Saturday, September 21, 2019

Heavy lift ship raises Carnival Vista out of the water

In a 12-hour evolution on Saturday, the Boskalis semi-submersible heavy lift ship BOKA Vanguard successfully floated the cruise ship Carnival Vista aboard in order to facilitate repairs at a shipyard in the Bahamas.

The BOKA Vanguard is the largest vessel of her type, and she has enough capacity to lift and carry the 4,000 passenger Carnival Vista.
The Vista is experiencing technical difficulties with her azipods, and she needs to be drydocked in order to carry out the repairs.
After the loss of Grand Bahama Shipyard's largest floating drydock in April, the nearest conventional solution for drydocking a vessel of Vista's size would be overseas - but the Vanguard could come right to the site.
She will serve as a temporary drydock while repairs are carried out, and the Vista will only be out of service for 17 days and three sailings.
The cruise ship is expected to resume her normal schedule later in the month.

Friday, September 20, 2019

When you teach a boy to fish

 Uncle Tony.
Photos courtesy of the author.

From Medium by Carl Safina

How my uncle’s generosity — and love of the sea — inspired me for a lifetime

Sometimes, early planted seeds that will germinate decades later into a writer’s life are planted by sources neither formal nor literary. Indeed mine were neither.
I had Uncle Tony.
What Uncle Tony had: An untrained eye for the beautiful and a willingness to share a little time near water.

But now he’s in a two-person room on the far side of the curtain.
Our visit is mostly a surprise.
As we file past the partition Tony takes in his visitors. It’s my mother, me…
“Here’s a person I haven’t met,” he says as we fully materialize.
“My wife,” I say, and before I can add, “Patricia,” he points to a photo of her on the wall, on a boat, holding up a halibut.

Tony had always been drawn to the sea, to boats, and to fish.
That drew me to him.
But today is only the third time I’ve seen my uncle in 10 years.
He’s not much of a talker so I seldom call.
At age 87 he’s got diabetes, recently pneumonia, everything hurts.
He refuses to complain and his energy is limited.
So the calls, which he always ends with, “I love you,” are short.

We all know he will not go home.
I feel ashamed that this is only our second visit here, and that he’s not previously met my wife of five years, considering how much a few brief experiences I’d had with him when I was in my teens have meant to me.
Recently he’d suffered several days of hallucinations.
His stepdaughter, Emily, advised we come soon.
Thus this hastily arranged trek to Staten Island.
I’ve been bracing for how we’d find him. But, though physically diminished, he is mentally very much himself.

Tony’s roommate has his TV tuned to a game show that he’s not watching, like everyone on this floor.
Except for my uncle, whose TV is never on.
He’s got the window, a view of distant Raritan Bay, and he’s got his wall of photos.

A crowd is gathered in front of a Brooklyn tenement on the day the government declared the end of World War II.
“That’s me, that kid on the right, half-hidden by the flag.”
The next photos of him are in military clothes in Korea.
There’s Josephine on the boat, fishing rod in hand, the late-arriving love of his life beaming her eternal smile.
In fact, the majority of the photos that keep him company are of people in boats with sunlit faces.

 Uncle Tony’s copy of “The Herring Net”

It had momentarily slipped my wife’s mind that it was Tony who had painted the masterful reproduction of Winslow Homer’s The Herring Net that dominates our living room.
Next to his signature is the year, 1962.
“When I brought that painting home and you saw it,” Tony recalls with a chuckle as he adjusts his oxygen tube, “you said right then, you wanted it”
“Huge turtle?” Patricia picks up.
“What was it, a big snapper?” “Leatherback,” he says.
“You saw a leatherback? Where?”
“We were off the Rockaways that day.”

I was 14, so it was 1969.
We were fishing for tuna a few miles offshore — as you could in those days — within sight of Brooklyn.
Tuna fishing is hours of waiting that, sometimes, instantly turns into out-of-control pandemonium. I was wound with suspense.
Studying the sea surface for any swirl or fin, I noticed the mild chop breaking over something just under the surface.
Suddenly a surreal, mechanical-looking head the size of my torso lifted from the sea-foam and gasped a deep breath — it was a thousand-pound leatherback, by far the world’s largest sea turtle. The indelible sight never left my mind.

 Author and the turtle

Tuna fishing is hours of waiting that, sometimes, instantly turns into out-of-control pandemonium.
Tony turns to me and says, “I never really got a great look at it when it was under the boat. I backed up when we cut the line.”
Soon after it had come up for air, it tangled in our heavy fishing line close to the boat.
I bent over the gunwale and got a clear look at its massive soft shell and angelic flippers.
An unstoppable force, it was quickly cut loose.
“You gave me a lot of work to do by getting me to see that leatherback,” I say.
Thirty-five years later my book Voyage of the Turtle was published.
“I went to see leatherback turtles nesting and migrating on three continents and in three oceans. Then we did the PBS show. You know how much time and money that all cost?”
“Sorry,” he says with mock sarcasm.
“Excellent book by the way,” he adds, surprising me a bit.

“And that was after the tuna fishing itself made me decide to write my first book,” I add.
“Hey, do you remember the article I wrote for Sea Frontiers?”
I had beamed with pride when I showed it to him, about 20 years after I’d pored through his magazines.
He doesn’t remember.
He’s getting tired.
We get up to say bedside goodbyes.

Patricia tells him she is so glad she’s finally met him and how much we enjoy having his painting of The Herring Net.
It’s so expertly done, you’d think it was the original.
“I gave them a few extra herring,” he confides.

For a man who never had the means for much generosity, he did what he could for the fishermen on the canvas, and the result has lasted decades.
About what he did for me, the same applies.
I want to kiss him.
But the cluttered reach to him in bed is awkward; I’m afraid of yanking on a tube.
I take his hands and say goodbye and walk into the hall.
I’m putting on my coat when Patricia overhears Uncle Tony say to his 93-year-old sister, “I guess this is the last time I’ll see ya.”
“You didn’t kiss him,” Patricia has also noticed.
I march back in and without mishap, I give him a kiss on his stubbled cheek.
It crosses my mind that this might be the first time I’ve ever kissed him.
“Thanks for that,” he says.
“Thank you.” I was seven years old. I had to wait for 50 years.

