More than half a century ago, a young geologist from Pasadena, Calif., buried a message in a bottle in a pile of rocks in a remote Arctic valley in Canada near the North Pole. The message was a simple request.

“To Whom It May Concern,” began the note written by Paul T. Walker, who had constructed another pile of rocks four feet away.

“Anyone venturing this way is requested to remeasure the distance and send the information to …” followed by his address at the Geology Department at Ohio State University and the address of his colleague, Albert Crary.

“Thank you very much.” The letter was signed with a date in 1959.

The request went unanswered for 54 years, until recently when Warwick Vincent, a Laval University biologist, and some fellow scientists were conducting research in the area.

“The technician had found a little pile of rocks, a cairn,” said Vincent. “So we started to pull apart this cairn, and in the cairn was a bottle, and we opened the bottle and there was a piece of paper.” What they read gave them "goose bumps."

“It was an incredible thing to hold this in my hands, because these two people — these are very famous names,” said Vincent.

Walker, only 25 years old at the time of the note’s writing, was a promising geologist form California who was working at a Columbus, Ohio, laboratory. But just a few weeks after the bottle was buried, he suffered a massive stroke at the Arctic research station. Walker returned to his parents’ home in Pasadena, but he never fully recovered and died that November. Although he had only been out of college for three years, he had already been part of major expeditions near both poles, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“He was a young person, he was in his 20s, a very accomplished, young, brilliant geologist,” said Vincent. “This is one of his last communications.”

And what a brilliant message it was. While perhaps simple on the surface, the request reveals remarkable foresight. A sign of his talents, says Vincent, was, “That he thought to do that, to leave this message for the future. Because in the ’50s, it was unthinkable that this would melt.”

The four-foot gap between the cairns has widened to around 333 feet.

Having a point of comparison from so long ago is extremely valuable, and rare in such an isolated place, Vincent noted.

When Vincent contacted Ohio State about the note, glaciologist Ian Howat said he was surprised to hear about it. “I’m sure folks here would be interested in seeing it,” he said.

But they won’t be able to see the note in person. Vincent left the message in a bottle exactly where he found it; with a new note added asking whoever finds it to measure the distance, along with an address for where to send the results. 

Related stories on MNN: