–

    ing and, other sorts of activity than when it is not rising so high.

            One has only to travel to about 60-1/2° north latitude to see the lunar

    equivalent of the midnight sun when the soon is rising to a height of 28-1/2°

    at the Pole (allowing case degree for atmospheric refraction). At the opposite

    time in the 18.6-year cycle, when the moon is rising lowest over the Pole, it

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    is necessary to go about 650 miles farther north - to about 70-1/2° N. - to

    witness this. The sun, it will be recalled, offers its midnight display in

    a latitude of about 65-1/2° every year.


    Value of the Moon

            Though the full moon gives only about a half a millionth as much light

    as the sun, its illumination is very important to those who live in the Arctic.

    In winter, when both direct and indirect sunlight are absent much of each day,

    the ground is usually snow-covered, and it therefore reflects ouch more light.

    Also, there is a minimum of dust in the air in arctic regions, because most

    of the surface is sea, lake, or swamp. Smoke is rare so far from factories

    and forest fires. These things make the air in the Arctic especially clear

    and cause the moan to shine with special brilliance unless there are clouds

    or fog.

            Vilhjalmur Stefansson consulted a number of polar travelers and found

    them to agree that on a cold midwinter night you get more useful light from

    half a moon on a snowy landscape than from a full moon shining on a green

    landscape. It is his opinion that, with a clear sky, you can see a mountain

    range as far by the light of the stars and half a moon as you can by sunlight.

    Several arctic pilots he wrote to agreed that you can land an airplane about

    as safely with half an arctic moon as with daylight. Some informants have said

    that half a moon does not give quite as much light as you would ideally want

    but that freedom from glare compensates for the brighter light of a daytime

    landing on snow.

            Quoting Stefansson further, “Some experienced flyers disagree that the

    light of half a moon is adequate for safe landings, and. feel that moonlight

    really sufficient is available only for the two or three nights at the immediate

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    full. These flyers, however, are all from Alaska, all have their main exper–

    ience in the Yukon valley, not on the prairie north of the Brooks Range or on

    the Arctic coast. This brings out an important thing — that clumps of forest

    scattered here and there about an otherwise snowy landscape detract from the

    total reflecting effectiveness more than you would expect. For one thing, the

    moon is usually at a slant so that the trees not only absorb the light which

    strikes them directly but also throw a shadow over same more of the landscape.

    Then there are like shadows thrown by rocks and cutbanks, while cliffs are

    usually dark because they are steep. Mountain slopes are not on the average

    as effective with moonlight as are horizontal landscapes....

            “An advantage of moonlight over sunlight, connected with the absence of

    glare, is that it throws more sharply defined shadows or appears to do so; and

    shadows give an airman his one possibility of telling the difference between a

    level and a rough snow or ice surface when he is coming down for a landing.”

            Northern lights, of course, sometimes add considerably to the illumination

    (See “Aurora Borealis” in Vol. I of this Encyclopedia), though they do not

    give these sharp shadows and are not predictable.


    Moonlight and Hunting

            If the Eskimos had to stop hunting when the sun went down, a great many

    of them would starve. Stores of meat and fuel laid aside for winter help greatly,

    but these people secure a significant share of their provisions during twilight

    and moonlight. The first brilliant moonlight after the winter ice has formed

    is a favorite time for hunting the polar bear among the Eskimos of northern

    Greenland. The principal sealing season among many groups of Eskimos is during

    the arctic night. Hunting is brought practically to a standstill in midwinter

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    chiefly among the groups farthest north, like the Polar Eskimos of Smith

    Sound, and even there only when the moon does not brighten the landscape.

    And if stores have been secured in the normal course of events to tide over

    this season, the natives enjoy many activities less ardently pursued at other

    times, such as visiting, dancing, and ceremonial festivals.

            Stefansson points out that sealing is easier under waning illumination

    than caribou halting is, for in the latter, field glasses are as important

    as the rifle, and this makes daylight necessary for any considerable success.

    It is interesting that one type of sealing - that with nets placed under the

    ice - is practical only during darkness. Even the moon interferes with this

    type of hunting, and a bright aurora is said to be unwanted.

