January 2010 - Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions

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BLOG: Archive for January, 2010

Newsletter – January 2010

January 28th, 2010 | By | Filed in AK NEWS

Our first newsletter for 2010 is online! Check it out here. Subscribe to our newsletter for all the latest news on upcoming expeditions, special deals, and reports from the field. It's easy! Just enter your email address into the subscription box below.

Have You Checked Out Our Flickr Page Lately?

January 27th, 2010 | By | Filed in Sports

We've got a huge photo archive, and we're adding content weekly from trips going back for more than a decade! This week we're looking at one of my favorite subjects:

Check out our photostream for more photos!.

enRoute to Svalbard

January 26th, 2010 | By | Filed in Conservation, Current Events, Global Warming

I just got back from Vancouver, a city abuzz with talk next month's winter Olympics (and the hopes that it will snow in time and spring will stop its early springing!). On my way home, I opened up my in-flight magazine to find  this interesting article on the climate change research currently going on in Svalbard, Norway's high arctic archipelago. The article details some of the research going on in Svalbard.
For this Arctic outpost, all the science is about looking ahead. After a century wresting coal from its stratified geology, near-pristine Svalbard is seeing a new light at the end of the mineshaft. Old reptile knuckles form part of that vision. Sure, commercial mining is still the breadwinner for the islands’ 2,100 inhabitants, and Longyearbyen, the archipelago’s “capital,” is heated with coal scooped out from Mine 7 at the end of the road just east of town. But scientific sleuthing (like fossil hunts, research into CO2 capture and storage and university courses in polar ecology) accounts for an ever-larger chunk of Svalbard’s revamped economy, along with welcoming tourists hoping to immortalize a member of the 3,000-strong polar bear family. Longyearbyen made front-page news two years ago when the Svalbard Global Seed Vaultswung open its brushed steel door to 4.5 million food-crop seed samples. And in September, Ny-Ålesund, an international research base some 100 kilometres northwest of Longyearbyen, stole the spotlight when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dropped in to see the effects of climate change and to hear from the climate detectives working there. With all this science, Svalbard is a living lab.
The Arctic is home to some cutting-edge science, particularly on the subject of climate change. In Svalbard, some researchers are even exploring the possibility of preserving the Arctic utilizing ice-making bacteria, which can create ice at temperatures slightly above freezing. Here, in one the areas most threatened by global warming, scientists are working towards solutions that could salvage not only the Arctic, but the global climate at large. Writer Susan Nerberg explains:
When we reach the atmospheric research station close to the summit, the microbiologists from the University of East London check their equipment: a vacuum cleaner and a strip of tape mounted to capture airborne particles that might contain ice-making bacteria. “Pure water doesn’t freeze until the temperature drops to -36.5ºC,” says Moffett. (I wonder if my old science teacher knows that.) “But some micro-organisms can produce ice at temperatures as high as -1ºC.” While this discovery is already used to create artificial snow and to preserve food, the two scientists’ main interest is the potential for weather modification. The idea is that you sprinkle bacterial protein (not live bacteria) into the air, creating ice crystals and, subsequently, clouds and rain. As Henderson-Begg explains it, “Clouds high in the atmosphere trap solar radiation, warming the planet. Low clouds reflect solar heat, keeping the planet cool. If we could modify clouds, we could prevent global warming.” The next day, I head out with University of Sheffield plant ecologist Gareth Phoenix to collect moss campion. We hike across a delta created by glacial runoff, hopping from stone to stone in a futile attempt not to dunk our feet, until we reach a spot where the wildflower grows. The moss campion and other plants, like the polar willow, which reaches a grand height of three centimetres, will shed light on how the Arctic copes with pollution carried here from Europe. On our way back, a chubby Svalbard reindeer jogging across the moraine makes me think about the potential of the sci-fi ice bugs. It’s almost as if Phoenix had read my mind. “Svalbard is so spectacular, it makes you feel really insignificant as a human being and even more desperate to protect such a place,” he tells me. “Planet Earth has only one Arctic. It would be nice to keep it as it is.”
An Arctic Kingdom Expedition to Svalbard

