Saturday, December 31, 2011

New island rises in the Red Sea

Caption: A plume rises from a new island in the Red Sea on Dec. 23, 2011.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

From OurAmazingPlanet

The Red Sea has a new inhabitant: a smoking island.

The island was created by a wild eruption that occurred in the Red Sea earlier this month.
It is made of loose volcanic debris from the eruption, so it may not stick around long.

The Zubair Island, where the new island emerged, on Oct. 24, 2007.

According to news reports, fishermen witnessed lava fountains reaching up to 90 feet (30 meters) tall on Dec. 19, which is probably the day the eruption began, said Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Ash plumes were seen emanating from the spot Dec. 20 and Dec. 22 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites.
The Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA's Aura satellite detected elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, further indicating an eruption.
By Dec. 23, what looked like a new island had appeared in the Red Sea off the west coast of Yemen.

"I am surprised about how quickly the island has grown," Klemetti, who writes Wired's Eruptions Blog, told OurAmazingPlanet.

The volcanic activity occurred along the Zubair Group, a collection of small islands that run in a roughly northwest-southeast line.
The islands rise from a shield volcano (a kind of volcano built from fluid lava flows) and poke above the sea surface.

Scientists will keep a close eye on the new island to see if it has staying power.

"Many times the islands are ephemeral as they are usually made of loose volcanic debris, so they get destroyed by wave action quite quickly," Klemetti said.
But the volcanic activity could outpace the erosion due to the wave action.

Newly emerging islands aren't unheard of.
Other newly emerged islands include Surtsey off of Iceland, Anak Krakatau in the caldera of Krakatoa in Indonesia, and Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha`apai in Tonga in the South Pacific.

Links :

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sydney-Hobart 2011 : Investec Loyal's against-the-odds victory closest in 28 years

Investec Loyal crossed the finishing line minutes ahead of Wild Oats XI

From TheGuardian

The Australian supermaxi Investec Loyal's victory in the Sydney-Hobart was upheld on Thursday when a protest claiming its crew asked a media helicopter pilot to spy on a rival was dismissed.

Investec Loyal

A relieved Investec Loyal skipper Anthony Bell said a three-hour international yacht racing committee hearing had cleared his boat of any wrongdoing.

Wild Oats XI

Investec Loyal's win on Wednesday was the closest in 28 years, crossing the line in the 680 nautical mile race only minutes ahead of the supermaxi Wild Oats XI.

"The full committee has dismissed the protest and announced us the win," Bell said in Hobart after the hearing.
"It's an against-the-odds victory for us. We felt when we left the dock on Boxing Day that we were going to do good this year."

The protest claimed that an Investec Loyal crew member asked the helicopter pilot whether Wild Oats XI was using a tri-sail as the two boats sailed down the Australian east coast on Tuesday morning.
Under yacht racing rules such a request could be viewed as outside assistance.
The committee ruled that the crewman's question was not aimed at gaining a racing advantage but was linked to his business as he had sold the sail to Wild Oats XI.

Wild Oats XI had led the race from the start on Monday, with Investec Loyal only gaining the lead in fickle winds in the later stages.
The two boats engaged in a nail-biting tacking duel to the finish line in Hobart.

"It was a great moment that got cut short," said Bell.
"But I'd prefer if there was a question mark on anything in the race that it was dealt with properly, rather than it overlooked. You won't want to hear about it in years to come.
"No matter what they say, 'we won on the water, don't worry about what happens in the room', what happens in the room does matter."

Investec Loyal took two days, six hours, 14 minutes and 18 seconds to finish the race, well outside the record of one day, 18 hours and 40 minutes.

A yacht, bottom right, sails towards a large storm cloud as it races towards Hobart during the Sydney To Hobart 2010 yacht race.
Picture: AP Photo/Rolex, Carlo Borlenghi

Thursday, December 29, 2011

GLONASS fully functional

iPhone 4S v iPhone 4 GNSS (GPS+GLONASS) comparison
The iPhone 4S uses GPS and GLONASS from an MDM6610 for location purposes,
whereas the iPhone 4 uses GPS from BCM4750.

Russia has successfully developed its own analogue of the American GPS, named GLONASS
Recent launches from Baikonur have brought the satellite constellation of GLONASS to the planned 24, giving the system a global coverage.

Dr Andrei Ionin works for the operators of GLONASS.
He explains the geopolitical significance of this global navigation and positioning system: "Russia and its actual as well as potential allies are becoming independent of the American GPS, which may be turned off, globally or regionally, whenever the Americans want this. With GLONASS on, the world is becoming a safer place."

When the GLONASS constellation reached 18, precise navigation across Russia became possible.
With all 24 GLONASS satellites in orbit, your GLONASS receiver can pick signal from the quartette that is necessary for precise positioning anywhere in the world.
Dr Ionin again:"At long last, you are one hundred percent assured that in any corner of the world you can rely solely on GLONASS for your navigation and positioning needs."
He says the military in several countries including Russia and India are to receive satnav devices that use only GLONASS.

Civilian users around the world are to benefit from both GLONASS and the GPS:
"Many of the world’s consumer electronics makers are already developing or even marketing satnav devices with dual GLONASS and GPS enablement.

In mid-October, GLONASS-cum-GPS-enabled iPhones hit the market.
Dual enablement is particularly important in cities, where metre-scale precision and continuity are at a premium.
Taken alone, neither GLONASS nor the GPS possesses the minimum 50 satellites that are needed for this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Safety on the Open Sea

Speech about OpenSeaMap at ChaosComputerClub (Bernhard Fisher)

Safe navigation with the aid of an open sea chart

In maritime shipping accurate positioning is vital to preserve damage to life, ship, and goods. Today, we might tend to think that this problem is sufficiently solved yet because of the existence of electronic positioning systems like, most notably, the Global Positioning System (GPS) or the Russian counterpart GLONASS.
This is wrong.
Positions in terms of latitude and longitude just make sense together with an accurate sea chart (and of course, together with a navigator that is able to translate charting data into reality).

Sea charts are available of national geospatial agencies and business companies as hard-copy or as digital maps and dependent on costs one might spend they are more or less accurate.

In today's open world the idea of making an open sea chart is obvious
Several projects now started to apply the rules used for the OpenStreetMap, "...a free editable map of the whole world.", to create a free editable sea chart of the whole world and it turns out to be much more difficult because of potential serious consequences in case of charting errors.

A sea chart contains a lot of vital information to a navigator.
It has to be accurate, up to date, and confidential.
Since we (the open sea chart community) cannot just chart every navigational important item on the world we are dependent on information that was already charted before or on third-party information.
The latter could be for example measurements or GPS tracks of people that are somehow involved into maritime shipping but not necessarily into details of marine mapping.
Thus, data accuracy may be questionable but still valuable.
The fact that unauthenticated people are editing data in an open database is a big challenge for an open community since safety and security of life heavily depends on it.

