It stands just as fine as 114 years ago. A 4.36-meter-high cairn that helps tell the story of the biggest research expedition to Svalbard through the ages. The cairn on Černyevfjellet is, according to archaeologist Per Kyrre Reymert, the highest human-built work in Svalbard at 1,203 meters in altitude.
Two weeks ago, Reymert was on the the mountain to see the cairn with his own eyes and to document it for a book project he has with historian Thor Bjørn Arlov.
"We will tell about a project that is not just about Svalbard, but about the whole Earth's shape," Reymert said. "And that actually it is the largest research project to date in Svalbard."
Flat at the poles
They will write down the history of the Swedish-Russian Arc-of-Meridian Expedition from 1898 to 1902.
The expedition worked to confirm Newton's theory the Earth is flattened at the poles. To do that they measured the distance from Sørkapp to Sjuøyane using trigonometry, the relationship between the angles and sides of a triangle.
"The large area they worked in was Storfjorden and Hinlopenstretet, to get as straight a line as possible towards the North Pole," Reymert said. "Between Sørkapp and Sjuøyane there is a straight line towards the North Pole, and there was good visibility over the fjord."
When the calculations were completed, they confirmed that there is more distance between latitudes near the poles than farther south, thus planet Earth is flattened at the poles.
The biggest expedition
There was effectively a total of 15,000 researcher workdays during the expedition.
"No research projects in Svalbard have been close to that, before or since," Reymert said.
The Swedes were in Sorgfjorden and took measurements at Hinlopenstretet, while the Russians were at Gåshamna in Hornsund taking measurements from Storfjorden.
The expedition had 26 degree measuring points on 24 mountains. On the peaks they measured out from, they built cairns.
The cairn on Černyevfjellet was the one that connected the measuring teams together. It was built in 1900 by a Russian scientist named A. S. Wasiliew. The cairn has withstood the elements well and looks the same as in photos from more than 100 years ago.
"That may partly be because it is reinforced with string," Reymert said.
Together Arlov and Reymert documented 16 of the degree-measurement peaks. Last year they went to the mountains to get to them. This year Reymert flown to ten of them by helicopter.
"We want to visit as many places as possible where the expedition has done its work, but we have not visited all this year," Reymert said.
A completion date for the book has not been set.