This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
By extreme degrees of cold, trees are burst, rocks rent, and rivers and lakes frozen several feet deep: metallic substances blister the skin like red-hot iron: the air, when drawn in by respiration, hurts the lungs, and excites a cough: even the effects of fire in a great measure seem to cease; and metals, though kept for a considerable time before a strong fire, will still freeze water when thrown upon them. When the French mathematicians wintered at Tornea, in Lapland, the external air, when suddenly admitted into their rooms, converted the moisture 01 the air into whirls of snow; their breasts seemed to be rent when they breathed it; the contact of it was intolerable to their bodies; and the spirit of wine, which had not been highly rectified, burst some of their thermometers by the congelation of the aqueous parts.
Extreme cold very often proves fatal to animals, in countries where the winters are very severe. Thus seven thousand Swedes perished at once, in attempting to pass the mountains which divide Norway from Sweden. It is not necessary, indeed, that the cold, in order to prove fatal to human life, should be so very intense as has been just mentioned. There is only requisite a degree somewhat below 32° of Fahrenheit, accompanied with snow or hail, from which shelter cannot be obtained. The snow which falls upon the clothes, or the uncovered parts of the body, then melts, and, by a continual evaporation, carries off the animal heat to such a degree, that a sufficient quantity is not left for the support of life. In such cases, the person first feels himself extremely chill and uneasy; he begins to grow listless, unwilling to walk or use exercise to keep himself warm; and at last turns drowsy, sits down to refresh himself with sleep, but wakes no more.
An instance of this was seen not many years ago at Terra del Fuego; where Dr. Solander, with some others, having taken an excursion up the country, the cold was so intense, that one of their number died. The Doctor himself, though he had warned his companions of the danger of sleeping in that situation, yet could not be prevented from making that dangerous experiment himself; and though he was awaked with all possible expedition, his body was so much shrunk in bulk, that his shoes fell off his feet, and it was with the utmost difficulty that he was recovered.
In those parts of the world where vast masses of ice are produced, the accumulation of it, by absorbing the heat of the atmosphere, occasions an absolute sterility in the adjacent countries, as is particularly the case with the island of Iceland; where the vast collections of ice floating out from the Northern Ocean, and stopped on that coast, are sometimes several years in thawing. Indeed, where great quantities of ice are collected, it would seem to have a power like fire, of both augmenting its own intenseness and that of the adjacent bodies.