My uncle’s extraordinary talent for painting came to him effortlessly.
Unfortunately, nothing else did.
He was almost five when my immigrant grandfather hanged himself in their Brooklyn apartment, plunging a seamstress with four kids aged two to 11 into dire poverty, setting the family on a stagger from which no one ever quite recovered.
Despite enormous ability, painting was never more than a temporary avocation for my uncle, and after a few years he put his brushes down.
He’d been a starving child; he couldn’t afford to become a starving artist.
He bounced around a bit.
Eventually, he got a steady job in a boating supplies store in Sheepshead Bay, a paycheck he stuck with for as long as he worked.
I never saw him much but his interest in the sea interested me.
When I was 14, I decided to take a vacation: four days in my grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment just so I could hang out with Uncle Tony.
In his Mustang we drove to the New York Aquarium, where we marveled at the improbable sizes of old and obese specimens of fish that we loved to catch.
I snapped photos of doormat-sized fluke, bucket-sized black sea bass, and striped bass like logs.
At his home, I pored through his stacks of Sea Frontiers, an early magazine of scientific discovery for nonscientists.
Best of all, I was invited aboard Happy Days, the boat owned by Tony, my Uncle Sal, and a friend.
“You remember that huge turtle?” he says, knowing where this conversation will go.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

How Magellan circumnavigated the globe

On September 6, 1522, the "Victoria" sailed into harbor in southern Spain.
The battered vessel and its 18 sailors were all that remained of a fleet that had departed three years before.
Yet her voyage was considered a success, for the "Victoria" had achieved something unprecedented – the first circumnavigation of the globe.

One of Ferdinand Magellan’s five ships–the Vittoria–arrives at Sanlucar de Barrameda in Spain, thus completing the first circumnavigation of the world.
The Vittoria was commanded by Basque navigator Juan Sebastian de Elcano, who took charge of the vessel after the murder of Magellan in the Philippines in April 1521.
During a long, hard journey home, the people on the ship suffered from starvation, scurvy, and harassment by Portuguese ships.
Only Elcano, 17 other Europeans, and four Indians survived to reach Spain on the 6th September 1522.

Victoria, the sole ship of Magellan's fleet to complete the circumnavigation.
Detail from a map by Ortelius, 1590.

On September 20, 1519, Magellan set sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia.
In command of five ships and 270 men, Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific.
He searched the RÍo de la Plata, a large estuary south of Brazil, for a way through; failing, he continued south along the coast of Patagonia.
At the end of March 1520, the expedition set up winter quarters at Port St. Julian.
On Easter day at midnight, the Spanish captains mutinied against their Portuguese captain, but Magellan crushed the revolt, executing one of the captains and leaving another ashore when his ship left St. Julian in August.
The Magellan–Elcano voyage. Victoria, one of the original five ships, circumnavigated the globe, finishing three years after setting out.

 Commemorative Chart of the Fifth Centenary of the Voyage of the Earth's Circum-Navigation, Magalhães (Magellan)-Elcano (1519-1522)
As part of the celebrations of the 5th Centenary of the Magalhães and Elcano Earth Circum-Navigation, the Portuguese Navy joined the program through the development of several projects. One of the projects, under the coordination of the Portuguese Hydrographic Institute, consisted in the elaboration of a Commemorative Chart whose historical component was coordinated by the Naval Research Center of the Naval Academy and the History Center of the University of Lisbon.
In this context, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the departure from Sanlúcar de Barrameda of the navy force commanded by the Portuguese Navigator Fernão de Magalhães (September 20, 1519), the Portuguese Newspaper “Jornal Expresso”,will promote the distribution of a version of the Commemorative Chart in his next edition of September 21th, 2019.

On October 21, he finally discovered the strait he had been seeking.
The Strait of Magellan, as it became known, is located near the tip of South America, separating Tierra del Fuego and the continental mainland.
Only three ships entered the passage; one had been wrecked and another deserted.
It took 38 days to navigate the treacherous strait, and when ocean was sighted at the other end Magellan wept with joy.
He was the first European explorer to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic.
His fleet accomplished the westward crossing of the ocean in 99 days, crossing waters so strangely calm that the ocean was named “Pacific,” from the Latin word pacificus, meaning “tranquil.”
By the end, the men were out of food and chewed the leather parts of their gear to keep themselves alive.
On March 6, 1521, the expedition landed at the island of Guam.

Ten days later, they dropped anchor at the Philippine island of Cebu–they were only about 400 miles from the Spice Islands.
Magellan met with the chief of Cebú, who after converting to Christianity persuaded the Europeans to assist him in conquering a rival tribe on the neighboring island of Mactan.
In subsequent fighting on April 27, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and left to die by his retreating comrades.

A 1561 map of America showing Magellan's name for the pacific, Mare pacificum,
and the Strait of Magellan, labelled Frenum Magaliani.

After Magellan’s death, the survivors, in two ships, sailed on to the Moluccas and loaded the hulls with spice.
One ship attempted, unsuccessfully, to return across the Pacific.
The other ship, the Vittoria, continued west under the command of Juan SebastiÁn de Elcano.
The vessel sailed across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at the Spanish port of SanlÚcar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, becoming the first ship to circumnavigate the globe.
The Vittoria then sailed up the Guadalquivir River, reaching Seville a few days later.

Elcano was later appointed to lead a fleet of seven ships on another voyage to Moluccas on behalf of Emperor Charles V.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Collector’s 400 years of China maps and nautical charts up for sale – there’s not a nine-dash line to be seen

Robert Nield (left) and Jonathan Wattis with a selection of historical maritime maps
on show at Wattis Fine Art in Hong Kong’s Central district.
Nield is selling much of his collection of maps and charts.
Photo: Jonathan Wong

From South China Morning Post by Annemarie Evans

Pearl River Delta depth charts, Macau street maps from Lord Macartney’s embassy to post-war era, the first map showing Singapore – collection has it all
For Robert Nield, past president of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong, the sale, brought on by he and his wife moving to a smaller flat, is bittersweet

The French chart follows the Pearl River estuary to the city of Canton.

Printed in 1844 as an aid to ship navigation, it’s a chart made for practicality, not aesthetics – to be rolled out on a ship bridge, pored over, a forefinger tracking a route, used in tandem with a sextant – and the basis for a quick discussion with the captain and instructions given to the crew.

At the time it was made the British colony of Hong Kong was just three years old.

There’s a city plan of Canton (now Guangzhou) at the top, also one of Macau, by then a Portuguese enclave for 300 years.
Up and down the line of the coast numerous numbers have been painstakingly added.
These are depths in fathoms (one fathom is 1.8 metres or 6ft), measured since the early days of seafaring by a plumb line – a rope with a lump of lead on the end that was dangled over the side of a survey ship to calculate the depth of the sea at key points for vessels tracking along the coast.

The French chart Carte de la Riviere de Canton, printed in 1844
and part of the Robert Nield collection.
Photo: Wattis Fine Art

Long before satellites and aerial photography, sailing ships would tack back and forth measuring depths, their crews’ accurate but painstaking work – which sometimes took months – providing an indication of where shifting sands lay.

