Russian glaciologist advocates Cook priority



Vladislav S. Koryakin, the Polar historian of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a glaciologist-scholar who has researched the pioneer efforts of western explorers to reach the North Pole for more than 30 years, has published the first foreign-language biography of Frederick A. Cook.

Prof. Koryakin, who delivered a paper at the Symposium on “Cook Reconsidered” at the Byrd Polar Research Center in 1993, has edited the Russian editions of Cook’s My Attainment of the Pole and Peary’s The North Pole. He has also assisted in the translation and editing of the works of Amundson and Freuchen in Russia. He has published several papers on scientific and historical themes involving the changing currents of the North Polar regions.

The book has been translated in part by Dr. Valery Gataulin of the Byrd Polar Research Center. Following are summary descriptions of part of the Koryakin thesis, which concludes that “Cook’s descriptions of natural conditions in the Central Arctic do not contradict modern scientific views:”
I pay special attention to the skills and abilities demonstrated by Dr. F.A. Cook – his knowledge in the fields of navigation and geology, knowledge and understanding of these subjects which he obtained from his association with Amundsen and Dobrowolsky during the voyage of the Belgica. With regard to the question of geology, for example, his descriptions of the geology of Ellesmere Island noted during his crossing in 1908 during his expedition to the North Pole correspond in whole with modern data (Geological Map of the Arctic, 1960).

Cook’s reinstatement into legitimacy was not caused by humanity, but by scientific necessity. In this way, history restored everything into its place, and it is possible to speak about historical justice. The historians of the Arctic simply had to continue investigations by their own methods, mainly relying on the accumulated data.

However, neither my colleagues nor I had any strong intention to force these issues due to several reasons. First, we were totally engaged in our exploration of the Arctic, which involved much of time and effort. Secondly, we believed that the debate about attaining the pole is an American issue, and we wanted to let them solve it themselves. Thirdly, we did not have any wish to provide propaganda material to our own speculators who profited through “the cold war”. But the main reason was that we did not have Cook’s materials; in our country, his books were not published.

Without this firsthand information, we were unable to judge where he was correct and where mistaken or deceived. Peary’s “North Pole” was published several times, but it’s difficult to imagine a more boring and uninformative book about the Arctic. We had one more of Peary’s works, “To the North on the Big Ice”, published in 1906, and that was all!

However, the attitude towards Cook began to change throughout the course of time. It is important to note that this revision of views was undertaken not by historians, but by polar researchers on the basis of the comparison of the Arctic reality to the descriptions of both challengers. It was a paradox that all the information about natural conditions given by Cook, who was accused of being a liar and charlatan during the 50’s, started to fit logically the system of natural interrelations that was established quite recently by the Soviet and American polar researchers.

The author first felt the changes in the attitude towards Cook from the character of the articles in the “Arctic” (The journal of the Arctic Institute of North America). These articles were devoted to the discovery by Cook of drifting islands of glacier at 88th degree of Latitude North. Then arose the first doubts about the fairness of the charges against him. Shortly after that, A.F. Laktionov in his book “The North Pole” (Moscow, 1960) quoted a statement of Joseph Fletcher, the chief of the first American drifting station T-3, who claimed that Cook’s descriptions could not be written without actually witnessing the natural phenomena represented. Later on, new important details appeared in D.M. Pinkenson’s work “Problems of the Northern Sea Route at the Time of Capitalism”, and “ice was broken…”

Cook was one of the last of the traditional school of Polar exploration whose main task was the filling-in of blank spots in the map of the Arctic. He possessed the gift of sharp visual perception of natural processes, a gift recorded by his friend Amundsen in 1898-1899 (1927). Cook’s methods of exploration were a necessary link in his understanding of the interaction among different components of the Arctic environment (oceanic streams, atmospheric winds, ice drift, etc.).

After studying Cook’s account of the physical conditions in the high Arctic and at the North Pole which he encountered during his Polar journey and comparing the elements of this account with modern data from this region, the correlation between the two is clear.

I would like to emphasize that Cook was a specially sharp, visually observant explorer and the results of his visual observations with instrumental connections made him one of the most interesting, outstanding and useful Polar explorers of his time.

In spite of the limitations imposed by the need to travel by dog sledge, Cook in his Polar journey approached a new, higher scientific level in Polar geography. He discussed new horizons of Polar science with his adherent Amundsen in 1927, in particular the opportunity to make visual observations in the high Arctic from the air, using aircraft for Arctic exploration. This idea came to Amundsen after his discovery of the South Pole in 1911 and he received the first pilot’s certificate in Norway.

Amundsen invited Cook to take part in his air programme of Arctic exploration but the disappearance of the great Norwegian during his last “Latam” flight brought an end to this promising prospective collaboration of the most famous Polar explorers of the first decades of the Twentieth Century.

I have concluded that there is a high degree of correlation of all of Cook’s observations of physical conditions in the North Polar area with modern information concerning the North Pole and the Central Arctic Basin and the system of the interrelations of the different components of the Polar environment. A similar conclusion was expressed by the distinguished Polar authority Joseph Fletcher, but this author has studied only certain aspects of Cook’s real merits in his high latitudes research. The long list of confirmations of Cook’s first descriptions of physical conditions and natural features at the North Pole and in the Central Arctic Basin which substantiates this.

All the components of his Polar experience from 1891-1899, described here, were used during the main enterprise of the explorer’s life - his journey the the North Pole in 1908. But what was the degree of Dr. Cook’s ability in using dog sledges? The answer contended for here is that this depended largely upon his Eskimo friends and their experience, it cannot be doubted and the final determination and accomplishment of the journey to the North Pole so far as sledging experience is concerned, depended for the most part upon the aborigines of the Arctic.

