Alaskan Muck: The Canning River Region

In 1919 Ernest de Koven Leffingwell dated Alaskan Ice by dating Ice Wedges.

The elegant simplicity of his stunning scientific achievement highlights just how far the Earth Sciences have retreated from rationality, reason and reality in the last 100 years.

Ernest de Koven Leffingwell isn’t a well known Arctic Explorer.

Ernest de Koven Leffingwell was born January 13, 1875, in Knoxville, Illinois, to Charles and Elizabeth (née Francis) Leffingwell.

He attended the grammar school at Racine College, then attended Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, where he was captain of the track team his senior year, graduated with the AB degree in 1895 and was awarded a MA in 1900.

Racine College was an Episcopal preparatory school and college in Racine, Wisconsin, that operated between 1852 and 1933.

He taught science at St Alban’s school in Knoxville, Illinois in 1895–96 and 1903–04, in the latter period also serving as Superintendent.

He studied physics and geology at the University of Chicago 1896 to 1898 and 1900 to 1906.

He played on the Chicago Maroons football team.

The University of Chicago was a founding member of the Big Ten Conference and the Maroons were coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg for 41 seasons.

During the Spanish–American War he served as a Seaman on the US battleship Oregon during its celebrated dash around Cape Horn and in the Battle of Santiago.

Oregon served for a short time with the Pacific Squadron before being ordered on a voyage around South America to the East Coast in March 1898 in preparation for war with Spain. She departed from San Francisco on 19 March, and reached Jupiter Inlet 66 days later, a journey of 14,000 nautical miles (26,000 km; 16,000 mi). This was considered a remarkable achievement at the time.

The Battle of Santiago de Cuba was a naval battle that occurred on July 3, 1898, in which the United States Navy decisively defeated Spanish forces, sealing American victory in the Spanish–American War and achieving nominal independence for Cuba from Spanish rule.

The Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition of 1901 is filed and forgotten.

Ernest De Koven Leffingwell (1875-1971) had led the science staff in the 1901 Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition which failed in its attempt to reach the North Pole from Franz Josef Land.

On this expedition, he became friends with Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen (1880-1971).

The Anglo-American Polar Expedition – John M MacFarlane – 2012
The Nauticapedia

Polar papers had become naturalized, and so too had their editorial staffs: emerging from the Arctic icescape to serve as editors of the Midnight Sun, for example, were “Mr. P. O. Larbear, and Mr. S. Eal .”

The Midnight Sun of the Baldwin-Ziegler Expedition never published a second number, which might not be surprising given the quality of the opening joke of the only issue: “The ice pilot stated to Capt. Jo. Hanson this morning that he had observed open water on ahead. [Whose head?] Ed.”

The News at the Ends of the Earth – Hester Blum – 2019
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The Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition 1901-1902

Soon after the return of the Wellman expedition, Baldwin was able to win the American entrepreneur William Ziegler (1843-1905), who had made a fortune with baking powder, as a sponsor for a new attempt to reach the North Pole. Ziegler provided Baldwin with “unlimited funds” to carry out his plans. In the end, according to Baldwin’s figures, the expenditures amounted to 142,000 US dollars (about today’s 4,087,000 euros).

Baldwin’s plan was to travel by dog sled from Franz-Josef-Land to the North Pole and – using the ice drift – to return to inhabited areas with the Greenland Current.

In 1901 he sent Johan Bryde (1858-1925) with the Belgica to East Greenland to secure the way back, and he set up storage depots on Bass Rock and Shannon Island.

The 42-member expedition team left Norway on board the America in the summer of 1901.

At Cape Flora in the south of Northbrook Island they met the supply ship Frithjof.

The expedition had provisions for three years, more than 400 sled dogs and 15 ponies, as well as two tethered balloons, each capable of carrying one observer, and a facility for producing the necessary hydrogen.

Baldwin’s plan to advance America to Rudolf Island failed because of the unfavourable ice conditions. In October, he had the winter storage facility built on Alger Island.

In preparation for the planned advance to the pole, the expedition participants set up three depots in the spring of 1902, the northernmost at Cape Auk on Rudolf Island.