This talk covers the basic principles of sea charts and marine mapping.
It emphasizes the problems of an open sea chart in general and its distinction to an open street map since requirements to ensure safety at sea are very different.
Data preparation and import of other sources are discussed in detail, mainly focused on lights and depths.
The lecture will connect real world shortcomings to a pedantic definite IT world for an IT-oriented audience and approaches IT security from a different angle.

Links :

Image of the week : Cocos (Keeling) Islands

download large image


The Cocos (Keeling) Islands lie in the eastern Indian Ocean, about 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) northwest of the Australian city of Perth.
Comprised of coral atolls and islands, the archipelago includes North Keeling Island and the South Keeling Islands.

The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this natural-color image of South Keeling Islands on July 31, 2009.

Coral atolls—which are largely composed of huge colonies of tiny animals such as cnidaria—form around islands.
After the islands sink, the coral remains, generally forming complete or partial rings.
Only some parts of South Keeling Islands still stand above the water surface.
In the north, the ocean overtops the coral.

Along the southern rim of this coral atoll, the shallow water appears aquamarine.
Water darkens to navy blue as it deepens toward the central lagoon.
Above the water line, coconut palms and other plants form a thick carpet of vegetation.

In 2005, the Australian government issued a report on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, summarizing field research conducted between 1997 and 2005.
Hard corals, which play a primary role in reef building, were not the only corals at South Keeling Islands.
Soft corals were also thriving at study sites throughout the reef.
Although coral and rock predominated, the researchers also found varying amounts of silt, sand, rubble, sponges, and seaweed.
Some of the coral had recently died, and coral predators appeared in high densities at some sites.
But overall, the report noted, “the coral reef community at Cocos (Keeling) Islands is very healthy and in a stable period, with little impact from anthropogenic activities.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scow sailing concept

David Raison has won the singlehanded Charente Maritime-Bahia Transat 6,50 on his innovative Proto TeamWork Evolution.

His achievement potentially represents a milestone in the world of offshore yacht racing.
Raison's boat, with her strange looking round nose, has excelled on this difficult course, but especially when sailing between 60 and 90° TWA, where she seems unbeatable, achieving speeds up to one knot more than her opponents.

David’s victory is in line with the history of the Mini Class, who has seen innovations such as canting keels, ballasts or carbon masts, used today on all race boats.

Nobody knows yet whether this type of boats will be seen on other, bigger classes in the future; yet one thing is sure: everyone is going to have to think about it.

E-Scow sailing at 35 knots, Toms River NJ

Links :

Monday, December 26, 2011

Book review : The men who mapped the World/The treasures of cartography

They were the extraordinary pioneers of global travel who risked life and limb to chart the oceans. But last night, thanks to a West author, the remarkable story of the men who mapped the world was revealed. In the first book of its kind, John Blake, a retired Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander from Wiltshire, details the history of the sea chart and the stories behind the maps which changed the course of world history and were instrumental in the rise of the British Empire. It is illustrated with dozens of charts dating to the 15th century. Charting the oceans was mankind's biggest challenge for 600 years, …

"The Men Who Mapped the World" takes you on a journey through the history of cartography and is essentially a history of the world and how its territories were discovered and explored.
Maps have been an integral part of the way humans have lived for approximately 8,000 years. The first accurate maps were produced in Ancient Babylonia.

The earliest world map is the Babylonian World Map, which is symbolic and not an exact representation. It deliberately doesn't include the Persians or the Egyptians.
The Ancient Greeks also produced maps, although they were mostly imaginary reconstructions of the world. Maps have been crucial in the development of empires, have helped to win wars, and have encouraged man to venture further than his or her known boundaries.

Beautifully illustrated, "The Men Who Mapped the World" is a fascinating look at how the science of cartography developed, how maps are used not just for getting from A to B, and why cartography is so important to our history of the world and the world we live in.

Nowadays, we take the use of Sat Nav and Google maps for granted, but this book reflects on the fact that it all began with human imagination and the desire for knowledge.

Contents :
Introduction; Mapping in the Ancient and Medieval World; Cartography in the Age of Discovery; The World Expands-Filling the Gaps (1600-1800); Maps in the Age of Empires and Nationalism (1800-1914); Mapping the Modern World (1914-2011).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pictures of the Basque Coast

Mundaka (Spain) -photo Laurent Masurel-

Wave in front of the 'Virgen Rock' in Biarritz -photo Laurent Masurel-

A basque moment in front of the 'Three Crowns' mountain (photo César Ancelle-Hansen)

 Alone in front of the Jaizkibel (photos César Ancelle-Hansen)

 Parlementia (photo César Ancelle-Hansen)

Links :

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nigeria on alert as Shell announces worst oil spill in a decade

From TheGuardian

Another oil spill : Shell, the oil company says up to 40,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled 75 miles off the coast of the Niger delta.

Nigerian coastal and fishing communities were on Thursday put on alert after Shell admitted to an oil spill that is likely to be the worst in the area for a decade, according to government officials.

The company said up to 40,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled on Wednesday while it was transferred from a floating oil platform to a tanker 75 miles off the coast of the Niger delta.
All production from the Bonga field, which produces around 200,000 barrels a day, was last night suspended.

An engineer from Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company describes the importance of safety on Bonga, a deep-water oil production facility offshore Nigeria.

"Early indications show that less than 40,000 barrels of oil have leaked in total. Spill response procedures have been initiated and emergency control and spill risk procedures are up and running," said Tony Okonedo, a Shell Nigeria spokesman.

Satellite pictures obtained by independent monitors Skytruth suggested that the spill was 70km-long and was spread over 923 square kilometers (356 sq miles).
But a leading Nigerian human rights group said Shell's figures about the quantity of oil spilled or the clean-up could not be relied on.
"Shell says 40,000 barrels were spilled and production was shut but we do not trust them because past incidents show that the company consistently under-reports the amounts and impacts of its carelessness," said Nnimmo Bassey, head of Environmental Rights Action, based in Lagos.
"We are alerting fisher folks and coastal communities to be on the look out. It just adds to the list of Shell's environmental atrocities in the Niger delta."
The spill, one of the worst off the coast of Nigeria in 10 years, is particularly embarrassing for Shell, coming only four months after a major UN study said it could take Shell and other oil companies 30 years and $1bn to clean spills in Ogoniland, one small part of the oil-rich delta.

The company also admitted responsibility in August for two major spills in the Bodo region of the delta that took place in 2008, but has yet to pay compensation.
Shell, which works in partnership with the Nigerian government in the delta, claims that 98% of all its oil spills are caused by vandalism, theft or sabotage by militants and only a minimal amount by deteriorating infrastructure.
But this is disputed by communities.

Yesterday Shell said it had also closed a Gulf of Mexico deep drilling operation after spilling 319 barrels of contaminated fluids.

Links :
  • Wired : Nigeria oil spill raises concerns about new drilling tech
  • BBC : Nigeria oil spill could hit fisheries
  • Shell : Bonga oil leak updates

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Falcon Maltese


Tom Perkins had done it all.
He'd made a fortune, conquered Silicon Valley, even been Danielle Steel's fifth husband for a time.
His venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, was an early backer of Genentech, Netscape, and Google.
But when he turned 70 a few years ago, Perkins decided to do something even grander and a bit crazier: He would build the biggest, riskiest, fastest, most technologically advanced, single-hulled sailing mega yacht in the world.

