• Back to Encyclopedia Arctica homepage

    Lauge Koch

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0454                                                                                                                  

    (William H. Hobbs)


            Dr. Lauge Koch (1892- ), distinguished Danish Greenland explorer and

    geologist, was born at Kjaerby near Kalundborg about 70 miles west of Copen–

    hagen on July 5, 1892. He is the son of Pastor Carl and Elizabeth (Knauer)

    Koch. He entered the University of Copenhagen in 1911, was given its degree

    of Master of Science (after making two expeditions to Greenland) in 1920, and

    the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1925.

            He married (1) Eva Birgit, daughter of Professor Gunnar Andersson of

    Stockholm; (2) Ulla [Ho ?] ch, daughter of the Swedish Ambassador to Germany, Arvid

    Richart; and (3) Edith Koch, daughter of Th. Nielsen.

            His exploration of the Arctic began in 1913 when he accompanied Knud Ras–

    mussen to Disko Bay in West Greenland. He was next in Greenland as the efficient

    cartographer and geologist of Rasmussen's Second Thule Expedition to North Green–

    land, 1916 to 1918, the object of which expedition was to explore the central

    and northern parts of the Peary Channel in extreme northeast Greenland. While

    not successful in surveying the channel itself, the party crossed the inland ice

    on a new route, mapped Victoria and Sherard Osborn fjords, and discovered a new

    fjord which was named J. P. Koch Fjord.

            Because of the exhausted condition of the men and dogs, followed by three

    days of blizzard, that fjord, later found to be the northwestern entrance to the

    Peary "channel," was not surveyed. Rasmussen decided to follow the north coast

    eastward, where it was hoped game might be secured to restore the men and dogs.

    002      |      Vol_XV-0455                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Hobbs: Lauge Koch

    After mapping De Long Fjord, the return was started across the inland ice, and

    after losing two men and suffering greatly from hunger, the party was back in

    Etah on September 10th. The expedition had been fruitful of results in further–

    ing the completion of the map of North Greenland.

            This was in large measure due to Koch's newly developed techniques for

    obtaining accurate determination of latitude, longitude, and azimuths at many

    brief halting places. These determinations were later proved to have had an

    average error of not more than one per cent, though this was before the day of

    radio time signals. Due to special devices, theodolite readings had been cor–

    rect down to tenths of minutes of arc.

            By appointment of the Administration of Greenland, Koch was in 1926 made

    Geologist for Greenland.

            Koch next went to Greenland as leader of the Danish Bicentenary Jubilee

    Expedition to north Greenland, 1920-23. This proved to be one of the most out–

    standing of all Greenland expeditions because of the large volume of new and

    accurate exploratory mapping in the most inaccessible northeastern area, which

    is now on the maps as Peary Land. Starting in 1920 at Upernivik on Davis Strait,

    Koch, by following the Greenland coast northward, then eastward and finally south–

    ward, arrived at the entrance to Independence Fjord, which had been discovered

    and named by Peary on July 4, 1892. Koch penetrated the fjord to its head at

    Navy Cliff, and then mapped the very difficult country off the front of the in–

    land ice as far north as latitude 82° 15′. He discovered a deep and narrow fjord

    trenching west from Independence Fjord (Wandel Valley), which he thought might

    be the eastern entrance of Peary Channel, then climbed to the inland ice and

    crossed it to Kane Basin and Inglefield Gulf. His narrative account of the ex–

    pedition was published (in English) in 1926 as Volume LXX of the Danish Meddelelser

    003      |      Vol_XV-0456                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Hobbs: Lauge Koch

    om Grønland (Contributions on Greenland), the great Danish journal on Greenland


            This truly remarkable achievement at once established Koch's reputation

    as one of the great polar explorers of all time. Along much of his journey he

    had traveled close to the tracks of Peary in his expeditions of 1892, 1895, and

    1900. This had given Koch a very high opinion of that explorer's accuracy and

    reliability. Peary had believed that an arm of the sea joined Independence

    Fjord to the Arctic Sea, which would separate the rugged northeast land area of

    Greenland from that covered by the inland ice. He had clearly seen the deep

    valley, but its termination had been hidden. The existence of this "channel"

    was later challenged and at the time of Dr. Cook's brief exaltation as discoverer

    of the Pole, the subject had become a matter of bitter controversy.

            Before the question of this "channel" had been finally settled a number of

    expeditions, mainly Danish, had been sent out. Koch, however, on his Bicenten–

    ary Expedition had shown that a deep trench occupied the position of the "Peary

    Channel" and connected Independence Fjord to the east with J. O. Koch Fjord to

    the west, though whether occupied by the sea throughout was then unproven. It

    was not until 1938, when Koch carried out a flight expedition from King's Bay

    in Svalbard (Spitsbergen) that this question of the possible insular nature of

    Pearly Land was finally settled. The channel was found to be occupied by the sea

    or by a lowlevel lake almost throughout. Koch was then able to publish a map of

    the area, and by superimposing in red Peary's map to show their close agreement

    ( Meddel. om Grønl ., vol. 130, no. 1, pp. 334-337 and map fig. 56).

            After the return from the Bicentenary Expedition in 1923, Koch lectured in

    many European countries and in the United States.