This has always held a fascination for Robert Nield, a past president of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong and the author of two books on China’s former treaty ports.
Nield spent 37 years putting together a collection of more than 50 maps and charts of Hong Kong, Macau and the surrounding region, many of which are now on sale and feature in an exhibition at Wattis Fine Art in Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road.

A close up-of Victoria Harbour from the 1844 Carte de la Riviere de Canton map.
Photo: Wattis Fine Art

“You can see the tracks of where the survey ship went and it dropped its plumb line over the side, and this one was 10 fathoms, this one was nine fathoms, so you can see exactly the track that the ship followed,” says Nield.
“I love this precision of seeing where the ship went.
It was probably the way the wind was blowing, because they tacked this way and then they tacked that way.”

The “Carte de la Rivière de Canton”, published by France’s Depot-general de la Marine, is one of the more practical charts in Nield’s collection.
South of the mouth of the Pearl River is the “Ile de Hong Kong”, surrounded by dozens of depth readings.

“These charts would be updated, and the old ones then thrown away,” says antiquarian dealer Jonathan Wattis.

A chart of the Pearl River Delta dated 1794.
Photo: Wattis Fine Art

By the late 18th century, maps had become increasingly accurate.
Earlier ones give a fascinating insight into how this part of the world was seen.
Not all were made for navigators; some were bound into atlases and perused by the rich in their libraries.

The maps also offer a history lesson, showing which European countries were the dominant traders and colonisers in East Asia at any given time.

Holland grew rich on the trade in spices and other products, so there was plenty of money in Amsterdam by the 17th century to sponsor a thriving community of great artists and mapmakers.
The Blaeu family of Amsterdam was the pre-eminent example of this – globally regarded, says Wattis, as the best mapmakers of their time.
Nield has a beautiful example of their work.

Holland’s Willem Blaeu launched a dynasty of mapmakers.
Photo: Alamy

“Willem Blaeu set up a dynasty of mapmakers,” Wattis explains.
“They produced arguably the most beautiful maps, engraved and beautifully hand-coloured at the time, and they became mapmakers to the Dutch East India Company, which was an extremely wealthy organisation, so they had very good patronage.”

Nield’s map of Guangdong is from Martino Martini’s Novus Atlas Sinensis (New Atlas of China, 1655).

“The atlas of China was based on Jesuit and Chinese surveys in 1655,” says Wattis.
“One of the Jesuits, called Martini, took it to Amsterdam, to the Blaeu family, so Martini was the messenger.
But there were a number of Jesuits working in different provinces and they were acquiring information as they went along, obviously from Chinese sources, but in Guangdong also from Portuguese sources.”

A map of Guangdong from Martino Martini’s Novus Atlas Sinensis (New Atlas of China, 1655).
Photo: Wattis Fine Art

The Wattis Fine Art exhibition “Mapping of Asia” includes the Robert Nield Collection, plus other treasures.
Nield’s maps and charts covered walls of his home and office in Hong Kong where he worked until he retired.
He and wife, Janet, are now relocating to a flat half the size of their current accommodation, and 400km (250 miles) from Vancouver in Canada, so he has had to make some tough decisions.
He has kept a few of his maps, and the rest are for sale.

Highlights include the first detailed Dutch chart of the Pearl River Delta, depicting Canton, Macau and the islands around Hong Kong, by Johannes van Keulen, created in Amsterdam in 1753, and rarely seen on the market.
Nield is also parting with an English chart of the Pearl River Delta from 1794, which is one of the earliest to name Hong Kong – “He-ong Kong”.

“Towards the end of the 18th century, charts of the Pearl River were becoming more detailed and accurate,” says Wattis, pointing out a chart of the upper part of the narrow strait in the Pearl River Delta known as the Bocca Tigris (the Tiger’s Mouth) and Canton, using a survey by Captain J. Huddart and printed in 1786.

A stand-out in Nield’s collection is a plan of Macau which was published in an account of an embassy sent by the British to China under Lord Macartney in 1793-5 that offers an early glimpse into Sino-British relations.
A later British cartographer and publisher, James Imray, created some of the best nautical maps of his time.
Nield has a chart of the “Channels to Hong Kong and Macao” printed in 1887, which was used by Imray.

For Nield, the sale marks a bittersweet parting.
He feels the joy of the collection was in the collecting, via friends in the art and antiquarian worlds, auction houses and through word of mouth.

While many of his framed charts were carefully positioned on his walls, some stood on the floor of a third-floor flat in the city’s Mid-Levels neighbourhood some years ago.
“And it flooded,” he says.
So some of the charts and maps have a tide water mark due to early 21st century Hong Kong plumbing.
Wattis persuaded Nield to include these for their historic interest and also as “starter” material for collectors.

An Indiae Orientalis map dated 1587.
Photo: Wattis Fine Art

The “Mapping of Asia” exhibition includes charts and maps created between the late 16th century and 1949, among them a folding tourist map of Macau.
The cover is stamped SS Takshing, which was a post-World War II Macau-Hong Kong ferry.

The oldest item in the exhibition, and one of the most fascinating, is a beautiful engraving of Southeast Asia by Abraham Ortelius.
Titled Indiae Orientalis Insularumque Adiacientium Typus, it was printed in Antwerp, in present-day Belgium, in 1587.

Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), a Flemish cartographer and creator of the first modern atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World).

“It includes China and India and Japan,” says Wattis.
“In the top left hand corner is the Portuguese coat of arms, as a lot of the information is based on early Portuguese reports.
In the sea you have these wonderful things, including a mythical whale which seems to be attacking a galleon.”

Wattis also displays the oldest recorded map of Singapore, which shows a naval battle between the Dutch and the Portuguese that took place in the Malacca Strait in 1602, and which was published by the De Bry family in Frankfurt in 1607.

The Battle of Swally, dated 1739.
Photo: Wattis Fine Art

Plenty of battle scenes are shown in the exhibition’s engravings, including another naval battle between the Dutch and the Portuguese in the early 1600s off northern Java.
It’s a battle for the Spice Islands, won by the Dutch, which would change the colonial make-up of Asia at that time.

“There are so many ships at close quarters, and so many ships in the distance and you can just see the coastline of Java,” says Wattis.
“The Dutch won and it became the Dutch East Indies.”

The exhibition is also a testament to the navigational skills of intrepid early cartographers and mariners.
One engraving Wattis has of a ship struggling precariously in high seas is an indication of the dangers faced by the many vessels that never made it back to port.