The 289-foot Maltese Falcon, launched in spring 2006, is that engineering dream come to life.
There's no official definition of a megayacht, but every one agrees they're longer than 250 feet and tend to be triumphs of excess, with opulent staterooms, stainless steel and leather galore, plasma TVs — even their own speedboats and jet skis.
To accommodate these toys, all mega yachts used to be powerboats, for the simple reason that sailboats must be reasonably svelte.
But Perkins insisted on sail power — and refused to compromise on speed or lavish appointments.
The solution was to go long, since (other things being equal) the longer the hull, the faster a sailboat can go.
The result is the perfect blend of ego and utility, a $130 million wonder that represents the most daring advance in sailing technology in 150 years.
If the 1,367-ton Falcon were anchored in New York Harbor, its masts would nearly reach the tablet in the arm of the Statue of Liberty.
The exterior has teak decks, a varnished cap rail, and exquisitely finished surfaces — all attributes of a classic ship — yet the overall look is sleek, metallic, and ultramodern, almost foreboding.
When Darth Vader builds his own intergalactic yacht, it will look like this.

Under sail, the square-rigged Falcon evokes the magnificent clipper ships that raced across the oceans in the late 19th century.
But Perkins' creation is more New Old Thing than mere tribute to the past.
The heart of the boat's technology is a novel rigging system called the DynaRig, designed by Dutch naval architect Gerald Dijkstra and based on a half-century-old German concept.
The genius — and risk — of the DynaRig is its use of freestanding masts that rotate to adjust sail trim and tack the boat.
There are practically no external ropes or wires, no traditional rigging of any sort to brace the spars or control the nearly 26,000 square feet of sail.
The 15 sails deploy at the push of a button, rolling out from inside each hollow mast along recessed tracks on stationary horizontal yardarms.
When Dijkstra's drawings first came in, the CEO of Perini Navi, the Italian company that built the ship, muttered, "Whatever that is, it's not going to sail." Fellow mega yacht owner and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch looked at them and asked Perkins, "Is it going to look so frightening that people won't go on the boat?"
Murdoch isn't easily intimidated.
But three towering 192-foot masts — unsupported by the usual fore and aft stays and shrouds on the sides — would scare the Top-Siders off even Columbus or Magellan.
Each mast is secured to the hull by two huge steel bearings.
The three assemblies — mast, bearings, motors, and fittings — each weigh well over 30 tons. That's a lot of material twisting and bending overhead in a gale.
The key is carbon fiber.
It's exceptionally strong and light, and it doesn't fatigue like metal, allowing the mast walls to be remarkably thin.
Near the deck, where they're subject to the greatest loads, the walls measure just 5 inches thick. Toward the top, they taper to half an inch — no thicker than sturdy cardboard.
To measure the stress on the masts, a fiber-optic network is embedded in the layers of carbon-fiber laminate.
These 0.01-inch-diameter cables contain sensors that relay real-time data about the structural health of the masts to a graphic display on the bridge.
If the forces on them become too severe — masts can snap, and on a vessel this size, the results might be catastrophic — Perkins can dump wind out of the sails or reduce sail area.

Dozens of microprocessors, connected by 131,000 feet of hidden cable and wire, automate the operation, allowing Perkins and his crew to control the boat nearly effortlessly.
Seventy-five sealed motors, 60 for unfurling and 15 for furling, are used to manage the sails. They are synchronized by computer, but the skipper still needs to implement each step: Perkins insisted that electronics not govern the whole process.
The vessel would not be sailed by computer.
"No way Bill Gates is controlling my boat," he likes to crack.
"I don't ever want to have to press Control-Alt-Delete to restart, to make my boat go."

Links :

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Birth of an island

Kavachi is one of the most active submarine volcanoes in the world.
Geolocalization : 9°1' S / 157°57' E

From GlobalVolcanismProgram

Kavachi, one of the most active submarine volcanoes in the SW Pacific, occupies an isolated position in the Solomon Islands far from major aircraft and shipping lanes.

Kavachi, sometimes referred to as Rejo te Kvachi ("Kavachi's Oven"), is located south of Vangunu Island only about 30 km north of the site of subduction of the Indo-Australian plate beneath the Pacific plate.
The shallow submarine basaltic-to-andesitic volcano has produced ephemeral islands up to 1 km long many times since its first recorded eruption during 1939.
Residents of the nearby islands of Vanguna and Nggatokae (Gatokae) reported "fire on the water" prior to 1939, a possible reference to earlier submarine eruptions.
The roughly conical volcano rises from water depths of 1.1-1.2 km on the north and greater depths to the south.

Frequent shallow submarine and occasional subaerial eruptions produce phreatomagmatic explosions that eject steam, ash, and incandescent bombs above the sea surface.
On a number of occasions lava flows were observed on the surface of ephemeral islands.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Four things I learned on a round-the-world yacht race

Rough Weather Sailing - BT Global Challenge 2000

From TonyHaile

11 years ago this month, I stepped aboard a 72-foot racing cutter affectionately called The Good Ship Logica and began a 10-month round the world yacht race, the only one to go around the world against the currents and prevailing winds.
Below deck, I was the geek, making sure the satellite could broadcast despite 90ft waves blocking line of sight; above deck I was the Bowman, standing at the pointy end and getting the shit kicked out of me by walls of water as our team struggled to take down huge sails that the wind wanted to keep up.

Today I learned that someone mishandled a crane in Portsmouth during a routine maneuver and dropped Logica, effectively killing it.
This was the boat that I learned to trust to keep me safe through hurricanes, lightning strikes and the worst the Southern Ocean had to offer.
It was the boat that I cursed every time a rampant wave picked me up and tossed me down the deck like a rag doll, slamming me into rigging and stanchions.
It was the boat in whose bowels I spent cold hours pumping water into buckets after the electric pump failed, the boat that taught me how to sleep on a rollercoaster while a generator roared next to my head, the boat I loved, heart and soul.
Now she’s gone.

So today I’ve been thinking about the lessons she taught me.

The opposite of fear is not bravery, it’s initiative

When my first hurricane at sea hit, it came out of nowhere.
I was delivering a boat (the older, smaller sister of Logica) across the Atlantic from Plymouth to Boston.
The boom swung across the deck with such ferocity that it ripped the pulley system that controlled it out of the deck and flung it out to sea; the third wave took the heavily bolted down compass and consigned that to the ocean.
Our skipper was up on deck so fast it seemed incredible that he had just been asleep and, screaming above the waves, he got us working to try to bring down the mainsail and control the wayward boom.
Our boat was so far over on its side that the mast was dipping into the ocean and water was starting to drag the mainsail and the boat further down into the lifeless grey.
I don’t remember being frightened, at least not in the way I had always thought about fear; traditional fear involves some prediction of a future you would rather avoid.
At this point, I couldn’t begin to think about a future at all.
I just remember feeling utterly drained of initiative. I would do whatever anyone asked me to do, but I was utterly unable to think or to act for myself.