            Summarizing, the moon goes through its phases each month in the Arctic

    as it does elsewhere. But whereas in moderate and tropical latitudes it is

    below the horizon about half the time whether it is new or full, in the Arctic

    it remains above the horizon continuously for long periods when it is bright–

    est and most needed. Even a half moon is a welcome aid to the traveler and

    hunter. At its brightest its light, reflected through clear air by the snow

    cover, exceeds anything oriinarily seen in the tropics. It is of considerable

    practical value to those living in the north; and its silvery brilliance, fall–

    ing upon, mountain peak, crevassed glacier, and nestling hamlet has caused many

    to extol Its esthetic qualities.


    Water Sky, Land Sky

            Under certain light conditions, especially when the sky is uniformly over–

    cast with reasonably high clouds, the navigator or sledge-traveler in the Arctic

    Sea can make good use of their reflective power in setting his course. They

    show him where there is open water, where ice, and where land of different sorts.

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    Indeed, the sky becomes like a map of the territory beneath.

            The sailor is particularly anxious to find open water or lanes in the

    ice wide enough for him to navigate. These appear on the sky map as dark areas

    between white patches. The sun, shining through the clouds on areas different–

    ly colored or lighter or darker, produces this effect. Even the character of

    the ice can be ascertained. Quoting from Stefansson, “Broken surfaces with

    many pressure ridges can themselves never be quite uniformly white and are,

    therefore, represeneed above by a slightly mottled appearance. One kind of

    surface ice, the paleocrystic, has been converted by many summers of rains and

    thaws into a small-scale equivalent of an undulating prairie. The hollows are

    choked with snow, the hills that have been swept free of snow are blue in ap–

    pearance, because, as elsewhere explained, old ice is always fresh and glare.

    Paleocrystic floes are, then, reflected to the sky by round, oval, or at least

    not angular, dark patches in a matrix of white.

            “The sky map shows leads in their full variety of manifestations. Those

    which are several weeks or months old are smoothly snow covered and are there–

    fore shown by the clouds more uniformly white than any other ice; and so you

    will discover long ribbons in the sky representing them cleanly. Other leads

    have ice from one to several days old, and they are represented by sky ribbons

    of various degrees of darkness. Those leads in which the water is still un–

    frozen are shown the darkest of all, practically black….

            “When you approach land [when traveling over white sea ice] in winter or

    early spring you see first a general darkening of the sky. This is not as pro–

    nounced as if caused by open water. There are certain patterns in the sky map

    now which you recognize as showing land formations, and there is an amber or

    yellow tinge due to the bleached grass which sticks up here and there through

    the snow. If there are in the land sky a few patches as dark as over water,

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    you know they are sandy or rock stretches — at any rate land where the wind

    has swept all the snow away.

            “A modification of land sky is something found at sea in that strong off–

    shore winds have carried dust and fragments of rock out upon the ice. There

    will then be belts and tongues of gradually fading darkness stretching out in

    the sky map from the denser drabness of the land.”

            A special pinkish effect is seen in the sky map when the tiny plant known

    as “pink snow” has formed on the surface. This occurs in late spring when the

    temperature is ranging between about 20°F. at night; and 20° in the daytime.


    Sun Dogs

            An interesting sight that can be seen in the Arctic because it is caused

    by crystals of ice in the atmosphere is the phenomenon known as sun dogs, or

    parhelia. These are mock suns, appearing at about the same height as the sun

    and connected with it by a white arc or halo. There are also halos surrounding

    the sun (or moon) at definite distances of about 22° and 46°. These distances

    tire determined by the fact that the ice crystals suspended in the air have defin–

    ite angles of 60°and 90°. The luminous arcs exhibit the colors of the rainbow

    but not in a well-defined manner. The only definite tint is the red on the

    inside of the circle. In addition to these two arcs, there may be others form–

    ing a definite pattern but not completely visible all at once, as a rule.

            The brightest sun dogs are usually seen at the intersections of the two

    halos with the luminous are paralleling the horizon through the true sun. They

    are most brilliant when the sun is near the horizon. Mock moons are formed in

    the same way and are called paraselenae instead of parhelia . As the sun rises,

    the sun dogs may pass a little beyond the halo and acquire flaming tails. There

    is sometimes a vertical circle passing through the sun.

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            Though more recent studies have added to our knowledge of these phenomena,

    the reader is referred especially to the celebrated memoir by Auguste Bravais,

    Sur les Halos et les Phenomenes Optiques qui les Accompagnent (1847), in the

    Journal de l’Ecole Royale Polytechnique , vol. xviii.