Links :

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Fukushima fishermen concerned for future over release of radioactive water

Last year’s catch was just 16% of pre-crisis levels, partly because of the Japanese public’s reluctance to eat fish caught off Fukushima due to the radioactive water.
Photograph: Koji Ueda/AP

From The Guardian by Justin McCurry

Eight years after the triple disaster, Japan’s local industry faces fresh crisis – the dumping of radioactive water from the power plant

On the afternoon of 11 March 2011, Tetsu Nozaki watched helplessly as a wall of water crashed into his boats in Onahama, a small fishing port on Japan’s Pacific coast.

Nozaki lost three of his seven vessels in one of the worst tsunamis in Japan’s history, part of a triple disaster in which 18,000 people died.
But the torment for Nozaki and his fellow fishermen didn’t end there.
The resulting triple meltdown at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 people and sent a plume of radiation into the air and sea.

It also came close to crippling the region’s fishing industry.

Having spent the past eight years rebuilding, the Fukushima fishing fleet is now confronting yet another menace – the increasing likelihood that the nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), will dump huge quantities of radioactive water into the ocean.

“We strongly oppose any plans to discharge the water into the sea,” Nozaki, head of Fukushima prefecture’s federation of fisheries cooperatives, told the Guardian.

Nozaki said local fishermen had “walked through brick walls” to rebuild their industry and confront what they say are harmful rumours about the safety of their seafood.
Last year’s catch was just 16% of pre-crisis levels, partly because of the public’s reluctance to eat fish caught off Fukushima.

  Storage tanks for radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters

Currently, just over one million tonnes of contaminated water is held in almost 1,000 tanks at Fukushima Daiichi, but the utility has warned that it will run out of space by the summer of 2022.

Tepco has struggled to deal with the buildup of groundwater, which becomes contaminated when it mixes with water used to prevent the three damaged reactor cores from melting.
Although the utility has drastically reduced the amount of wastewater, about 100 tonnes a day still flows into the reactor buildings.

Releasing it into the sea would also anger South Korea, adding to pressure on diplomatic ties already shaken by a trade dispute linked to the countries’ bitter wartime history.

Seoul, which has yet to lift an import ban on Fukushima seafood introduced in 2013, claimed last week that discharging the water would pose a “grave threat” to the marine environment – a charge rejected by Japan.

Fukushima fisheries officials point out that they operate a stringent testing regime that bans the sale of any seafood found to contain more than 50 becquerels of radioactive material per kilogram – a much lower threshold than the standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram observed in the rest of Japan.

Just over one million tonnes of contaminated water is held in almost 1,000 tanks at Fukushima Daiichi.
Photograph: Koji Ueda/AP

At Onahama’s testing centre, just metres from where the catch is unloaded, eight employees conduct tests that last between five and 30 minutes depending on the size of the sample.
“Tepco has said that the water can be diluted and safely discharged, but the biggest problem facing us is the spread of harmful rumours,” Hisashi Maeda, a senior Fukushima fisheries official, said as he showed the Guardian around the facility.

Confirming Maeda’s fears, almost a third of consumers outside Fukushima prefecture indicated in a survey that dumping the contaminated water into the sea would make them think twice about buying seafood from the region, compared with 20% who currently avoid the produce.

Tepco’s Advanced Liquid Processing System removes highly radioactive substances, such as strontium and caesium, from the water but the system is unable to filter out tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that coastal nuclear plants commonly dump along with water into the ocean.
In addition, Tepco admitted last year that the water in its tanks still contained contaminants beside tritium.

Supporters of the discharge option have pointed out that water containing high levels of tritium, which occurs in minute amounts in nature, would not be released until it has been diluted to meet safety standards.

But Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany who regularly visits Fukushima, said a proportion of radioactive tritium had the potential to deliver a concentrated dose to cell structures in plants, animals or humans.
“Dilution does not avoid this problem,” he said.

Rows of black bags at a soil storage facility in Fukushima.
Not a single location in the entire country has agreed to accommodate the toxic waste.
Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters

Burnie believes the solution is to continue storing the water, possibly in areas outside the power plant site – a move that is likely to encounter opposition from nuclear evacuees whose abandoned villages already host millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil.

“There is no short-term solution to the water problem at Fukushima Daiichi, as groundwater will continue to enter the site and become contaminated,” Burnie said.
“A major step would be for the government to start being honest with the Japanese people and admit that the scale of the challenges at the site mean their entire schedule for decommissioning is a fantasy.”
‘No other option’

Government officials say they won’t make a decision until they have received a report from an expert panel, but there are strong indications that dumping is preferred over other options such a vaporising, burying or storing the water indefinitely.

Shinjiro Koizumi, the new environment minister, has not indicated if he shares his predecessor’s belief, voiced last week, that there is “no other option” but to discharge the water into the sea.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has recommended that Japan release the treated water, while Toyoshi Fuketa, the chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, said a decision on its future must be made soon.
“We are entering a period in which further delays in deciding what measure to implement will no longer be tolerable,” Fuketa said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

Putting off a decision could delay work to locate and remove melted fuel from the damaged reactors – a process that is already expected to take four decades.

Critics say the government is reluctant to openly support the dumping option for fear of creating a fresh controversy over Fukushima during the Rugby World Cup, which starts this week, and the buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Nozaki said he and other fishermen throughout Fukushima would continue the fight to keep the water out of the ocean.
“Releasing the water would send us back to square one,” he said.
“It would mean the past eight years have amounted to nothing.”

Links :

Monday, September 16, 2019

Stories of an extraordinary world : the last of the great explorers

From The Economist by Oliver Franklin-Wallis

The ocean floor is the Earth’s last great uncharted region.
Oliver Franklin-Wallis joins the man descending to the bottom of the deepest trenches on the planet

The Submarine DSV Limiting Factor bobbed in the Atlantic swell.
Gleaming white, with a hull the shape of a hip flask, its lights gave the water an otherworldly glow.
Stooping slightly inside the crew compartment—a snug titanium sphere 1.5 metres across with two white leather seats and three portholes the size of dinner plates—Victor Vescovo looked into the gloom.
Eight kilometres below him, at the floor of the Puerto Rico Trench, lay his destination: the Brownson Deep, the deepest point in the Atlantic.

Vescovo braced as a wave rocked the hull.
Tall and athletic, with a blond ponytail and white beard, Vescovo is a Texan private-equity investor.
He had scaled the tallest mountain on every continent and skied the last degree to both Poles, making him one of only a few dozen people to have completed the “Explorer’s Grand Slam”.
Now, at 53, there were no mountains higher.
Every continent was mapped and visible on Google Earth.
He wanted to make history.
The only way was down.