I brooded over that night for months afterwards, dwelling on my own inadequate response when faced with a true crisis.
I knew I was due to set out on a round-the-world yacht race the next year and was terrified that I didn’t have what it takes, that I would let down my team when it mattered most.

In October 2000, my skipper came below decks and asked us if we had ever seen the Perfect Storm (It had occurred on the Grand Banks near our position at the time).
“Yeah, three storms converging on the Flemish Cap” replied Adam, the bowman on the other watch. “We’re in luck” the skipper replied, “we’ve only got two storms converging on us”.
We watched the scarlet dawn rising and remarked upon the sailors motto ‘red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, we’re fucked’.

We had more warning this time, but the hurricane still hit with a vengeance.
There’s something about the sea when the wind gets above 70 knots of breeze (80mph), it becomes gunmetal grey, as if not even colour could live in these conditions.
Our bow team struggled up to the foredeck to take down the headsails and put up our storm staysail.
Orange and bulletproof, we needed it up if we were going to be able to steer a course through this storm at all.
This was the moment I had thought about for years, but for some reason I was not the same man who had been so useless on that previous voyage.
I was able to think, to act on my own initiative and help my team to survive.
It was a revelation and gave me hope that the ability to lead in a crisis was not inbuilt from birth but could be learned, that I could become better.
The lesson I took from this is that bravery is a term applied retroactively, after the work has been done and the danger has passed.
In a situation that engenders fear and terror, don’t ask yourself to be brave; simply ask yourself to act.
The bravery comes later.

Finding fault is a luxury best saved for tomorrow

My first day of training on the yacht and I’d already managed to break something.
A sail was tumbling down and the boat was losing speed.
The first mate darted across the boat to find out what had happened and I started in on a long and rambling tale of the series of unfortunate events which had, through no fault of my own, caused the damage we were looking at right now.
I was barely three sentences in, when the mate interrupted me: “I don’t give a crap whose fault it was, I just need to know what to fix”.

The words hit me like a sledgehammer, my concern had been with my perceived reputation and standing as a competent crewman, his concern was simply that the boat wasn’t working right and yet it needed to be.
Identifying the incompetent culprit responsible or working out the precise series of events leading us to here were luxuries that could wait for another time because right now the boat needed to be fixed before we lost too much speed and time.
If I was ever going to truly pull my weight with the crew, I would have to learn to be ok with people potentially thinking the worst of me or ascribing failures to me that were not directly my own fault, what mattered was keeping the boat moving.
I find thinking of that day instructive when facing a board meeting, finding fault or assigning blame is an idle luxury, what matters is keeping the company moving.

Do your thinking before the crisis

We were deep in the Southern Ocean, one of the nastiest environments on earth and three of us were sitting on the windward side of the deck (the high side) with little to do but endure the waves crashing over us and make sure the helmsman didn’t get hurt.
Our skipper came up on deck to take a look around and spotted a trailing rope on the leeward side that he wanted to tidy.
He made his way down to where the deck was skimming the water and began to bring in the rope when a rogue wave took him by surprise and knocked him down the deck.
All three of us leaped forward to grab him before he was washed overboard, but two of us were stopped short by our safety lines like a dog reaching the limits of its leash.

Only Glyn, had the presence of mind to first unhook his safety line get across to the other side, reattach and reach our skipper before it was too late.
While I and my team-mate had been sitting there grumpily bearing the waves and wishing we were elsewhere, Glyn had been running through scenarios in his head and working out potential plans of action should any of them occur.
He knew that there isn’t necessarily time in a crisis to stop, assess the best course of action and then enact it, so you have to do your thinking beforehand.
Be constantly working through ‘what if?’ scenarios so that your brain has the advantage when an accident happens and you are not left flailing helplessly at the end of a line watching someone get washed away.

Leave it on the Last Wave

Our round the world yacht race involved putting 18 people in a tin can, plunging it in salt water and shaking it violently for 10 months.
People hallucinate through lack of sleep, the unconscious tapping of teeth can provoke a knife fight (which occurred on another yacht in a previous race) and one simply can’t avoid someone if you have an argument
The only way for your team to mentally survive in that kind of environment is to embody the motto of ‘Leave it on the last wave’.
The argument you had during a sail change?
That happened on a wave way in the distant, leave it out there where it belongs.
The time you almost came to blows with a team mate over something so minor you both can’t remember, leave it on the wave where it started because the wind has changed and there are new sails to be put up and a new course to take advantage of.
The lesson on a boat is clear, you can either let go of slights or negative emotions or you can damn near kill someone.
There’s not much wiggle room in between.

These are some of the gifts that Logica gave me, my friends have often remarked upon how the person who joined the race in September 2000 was utterly different from the man who left it in July of 2001.
I miss my boat, I miss my team and I will always treasure what I learned on her deck.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hold fast

Hold Fast from Moxie Marlinspike

Stories of maniac sailors, anarchist castaways, and the voyage of the S/V Pestilence...
This is a great short on 4 people who spent some time fixing up a sailboat and then sailing it down to the Bahamas.

Over the course of two winters, four members of the Anarchist Yacht Club rescued a derelict boat from the inhospitable waters of Ft. Lauderdale, named it the S/V Pestilence, and sailed south to Haiti.
Hold Fast describes what drew these friends to the ocean, and tells the story of what they discovered in the sea.
It paints a picture of the S/V Pestilence in the context of all the sailing maniacs who have come before them, and ultimately attempts to suggest that the secret is always to begin.

Take note: it takes a second to get into it, but becomes addictive.
As one commenter wrote: this is a jewel of sailing, low budget videos!
If you will survive through the first minute or so with way too much black in editing, you enter an over one hour long story with almost NPR / PBS documentary quality...

Links :
  • BS blog : Hold fast

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Island seamounts: is the mystery finally solved?

The CHRISP forms a diffuse volcanic belt with an E–W length of ~1,800 km and a N–S width of ~600 km and is divided into four sub-provinces: (1) Argo Basin (136 Myr), (2) Eastern Wharton Basin (94–115 Myr), (3) Vening-Meinesz (64–95 Myr; Christmas Island 37–44 and 4 Myr), and (4) the Cocos/Keeling (47–56 Myr) volcanic provinces.
Also shown is Outsider Seamount (53 Myr). Plate motion vector and rate from UNAVCO model.


If you ever find yourself on a leisurely submarine ride through the northeastern Indian Ocean, be on the lookout for some amazing views: more than 50 large seamounts, or underwater mountains, dot the ocean floor, some rising as high as 3 miles (4,500 meters).

The Christmas Island Seamount Province, as the area is known, spans a 417,000-square-mile (1 million square kilometers) swath of seafloor.
Just how the massive underwater structures got there has been up for debate, but some new geochemical detective work may have solved the mystery.
The seamounts are made of recycled rocks from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, said geochemist Kaj Hoernle of the University of Kiel in Germany.
Their turbulent geological history explains the massive size and puzzling placement of these features.

Ubiquitous and mysterious

Tens of thousands of seamounts line the floors of the world's oceans, but exactly how most of these formed is unclear.