Instead of heading for the pole, Baldwin decided that it would be too late to start the attempt in 1902.

Instead, he tried to find the place on Jackson Island where Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen had spent the winter of 1895/96 during the Fram expedition.

On 14 May he found the hut and took the message Nansen had left there.

Baldwin hoped to be able to navigate America further north in the summer, but then the coal supply for the return journey would have become scarce.

He sent a total of 422 balloon buoys, none of which were found in time, to establish a connection to Europe and to ask Ziegler for an additional delivery of coal.

In mid-July Baldwin broke off the expedition and returned to Norway with America.

Ziegler was disappointed by how little Baldwin had achieved and stopped working with him.

He commissioned his deputy and expedition photographer Anthony Fiala (1869-1950) to make a second attempt, the Fiala-Ziegler expedition from 1903 to 1905.

Translated with

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In August of 1902 the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition returned to Norway after an absence of a year in the Franz Josef Archipelago.

The expedition ship, the steam yacht America, had wintered at Camp Ziegler on Alger Island, 80° 24′ N Lat. from where a large sledge party in the spring of 1902 transported about 40,000 pounds of pemmican to Cape Auk (81° 43′ N. Lat.), the southwestern end of Rudolph Island, four miles south of the Duke of the Abruzzi’s station at Teplitz Bay.

On the return of the expedition to Norway, the late William Ziegler, who had so liberally financed it, resolved to send a second party in search of the North Pole.

Fighting the Polar Ice – Anthony Fiala – 1907

Prince Rudolf Land … is the northernmost island of the Franz Josef Archipelago, Russia and is home to the northernmost point in Russia. Because of its location, the island has served as a staging area for numerous polar expeditions.

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Amazon UK:

Franz Josef Land, Franz Joseph Land or Francis Joseph’s Land is a Russian archipelago, inhabited only by military personnel, located in the Arctic Ocean and constituting the northernmost part of Arkhangelsk Oblast.

It consists of 192 islands, which cover an area of 16,134 square kilometers (6,229 sq mi), stretching 375 kilometers (233 mi) from east to west and 234 kilometers (145 mi) from north to south.

Evelyn Baldwin, sponsored by William Ziegler, organized the Ziegler Polar Expedition of 1901.

Setting up a base on Alger Island, he stayed the winter exploring the area, but failed to press northwards.

The expedition was largely regarded as an utter failure by the exploration and scientific community, which cited the lack of proper management.

The length of Alger Island is 10 km (6.2 mi) and its maximum width 4.7 km (2.9 mi). Its highest point is the 429 m high summit of the Kupol Vostok Pervyy ice dome that covers part of the island. There are wide unglaciated areas on the northern and the southwestern shores. Alger Island is located north of McClintock Island, separated from it by a 2 km (1.2 mi) narrow sound.

The wintering site of the 1901 failed American Baldwin-Ziegler Expedition was on Alger Island. They named this island after 19th-century American author Horatio Alger who was a significant figure of American cultural and social ideals at that time.,_Russia

The Anglo-American Polar Expedition of 1906 is rarely remembered.

Leffingwell’s father, who had become wealthy from his ownership of a fruit ranch in California, contributed $5000, and Mikkelsen raised a comparable amount in England and New York.

Their venture became the Anglo-American Polar Expedition of 1906–1908 which aimed to explore the Beaufort Sea.

At that time, many experts believed than an undiscovered land mass lay in this region, since such a mass could account for observed patterns of Arctic currents and tides.

Keenan Land was the name given to a mass of land in the Beaufort Sea about 300 miles north of Point Barrow, Alaska.

It was allegedly discovered in the 1870s by American whaler John Keenan.

Starting in 1907 with the Anglo-American Polar Expedition, numerous unsuccessful attempts were made (by Vilhjalmur Stefansson and Roald Amundsen, among others) to relocate Keenan Land.

The ship which we bought was called the Beatrice, was built in Japan in 1877, and in spite of its age it was a very strong vessel. It was small, only of 55.86 gross tonnage, the length was 65 feet, its beam 20 feet, and depth of hold 7½ feet.

To honour the Duchess of Bedford, who, after Mr. Leffingwell, had been the first contributor to the expedition, and who also had been kind to us in other ways, I asked for permission to give the ship her name.