The deep ocean is the Earth’s last great unexplored frontier.
Below the surface, sunlight fades.
Soon you are in total darkness.
It is cold.
Communication is difficult.
At 100 metres the pressure is ten times that on the surface; at 2,000 metres, it is great enough to collapse a US Navy submarine.
Apart from Vescovo’s, fewer than ten manned craft are currently able to operate below 3,700 metres, the ocean’s average depth, and no other active ones can go below 7,500 metres.
At that point, submariners enter what oceanographers call the Hadal Zone, derived from Hades – the Ancient Greek underworld.
The ocean’s deepest point, the Pacific’s Challenger Deep, is nearly 11km down.
When Vescovo set out, only three men had ever seen it.
Twelve have walked on the Moon.

No one had ever reached the deepest points in all five oceans.
So in 2015 Vescovo hired Triton Submarines, a company that makes private submersibles, to build him a craft that could take him to them.
Three years in development, at a cost of $49m, the Limiting Factor (named for a spacecraft in Iain M.
Banks’s sci-fi Culture novels) was the most advanced private submersible ever built.
Vescovo also bought a ship, the DSSV Pressure Drop, which he fitted out with an advanced sonar-imaging system to map the seafloor in unprecedented detail.
He called his year-long expedition “The Five Deeps”, and invited a documentary crew from the Discovery Channel to chronicle the historic endeavour.

But now, with the Puerto Rico Trench yawning beneath him, the whole enterprise was in jeopardy.
For five days the Limiting Factorhad failed to launch.
The first dive was called off when water began to trickle in from the inner hatch.
Leaks on submarines are not the catastrophe you might assume; as the submarine descends, the increasing pressure tends to close any gaps tight.
But at Hadal depths, that wasn’t worth the risk.
On the second attempt, the leak persisted.

A third attempt.
The hatch was still leaking.
There were other problems too.
The ballast system, designed to control buoyancy, didn’t work properly.
Cameras broke.
Alarms sounded in the cockpit.
Still they dived.
Then calamity struck.
At 1,000 metres, a frangible bolt—which was supposed to detach explosively in the event of power loss to shed weight—broke off.
The bolt had been securing the submarine’s $350,000 robotic arm, designed to collect rock and sediment samples.
Vescovo watched through the porthole as it slumped to the sea floor.
To make things worse, as the injured submarine was lifted from the water, a violent swell smashed it against the ship’s stern, damaging a set of propellers.

Back on board the ship, Patrick Lahey, the president of Triton, felt crushed.
A sun-weathered Canadian who used the F-word with flair, Lahey had spent decades building submersibles for wealthy clients.
The Limiting Factor was the pinnacle of his career.
He threw the documentary crew out of the submarine hangar while his engineers surveyed the damage.
It was in dire shape.
Rebuilding it on land would take days.

Stewing in his cabin Vescovo considered cancelling the whole venture.
The ship had to return to port in three days’ time to resupply.
A lengthy refit of the submarine could mean missing their weather window in the Antarctic, delaying the whole expedition by a year and costing millions of dollars.
A producer in London asked one of the documentary crew when the sub would be operational: “When pigs fly,” supposedly came the response.

That evening the expedition crew gathered around the long central table in mission control.
The mood was tense.
Sonar depth charts lit up a bank of displays overhead.
After talking through the risks with Lahey and his team, Vescovo agreed to one last attempt.
If that didn’t work he would call off the expedition.
Triton’s engineers worked through the night.
They replaced the hatch seal with a new, softer rubber, fixed the camera and rewired faulty circuits.

Out on the water the next morning Vescovo mentally ran through his final pre-dive checklist.
He examined the hatch above him.
Not a drop was coming in.
In front of him two tablet computers displayed the sub’s key readings.
On his right, red and green lights on the central power console glowed reassuringly.
Electrical systems: good.
The radio crackled with chatter from mission control.
Communications: good.
Above Vescovo’s forehead a stuffed penguin—a gift from his sister—perched on a bank of white oxygen tanks that would sustain him through the six-hour dive and days longer, if necessary.
Life support: good.
The final confirmation came over the radio: “LF…you are free to dive.”

Vescovo initiated the dive sequence.
The LF’s ballast tanks began filling with seawater, taking on weight.
Slowly, the sub began sinking below the surface.
Vescovo settled in as the ocean outside darkened through every shade of blue.

The ocean covers nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface yet more than 80% of it remains unexplored.
Radar doesn’t penetrate deep water, so accurate depth soundings must be made by ships with high-resolution sonar.
It’s slow, boring work.
The maps we do have are at best an approximation.
New discoveries are common.
The search for Malaysian Airways flight MH370 turned up previously undiscovered undersea volcanoes and trenches.
We have more accurate maps of Mars than we do of two-thirds of our own planet.

Vescovo wanted to be an explorer from “the beginning of thought”.
Growing up in Dallas, he often disappeared alone on his bike for hours.
His father, who worked in real estate, would find Vescovo miles from home, unfazed.
He was a voracious reader and excelled at school (“I tested well,” he said).
He studied economics and political science at Stanford and took a Masters at MIT.
Shortly after graduating, while backpacking in Kenya, he discovered mountaineering.
“I loved the fact that it combines physical stamina—just being able to take punishment—as well as technical knowledge,” he said.
Vescovo had always enjoyed maps and data, ways to bring order to the world.
(In 2006 he self-published a book, “The Atlas of World Statistics”.) He found climbing as much an intellectual challenge as a physical one.
A mountain was a test that required solving with his whole body.

In 2002, after a few years in management consultancy, Vescovo co-founded Insight Equity, a private-equity firm.
It specialised in turning around industrial companies.
“We put in a lot of our own money into the deals, which meant that when they went well, we did very well,” he said.
It went very well.
He bought three Lamborghinis and the house next door in which to fix them up.
As a boy, Vescovo had wanted to become an air-force pilot.
Poor eyesight ruled out a combat career, but he learned to fly anyway: light aircraft, helicopters and, eventually, his own private jet.
Later, he joined the navy reserve.
For 20 years he periodically took time out from his career to serve.

When he wasn’t working Vescovo tackled ever tougher ascents: Denali in Alaska; Aconcagua in Argentina; Elbrus, the highest mountain in Russia.
In 2010 he attempted Everest.
It was May, late in the climbing season, and bad weather rolled in as Vescovo’s group approached the summit.
“We couldn’t see more than 20 metres,” he told me.
They reached the top, but the view was shrouded in blinding snow.
After brief rest and pictures—in one you can see Vescovo, his beard encrusted with ice, holding a “Beat Cal” flag in tribute to his alma mater—the party started back down.
“I was…annoyed doesn’t begin to describe it,” he told me, his disappointment still audible.
Nevertheless, he had beaten the mountain.
“Mountaineering teaches a very important lesson, which is live to fight another day,” he said.

