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arrow Stories and Tales of the Coast & Geodetic Survey
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For more pictures of the Arctic Field Party 1949 - 1951 visit the NOAA Photo Library - NOAA At the Ends of the Earth Album

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Arctic Field Party Work by Captain Robert A. Earle, C&GS

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25 Jan 1960

During the years 1945-1953, the Coast and Geodetic Survey wasPicture of Capt. Robert A. Earle in Alaska North Slope - 1949. engaged in mapping the Arctic coast of Alaska between Demarcation Point and Cape Beaufort. This work consisted of extended control along the entire Arctic coast of Alaska, in order that planimetric maps of land areas adjacent to the coastline and hydrographic charts could be made. Due to the isolation of the area and the fact that temperatures were generally below zero for about six months of the year, October through April, an operation of this nature took a great deal of preliminary planning and preparation, particularly relative to the logistic support which would be required.

In the fall of 1948, I was notified that I would report to Seattle in January 1949 where I would be in charge of a group of men who would proceed to Barter Island, Alaska, about 1 February 1949, then organize cat trains to haul over 400 tons of equipment and all personnel to Tigvariak Island, a point 150 miles west of Barter Island. As the logistic support problem for an engineering project in this isolated area is enormous, the month of January was spent in procuring and shipping to Fairbanks many items which had not been transported to Barter by the 1948 Barex Expedition. Finally, early in February, carrying our Arctic clothing, we departed via Pan Am for Fairbanks. At Fairbanks, arrangements were made with the Air Force to ship equipment and various groups of men either to Point Barrow or to Barter Island, Alaska. From these points, transportation to various isolated camps would either be by cat train or bush plane. Temperatures at Fairbanks, which ranged from zero to minus 10 degrees during our stay, did not seem to be excessive because of the dry cold, although our movements around the base at Ladd Field was via underground tunnels which were warmed by the steam pipes running through them to heat various buildings on the base.

After several days at this Point, a group of several officers and 10 men, wearing heavy Arctic clothing, embarked for the trip across the Brooks range, to a small outpost station at Barter Island. Their clothing consisted of a special type of long-handled underwear over which we wore blanket-lined trousers, woolen shirts, sweaters, and woolen socks. Over these, we wore down-lined parkas with fur ruffs, down-lined trousers, fur socks, fur boots, and two sets of gloves, woolen and fur-lined. As daylight only lasts for about 6 hours at this season of the year, it was pitch black dark when we let down on the small airfield on the north of the coast. We hadn't realized the meaning of the word cold until we stepped out of the plane, where the wind was blowing over 20 miles an hour and the temperature was 39 degrees below zero. When we faced the wind it seemed that our faces would become paralyzed and, prior to our arrival in weasels at the small camp which was about a mile from the airfield five different men had their cheeks frozen. The small heated quonset huts and some hot food were a welcome relief after the bitter cold.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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