            In the autumn of 1926 Koch, with two geologists, made a sledge journey in

    004      |      Vol_XV-0457                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Hobbs: Lauge Koch

    East Greenland from Scoresby Sound to Myggbukta near Hold-with-Hope; and in

    the following spring one from Scoresby Sound to Denmark Harbor in latitude 77° N.

    These journeys were for the study of geology, but also to make corrections to

    the coastal map. A later expedition, likewise with two geological companions,

    was made in the summer of 1929 for study and mapping of Ymer Island in the Franz

    Josef Fjord of East Greenland. Still another journey for study of the geology

    of East Greenland was made with the expedition ship Godthaab in the summer of

    1930. These were the beginnings of Koch's still more extended expeditions for

    the thorough study of the geology of the coastal area, but which involved also

    a careful mapping of the land with its glaciers and the inland ice at the back.

            In 1931 Koch's Three-year Expedition to East Greenland 1931-34 was begun

    with the two expedition ships Gustav Holm and Godthaab , each equipped with a

    seaplane, and with a party of sixty-five men. The area surveyed extended over

    four latitude degrees (72° to 76° N.), and included the two main wintering sta–

    tions of Eskimonaes and Ella Island and the two smaller stations of Nordfjord

    and Cape Brown. In the summer of 1932 the expedition staff was expanded to

    ninety-five men, eight of them cartographers and fourteen airplane personnel in–

    cluding the photographers. The scientific staff was made up of eleven geologists,

    two zoologists, two botanists, and an archaeologist. An additional station was

    set up on Hochstetter Foreland, and sixteen of the staff remained through the


            In the summer of 1938 the expedition staff was still further expanded,

    this time to include one hundred and nine men (twenty-nine geologists and their

    assistants, twenty-one cartographers, air personnel and photographers), thirteen

    of whom remained through the winter. The work was continued through 1935 and was

    not discontinued until 1938.

    005      |      Vol_XV-0458                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Hobbs: Lauge Koch

            The work accomplished on this great expedition was no less than a com–

    plete cartographical and geological map of the area. Many important scientific

    monographs (Published in English in the Meddel. om Grønland ) grew out of this

    expedition, the greatest scientific expedition in the history of arctic explora–

    tion. The cartographical map covered the area bounded by the meridians of 72°

    and 77° N. and the parallels of 16° and 32° W. It was issued by the Geodetic

    Institute of Denmark in sixteen quadrangular sections.

            In cooperation with the Icelandic government, Koch in 1935 had organized

    a three-year economical-geological investigation of Iceland. This comprised

    an investigation of the hot springs, which was conducted by Professor R. Sonder

    of Zürich; mineralogical studies under the leadership of Professor H. G. Back–

    lund of Uppsala; and agricultural studies under the direction of Professors H.

    Moltesen and F. Steenbjerg.

            In the summer of 1938 Koch made an air survey of Peary Land in two flights

    by hydroplane from King's Bay in Svalbard (Spitsbergen). He was favored by

    clear weather and many excellent air photographs were taken from an altitutde

    of 1,000 meters. It was these views which finally settled the nature of the

    Peary through or "channel" as has been above described.

            In view of the proven reliability and the amount of detail of Koch's survey

    of North Greenland on this expedition, the Geodetic Institute of Denmark in 1940

    published a map of it on a scale of 1:300,000 in 19 quadrangle sections.

            In 1947, after interruption by World War II, Koch resumed his Greenland

    explorations. With two geologists, two assistants, and a personnel of fourteen,

    he reoccupied his East Greenland station of Ella Island on King Oscar Fjord and

    there the scientific personnel spent the winter, continuing the geological studies

    of East Greenland.

    006      |      Vol_XV-0459                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Hobbs: Lauge Koch

            Koch was awarded honorary degrees, and received many medals and decora–

    tions. He was made Honorary and Corresponding Member of the Geographical

    Societies of Copenhagen, Oslo, Göteborg, Stockholm, Helsingfors, Antwerp,

    Moscow, London, Berlin, and New York. He was made Corresponding member of the

    Academie des Sciences of Paris, of the Geological Society of America, and of

    the Explorers Club of New York. He was awarded the Danish Gold Medal of Merit

    in 1923, the Swedish Vega Gold Medal in 1924, the Patrons Gold Medal of the

    Royal Geographical Society of London in 1927, the Charles P. Daly Gold Medal

    of the American Geographical Society in 1930, and the Roquette Gold Medal of

    France in 1933. He was also awarded the silver medals of Danish Hans Egede

    (1927), German Karl Ritter (1928), French Gaudy (1929), Danish Silver Cross

    (1933), and Danish Silver Medal of Merit with clasp (1935). Other decorations

    were Knight of the Dannebrog (Danish) in 1927; Knight of the Nordstiernan (Swedish)

    in 1927; Knight of the Legion of Honor (French) in 1927, and Officer in 1933;

    Commander of the White Rose (Finnish) in 1933; and Officer de l'instruction publi–

    que (French) in 1934.

            Summarizing his twenty years of exploring work in Greenland, Koch has

    published in the Meddelelser om Grønland , almost wholly in the English language,

    thirteen thousand pages of monographic scientific reports illustrated by nine

    hundred plates and maps. The Geodetic Institute of Denmark has issued thirty–

    five sectional cartographical maps based upon his explorations.


    William H. Hobbs

    Back to top