Everest conquered, he set out for the Poles.
That was a different type of gruelling experience: desolate, alien.
In the pitiless cold it felt like an entire continent was against him.
“The North Pole is much harder,” he says.
“It’s moving, so you go to sleep and when you wake up you’re farther away than when you started.
If anything gets wet, or you sweat, you cannot dry it out.
It’s impossible.”

Afterwards he began to look for his next project.
In 2012 James Cameron, who directed “Titanic”, had dived the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific with his own custom-built submarine, the Deepflight Challenger.
Vescovo also heard that Richard Branson, a British entrepreneur, had quietly shelved his plan to dive the deep-ocean trenches when he discovered his submarine would be rendered unusable after a single dive.
“I started doing some research and realised, wow, it’s never been done,” Vescovo said.

By then Vescovo was rich.
But the money didn’t interest him.
“When you get to about eight figures, that’s when you start going, how much money do I really need?” He hadn’t married or had children; work always seemed to get in the way.
He had a girlfriend but no dependents, other than his three black Belgian Schipperkes, Ivan, Nikolai and Mishka.
“I’m not trying to be the wealthiest guy.
I’m competitive, but not in that way.
I don’t have a family that I need to provide for.” In the Five Deeps expedition he saw an opportunity to join the ranks of great explorers—Roald Amundsen, Neil Armstrong—and advance understanding of the deep ocean at the same time.
Plus, he said, it was “a nice cool adventure, that I could afford”.

As the Limiting Factor descended into the Puerto Rico Trench, the gold-rimmed depth gauge slowly rotated before Vescovo’s eyes: 1,000 metres, 2,000 metres, 3,000 metres.
Though the vessel was descending fast, Vescovo could feel barely any movement.
Only the temperature changed, as the titanium hull plummeted farther from the sun.

Every 15 minutes Vescovo reported on his depth, heading and oxygen levels.
The hydrophone screeched whenever a message came in.
Vescovo jotted down instrument readings and the occasional observation in his blue leather notebook.
He had prepared tirelessly for this moment.
During the sub’s development, Triton had built a full-scale simulator in Vescovo’s Dallas garage.
Every weekend for months his girlfriend would laugh as he climbed inside to practise dives for hours on end.

He had honed his discipline in the navy.
Piloting the sub, he said, “isn’t exactly like flying, but it rhymes”.
The maxims were the same: live by the checklist; carve the routines into muscle memory; never get complacent.
“There shouldn’t be heroics,” he said.
“If there are heroics on an expedition, someone screwed up.
It’s just like war: when you see a soldier with a whole bunch of medals, it’s like, ‘boy, you must have had some shitty commanders’.” Before each attempt, he and Lahey would joke: let’s have a boring dive today.

As the sub reached the sea floor, the first thing Vescovo noticed was the brightness.
The silt was mixed with glass-like microalgae called diatoms, and, reflecting the bright light emitted by the sub’s LEDs, it dazzled him.
The water was spectacularly clear: a sparse, pristine landscape stretched in every direction, interrupted only by a few rocks and dark mats of seaweed, fallen from above.
Vescovo radioed to the surface.
“Depth: 8,375 metres, at bottom”.
He switched on the documentary cameras and began to explore.

Deep-ocean trenches are volatile landscapes, formed when one tectonic plate is forced under another.
The consequences of movement can be catastrophic: an earthquake at the bottom of the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day 2004 triggered a tsunami that killed over 227,000 people.
“They’re very active environments,” Heather Stewart, the Five Deeps team’s resident geologist, told me.
“Epic 3,000-metre cliffs, active faults, volcanoes.
If these features were on land, they would be World Heritage sites.”

Until the mid-19th century, it was widely thought that the deepest level of the ocean was barren – that the pressure was too great for life to survive.
Advances in technology have proved this hypothesis wrong.
Deep-sea vents are breeding grounds for chemosynthetic bacteria, which get their energy from chemical reactions, feeding trenches that teem with life: ghostly, translucent snailfish; grazing sea cucumbers; writhing, prawn-like amphipods.
“There’s been a whole community that seems to occupy a huge part of our planet and no one had known about it because no one ever goes deep enough,” said Alan Jamieson, the expedition’s lead scientist, a gruff Scot.
Jamieson literally wrote the book on the Hadal Zone.
(It’s called “The Hadal Zone”.)

Vescovo spent more than an hour navigating the bottom.
For company he talked to the documentary cameras in the cockpit.
Though he couldn’t see much beyond the glare in the portholes, the expedition also made its first contribution to ocean science: the landers, which make observations and take samples from the deepest waters, documented four new species of amphipod in the Puerto Rico Trench.

That evening, as the sunset daubed orange across the horizon, the Limiting Factor broke the surface of the Atlantic.
On board, the expedition crew cheered and embraced each other.
At least one of them cried.
Lahey called the dive “probably the proudest moment of my life, other than the birth of my kids”.
Vescovo grinned as he climbed out of the hatch and into the waiting dinghy.
“One down,” he said.

Six months later, I boarded the Pressure Drop in Tonga, in the South Pacific.
By then the expedition had already completed four of the five deeps.
They had overcome icebergs and roaring seas to dive the South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean.
In April the Limiting Factor became the first manned vessel to explore the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean, 7,192 metres down.
(The Indonesian government refused to grant a dive permit, so the ship turned off its tracking beacons, went dark and dived anyway.)
In May, Vescovo had beaten James Cameron’s all-time depth record, reaching 10,928 metres in the Pacific’s Challenger Deep.

In the submarine hangar the Triton crew were working on the Limiting Factor.
Suspended in its steel cradle, the submersible looked like a spacecraft, every line designed for efficient vertical travel.
The outer flotation hull was scratched and dented, scars from more than two-dozen dives.
“This thing takes more abuse than the space shuttle,” said Kelvin McGee, the sub’s stout, irrepressible operations manager, patting the side proudly.

Another engineer, drenched in oil, was repairing the robotic arm.
“You can’t step into Walmart and buy those parts,” said Lahey.
“Everything has to be made, designed, tested.” The titanium for the crew compartment was 9cm thick, he explained, milled to a 99.933% perfect sphere to evenly distribute pressure.
The tolerances were so fine that the forge in LA had to develop a new manufacturing method.
Any less could risk structural weakness and a fatal implosion.