An Arctic Kingdom Expedition to Svalbard

What We're Reading: Who Owns the Arctic, by Michael Byers – The Globe and Mail

January 18th, 2010 | By | Filed in IN THE NEWS

Anybody who even dabbles in the history of Arctic exploration and then sails in the Northwest Passage will arrive at that same realization. Explain it how you will, the Far North has changed radically: Where once great barriers of ice prevented ships from sailing through the archipelago that is Northern Canada, today that ice is nowhere to be found for weeks and even months at a stretch.
via Review: Who Owns the Arctic, by Michael Byers - The Globe and Mail.

Scientists Report an Unusually Warm Arctic Winter

January 14th, 2010 | By | Filed in Current Events, Global Warming

While those of us in the parts of the Northern Hemisphere below the Arctic Circle have been enjoying unusually cold weather, life above the treeline has been unseasonably warm.
While much of the Northern Hemisphere has shivered in a cold snap in recent weeks, temperatures in the Arctic soared to unusually high levels, U.S. scientists reported. This strange atmospheric pattern is caused by natural variability and not by rising levels of greenhouse gases. However, it could affect Arctic ice which in turn may impact global warming, said Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. "It's very warm over the Arctic, with air temperatures locally at 10 to 15 degrees F (5.6 to 8.4 degrees C) warmer than they should be in certain areas," Serreze said in a telephone interview on Monday. This contrasts with record or near-record cold over much of the eastern United States and Canada, Europe and Asia for the last two weeks of December and the first days of January, the data center reported. While much of the Northern Hemisphere has shivered in a cold snap in recent weeks, temperatures in the Arctic soared to unusually high levels, U.S. scientists reported. This strange atmospheric pattern is caused by natural variability and not by rising levels of greenhouse gases. However, it could affect Arctic ice which in turn may impact global warming, said Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. "It's very warm over the Arctic, with air temperatures locally at 10 to 15 degrees F (5.6 to 8.4 degrees C) warmer than they should be in certain areas," Serreze said in a telephone interview on Monday. This contrasts with record or near-record cold over much of the eastern United States and Canada, Europe and Asia for the last two weeks of December and the first days of January, the data center reported. It's due to a large area of high pressure over the Arctic, and a big area of low pressure at the mid-latitudes, where much of the Northern Hemisphere's population is concentrated. Usually these areas of differing air pressure would shift and mix in a phenomenon known as the Arctic oscillation. Instead, they've remained stationary in what scientists term a negative phase of the oscillation. A positive phase would have low pressure over the Arctic and high pressure over the mid-latitudes.
World Environment News - Unusual Arctic Warmth As North Hemisphere Shivers - Planet Ark.

Think Your Commute is Bad? Talk to an Arctic Tern.

January 11th, 2010 | By | Filed in Arctic Animals, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE

Recent research indicates that the Arctic tern, which breeds in the Arctic in the summertime before flying south to 'winter' in the Antarctic during the southern hemisphere's summer months, flies further than previously believed. In previous years, scientists had only been able to track individual sea birds as far as the coast of South Africa before losing track of them, making it impossible to determine how far an individual bird or flock trekked in the course of a year. An article published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America describes how a team of researchers led by Dr. Carsten Egevang of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk used miniature geolocators to track eleven terns from colonies in Iceland and Greenland as they made their annual migration. The new data showed that some of the birds flew more than 50,000 miles in one year, taking a more meandering route than scientists had suspected. Over the course of one bird's 34-year life span, this commute adds up to a total of 2.4 million km , the equivalent of three journeys to the moon and back. 50,000-mile round trip makes Arctic tern the ultimate commuter - Times Online .