Her Grace consented to this, as well as to become the formal owner of the ship, as we could not sail an English vessel under the American flag any more than we could stand as the owners of an English ship.

Conquering the Arctic Ice
Ejnar Mikkelsen and Ernest de Koven Leffingwell – 1909

She did not have engines installed; she was therefore the last sailing ship without any other means of propulsion – no back up if the wind failed – to leave uncharted territory to explore for unknown lands and to prove or disprove the existence of Keenan Land.

The Anglo-American Polar Expedition – John M MacFarlane – 2012
The Nauticapedia

When they reached Nome Alaska they found themselves in the midst of a gold rush.

It was a struggle to keep the crew of the ship from deserting to join the gold rush and to their horror they discovered that some of the crew had signed on in Victoria with that express intent.

The Canning River flows through parts of the North Slope in … Alaska. The river begins in the Franklin Mountains of the Brooks Range in the northeastern part of the state. It flows generally north for 201 km through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and enters Camden Bay west of Kaktovik on the Beaufort Sea.

The Leffingwell Camp Site, on Flaxman Island, 58 miles (93 km) west of Barter Island on the Arctic Coast of Alaska, was used by polar explorer and geologist Ernest de Koven Leffingwell on his pioneering Anglo-American Polar Expedition of 1906–1908, which aimed to explore the Beaufort Sea.

In the spring, a two-and-a-half month sled trip was made over the ice in search of the reported land.

The conditions were incredibly harsh, and even though Leffingwell and his companions failed to find the hypothesized landmass, they accomplished one of their objectives by locating the edge of the continental shelf.

On their return to Flaxman Island they found that the Duchess of Bedford was no longer seaworthy. It was dismantled, and a small house was built on Flaxman Island from the interior woodwork and a cabin of the ship.

The expedition disbanded, and most of the members returned to civilization.

National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Leffingwell Camp – Susan Morton – National Park Service 18 Sept 1987

Whenever Ernest de Koven Leffingwell is mentioned in dispatches they usually mention mapping and/or the study of ground ice aka permafrost.

Mikkelsen returned to the US in 1907, but Leffingwell remained on the Arctic coast for another year.

He returned to the North Slope 1909–1912 and 1913–1914, working with one assistant to map 250 km of the Arctic coast, and the Canning River valley.

Leffingwell stayed on to make the scientific observations that he had come to get and began what was to become a demonstration of intense scientific dedication and personal courage.

Between 1906 and 1914 he spent nine summers and six winters on the Arctic coast of Alaska.

He made thirty-one trips by sled and small boat in the course of his field work, traveling 4,500 miles (Brooks 1919).

During this period he worked basically alone and financed his research out of his personal
funds (Leffingwell 1919).

During this time, Leffingwell produced the first accurate map of the Alaskan coast between Point Barrow and Demarcation Bay near the Canadian coast.

He was the first person to study the details of the ground ice that is known today as permafrost.

Although considerable research on permafrost has been conducted since Leffingwell’s time, many of the theories that he advanced have proved to be remarkably accurate (Mull 1971).

Leffingwell collected data on the physiography of the region, including past and present glacation, and analyzed in detail the processes of erosion and and deposition under polar climatic conditions.

He also mapped the geology and topography of the Sadlerochit formation, the main reservoir of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

Prior to Leffingwell’s explorations and research in the Canning River Region, this area was virtually unknown.

It represented an almost complete hiatus in the scientific knowledge of Alaska (Brooks 1919).

Leffingwell may have been the least known of the Arctic explorer/researchers who gathered so much acclaim at the turn of the century.

However, the contributions that he made in scientific research and exploration in Arctic Alaska were invaluable at the turn of the century and continue to play an important role in science and the economy of Alaska today.

National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Leffingwell Camp – Susan Morton – National Park Service 18 Sept 1987

There are occasional updates to his work on the [mysterious] origins of the clay, boulders, gravels, and sands in the Flaxman Formation that’s found along the Arctic coastline of America.

The Flaxman formation is defined as a deposit of foreign glacial till, possibly containing glacial ice, scattered along the Arctic coastline of America.