When Vescovo first contacted Triton in 2015, he just wanted something basic: “a vehicle that could get to the bottom and back up”.
Lahey convinced him to add a second seat and the robotic arm which, though it increased the price considerably, would make the sub an asset for deep-ocean science by enabling researchers to collect geological and biological samples from the trench floor.
It would also make the sub more attractive to eventual buyers once the expedition was over.
“This is not a one-shot craft,” Lahey told me.
“It wasn’t intended to do Victor’s hero dives”—as several of the crew sarcastically called them—“and then be retired to a museum.”

Lahey has spent his life in the water: first as a commercial diver, then as a sub pilot, finally as an engineer.
He has seen manned submarines fall out of favour in oceanography, with the rise of underwater drones.
But for Lahey, drones offer a superficial experience of ocean life.
“Imagine doing your bird-watching through a drone,” he said dismissively.
Being in a submarine, floating over a reef, he said, “changes you.
It’s quiet, it’s peaceful.
There’s beautiful colours, it’s teeming with life.
It really is sublime.”

There was a hum of motors.
The arm was working again.
“That’s fucking beautiful! An extra ration of rum for you this evening,” Lahey said.
The engineer smiled.
“Oh, I’m drinking a bottle tonight!”

By then the expedition had become a tight-knit operation.
The crew had bonded over months at sea (“One great big dysfunctional family!” Lahey joked) and at mealtimes they would tell war stories: memorable dives, previous expeditions, near misses.
Vescovo talked about Everest or his tours in the navy reserves.
At times it seemed as though he saw those as his true career, and investment as the hobby.

Each dive began in the same way: Vescovo would wake before dawn, don his blue flight suit, pack his usual lunch—a tuna sandwich, a Coke and crisps—and climb down the narrow chute into the cockpit, before launching into the darkness.
Descent and ascent took up to four hours each way.
There was no toilet, only a bottle (“or as we pilots like to call them, ‘range extenders’”).
To stave off boredom between communications checks, Vescovo watched films or history documentaries on his phone.
But once at depth he barely had time to appreciate his surroundings.
“When you’re at the bottom, a minute feels like ten seconds. When you’re on the way up, a minute feels like 20 minutes,” he said.

He no longer worried about his own safety.
“It’s a titanium sphere that’s bolted together.
It would take God himself to try and crack that thing,” Vescovo said.
“The most dangerous thing would be if there is some major collision and pieces of the foam sheared off. Then all of a sudden, I’m negatively buoyant and I can’t get back up. But the possibility is just so remote.”

After each dive Jamieson fell into a routine: empty the landers’ traps, photograph and measure each specimen—“length it, weight it, sex it”—and take white-tissue samples, before freezing them.
Deep-sea crustaceans have evolved for Hadal depths and pressures, so “on the surface, they’re basically cooking”.

The Hadal Zone makes up less than 1% of the ocean by area, but, viewed in cross-section, it accounts for almost half the depth.
“And it gets ignored,” Jamieson said.
Maps decorated the walls of his office, a narrow room just off mission control.
On a shelf lay two rubber ducks, from his son back home in Scotland.
He showed me some videos from the deeps.
The footage was full of life: in Java, thousands of tiny translucent sea cucumbers grazed in the sand like cattle.
Fish swarmed the landers’ bait traps.
“Other than tropical lagoons, where else do you see such abundance?” Jamieson marvelled.

With the expedition approaching its final leg, the emotional highs of the early accomplishments had faded and left a slight sense of regret.
The Challenger dives had made headlines worldwide.
But it wasn’t their achievements that had caught the world’s imagination.
Instead, every headline was about the revelation that Vescovo had filmed a plastic bag at the bottom.
Vescovo and the crew were livid.
It wasn’t even true.
Vescovo had filmed something plastic in the Java Trench—they don’t know what it was—and a press release had mixed it up with Mariana Trench.
Soon the mistake echoed around the world.
“That fucking plastic bag,” said Jamieson.
“It wasn’t even the right trench!”

Four deeps completed, and the Limiting Factor had also failed to collect any sediment or water samples, in part because of Vescovo’s insistence on diving solo.
Although the arm had been replaced after Puerto Rico, it was too difficult for one person to operate it and also pilot the sub.
The plan had been to follow each solo attempt with a two-person science dive, but several of these had been scrapped due to the submarine’s early technical challenges.
In the Southern Ocean Vescovo had accidentally turned the cameras off, resulting in no footage at all.
“Half the science is already dead,” Jamieson said, irritated.
For him, every “hero dive” was a missed opportunity.
“There’s no actual scientific basis for [them] at all,” Jamieson said.

The Tonga Trench is the second-deepest on the planet but it had never been explored in detail.
Vescovo hoped it might prove to be even deeper than the Mariana Trench.
If so, it would be a historic discovery.
As we sailed over the trench, the sonar scanned the seabed, building up a detailed picture of the chasm below.
While engineers tinkered with the sub, Vescovo mostly worked alone in his cabin.

In his office the expedition’s leader, Rob McCallum, watched the weather charts intently.
A low-pressure system was mustering off New Zealand, threatening the dive.
“It could get a little sporty,” he said.
A veteran of countless dive expeditions, McCallum was used to managing wealthy clients.
“It’s my job to be brutally honest,” he explained.
The job required tact, and patience.
“I’m on a crusade against ego. Ego gets people in trouble.”

That evening McCallum gathered the crew in mission control.
The map of the trench illuminated two large monitors.
Sonar readings had dashed Vescovo’s hopes for the all-time record: the bottom was shallower than the Challenger Deep by less than 100 metres.
Nonetheless, Vescovo would dive the deepest point.
Then, weather allowing, the plan was to dive to a spectacular cliff face accompanied by Stewart, the expedition’s geologist.
It was to be Stewart’s first dive, making her the first woman to travel to the Hadal Zone.
The weather, however, threatened to end the trip early.
“If we do just one dive, it will be the dual dive,” Vescovo said, to some surprise.
But the next day, with the low-pressure front dithering to the south, he decided to go ahead solo.

The launch went smoothly.
But after about an hour on the bottom, Vescovo reported to the surface that the Limiting Factor’s battery levels were unusually low.
A few minutes later Lahey received a text message over the communicator: Vescovo’s systems were shutting down.
Frustrated, he aborted the dive.
Later, it would emerge that water had broken into one of the sub’s junction boxes, shorting a circuit and melting a hole in the side.
Though Vescovo was safe inside the cockpit, the damage was extensive (“The deepest submarine fire ever!” Vescovo joked).
Repairs would take days.
The second dive was cancelled.