    The Sun and Human Life

            One is perhaps most curious to know the effects of the northern sunlight

    cycle on human life. Of course, the most obvious thing is that you can get a

    terrific sunburn, owing to the intense reflection of the sun’s rays from sur–

    faces of ice, snow, or water. The Eskimos wear snow goggles made of wood,

    bone, or ivory with narrow horizontal slits cut in them.

            Many peoples throughout the world have worshipped the sun, both in trop–

    ical and temperate latitudes. Elbaroate rituals have been developed to cele–

    brate the “return of the sun” and the summer solistice. We see relics of such

    ceremonies even in central Europe in our own time. We are somewhat surprised,

    therefore, to find that the Eskimos, who are exposed to the extremes in the

    sunlight calendar, express little religious concern for the sun. Nor can this

    be explained by any failure to develop an elaborate religious philosophy in

    other directions.

            To be sure, among the Iglulik Eskimos, when the sun first reappears after

    the period of darkness, the children must run into the snow huts and put out

    the lamps. The new sun must be attended by new light. And at Point Barrow it

    was customary in pre-Christian times when the sun returned, to chase the evil

    spirits out of the house with knives, shouts, and frantic gestures. In West

    Greenland there was customarily a feast and dance at the time of the winter

    solstice, but we cannot be sure that it was not instituted by the medieval

    Europeans who began occupying the west coast of Greenland following 982.

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            The sun does play a part in Eskimo mythology, as distinct from cultic

    ceremony. The sun is a girl who is constantly being chased about the sky by

    her brother, the moon. (The moon-man, indeed, is a more important spirit than

    the sun, particularly in Alaska.) But the sun-girl is not an important deity.

    Eskimo religious ceremonies are directed largely toward the obtaining of food

    and other necessities. Yet in spite of the fact that the sunlight season is

    associated with plenty and the sunless time with difficulties in securing these

    necessities, the sun-girl is not worshipped. The honors go to a goddess who

    lives down under the sea and is thus as far from the sun as she could get.

            The respect they pay the moon-spirit is not for the light he sheds, either,

    but rather for the ways he can help people indirectly through magical powers.

            It is as though the Eskimos recognized the orderly processes of astron–

    omy as unchangeable. Weather they will try to alter. But who could change

    the heavenly bodies in their courses? Their philosophy here appears to differ

    from that of more advanced peoples who have put much store in the supernatural

    influence of astronomical movements.

            In some sections the Eskimos do practice a semireligious pastime of making

    cat’s cradles with string in the autumn “to delay the disappearance of the sun,”

    but the commoner rule seems to be that the gams is tabooed except during the

    dark days “when the sun cannot see.” So the attitude in this observance, while

    linked with the sun, does not seem well defined.

            The northern lights are believed to be a manifestation caused when the

    spirits of the dead play football with a walrus head.

            One finds many descriptions in arctic literature of the miseries the Eski–

    mos endure during the darker season. If sufficient stores of food, clothing,

    and fuel have not been laid aside, the people do suffer. But it must not be

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    assumed that this is the fate of every village every winter. There is also

    much merriment during the time of darkness, with games, supernatural ceremonies,

    and story telling. The “gloom of winter” has not prevented the Eskimos from

    having a reputation for unusual cheerfulness.

            An observer from more southerly regions usually searches for psychological

    effects that can be attributed to the environment he finds so different from

    his own. Stefansson points out that the impressions and reactions of a person

    during his first year in the Arctic are apt to reflect the “un-Arctic” ideas

    he brought with him rather than the actual state of affairs. If his mind is

    full of the dramatic episodes of arctic exploration, it is a shock for him to

    realize that people from moderate latitudes have lived in the Arctic year-in

    and year-out, raising families and vegetables, and, for that matter, enjoying

    recreational activities not possible in our sore heavily populated areas. If

    by background and nature a man is the sort of person who would rather live under

    the tracks of an elevated train than under the northern lights, he will probably

    return to his noisy canyon as soon as he can. He may no longer feel, in all

    honesty, that he is something of a hero simply for having ventured into the

    Arctic Zone, He will probably only consider himself more fortunate staying

    right back where he came from for the rest of his life. If, however, he remains

    in the Arctic, either through desire or necessity, he may give a more balanced

    view of the conditions there, and he may come to love the land.

