“Antarctic Expedition of Sir James Ross” (p. 869-73)

Continued from p. 768.

At sea.—We are not to expect from magnetic observations made at sea the precision of which they are susceptible on land. Nevertheless it has been ascertained that not only the Declination, but the Inclination and Intensity can be observed, in moderate cirumstances [sic] of weather and sea, with sufficient correctness, to afford most useful and valuable information. if patience be bestowed, and proper precautions adopted. The total intensity, it is ascertained, can be measured with some considerable degree of certainty by the adoption of a statical method of observation recently devised by Mr. Fox, whose instrument will be a part of the apparatus provided. And when it is recollected that but for such observations the whole of that portion of the globe which is covered by the ocean must for ever remain a blank in our charts, it will be needless further to insist on the necessity of making a daily series of magnetic observations, in all the three particulars above mentioned, whenever weather and sea will permit, an essential feature m the business of the voyage, in both ships. Magnetic observations at sea will, of course, be affected by the ship’s magnetism, and this must be eliminated to obtain results of any service. To this end.

First. Every series of observations made on board should be accompanied with a notice of the direction by compass of the ship’s head at the time.

Secondly. Previous to sailing, a very careful series of the apparent deviations, as shown by two compasses permanently fixed, (the one as usual, the other in a convenient position, considerably more forward in the ship,) in every position of the ship’s head, as compared with the real position of the ship, should be made and recorded, with a view to attempt procuring the constants of the ship’s action according to M. Poisson’s theory[1] ; and this process should be repeated on one or more convenient occasions during the voyage; and, generally, while at anchor every opportunity should be taken of swinging round the ship’s head to the four cardinal points, and executing in each position a complete series of the usual observations.

Thirdly. Wherever magnetic instruments are landed, and observations made on terra firma, or on ice, the opportunity should be seized of going through the regular series on ship-board with more than usual diligence and care, so as to establish by actual experiment in the only unexceptionable manner the nature and amount of the corrections due to the ship’s action for that particular geographical position, and by the assemblage of all such observations to afford data for concluding them in general.

Fourthly. No change possible to be avoided should be made in the disposition of considerable masses of iron in the ships during the whole voyage; but if such change be necessary, it should be noted.

  Fifthly. When crossing the magnetic line of no dip it would be desirable to go through the observation for the dip with the instrument successively placed in a series of different magnetic azimuths, by which the influence of the ship’s magnetism in a vertical direction will be placed in evidence.

  On land, or on ice.—As the completeness and excellence of the instruments with which the expedition will be furnished will authorize the utmost confidence in the results obtained by Captain Ross’s well known scrupulosity and exactness in their use, the redetermination of the magnetic elements at points where they are already considered as ascertained, will be scarcely less desirable than their original determination at stations where they have never before been observed. This is the more to be insisted on, as lapse of time changes these elements in some cases with considerable rapidity; and it is therefore of great consequence that observations to be compared should be as nearly contemporary as possible, and that data should be obtained for eliminating the effects of secular variations during short intervals of time, so as to enable us to reduce the observations of a series to a common epoch.

  On the other hand it cannot be too strongly recommended, studiously to seek every opportunity of landing on points (magnetically speaking) unknown, and determining the elements of those points with all possible precision. Nor should it be neglected, whenever the slightest room for doubt subsists, to determine at the same time the geographical position of the stations of observation in latitude and longitude. When the observations are made on ice, it is needless to remark that this will be universally necessary.

  With this general recommendation it will be unnecessary to enumerate particular localities. In fact, it is impossible to accumulate too many. Nor can it be doubted that in the course of antarctic exploration, many hitherto undiscovered points of land will be encountered, each of which will, of course, become available as a magnetic station, according to its accessibility and convenience.

  There are certain points in the regions about to be traversed in this voyage, which offer great and especial interest in a magnetic point of view. These are, first, the south magnetic pole (or poles), intending thereby the point or points in which the horizontal intensity vanishes and the needle tends vertically downwards; and secondly, the points of maximum intensity, which, to prevent the confusion arising from a double use of the word poles, we may provisionally term magnetic foci.