Afterwards, Stewart disappeared to her cabin, clearly devastated.
Vescovo seemed to regret the outcome.
“I feel bad for her, though it is what it is.” There would be other chances, he said.
And a sub fire at depth could have been far worse.
“It’s an expedition,” Vescovo said.
McCallum nodded.
“Not a cruise.”

Later, in a quiet moment, I asked Vescovo why he insisted on diving solo.
“It’s just how I am. I can’t answer it any more than that. I really can’t,” he said.
“I like climbing alone, I like flying alone. I like doing things by myself, I guess, because it’s a more intense experience. On the other side I’d know it was me that was responsible for it and I took care of things. I put myself in that position with no reliance on anyone else.”

Despite setbacks, the expedition had still made significant contributions to ocean science.
Jamieson had catalogued several possible new species of amphipods, at least one new species of snailfish and a mysterious stalked ascidian—a gelatinous cloud-like creature with a long tail—that seemed to fly like a kite in the current.
After the Java and Mariana records, he’d accompanied Vescovo on science dives, finally visiting the undersea realm he’d studied for a decade.
(It was, he said with typical understatement, “fucking awesome”.)

The sonar team had produced the first detailed maps of several trenches, which Vescovo pledged to share with the Seabed 2030 project, an international effort to map the sea floor.
“First people to do Java, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Tonga.
Even if we do one dive, at least we’ve got something to go on.
It does have an extraordinarily high value to it,” Jamieson said.
“It’s just a shame,” he added, that they hadn’t done more.
Ultimately, Vescovo planned to sell the submarine and the Pressure Drop to a scientific body.

For Lahey and McCallum, the legacy of the expedition wasn’t the records but the Limiting Factor itself.
“Victor, he’s a peak bagger. For him, it’s about ‘I got there first, I got there fastest.’ We don’t belittle that, [but] you know, I couldn’t give a shit,” McCallum told me.
“The thing that’s important to me is that this is the first time in history that humankind has had a vehicle that can go to any place in the ocean.
What it means is that there is now nothing in the ocean that cannot be revisited and recovered.”

In August, the Limiting Factor was scheduled to dive the Molloy Deep, the last of the Five Deeps, in the only ocean it hadn’t yet explored: the Arctic.
Afterwards, the ship would sail to London for a congratulatory ceremony at the Royal Geographic Society.
There the crew would disperse: Jamieson and Stewart to write up their discoveries, the Triton contingent to work on commercial submarines, McCallum to his next client.
Vescovo was already thinking about another adventure.

Those who make history often find that returning to normality takes the greatest toll.
Buzz Aldrin talked of “the melancholy of all things done”.
Vescovo claimed not to be interested in fame.
“I’m not on Facebook, not on Instagram, not into social media.
I don’t understand why people are,” he said.
He seemed to crave a less transient form of recognition.
The site of Vescovo’s dive in the Southern Ocean was previously unmapped, and, in keeping with oceanographic tradition, Vescovo hoped to name it the Factorian Deep, after his submarine – finally putting his achievement on the maps that he’d loved as a boy.

“I was raised Episcopalian, but I’m probably more Zen Buddhist,” he told me.
The ship’s mess, which Vescovo had decorated with old film posters – “Submarine”, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” – was deserted.
The ship rocked quietly.
“I know that everything is impermanent. I know immortality isn’t celebrity and so therefore I do not seek it. Instead, I seek what I can hold, which is the experience of doing all these things. I desire to live intensely.”

Vescovo, who has lost both parents and an older sister, thinks about mortality a lot.
“So many people in this world, they don’t know it, but they’re half asleep. They’re seeking to be comfortable. That’s not enough. I want to be awake. I’m not here very long, and I’m going to die one day, and I don’t want to go through it looking back and going ‘Gosh, I was asleep this whole time.’
I guarantee, you’re in a submarine at 10,000 metres, circuit-breakers going off behind your head, you’re awake.
Or flying a helicopter and you do your first autorotation with no power, you are bloody awake.
When you’re climbing Everest in the storm, and it is cold, and you’re passing dead bodies and still going up, you are awake.”

There was one last frontier he had yet to visit: space.
“There’s Branson, there’s Bezos, and there’s Musk. They’re all close,” he said.
Vescovo is far less wealthy than Bezos or Musk.
If he does go, it will be in one of their ships, as a paying customer.
The next age of discovery will not play out under the flags of nations but the logos of tech billionaires.

“These guys have a ton more money than I do.
What I never get is: why didn’t they do it themselves? If I was Musk I would be the first guy in that freakin’ rocket,” he said, excitedly.
“I guess they don’t even see themselves as the pilot.
I couldn’t see any other way.”

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

See NASA’s weather data reimagined as a gorgeous antique map

 Image: courtesy Eleanor Lutz

From FastCompany by Mark Wilson

If satellite data about the seasons had been available in the 18th century, maps might have looked something like this one by Eleanor Lutz.

Summer and winter mark the extremes of life on planet earth.
To survive the annual 100-degree temperature fluctuation, we bundle up in coats and scarves one season and strip down to our swimsuits in the other.
A new weather visualization by Eleanor Lutz—a PhD candidate in biology at the University of Washington who has designed graphics for companies like National Geographic, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Adobe—puts that seasonal swing in perspective.

Using satellite weather data from NASA, Lutz created a global GIF that animates the clearest indicators of seasonality across the planet—the cyclical buildup and melting of ice and the annual growth and recession of plants.
Each frame is a month, and the entire image represents one year.

It’s easy to forget just how much snow blankets the north every year, or how rapidly vegetation recedes and recovers around the globe at the scale of hundreds of miles.
But we’re particularly taken by the aesthetic of the map itself, which looks like a hand-painted chart out of some century-old world atlas.
It’s an anachronism, mashing up a time when you could only predict seasonal weather at an incredibly basic level with modern technologies that allow us to track it in real time with pixel-level accuracy from space.

“I wanted to use a classic illustration style to connect our current adventures into space with our history of exploration from hundreds of years ago,” says Lutz.
To do so, she created this bespoke riff on the public-domain Natural Earth map.
She retained the coastlines and topography while getting rid of national boundaries.
As a result, your eye sees a planet, rather than a collection of countries.

The map is a captivating work, but Lutz says it was hard to choose the right subject to visualize, and for good reason. NASA provides its earth science data free and publicly, as part of its core mission to “understand the Sun, Earth, Solar System, and Universe.”
As part of that mission, NASA has data on global fires, temperature, and rainfall.
The fires in particular, a glowing series of dots on an otherwise dark circle, make for a disquieting visual in a thumbnail on her site (see image 1 on her project page), but she chose not to use that data in her main map.

It’s a humbling reminder of how powerful our earth is, and that we will always be at her mercy.