These 5 bafflingly weird old maps of the Arctic show why it's worth preserving.

The North Pole was once one of the most inaccessible places on Earth.

Robert Peary's 1908 expedition to the Arctic. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.


Ships trying to sail anywhere near it risked getting permanently frozen in its vast, icy prison.

Fridtjof Nansen's ship, stuck in ice. Photo from Fridtjof Nansen/Wikimedia Commons.

Going on an expedition meant being at sea for at least a few months (maybe even years) and battling horrible cold, wind, snow, and ice, not to mention starvation. Not everyone who set out made it home again; whole expeditions sometimes just ... disappeared.

The crossing was so intense that humans actually reached the South Pole first. It really says a lot when Antarctica is the easier of your two options.

The first verified expedition to the North Pole didn't happen until 1926.

Though U.S. Navy engineer Robert Peary claimed to have made it to the pole in 1909, the first verified, undisputed claim to that achievement didn't happen until Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen flew over it in an airship in 1926.

Roald Amundsen. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Amundsen's team had also been the first to reach the South Pole, which I'm pretty sure means he owns the Earth now.

Before Mr. Roald "Fur Coat" Amundsen, however, mapmakers had been trying to guess what the Arctic looked like for centuries.

See the stone thing in the center and the four islands surrounding the North Pole in this map from 1595?

The red, green, and yellow blobs around the edges are Canada, Europe, and Asia, respectively. The blobs in the middle are ... Mordor? Image from Gerardus Mercator/Wikimedia Commons.

Those are there because mapmaker Gerardus Mercator seemed to think there might be some sort of lost world up there.

By the late 1600s, mapmakers had a better idea of what the pole looked like, but Greenland and Canada still seemed to cause some conundrums.

1680 map by Moses Pitt. Original image from Moses Pitt/Toronto Public Library/Wikimedia Commons.

Like, I'm pretty sure Greenland and Canada don't actually connect to each other.

Original image from Moses Pitt/Wikimedia Commons.

And this mapmaker in 1720 seems to have admitted ignorance, shrugged his shoulders, and just stopped drawing.

C. G. Zorgdrager's 1720 map of the North Pole. Original image from National Library of Norway/Wikimedia Commons.

Some maps, like this one from 1762, made some ... interesting guesses at what the North Pole looks like.

Jean Javier's 1762 map of North America. Image from Jean Lattre/Wikimedia Commons

Interesting guesses like "Maybe future-Alaska isn't a thing."

Image from Jean Lattre/Wikimedia Commons.

And "What if I put a big ol' sea here in the middle of what will one day be Seattle and British Columbia?"

I'm pretty sure I'd remember if Seattle were in the middle of a giant bay. Image from Jean Lattre/Wikimedia Commons.

Even years later, in 1776, Alaska was still proving troublesome to mapmakers.

1776 map. Image from Zatta/Wikimedia Commons.

I mean REALLY.

?!?!?!!!!! Image from Zatta/Wikimedia Commons.

By the 1880s, at least, we knew more or less what was at the North Pole (nothing but water and ice).

Although this map still has a few blank places at the very top of Greenland and Canada.

Those Aleutian Islands look a little short, too. An 1882 map. Image from the New York Public Library.

Good job, 1880s.

Thanks to those explorers and technology, we now know that the Arctic looks like this:

Image from Uwe Dedering/Wikimedia Commons.

But — would those explorers of a century ago, the ones who spent months and years traversing its icy waters, even recognize the place if they saw it today?

In a recent interview, oceanographer Peter Wadhams told The Independent that the Arctic may be on track to be ice-free for the first time in 100,000 years.

Climate change has been consistently reducing the sea ice around the Arctic Ocean for decades, to the extent that the same passages and channels that once baffled and trapped early explorers are now so ice-free that they're being considered for use as shipping lanes.

In late 2015, the Russian icebreaker Vaygach completed a trip along the north coast of Siberia in just seven and a half days. Image from Dudinka_Apu/Wikimedia Commons.

Our maps may be a lot better now, but that doesn't mean we should abandon the Arctic's air of mystery and adventure.

After all, it's still home to seals that look like something out of a Tim Burton film...

Yup, that's definitely the seal version of Beetlejuice. Image from Michael Cameron/Wikimedia Commons.

...not to mention weird methane that seeps from deep in the seabed and these fire-breathing lakes. So even though we now know where we're going when it comes to the North Pole, there's still plenty up there left to discover.

Last year, 174 countries pledged to help fight climate change at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris. Individual people can help, too, by reducing their energy consumption and not only voting for politicians who don't think climate change is a hoax, but making sure they stick to their agreements after they're in office.

If we can accomplish that, we can keep the Arctic cold — and help preserve for future generations the air of mystery and adventure that those old (admittedly faulty) maps embody.

Heroes

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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