Greenland map, The Royal Danish Library, 1906.

Exhibition | 06.02. - 18.10.2020

Greenland 1912

Exhibition

In 1912, Alfred de Quervain trekked across Greenland. The data collected by the Swiss explorer on the seven-week expedition are still of great value for science today. The exhibition examines de Quervain’s pioneering feat in the eternal ice, and links it with the present. Switzerland still carries out glacier research in Greenland, making a significant contribution to one of the most crucial issues of our time: global warming.

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© ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Dia_297-0061 / Public Domain Mark

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Greenland 1912

National Museum Zurich | 6.2.2020 - 18.10.2020
published on 4.2.2020

In 1912, Alfred de Quervain trekked across Greenland, sparking a veritable ‘polar boom’ in Switzerland. The measurements taken by the scientist are still used in glacier research today.

For many years, science has grappled with the issue of the shrinking glaciers. The retreat of the ice giants continues, with no end in sight. Climate researchers were already looking into the issue of glaciers 100 years ago, but from a different angle. In the 19th century, people worried another ice age was on the way.

So in 1912, everyone was talking about Alfred de Quervain’s ‘Swiss Greenland Expedition’. It wasn’t just that the field of climate research, then still in its infancy, was interested in the data collected by the Bern geophysicist; society was also hungry for tales of adventure from the North. Since the government didn’t want to contribute to the costs of the expedition, the explorer signed an agreement with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The newspaper paid one third of the expenses, securing in return the rights to report exclusively on the expedition. The articles made de Quervain’s adventurous undertaking even more famous, and unleashed a veritable ‘polar boom’ in Switzerland.

Alfred de Quervain had already ventured into the eternal ice of Greenland in 1909. He returned there three years later, aiming to cross the island. Only one person, Fridtjof Nansen, had managed that feat before him. And as befits an adventurer, the Swiss explorer’s route had to be longer and tougher than that of the Norwegian, who had crossed Greenland at a point further south in 1888. And it was! On skis and dog sleds, de Quervain and his companions covered around 650 kilometres in six weeks. It was not just exhausting, but sometimes dangerous as well. Towards the end of the crossing, for example, they only just managed to find the cache of food supplies in time.

The meteorological and glaciological data that Alfred de Quervain and his team collected in 1912 were of enormous value to science. These data are still used for research today – for example, research into Greenland’s ice sheet, which is the Earth’s second-largest fresh water supply. As a result of global warming, the Greenland ice sheet has been melting more and more rapidly over the past two decades. One big problem with this is that the meltwater is no longer being re-absorbed and turning to ice again; instead, all this melted water flows into the ocean. As a result, fresh water reserves are dwindling and sea levels are rising continuously.

With original exhibits and historical photographs, the exhibition examines Alfred de Quervain’s expedition in the eternal ice, and links his experiences and findings to modern-day climate and glacier research.

Images

Description

Miniature figures carved from walrus tooth by the Inuit, collected by the Swiss Greenland expedition in 1912.

Copyright: Private collection

Description

Inuit anorak, women’s pants and women’s boots, collected by the Swiss Greenland expedition in 1912.

Copyright: Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich

Description

Alfred de Quervain taking wind measurements on the Greenland ice sheet, 1912.

Copyright: ETH Library, Image Archive

Description

The Expedition members during the crossing (from left): doctor Hans Hössli, architect Roderich Fick, engineer Karl Gaule and expedition leader Alfred de Quervain.

Copyright: ETH Library, Image Archive

Description

The horrors of the Arctic were depicted in vivid detail during the expedition.

Copyright: ETH Library, Image Archive

Description

Inuit family on the east coast of Greenland, in front of their summer tent, 1912.

Copyright: ETH Library, Image Archive

Description

The expedition ship ‘Fox’ flying the Swiss ensign off the Greenland coast, 1912.

Copyright: ETH Library, Image Archive

Description

Alfred de Quervain in Greenland, 1912.

Copyright: ETH Library, Image Archive

Description

A view of the exhibition.

Copyright: Swiss National Museum

Description

A view of the exhibition.

Copyright: Swiss National Museum

Description

A view of the exhibition.

Copyright: Swiss National Museum

Exhibition imprint

  • Overall management: Andreas Spillmann
  • Project management: Dario Donati
  • Curators: Dario Donati, Fabian Müller
  • Scientific Collaboration: Lea Pfäffli, Martin Lüthi, Andreas Vieli
  • Exhibition Assistant: Selina Stuber, Noemi Albert
  • Exhibition design: Ralph Nicotera Szenografie und Innenarchitektur, Männedorf
  • Graphics: Thomas Lehmann, Ldsgn, Zürich
  • Technical management: Henrike Binder
  • Project controlling: Sabrina Médioni
  • Marketing & communication: Andrej Abplanalp, Alexander Rechsteiner, Carole Neuenschwander, Sebastiano Mereu, Anna-Britta Maag
  • Exhibition installation: Bachir Ezzerari, Ladina Fait, Marc Hägeli, Mike Roder, David Schwitter
  • Preparation and mounting of exhibits: Peter Wyer, Tino Zagermann, Véronique Mathieu, Nikkibarla Calonder, Markus Scherer
  • Prestiti | Loans: Maya Jucker, Angela Zeier
  • Cultural services and museum education: Severin Marty, Stefanie Bittmann
  • Logistics of objects: David Blazquez, Christian Affentranger, Markus Scherer, Reto Hegetschwiler, Simon d’Hollosy
  • IT |Web: Thomas Bucher, Pasquale Pollastro, Danilo Rüttimann, René Vogel
  • Translations: Laurence Neuffer, Geoffrey Spearing

Items generously loaned by

  • Museum der Kulturen Basel
  • Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich
  • Alpines Museum der Schweiz
  • Alimentarium, Musée de l’alimentation, une Fondation Nestlé, Vevey
  • ETH-Bibliothek, Hochschularchiv der ETH Zürich
  • ETH-Bibliothek, Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Instrumente und Lehrmittel
  • Geografisches Institut, Universität Zürich
  • Kurt Tucholsky Literaturmuseum, Rheinsberg (D)
  • HERO Archiv, Museum Burghalde Lenzburg
  • Madeleine Münchinger, Elgg
  • Inge Jost, Zürich
  • Gamma Remote Sensing AG, Gümlingen


We would like to thank the following institutions and people for their support

  • Daniel Meili
  • Benedikt Wechsler
  • Fridolin Walcher
  • ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv
  • ETH Zürich, focusTerra