            The writer would point out that life in the so-called Temperate Zone in

    winter would be far from comfortable were it not for our equipment for living

    there. Few of us wrest our food, clothing, shelter, fuel, and other necessities

    from nature as the Indians did before the coming of white men. As a result, we

    cannot easily think of the climate in the same terms as our pioneer ancestors


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            Man carries with him an environment of his own making, compounded of all

    the things he has invented or acquired to modify the effects of the natural

    world. When we cay that a man enjoys nightlife, we do not mean that he craves

    darkness like some nocturnal animal, poorly equipped far life abroad at any

    other time. We mean that he enjoys the activities that the world of entertain–

    ment provides — with plenty of bright lights. Another will prefer the pleas–

    ures of the beach, even if he has to plaster himself with grease to avoid pain–

    ful and dangerous consequences.

            These are the things we must hold in mind when trying to evaluate the

    climate of any part of the world. We must separate fact and opinion. The

    facts of climate, of which the daily and seasonal distribution of sunlight

    forms a part, can be agreed upon. But, since human temperament differs as

    widely as it does, there is room for difference of opinion among reasonable


            It is therefore no surprise that we get divergent interpretations regard–

    ing the effect of winter darkness on human beings. From his personal experience,

    Stefansson refutes the thesis that darkness must of itself produce melancholy.

    Bertelsen, on the other hand, writes of the situation in Greenland as follows:

    “Of the greatest importance in respect to health is, however, the influence of

    the country on the nervous system of those who have come to live there. The

    long distance from the mother country, the formed associations with the same

    few people or the absolute loneliness, the lack of suitable variety, the com–

    parative inactivity, the monotomy which often makes life feel curiously unreal

    and shadowy, an existence limited essentially to daily metabolic process, the

    journeys, frequently with a distinct element of danger, the close contact with

    the forces of nature, the illimitable space, the stillness and darkness, oper–

    ate strongly on the mind. During the first part of the stay all of these fac–

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    tors not infrequently result in an increased irritability and a morbid dis–

    trust of the surroundings; later on a certain dullness of the initiative and

    a coarsening of the whole mental life are the most conspicuous symptoms. In

    certain cases, with special mental predispositions, the reaction may set in

    far more strongly, ending in pronounced insanity.”

            It is the writer’s belief that we might find a comment quite comparable

    to this if we searched the literature of England in early colonial times, de–

    scribing, let us say, the region of Atlantic City. In natural beauty, one

    hesitates to compare Greenland with Atlantic City.


    Arctic Hysteria

            Knud Rasmussen, the well-known explorer and ethnologist, wrote of the

    natives of King William Land as follows: “Then it was that I observed the

    same thing as so often before at Thule in North Greenland, that the approach–

    ing darkness and the long stormy night affected the nerves and minds of the

    Eskimos. Almost every evening the camp was scared by the imaginary visits of

    spirits which, they said, could only be heard or felt, and with which the local

    shamans...were consequently compelled to combat incessantly.”

            H. P. Steensby, writing of the Polar Eskimos of northern Greenland, stated

    that “....a peculiar form of hysteria, more frequent among women than among men,

    is said to be strikingly common late in the autumn, when the winter darkness

    is just coming an. Such attacks last for some minutes to about half an hour...”

    Jenness likewise wrote: “Hysteria is particularly common around the Polar basin;

    the long winter darkness and the loneliness and silence of the hunter’s life

    make the Arctic people more susceptible to this disorder than the rest of the

    human race.” And Novakovsky reported that “arctic hysteria” was prevalent in

    northeastern Asia. The women there likewise seemed more susceptible than the men, and

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    it was suggested that the tribes that have been in the region longest appear

    more immune to it than those that have arrived more recently.

            Kaj Birket-Smith, on the other hand, did not notice any “arctic hysteria”

    on his extensive travels in the central Canadian Arctic. And Margaret Lantis

    did not find a single case of it on Nunivak Island daring her stay there in

    1939-40, nor was there any report of it from recent years. She concluded that

    it may have existed in the far past but that it was not in any case common.

            Perhaps the best summary of the evidence and opinions regarding “arctic

    hysteria” is given in The Science of Society , by Sumner, Keller, and Davie

    (1927), Vol. IV, pages 514 ff.

            It seems that little if any difference can be detected between “arctic

    hysteria” and hysterical phenomena observed widely throughout the world. Is it,

    therefore, caused by some factor peculiar to the Arctic, or is it merely the

    outsider’s name for something that occurs almost everywhere? In the absence

    of consistent statistical evidence, we can only express uncertainty and skep–

    ticism and place the matter squarely in the lap of the psychologists as a

    problem deserving further inquiry. Those who investigate the subject as spec–

    ialists will, of course, recall that monstrous outbursts of hysteria have oc–

    curred in lands where the sun rises and sets in a perfectly conventional way,

    and that the shamans of Siberia have not been content with letting darkness do

    the trick but have employed all manner of methods to induce the condition.