Inuit Drum Songs

January 8th, 2010 | By | Filed in INUIT, Inuit Culture/Art

Over at the Circumpolar Blog, George Lessard recently posted a video: via Circumpolar Blog: Inuit Drum Song ;Arctic Bay, Nunavut, Canada. The two girls in the video are singing a traditional melody, accompanied by a man playing a qilaut, or wind drum, made of stretched caribou skin. Curious about the qilaut, I did some more research and came across another video this time played by Angaangaq Lyberth, an Inuit elder from Greenland. Accompanying the video is a description of the instrument:
Qilaut, the Eskimo Wind Drum, is a circle that has no beginning nor ending, in which we all belong.

Early 1900s Plane Unearthed in Antarctica

January 5th, 2010 | By | Filed in Current Events, Scientists

The big news out of Antarctica this year is of the discovery of the remains of plane used in early explorations of the continent. Over on the Mawson's Hut Foundation Blog, heritage carpenter Mark Farrell wrote briefly of his January 1st discovery:
The change in the appearence of the ice due to melt has been a fascination and wonder with me while I have been at Cape Denison. On New Year’s Day while out walking after a day’s work on the Magnetograph Hut, I noticed that the previously dangerous ice edge of Boat Harbour had in some places melted to rock and made acess to the waters edge quite safe. With the spirit of adventure all around I continued to walk along the rock until I noticed it, waiting to happen. I thought to my self, I think I should tell someone about this!
Team member Tony Stewart elaborated on the discovery's significance:
The biggest news of the day is that we’ve found the air tractor, or at least parts of it! Bloggers will have noted that Tony and Chris have more than a passing interest in this aircraft, and have been searching with a plethora of electronic gear (ground penetrating radar, a metal detector, a magnetometer and an ice auger) hoping to uncover its final resting place. After the blue moon yesterday and a huge high tide overnight, we had a very low tide this evening, the lowest we’ll have all season and only 10 cm higher than the lowest possible tide here at Commonwealth Bay.
With visitors from the Orion due here in 2 days, our heritage carpenter Mark Farrell was wandering along the rocks on the edge of Boat Harbour looking for a suitable landing place, when he noticed some metal among the rocks in the water. He was pretty laid back about the find, calmly walking into Sorensen Hut to mention that he’d found something in the water that looked like the air tractor. Tony and Chris have never geared up so quickly, and hot footed it over to Boat Harbour with Mark. Michelle Berry, Jody Steele and Peter Morse weren’t far behind and together we examined the parts sitting in a few centimetres of water. With the tide already on the rise and higher tides ahead, we photographed the objects then brought them back to the lab immersed in sea water, until a plan can be made for their conservation. Built in 1911, just 8 years after the Wright brother’s first flight, it was first aircraft from the famous Vicker’s factory, and the first aircraft taken to either polar region. Due to wing damage, it never flew here, but was converted into an ‘air tractor’, which the 1911-14 Australian Antarctic Expedition used to tow gear up onto the ice dome in preparation for their sledging journeys. Chris Henderson said “It vindicates our continuing search: many people have said it was blown out to sea or taken away by the ice. It doesn’t matter that the various pieces of equipment weren’t successful – what matters is that the facts showed it should still have been where it was left – and it was. ”
The find draws attention to the work of the Mawson's Hut Foundation, which is dedicated to the study and preservation of Antarctica's polar exploration heritage. Do yourself a favor and poke around a bit on their blog -- the air tractor is just the tip of the fascinating archeological work being done down below!

New Year's Day with the Polar Bears

January 1st, 2010 | By | Filed in Arctic Animals, Conservation

Around the northern hemisphere, daredevils are celebrating the new year by taking a dip in ice-cold winter waters. Known as "polar bear plunges," these celebrations embrace the new year's cold, invigorating participants and allowing bystanders to appreciate anew their relative warmness. Luckily for the ursus maritimus, polar bears in the wild are much more able to withstand the cold and wet, their bodies uniquely adapted to frigid northern waters with hair that traps the sun's heat and repels water. However, because they are so well-adapted to the arctic climate, polar bears are among the arctic animals most threatened by climate change. In the coming year, let's all try for a little solidarity with these arctic giants. Ice-water baths optional.
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