Individual boulders of this formation are spoken of as Flaxman boulders.

The formation is named from Flaxman Island, where it is well exposed.


The till is composed of clay, boulders, gravels, and sands, in proportions similar to those of the ground moraines in the United States.

The clay is dark blue-gray in color where it is found free from mixtures of muck and sand.

The boulders are the most noticeable content of the till.

They are very striking when concentrated along the beach under a retreating bank, where they may be so abundant as to cover the ground or even to form piles of rock.

Many of them have the characteristic outlines of glacial boulders, but others are angular and
shattered by the frost.

The largest ones are at least 10 feet in diameter, but most of them are less than 2 feet.

A 4-foot boulder is an exception.

The variety of rocks is also striking.

The most conspicuous, in both color and abundance, are the quartzites, which are pink, red, and purple and commonly banded, cross-bedded, or conglomeratic.

Dark greenstones are also very abundant, but not so noticeable as the pink and red granites.

The limestones are mostly light-colored.

Boulders of all kinds and sizes, with the possible exception of the granites, are striated, and many of them are planed off.

The limestones, as usual, show this feature in a more pronounced fashion than the other rocks.

Every indication of strong glacial action is given by these boulders.

The Flaxman formation presents a striking contrast to the glacial deposits of the Arctic Mountains to the south.

None of the Flaxman rocks are known to exist in the interior, either in moraines or in place.

The till of the inland region is composed chiefly of sandstones, limestones, and metamorphic rocks, none of which have been identified in the Flaxman formation.

Striae are rare inland but abundant on the Flaxman boulders along the coast.

The view was long held that the whole of Flaxman Island was underlain by a sheet of ice, which, as it had till upon it and was granulated, must be glacier ice.

Later insight into, the character of ground ice in general and into that of the island in particular has caused the writer not only to abandon the idea of a continuous sheet of ice but to doubt whether any of the ice is glacial.

The Canning River Region, Northern Alaska
Ernest de Koven Leffingwell – 1919
United States Geological Survey – Professional Paper 109

While engaged in geothermal work in the Barrow-Cape Simpson area during 1949 and 1950 the writer saw several of the boulders mentioned by Leffingwell and many others not noted by him.

In all 56 erratic boulders belonging to Leffingwell’s Flaxman formation were found near Cape Simpson and Point Barrow on the beaches and on the tundra as far as 8 or 9 miles from shore.

Many of them are faceted and bear distinct striae.

Included are diabase, granite, quartzite, chert, tonalite, limestone, pegmatite, and an augengneiss.

Glacial Boulders on the Arctic Coast of Alaska
Gerald R MacCarthy – Arctic – Volume 11 – 1958

Diabase dikes and sills are typically shallow intrusive bodies and often exhibit fine grained to aphanitic chilled margins which may contain tachylite (dark mafic glass).

Diabase is the preferred name in North America, while dolerite is the preferred name in the rest of English-speaking world, where sometimes the name diabase is applied to altered dolerites and basalts.

But there’s a deafening silence regarding the Rate of Growth of Ice Wedges that indicates the largest ice wedges were only 1,000 years old at the beginning of the 20th century.

Rate of Growth of Ice Wedges

Fresh ice-filled cracks 8 to 10 millimeters wide have been observed in the ground immediately above the ice wedges.

This may be put as the maximum width of the crack.

Open cracks about 5 millimeters wide have been found in the ice itself near the upper surface.

The width, of course, diminishes downward.

If 5 millimeters is assumed as the width at the top it would require only 600 years to build up a wedge 3 meters wide, which is about the maximum width seen in the region.

If the cracks do not all open every winter this period must be multiplied by some factor.

The writer frequently observed open cracks during the early years of his residence in Arctic Alaska, but as he did not realize their bearing he did not keep any record of their abundance.

About 1,000 years seems to be the age of the largest wedges.

Unless some unknown cause prevents a greater growth, the temperature could not have been sufficiently low to bring them into existence at an earlier date or else the coastal plain has not been elevated above sea level for a longer period.