Some, like the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain that extends northwest from the Hawaiian Islands, formed over hotspots in the mantle, just as the islands themselves did.
Other seamount chains were created when tectonic plate boundaries and other fractures in the ocean crust allowed lava to escape and harden at the surface.

Lavas on Christmas Island, north-east Indian Ocean

But the Christmas Island Seamount Province doesn't fit either of these models, Hoernle said. The structures are too widespread and diffuse to have formed over a single hotspot; they’re also aligned perpendicularly along breaks in the ocean crust, which means they didn't form above a fracture.
"We knew they were volcanic," Hoernle told OurAmazingPlanet, "but beyond that, it was more or less a mystery."

Geochemistry to the rescue

To solve the puzzle, Hoernle and his colleagues set out to map and collect samples of the seamounts.

The evidence they brought back to the lab told an interesting story: The rocks' geochemical signatures didn't match those from mid-ocean ridges or hotspot volcanoes.

Instead, they matched the signatures of continental rocks — in particular, rocks from northwestern Australia.

Around 150 million years ago, greater India, Australia and Burma — all once part of this supercontinent — began to rift away from each other.
This created the spreading center (or mid-ocean ridge) that eventually formed the Indian Ocean. As this was happening, the bottom part of the continental crust delaminated, or "peeled off in a sheet," Hoernle said.
The peeled-off continental crust mixed with the upper mantle, heated up and eventually was pulled to the surface again at the Indian Ocean spreading center.
"When the spreading center passed over that area, it essentially sucked the continental bits and pieces up again," Hoernle said. "Because these pieces have more volatile content (such as water and carbon dioxide), they produced more melted material than the normal upper mantle, and formed seamounts instead of the normal ocean crust."

The first seamount in the Christmas Island Province formed around 136 million years ago.
The spreading center continued to create seamounts until about 47 million years ago, when it migrated away from the part of the mantle containing the recycled continental crust, Hoernle said.
The team's findings are detailed in the December issue of the journal Nature Geoscience

Links :

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book review: ‘Oceans Odyssey’

From TheEpochTimes

I met Greg Stemm’s partner in Odyssey Marine Exploration in South Dakota.
Of all places, South Dakota is not a likely place for an ocean explorer to be.
If he had been there when the ocean covered the place, Don Mann would have to be a lot older than he is.
Actually Mann was on another odyssey, filming for television’s “Primal Quest Badlands” episode.
Greg and Don’s quest underwater has taken them around the planet.
Their accomplishments have brought amazing deep ocean discoveries that include the steamship Republic that sank off Georgia in 1866, with a fortune in gold aboard.
(see NYTimes)

Odyssey Marine’s endeavors are the stuff of front-page newspaper headlines all over the world.
Recently The New York Times carried a story about their work with the British government on the discovery and planned exploitation of the British steamship Mantola.
A German U-boat sank the Mantola in 1917, off the Irish coast.
It went to the bottom with 20 tons of silver bullion.
That’s $18 million today.

Undaunted by success Odyssey discovered another prize off the Irish coast laden with 240 tons of silver.
The cargo is estimated to be worth $200 million according to the report.
The Gairsoppa was sunk by a German torpedo in 1941.
Odyssey is working with the British government and will partner shares.
Oddly enough the British Indian Steam Navigation Company owned both ships, one sunk in World War I, the other in World War II by German submarines.
The Mantola sank in the deep ocean a mile down.

Controversy still rages between private enterprise and some jealous academics about who gets what on the ocean floor.
By and large this often means who gets the credit for major discoveries.
One fact is very clear: if shipwrecks are not found, studied, mapped, and their cargoes recovered in an archaeologically acceptable way, the knowledge they contain and their valuable artifacts will be lost forever.
In this pursuit, no government and no academic institution has ever had the funding, resources, or expertise to do the job of deep-water archaeology properly.

The prejudice among academics and government bureaucrats has always been that private enterprise can never be compatible with archaeological recovery of shipwrecks.
Sadly, corruption in government labs and storage facilities resulted in the loss of major treasures that were recovered by the late Mel Fisher and his team of divers as well as others working with the State of Florida.

Private sector involvement has made the only significant contributions to, not only knowledge, but to public museum collections of maritime history in recent years.
Certainly this is true in deep-sea technology to a very large extent.

Oceans Odyssey by Greg Stemm and Sean Kingsley is a two-volume presentation of astonishing marine research and exploration that will open the eyes of experts and enthusiasts, alike.
Two major books have been recently published by Odyssey Marine Exploration as reports of their work.
The two volumes will be part of continuing efforts by Greg Stemm, Sean Kingsley, and Odyssey’s curator Ellen Gerth to document and publish, with scientific papers and reports, the results of their work on the SS Republic, HMS Sussex, HMS Victory, and other vessels lost in the deep oceans.

Both books are major undertakings in full-color, large 9” x 11” format.
Ocean Odyssey I contains 288 pages, Ocean Odyssey II is 354 pages.
The books publish papers produced by archaeologists and scientists working on the projects.
Some are technical or scientific and all are well researched.
The editors make no attempt to dissuade opinion since one paper contains the pros and cons of treasure hunters being involved with shipwrecks at all, authored by an archaeologist.
The color photography obtained in situ of deep-water shipwrecks is not only amazing it is beguiling.
To be able to see clearly about .31 miles beneath the surface, and see what no one has seen before since the ship went down, is an incredible feat.

On the SS Republic site, located about 93 miles off Georgia’s coast, in about .31 miles of water, the scatter fields of cargo and artifacts are revealed in minute detail in the pictures.
Recovered from the depths were 51,404 gold coins from the paddle-wheeler that sank in a terrible storm on October 25, 1865, while en route from New York to New Orleans.
Volume I contains reports of the field work, and site history, the cargo, coin collection, bottles, and other artifacts recovered from the shipwreck.

The book also documents what has been called the Blue China shipwreck off Jacksonville, Fla. with its cargo of porcelains.
When the 80-gun HMS Sussex went down in 1694, it was a major loss to the Royal Navy.
Now the wreck has been brought to light again with its history coming back to life.
Volume I describes Odyssey’s work on the about 109-yards-deep HMS Victory lost in the western English Channel.
The shipwrecks have been explored using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) equipped with cameras and powerful lights.
Intricately engineered limpets with rubber suction cups have been used to recover artifacts from the deep wreck sites after methodically mapping and recording the finds.

Greg Stemm and Odyssey Marine found the first colonial deep-water Spanish shipwreck in 1989.
Their excitement at the discovery challenged them.
Stemm’s introduction proclaims that there are some 3 million shipwrecks worldwide.
Many of the shallow water wrecks have already been pillaged before any archaeology could be performed.
Deep ocean wrecks were raked over by fishing trawlers and many sites have been destroyed by natural events.
What Stemm and his team have proved is that archaeology can be successfully performed using remote vehicles.
Odyssey’s engineers are responsible for developing the technology, at great cost, to make this possible.