Obviously, our answer to the question: Was the Polar experience of Dr. F.A. Cook in 1907-1908 adequate for the accomplishment of his journey to the North Pole in 1908? Affirmative!

The correlation of Cook’s information concerning physical conditions at the North Pole and in the Central Arctic Basin, the Polar environment, with modern data substantiates this.

The discussion about this correlation became more heated after the famous statement by Joseph Fletcher, published in Russia by A.F. Laktionov (1960), and by Moira Dunbar (1952) which acknowledged Cook’s having reached 88° N on the basis of his description of an ice island at that latitude, having the typical wavy surface.

The list of special features in the Arctic Basin first described by Cook is enumerated in a number of historical works but the correspondence of Cook’s first account of the physical features of the North Polar Region with modern data can best be discussed on the basis of recent summaries of his descriptions of Polar conditions and their confirmation by modern data. Sheldon Cook-Dorough (1984) recorded the next enumeration of the natural features along Cook’s route to the Pole, from Cape Svartevoeg (Cape Stallworthy) to the North Pole, confirmed by later exploration:

  1. The ice island on 87° – 88° N.,

  2. The absence of land in the North Pole area.,

  3. The signs of the Trans-Polar drift across the North Pole towards Greenland, SW ice drift just south of 84° N.,

  4. “Bradley Land” may be identified with a drifting ice island.,

  5. The position of the Big Lead 114 miles north of Cape Svartevoeg in the Arctic Ocean on approx. 83° N.,

  6. A complex pattern of prevailing currents in the Arctic Ocean from Cape Svartevoeg north to the North Pole.,

  7. The location in the Arctic Ocean of the different forms of the drifting sea ice between Cape Svartevoeg and the North Pole.

This undoubted evidence of Dr. F.A. Cook’s visit to the North Pole area, in 1908 a blank spot on the maps of the high Arctic are so obvious that they cannot be refuted. Moreover, all these natural features are interrelated – this also cannot be refuted: this situation was first recorded by Joseph Fletcher in 1952. Sheldon Cook-Dorough may be supplemented with the additional confirmations, as follows:

The signs of the ice shelf glacier near Cape Svartevoeg (Stallworthy) on the basis of data in Cook’s book, My Attainment of the Pole, 1913, pp. 212, 569.

The location of the main stream of the southern segment of the clockwise-moving system of ice drift in the Arctic Ocean on 84° N where Cook’s igloo was crushed 25 and 28 March 1908.

Cook’s attainment of the North Pole in 1908 was the culmination of the centuries-long efforts of Arctic explorers from different countries to reach the Pole after Hudson’s famous voyage of 1607. We can appreciate F.A. Cook’s achievement from different points of view.

In the first place, the results of Cook’s Polar journey showed the limits of the traditional methods of describing the geography of the Arctic and demonstrated the importance of his instrumental observations, though not numerous. Nansen, 1893-1896, has priority in describing geographical conditions in the Polar regions, but Cook’s results in 1908 confirmed the new theory of the Russian Arctic explorer, A.V. Kolchak, based upon his explorations, 1900-1903, of the independent clockwise-moving system of the ice drift between the Canadian Arctic archipelago and the North Pole (published in Russia in 1909).

Kolchak’s theoretical conclusions, in turn, confirmed the reality, the correctness, of Cook’s descriptions of physical conditions in the North Polar region. But Americans did not know of Kolchak’s conclusions regarding the nature and direction of the ice drift in the Arctic Ocean which confirmed Cook’s account. Kolchak’s work was translated into English and published in 1928, almost twenty years after the beginning of the Cook-Peary controversy. During the controversy, Kolchak was thoroughly occupied by his service in the Russian Navy and he did not take part in discussions concerning the dispute.”


Historian Koryakin: 40 years a Polar geographer



Koryakin Vladislav was born in 1933 in Archangelsk and in 1956 he graduated from the Moscow Engineering Institute of Geodesy and Cartography.

During his student years he began to study the history of the Arctic. And in the International Geophysical year 1957-19Historian Koryakin: 40 years a Polar geographer59 he joined a two-years wintering expedition to the glacier of the New Land, where he obtained experience of polar research in glaciology.

He examined the works of American and Canadian polar explorers on the drifting ice lands T3 and Ellesmere Ice Shell. From 1965-2001 he spent 11 polar seasons on Spizberggen, where he explored the glaciers of the archipelago. In 1976 he became a candidate of geographical science.

From 1968-1970 he spent winters in Antarctic, explored the glaciers of Central Asia and Kamchatka, traveled North east Passage from Archangelsk to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski.

His concentration is the evolution of arctic archipelago freezing and the history of polar exploration and the influence of environmental changes on historical events.

In 1970, Koryakin began to examine the problem of priority arrival at the North Pole.

In 2000 Koryakin was awarded a Doctorate of Science with his thesis on the environmental system of the New Land. He worked in the Institute of Geography about 40 years as well as in the other institutes.

Now he works in the Russian Science Academy as the professor of Pomorskiy State University in Archangelsk. He is the author of 150 science works (including the monograph of New Land, Spizbergen and Arctic glaciers and the science biographies of V.A. Ruslanov and F.A. Cook).

Koryakin was conferred a decoration upon a badge of Honorary Polar explorer for his contribution in the Arctic. He is a member of Russian Geographical Society.

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