The Canning River Region, Northern Alaska
Ernest de Koven Leffingwell – 1919
United States Geological Survey – Professional Paper 109

The mainstream was stunned into silence when they discovered the ice wedges in North Alaska were between 500 and 1,000 years old at the beginning of the 20th century.

Age of Ground Ice

The age of the ice may be equal to or less than that of the cold climate under which it was formed.

In the discussion of the age of the frozen ground we found a thousand years as a lower limit. The ice may be this old, at least.

The relative ages of the ice and frozen ground will of course be different, according to the methods of formation of the ice.

A body of ice that is buried and ·preserved may be nearly contemporaneous with the ground formation.

Where the ice is formed in place, it will of course be younger.

Such methods of formation by burial as are possible under modern conditions can not point to a very great age, nor can the doubtful method of formation in place advanced by Tyrrell.

Belcher’s theory, as elaborated by Holmsen, is also very doubtful, and nothing is known of the rate of supposed upward growth of the ice.

The theory of burial of great Pleistocene snow fields, as advanced by Toll and others, necessitates such changes in climate that the postulated great age should be questioned.

If the theory of the origin of the wedge shaped masses of ice is true, as outlined above, we have a method of estimating the age of the ice with a fair degree of accuracy.

The width of the wedge and the rate of growth are all that is necessary for this calculation.

The width is readily ascertained, and a rough estimation from field evidence may be made of the rate of growth.

In the area studied by the writer an age of 500 to 1,000 years is indicated.

The Canning River Region, Northern Alaska
Ernest de Koven Leffingwell – 1919
United States Geological Survey – Professional Paper 109

Leffingwell’s dating aligns perfectly with the 500 turbulent years between 900 and 1400 CE.

Episodes of “violent erosion” interspersed with periods of “comparative quiescence” provides the key to understanding the oscillations that are so very visible in the Greenland ice cores during the turbulent 500 years beginning around 900 CE at the Heinsohn Horizon and ending with the Hecker Horizon at 1400 CE.



These 500 turbulent years are noticeable elsewhere in Alaska.

The Koyukuk River is a 425-mile (684 km) tributary of the Yukon River, in the U.S. state of Alaska.It is the last major tributary entering the Yukon before the larger river empties into the Bering Sea.

Having written up his results Leffingwell sensibly sailed off into the sunset.

After spending a year and a half writing up his results at the United States Geological Survey in Washington, Leffingwell retired to Whittier, California, listing his occupation in 1917 as citriculturist.

He moved to Carmel, California, about 20 years later.

When he died in 1971, he was believed to have been the oldest surviving polar explorer.

Whittier is a city in Southern California located within Los Angeles County, California. … The eastern parts of East Whittier, developed in the 1950s and ’60s, are Friendly Hills, which was developed at the same time as Murphy Ranch and Leffingwell Ranch.,_California

Charles Wesley Leffingwell (1840 – 1928) was an author, educator, and Episcopal priest born in Ellington, Connecticut.

He was a descendant of Thomas Leffingwell, known as one of the founders of Norwich, Connecticut.

Leffingwell was editor of The Living Church magazine from 1880 to 1900.

From 1906 he was President of the Leffingwell Rancho in Whittier, California, the land for which he had acquired earlier.

His son Charles Warring Leffingwell (sometimes written as Charles W. Leffingwell Jr.) was responsible for the active management of the ranch, which produced fruits and nuts.

His other son, Ernest de Koven Leffingwell was an arctic explorer and geologist.

Leffingwell provided partial financial support for his son’s explorations.

Leffingwell Ranch succumbed to the housing boom as the first phase of 3-bedroom 2-bath ranch-style and contemporary-style homes were produced by the prolific Lusk Company by 1951. In fact, Lusk set up their headquarters on the former ranch and did not vacate to its Irvine offices until 1970.

Southern California Days of Lemons, Roses and a Shopping Mall
Elisabeth L Uyeda – 29 May 2011
Los Angeles Revisited

Gallery | This entry was posted in Alaskan Muck, Books, Catastrophism, Earth, Fossil Fuels, Geology, Glaciology, Guest Authors, Hecker Horizon, Heinsohn Horizon, History, Old Japanese Cedar Tree, Science, Uniformitarianism, Water. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Alaskan Muck: The Canning River Region

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