    Sunlight and Agriculture

            Pursuing the thesis that man’s natural environment is one thing and what

    he makes of it another, this discussion would not be complete without mention

    of the advances made in recent decades in agriculture in the Subarctic and

    Arctic. White man’s earliest interest in this part of the world was based upon

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    its pastoral and agricultural opportunities. From shortly before the year

    1000 to sometime in the fifteenth century, thousands of persons from Europe

    made Greenland their home and established farms there. These colonies devel–

    oped a successful social, economic, and religious life. They had their own

    bishops and helped to support the Crusades. After the mysterious disappearance

    of these colonies, apiculture in the Arctic [or, rather animal husbandry re–

    lying on the common domestic animals of Europe] went into eclipse for almost

    five centuries, and other objectives like the fur trade and mineral exploita–

    tion gained popularity.

            In most parts of the Arctic where civilization has penetrated, farming of

    one sort or another is now looked upon as a practical activity and a desirable

    adjunct to other pursuits. The results are sometimes more impressive than the

    world of a century ago would have thought possible. The abundance of summer

    sunlight is, of course, the reason why food plants flourish there.

            Without many years of scientific interest in arctic agriculture, we have

    records of 14-pound cabbages from 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle, at Thunder

    River, Northwest Territories. At the same place, 985 pounds of potatoes have

    been grown from 42 pounds cut to one-eye sets; and 46-inch barley has ripened

    an August 18th. (See articles on Agriculture in Vol. VI, Plant Sciences, for

    further information.)

            Within certain limits, wheat and oats grow more rapidly in high latitudes

    than farther south. In tests carried out over an 8-year period, wheat at Fort

    Vermilion matured 16 days sooner than at Beaver Lodge 220 miles farther south,

    and 1-1/2 days sooner than at Lethridge 600 miles farther south.

            The researches of John M. Arthur have led him to conclude that the potato

    produces most abundantly when grown at a high light intensity on the longest

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    possible days and at a low temperature (about 68° F.).

            With plants of many species it is the length of sunlight more than any

    other factor that determines when the flowers and seeds shall be produced. The

    size, shape, and vigor of the leaves and stems are affected by temperature and

    moisture, as well as by the intensity of the light; but the time of flowering

    depends primarily upon the length of daylight. For this reason, many of the

    common vegetables of the temperate zone will not produce seeds in the tropics,

    where sunlight never lasts much longer than twelve hours. It follows that if

    the farmer in the Arctic wants vegetative growth, he will often do best with

    the plants that require long hours of sunlight before flowering occurs, there

    is wide opportunity for experimentation in the selection and development of

    plants best suited to growth in the Arctic. (See “Thermoperiodism, Vernaliza–

    tion, and Photoperiodism in the Arctic” in Vol. V, Plant Sciences.)

            Stefansson has pointed out that through the ages man has perversely clung

    to domestic animals that were originally native to the tropics instead of domes–

    ticating ones that are better adapted locally to conditions in other climatic

    zones. Though it cannot be said that the native plants of the Arctic will nec–

    essarily produce the greatest food crops, somewhat the same argument can profit–

    ably be applied to future research in arctic agriculture. We cannot expect to

    make the best progress unless the factors influencing the growth of the useful

    part of the plant are analyzed with a view to selecting the varieties and species

    that will respond to the special conditions encountered there.

            Many things are destined to Change in the Arctic in the next few years and

    decades. Occupations attractive to persons in many walks of life will beckon.

    Airplanes, tractors, roads, and el e ctrical generating plants are hastening the day

    when there will be “a radio in every Eskimo snowhouse.” Man’s complex culture

    will seem to overshadow the true Arctic in many ways and to rob it of much of its

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    traditional mystery and romance; and the ingenuity with which we apply our–

    selves to the problems peculiar to the Arctic will determine how rapidly the

    land will be made useful for more people.

            But above all, the sun and moon will continue on their accustomed courses,

    shedding their light according to their strange schedule, regimenting the seasons.

    ripening plants, affecting directly or indirectly every creature of land and

    sea and time controlling the vital processes of nature which provide man with

    his basic needs and spell plenty or famine in any part of the world.


    Edward Weyer, Jr.

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