In Stemm’s words, “We found that even in deep water, shipwrecks were being destroyed at an alarming rate and that the politics of underwater cultural heritage were so complex that some government bureaucrats were happier to see shipwrecks being destroyed in situ than to consider a new private sector model for managing cultural heritage. In addition, a handful of archaeologists in positions of power were dead set against the private sector coming into ‘their’ territory, a perceived threat to their funding sources and monopoly on underwater archaeology.”
Stemm uses the example of their discovery in 2008, of Admiral Sir John Balchin’s HMS Victory in the English Channel.
The shipwreck is badly damaged by trawling activities and natural causes, according to the book, documented with deep-sea photographs.

Volume II describes the UNESCO 2001 Convention on shipwrecks and its potential controversial application unless the requirement to work with others is enhanced.
Many German U-boats from World War II have been located by Odyssey Marine’s deep ocean surveys.
They have documented the U-325, U-400, U-650, U-1021, and U-1208.
Volume II also carefully describes in minute detail a carpenter’s rule found on their site 35F.
The book includes a paper about brass guns from HMS Victory.
One paper describes La Marquise de Tourny, a Bordeaux Mid-18th Century Armed privateer’s Art and Archaeology.
The volume includes additional carefully drawn papers about the Jacksonville Blue China wreck.
It was found to be a Mid-19th Century American schooner.
Curator Ellen Gerth and her colleagues describe the Ceramic Assemblage as well as the Glass Assemblage and Clay Tobacco Pipes found on the Blue China wreck site, about .23 miles deep and 70 miles off Jacksonville.
Photomosaics of the wreck site give clear details of the in situ wreckage that was first discovered by fishermen trawling the area over the last 40 years.
Trawlers dredged up porcelain artifacts in their nets.

For the academic, researcher, historian, shipwreck buff, diver, and ocean enthusiast Odyssey Marine’s two-volume set is indispensable.
While the papers are scientific they are easy to read and fascinating.
The photographs are amazing in fidelity and content.
The information contained in the volumes would require years of research to find in scattered archives.
The discoveries themselves are news of the century.
As reference books, the two volumes are required for archaeologists and maritime historians.
Additional volumes are planned and will be published as new material comes to light and the research is completed.

Links :
  • GeoGarage blog : British shipwreck with a fortune in silver on board discovered in Atlantic

Friday, December 16, 2011

The reality of ‘Finding Nemo’s’ marine life

From WashingtonPost

A new study found that when it comes to surviving in the non-Pixar sea, being adorable isn’t enough.

The underwater world in the Disney film is teeming with cheery creatures.
But a study says that of the real-life species associated with those in the film, many face the threat of extinction.
The underwater world on display in Disney’s “Finding Nemo” is teeming with a dizzying array of cheery creatures, from sea turtles to seahorses and mackerel to sharks.
So a team of Canadian and U.S. scientists decided to assess the mythical ecosystem inhabited by the small clownfish and his friends to see how their real-world counterparts were faring.
It turns out that when it comes to surviving in a non-Pixar sea, being adorable isn’t enough.

Sixteen percent of the species associated with characters in “Finding Nemo” that have been evaluated face the threat of extinction, according to the study, which was conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Canada’s Simon Fraser University.
The analysis of 1,568 species is not just a whimsical look at American popular culture and its cartoon characters.

It reveals how humans treat some of the ocean’s most charismatic inhabitants.
“These are species that should be doing better because they are the ones we care about,” said Loren McClenachan, a post-doctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University.
She said that highly migratory species such as turtles, sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable to fisheries and other human pressures.
“They’ve got life histories that cause them to interact with people wherever they go,” McClenachan said.
The Oscar-winning 2003 Disney/Pixar movie, which details how the clownfish Marlin defies all odds to save his son from the aquarium trade, has a conservation message.
But the film actually inspired a booming aquarium trade in the bright orange fish with white stripes, significantly reducing native clownfish populations on coral reefs in Australia and elsewhere.

While the IUCN classifies clownfish as a “species of least concern,” meaning it does not face an imminent extinction risk, 18 percent of the evaluated species that are related to Nemo — those of the scientific family Pomacentridae — are at risk of extinction.
There have been few formal scientific assessments of coral reef fish populations that are sought by the aquarium trade, McClenachan said, so “it’s very hard to know the true extent of the aquarium, live reef and curio trade.”Disney officials could not be reached for comment.

Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Canada’s Dalhousie University who has reviewed the study, which is being published Tuesday in the journal Conservation Letters, said the clownfish boomlet underscores the complex relationship humans have with marine species.
“When people see a beautiful film about tigers, they don’t go out and shoot a tiger. They don’t go out and purchase a tiger,” Worm said in an interview.
“In the case of things in the ocean, they think, ‘I care about them, so I’d like to have them,’ or, ‘I care about them, that’s why I’d like to fish them.’

Direct exploitation is the key driver of many of the species’ decline.
Many sharks are being targeted to make the Asian delicacy shark fin soup; seahorses are coveted as curios.

Other species, such as sea turtles, are vulnerable because they can easily get entangled in commercial fishing gear and because their nesting areas have been trampled or hampered by development.

Neil Hammerschlag, a research assistant professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science who studies sharks, said many people are unaware that sharks are under such pressure.
“They are truly the celebrities of the ocean,” Hammerschlag wrote in an e-mail.
“Despite their legendary status, most people are unaware that sharks are literally being fished to extinction.”

A survey of the animals with speaking parts in “Finding Nemo” gives a decent sense of how these species are doing.
More than half of all hammerhead sharks (personified by “Anchor” in the movie) face a threat of extinction, according to the IUCN, along with all species of marine turtles (“Squirt” and “Crush”).
Those species, McClenachan said, “are more threatened than the most threatened vertebrates on land.”Nicholas K. Dulvy, who co-authored the study and serves as the Canadian Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, said the group of species he and his colleagues analyzed is not representative of the ocean as a whole.
It is “a biased sample, but it’s biased in interesting ways,” he said.
Because the movie focuses on coral reefs and areas in the Indo-Pacific, he said, it captures key regions of “the world’s biodiversity.”
In some cases, these populations are beginning to rebound.
Nesting populations of marine turtles in Costa Rica increased by more than fivefold between 1971 and 2003, for example, after authorities began protecting nesting females there.

And the Convention on Migratory Species’ 116 member parties will ban fishing for giant manta rays and impose measures to safeguard their habitat after the group voted to protect the species.
Dulvy, who also chairs the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, said the paper aims to highlight the “conservation bottleneck” many species face even after researchers have documented their steep population declines.

Fewer than 10 percent of the threatened shark and ray species surveyed by the study are protected under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
CITES Director-General John E. Scanlon said in a recent interview that his group is working to build political support to protect additional marine species, as well as to raise funds from member nations to support legal enforcement of wildlife trade bans.
While many focus on the prospect of how climate change may drive some species out of existence, he said, “All the time we’re planning, we’re losing biodiversity through illegal trade and unsustainable trade of species. Why don’t we deal with the here and now?”
For the four authors of the Nemo paper, focusing on the here and now meant watching the movie four or five times.
But Dulvy said he came away with a better impression of the film than when he first saw it eight years ago, especially after watching Bruce the Shark struggle with his pledge to stop eating fish.
“They tried to portray sharks in a way more positive way than is usually done. But they showed them to be fallible, which makes them closer to reality,” he said.
“I really enjoyed it.”

