Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The exploits to a key explorer and researcher of Alaska's North Slope was the focus of an hour long presentation by author Janet Collins Saturday at the Alaska State Museum.
Collins wrote, "On the Artic Frontier, Ernest Leffingwell's Polar Explorations and Legacy." 50 people attended a presentation Saturday about the driven young geologist who helped determine the edge of the Arctic's continental shelf in 1906. He was also credited with pioneering research in ground ice, bird species, wildlife specimens and also surveyed and mapped along Alaska's northeastern coast.
Leffingwell was also the first to study permafrost, and mapped accurately the coastline between Barrow and the Yukon. He has a glacier named after him and also helped to study what are now lucrative oil fields in the region. He was also praised for accurately depicting the oil potential of the north slope of Alaska.
Collins said his original reason for being in the region was an exploration to determine if there was land north of Alaska. He led the science staff in the 1901 Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition, which failed in an attempt to reach the North Pole from Franz Josef Land. Leffingwell learned the native language, and ended up spending parts of nine years in the region.
"Over the course of his three trips to the North Slope, he spent six summers, and nine winters exploring the area. He made 31 trips by sled and small boat, pitched a tent 380 times and covered over 4,500 miles," she noted.
He also joined forces with Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen for a second expedition known as the Anglo-American Polar Expedition of 1906-1908. It involved exploration of the Beaufort Sea. The goal was to find new land that experts believed was still undiscovered. No new land was discovered but it did lead to Leffingwell's mapping efforts. He wrote up his reports and submitted them to the United States Geological Survey in Washington. His remote camp site on Flaxman Island was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
Collins explained that Leffingwell could not have accomplished what he did without the help of natives, who he hired to assist in the expeditions. "These fellows would hunt and fish and help him with the maps. His work was so accurate that decades later, surveyors were stunned at the accuracy of his work."