  It is not to be supposed that Captain Ross, having already signalized himself by attaining the northern magnetic pole, should require any exhortation to induce him to use his endeavours to reach the southern. On the contrary, it might better become us to suggest for his consideration, that no scientific datum of this description, nor any attempt to attain very high southern latitudes, can be deemed important enough to be made a ground for exposing to extraordinary risk the lives of brave and valuable men. The magnetic pole, though not attained, will yet be pointed to by distinct and unequivocal indications; viz. by the approximation of the dip to 90°; and by the convergence of the magnetic meridians on all sides towards it. If such convergence be observed over any considerable region, the place of the pole may thence be deduced, though its locality may be inaccessible.

M. Gauss, from theoretical considerations, has recently assigned a probable position in long. 146°E., lat. 66° S. to the southern magnetic pole, denying the existence of two poles of the same name, in either hemisphere, which, as he justly remarks, would entail the necessity of admitting also a third point, having some of the chief characters of such a pole intermediate between them. That this is so may be made obvious without following out his somewhat intricate demonstration, by simply considering, that if a needle be transported from one such pole to another of the same name, it will begin to deviate from perpendicularity towards the pole it has quitted, and will end in attaining perpendicularity again, after pointing in the latter part of its progress obliquely towards the pole to which it is moving, a sequence of things impossible without an intermediate passage through the perpendicular direction.

It is not improbable that the point indicated by M. Gauss will prove accessible; at all events, it cannot but be approachable sufficiently near to test by the convergence of meridians the truth of the indication. And as his theory gives within very moderate limits of error the true place of the northern pole, and otherwise represents the magnetic elements in every explored region with considerable approximation, it is but reasonable to recommend this as a distinct point to be decided in Capt. Ross’s voyages. Should the decision be in the negative, i.e. should none of the indications characterizing the near vicinity of the magnetic pole occur in that region, it will be to be sought; and a knowledge of its real locality will be one of the distinct scientific results which may be confidently hoped from this expedition, and which can only be attained by circumnavigating the antarctic pole compass in hand.

The actual attainment of a focus of maximum intensity is rendered difficult by the want of some distinct character by which it can be known, previous to trial, in which direction to proceed, when after increasing to a certain point the intensity begins again to diminish. The best rule to be given would be (supposing circumstances would permit it) on perceiving the intensity to have become nearly stationary in its amount, to turn short and pursue a course at right angles to that just before followed, when a change could not fail to occur, and indicate by its direction towards which side the focus in question were situated.

Another, and as it would appear, a better mode of conducting such a research would be, when in the presumed neighbourhood of a focus of maximum intensity, to run down two parallels of latitude or two arcs of meridians separated by an interval of moderate extent, observing all the way in each, by which observations, when compared, the concavities of the isodynamic lines would become apparent, and perpendiculars to the chords, intersecting in or near the foci, might be drawn.

Two foci or points of maximum total intensity are indicated by the general course of the lines in Major Sabine’s chart in the Southern Hemisphere, one about long 140° E., lat. 47° S., the other more obscurely in long. 235° E., lat. 60° S., or thereabouts. Both these points are certainly accessible, and as the course of the expedition will lead not far from each of them, they might be visited with advantage by a course calculated to lead directly across the isodynamic ovals surrounding them.

Pursuing the course of the isodynamic lines in the chart above mentioned, it appears that one of the two points of minimum total intensity which must exist, if that chart be correct, may be looked for nearly about lat. 25° S., long. 12° W., and that the intensity at that point is probably the least which occurs over the whole globe. Now this point does not lie much out of the direct course usually pursued by vessels going to the Cape. It would therefore appear desirable to pass directly over it, were it only for the sake of determining by direct measure the least magnetic intensity at present existing on the earth, an element not unlikely to prove of importance in the further progress of theoretical investigation. Excellent opportunities will be afforded for the investigation of all these points, and for making out the true form of the isodynamic ovals of the South Atlantic, both in beating up for St. Helena, and in the passage from thence to the Cape; in the course of which, the point of least intensity will, almost of necessity, have to be crossed or at least approached very near.

To be continued.


[1] See Appendix A.