Links :
  • ScientificAmerica : Finding Nemo isn’t easy: film’s stars threatened with extinction

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ireland's biggest ever wave recorded off Donegal coast

From TheGuardian

A 20.4-metre wave is recorded by a buoy 60 miles off Ireland's coast as a force ten storm rages

The biggest wave ever to hit Irish shores – 20.4 metres (67ft) high – has been recorded, meteorologists have revealed.
The wave was measured at a special buoy off the Donegal coast on Tuesday as a force ten storm raged.

Off the Donegal coast approximately 45 nautical miles (83 km)
west northwest of Rossan Point

Meteorologists at Met Eireann said the data, sent from about 60 miles from the Irish coast, provided evidence of the most severe weather conditions it has encountered that distance offshore. "
At 14.00 (Tuesday 13th December 2011) the M4 weather buoy off the Donegal coast recorded a maximum wave height of 20.4 metres which is the highest maximum wave recorded in Irish waters," Met Eireann reported.

'M4 Buoy' (WMO ID: station 62093) provided by 'The Marine Institute',
located at 54°42'N, 9°6'W
(Realtime Wave Buoy Data from CEFAS WaveNet mapping)

At Malin Head, the most northerly tip of Ireland, wind gusting to 87mph (140km/h) was recorded.
Elsewhere, the Irish coastguard has urged people to stay off exposed coasts, cliffs, piers, harbour walls, beaches and promenades during this week's forecast stormy weather.
UKMO Bracknell MetOffice weatherfax for 13/12/2011 (from Wetterzentrale archives)

Winds and stormy conditions will ease on Tuesday night before freezing conditions hit Ireland on Thursday and there is a risk of a second storm hitting the south and midlands.
Forecasters, however, said there was a chance the storm might miss Ireland to the south.
The Weather Buoy project is a collaborative initiative between the Department of Transport, Marine Institute, Met Eireann and the UK Met Office.
The manager of the Irish coastguard, Declan Geoghegan, said:
"The combination of tides, forecasted gale warnings for the next day or so, high sea conditions and swollen rivers may result in very dangerous conditions."

Thermal IR image, 12/12/2011 at 2035 GMT

Much of the UK also faces several days of battering winds and localised blizzards as a pair of particularly lively weather systems pass over the country in quick succession.

Jayce Robinson, from St Ives, can just be seen inside the huge rolling wave.
This is the incredible moment an English surfer rode a massive wave in Donegal Bay.
The wave was on the same afternoon a 67-ft wave was recorded off Donegal
(source : DonegalDaily)

Later on Tuesday gales were expected to batter the north of Northern Ireland and the west of Scotland, peaking at 80mph in coastal areas, where ferry services in the west of Scotland have been badly affected.
This will be combined with driving rain and, on higher ground, reasonably heavy snowfalls, mainly in the Borders and in Dumfries and Galloway.
Conditions should ease during Wednesday and early Thursday, but only before another stormy weather system arrives, currently massing over the Atlantic.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Amazing race to the bottom of the world

Scott's ship Terra Nova 1910 (Herbert Ponting)
Photo used in the book: Scott's Last Expedition...,
1913, Dodd, Mead, and Company, New York. Volume I, page 48.

From NYTimes

One hundred years ago, on Dec. 14, 1911, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and four companions trudged through fog, bitter cold and lacerating wind to stand at the absolute bottom of the world, the South Pole.
Nowhere was there a trace of their British rival, Robert Falcon Scott.
No Union Jack mocked them, no ice cairn bespoke precedence.
The Norwegians had won the race.

The Norwegian party pitched a tent as near to the actual pole as they could calculate.
Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Amundsen and Scott were commanding forces driving early exploration of Antarctica, the ice-covered continent almost half again the size of the United States and unlike any other place on Earth.
Both were driven by ambition to win fame by grabbing one of the few remaining unclaimed geographic prizes.
Each was different, though, in temperament and approach to exploration, which may have been decisive in the success of one and the undoing of the other.
Earnest and methodical, Amundsen had previously wintered over with an expedition in Antarctica and succeeded in the first navigation of the Northwest Passage, north of Canada, as he learned well how to prepare for work on the planet’s coldest, most unforgiving continent.
He knew from experience how indispensable well-trained dogs were for pulling sledges.
His next destination was to have been the North Pole.
But when he heard that two other groups claimed that triumph, Amundsen wrote that “there was nothing left for me but to try and solve the last great problem — the South Pole.”

Scott was a Navy officer and a gentleman who had led an expedition that fell well short of the South Pole because of poor planning and execution.
He had a romantic view of exploration as a self-affirming adventure, a kind of trial by ice.
Using dogs to pull all the sledges he thought unsporting: better, he wrote, “to go forth to face the hardships, dangers and difficulties with their unaided efforts.”
This the Scott party had to do.
Its motorized sledges and the ponies soon broke down, leaving them to pull the sledges all the way up a glacier to the high polar plateau.
When Amundsen’s men already were only a week away from their base camp at the Bay of Whales, to complete their 2,000-mile round trip, the exhausted British team arrived at the pole on Jan. 17, 1912, five weeks too late.
How deflating to see the Norwegian flag, alert to the wind.
In his diary, Scott wrote: “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.”
Disappointment then turned to tragedy.
Stalled by a nine-day blizzard, weak from hunger and sledge-pulling fatigue on the return trek, Scott and his four team members perished by the end of March.
Most of the bodies were not found until November, at their last camp, among diaries and field notes and rock specimens they had gone perhaps too far out of the way to collect.
Scott may have lost the race to the pole, but in death, he prevailed in the narrative for much of the last century as the brave and stoic hero of legend.

Scientific Contest

The time of Amundsen and Scott was the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.
The adventurous were in part attracted to the ice because, as the British mountaineer George Mallory was to say of Everest, it was there: a recognized new challenge.
Even so, the same competitive spirit drove individuals and nations to seek to be first to make scientific discoveries, as Edward J. Larson, a Pepperdine University historian and author of the recent book “An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science,” describes in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Nature.

As early as 1900, Dr. Larson notes, the British, notably teams under Ernest Shackleton and to a lesser extent Scott, as well as German scientists, measured the movement of glaciers and mapped the coast and the interior.
From seabed sediments and outcrops they determined that Antarctica was a true continent — with a landmass underlying thick ice — in contrast to the Arctic, where the ice more thinly covers a wide sea.
From fossils they learned that the continent was once warmer and home to abundant life, all clues to its earlier link to other southern continents.

Advances in aviation, icebreakers and other technologies after World War II opened the Antarctic to wider and more sustained scientific research.
The United States and about a dozen other countries established permanent living quarters, supply depots and research facilities, the infrastructure for year-round living and increasingly ambitious research projects.
Now, from coastal ice shelves to the 10,000-foot polar plateau, from subglacial mountain ranges to pristine lakes sealed under ice, Antarctica is one vast international laboratory for research in sciences as diverse as astrophysics and climatology, geophysics and oceanography.
Looking ahead, the National Academy of Sciences has just published a study, “Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean,” identifying key questions that should drive research there in the next 10 to 20 years.

The report’s principal recommendations focused on researching the continent’s role in global climate change.
Polar scientists were not surprised.
“We’ve become very aware of the importance of polar regions in recent years as the harbinger of changes to come on a global scale,” said Raymond S. Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who primarily studies the Arctic and was not directly involved in the academy report.
“These regions are particularly sensitive to rising temperatures melting sea ice and glaciers,” Dr. Bradley continued. “
When sea ice recedes, it makes earth less reflective of sunlight, and this results in more warming and more changes in ocean and atmospheric circulation.”

Robin E. Bell, a senior research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who participated in the academy study, called attention to the report’s conclusion that a greater knowledge of rising temperatures and melting ice in some parts of the continent “will allow scientists to better predict” climate everywhere else.
“Antarctica is most critical to understanding the global climate system and creating models for predicting changes in the future,” Dr. Bell said.
The National Science Foundation asked the academy to prepare these recommendations as guides in deciding which projects to support with grants.
The government agency is spending $67.4 million this year on Antarctic projects.
Since the advent of satellite imagery in the 1970s, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have gathered much of the data calling attention to the continent’s involvement in climate change.

Scott Borg, director of the N.S.F. division of Antarctic sciences, said the new guidelines highlight research “we think is going to be important in at least the next five years” so that, if governments are to respond to the consequences of global warming, they will have “the best science possible to inform their decisions.”
Changes in the ice sheet, which covers roughly 97.6 percent of the continent, is already the subject of new research along the lines of academy recommendations.
An international team of researchers, financed by the N.S.F. and NASA, will travel by helicopter this month to the remote Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf.
The glacier, Dr. Borg said, “has begun to flow more rapidly, discharging more ice into the ocean, which could have a significant impact on global sea-level rise over the coming century.”

Scientists will use remote-sensing instruments to investigate the cavity beneath the ice shelf where it extends beyond the land and over the ocean.
They hope to determine how relatively warm ocean water enters this cavity and undercuts the bottom of the glacier, melting and releasing more than 19 cubic miles of ice into the sea each year.
Such research builds on activities started in the International Polar Year, 2007-9, which brought an infusion of fresh ideas and new projects to Antarctic science.
A seven-nation team of scientists, for example, investigated the mystery of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, two miles beneath the East Antarctic ice sheet.
They used aircraft equipped with ice-penetrating radars, gravity meters and magnetometers to learn how a mountain range bigger than the Alps formed where it did.
In a report last month, the scientists concluded that the mountains are the remains of a collision of several continents a billion years ago.
Its traces extend from Antarctica across the ocean to India.
Dr. Bell of Columbia, one of the project’s leaders, said the next step will be to drill through the ice to obtain the first rock samples from Gamburtsev.

In addition to insights into earth history, scientists still find much to be learned from and about Antarctica itself.
The academy report noted the seals, whales and penguins native to Antarctica have evolved physiologies adapted to the extreme environment, and this “could hold the key to understanding and preventing a host of illnesses and conditions that plague humans, such as heart attacks, strokes and decompression sickness.”
For years, Russians have been drilling through the ice to Lake Vostok, the largest of more than 140 subglacial lakes on the continent.
They may finally break through next year to collect a sample of water presumably supersaturated with oxygen.
If there is life in the water, it evolved in cold darkness and under high pressure over millions of years.
Any sign of life in Vostok may strengthen the prospect of finding life on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which appear to have under-ice seas of liquid water.

The academy also emphasized the value of Antarctica as “an unparalleled platform for observing the solar system and the universe beyond.”
In the thin, dry atmosphere at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the clarity of light is an astronomer’s dream.
Several types of telescopes there observe some of the earliest events in the cosmos and are searching for clues to the nature of dark matter and dark energy that presumably constitute 95 percent of everything in the universe.
Other telescopes keep track of solar eruptions as an early warning system of stormy space weather endangering communications and navigation satellites.

The recently completed IceCube Neutrino Observatory.
NSF/B. Gudbjartsson

A new instrument known as IceCube Neutrino Observatory was completed to track the high-energy, nearly mass-less particles that are ubiquitous but so difficult to detect as they pass through Earth.
Neutrinos could provide insights into the longstanding mystery of the origin of ultra high-energy cosmic rays.
Nearby, seismometers are listening posts for earthquake reverberations bearing clues to the structure of Earth’s inner core and lower mantle.
About 700 miles east of the South Pole, China is developing the large Plateau Observatory.
The country’s astronomers, who had lacked high-quality observing sites, said they looked forward to research in the clear polar skies where the nights are four months long.

At the Finish

Amundsen spent an extra three days before leaving the South Pole.
He and his men — Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting and Olav Bjaaland, the one who took the classic picture of the other four at the pole — wanted to make sure they were really there, at the pole exactly.
The Americans Frederick Cook, in 1908, and then Robert E. Peary, a year later, claimed to have reached the North Pole, but the evidence they reported was disputed even then, and especially ever since.

The careful and methodical Amundsen was not about to leave room for a particle of doubt.
Lynne Cox, an author and long-distance swimmer inclined to frigid waters, recently published a kind of biography of Amundsen as well as his mentor Fridtjof Nansen, titled “South with the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery.”
She thinks it was “a really cool thing” (what other pun would you commit in a polar context?) that Amundsen had his men spend those three days skiing for miles out in all directions, taking sextant readings of the sun at different places and times of day to be sure they were close to or at 90 degrees South.
He reasoned that at least one of them would cross and record the exact spot.

Before leaving, the party pitched a black tent as near to the actual pole as they could calculate.
In the tent Amundsen left spare equipment Scott might need and a letter addressed to King Haakon of Norway.
It was his report of triumph.
In a separate note, he asked Scott to deliver the letter to the king, if the Norwegian party failed to survive the return trip.
These two things Amundsen did while at the pole — double checking where they were and recording the story of a deed done — seemed in character.
Of course, Amundsen made it back to his base in 99 days, 10 fewer than expected; of his 52 dogs, 11 had survived.
The other dogs, weakened over time, were sacrificed for meat to sustain the remaining ones and the men.
And Amundsen, as ever preparing for eventualities, made doubly sure the world would know of his success.
And Scott?
If Scott had returned alive, and the Amundsen party had not, it would presumably have been in character for Scott of the century-old legend to have stayed in character, too
He would have done the sporting thing.
The news would have been delivered to the King of Norway that his subjects were the first to reach the South Pole.

Links :
  • NYTimes : Captain Scott’s lost photographs
  • BBC : Norway marks Amundsen's south pole feat 100 years on
  • OurAmazingPlanet : 100 years on, Antarctic science going strong
  • NASA : a century at the South Pole
  • ScientificAmerican : Amundsen becomes first to reach South Pole, December 14, 1911