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In the popular imagination, the phrase ‘Arctic transport’ most likely conjures up images from another century: sleds pulled by teams of dogs, or ships locked in ice. But shipping companies are looking to another retro-seeming vehicle to revolutionize the future of Arctic air transport: The zeppelin.
For miners and others doing remote operations, the airships can save time and money by transporting up to 50 tonnes of cargo across Canada’s north — eliminating the need for heavy trucks and roads. Plus, these ships are tough. The Vancouver Sun notes,
Airships today use a combination of lighter-than-air helium instead of hydrogen, a highly flammable gas, and they’re built with tough “space-age” fibres, like spectra, up to 10 times stronger than steel of equivalent weight.
Discovery Air Innovations hopes to roll out the airships, which will deliver freight at one-quarter the cost of other methods, by the year 2014. Even better, the airships will utilize “clean” energy to minimize the impact on the environment.
Far north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the camp housed a couple dozen members of the British, Canadian, and U.S. navies and employees of the Applied Physics Laboratory. Jackson spent two days at the camp, watching its residents conduct tests on underwater and under-ice communications and sonar technologies.
Mr. Jackson blogs about his experience as well -
We were approached by Navy and research center to come up and do a story about this camp and the work they do with U.S. Navy submarines. When I was asked if this was something I would be interested in, I of course said yes. Who wouldn’t like to go to the Arctic, sleep in a plywood hutch, and go underneath the ice in a nuclear submarine? Thus began the mad rush to prepare for a trip into some of the most extreme conditions I have ever worked in. It was a rush to organize all of the base layers, fleece layers, wool socks, jackets, insulated pants, and other assorted necessaries before sitting down to pack the equipment I would need. Camera-wise I wanted to be prepared for anything; from wide angle images of the ice-pack to photographing a polar bear from a comfortable distance (in the off-chance that I actually saw one, they are rare to see this time of year.) I sat down and assembled the kit into my backpack, including three cameras, five lenses and assorted batteries, memory cards and chargers.
Ever wondered what a surfacing nuclear submarine looks like as it emerges from the arctic ice? Check out this video, including some of Lucas Jackson’s interior shots of the sub. Fascinating stuff!
Beginning in 2002, the Polar Ring expedition project has worked towards their goal of exploration and research while testing cross-country vehicles to be used in the arctic area. Their site details the three completed legs of this journey, the most recent concluded in some frustration due to poor weather conditions – but the project is hardly a failure.
The organizers of the “Polar Ring” project intend to retrace the steps of the first explorers to link all the northern continents by the thread of one route, that will cross the most difficult Arctic regions of Europe, Asia and America. It will become a sort of relay between millenniums, symbol of a “Dialog Between Civilizations”, a program supported by the United Nations.
Their blog is well worth a read, they discuss daily life in the field, logistical planning, and problems they face and overcome. If you’ve ever wondered what participating in a polar expedition would be like, this is one way to get a glimpse.
The following video (with a very catchy soundtrack) was shot during stage three of the expedition, and shows some of the unique vehicles they’re using.
Dark Roasted Blend (Great name for a blog, eh?) has a couple of cool articles on vintage Russian snow mobile designs. These vehicles seem charmingly clunky by today’s standards, but represent the fine tradition of polar vehicular experimentation.
Russian huge all-terrain vehicle “Kharkovchanka” (made by Kharkov tractor factory), meant to conquer the Arctic and the Antarctic in the 1950s. Its truly gargantuan scale did not prevent it from moving at 40 km/h and climbing 30 degree inclines.
“Kharkovchanka” helped Soviet expeditions to reach the South Pole multiple times, and according to some sources, still remains in use at Russian polar stations. They praise the vehicle as the best ice/snow transportation ever made.
Sir. Richard Branson and explorer Chris Welsh have announced their intention to explore the deepest places of each of the world’s five oceans using a single person piloted submarine. To this end, Virgin Oceanic has been founded to explore “the last frontiers of our own Blue Planet: the very bottom of our seas.” .
From the official press release, via boingboing.net-
More men have walked on the moon than have explored the depths of our planet – many more men. Virgin Oceanic will see the world’s only submarine capable of taking a human being to such extreme depths make five dives over a two-year period, set up to 30 Guinness World Records and, by working with leading scientific institutions, open the eyes of the world to what lies in vast areas of the oceans for the first time in history. The Virgin Oceanic Submarine and her pilots will travel deeper and explore further than any one in history.
Each dive will be piloted by different commanders with Chris Welsh diving to the Mariana Trench (36,201ft) with Sir Richard as back up pilot, and Sir Richard piloting to the Puerto Rico Trench (28,232ft) – the deepest trench in the Atlantic, which has never been explored before – with Chris Welsh acting as back up. The Virgin Oceanic sub has the ability to ‘fly’ underwater for 10km at depth on each of the five dives and to fully explore this unknown environment.
Five Dives, Five Oceans, Two Years, One Epic Adventure
Mariana Trench Pacific Ocean 11,033m 36,201ft
Puerto Rico Trench Atlantic Ocean 8,605m 28,232ft
Diamantina Trench Indian Ocean 8,047m 26,401ft
South Sandwich Trench Southern Ocean 7,235m 23,737ft
Molloy Deep Arctic Ocean 5,608m 18,399ft
These little robots are useful – and cute! Called ‘SnoMotes’, these tiny, remote-controlled snowmobiles were developed to help scientists gather climate change data in areas too dangerous or fragile for human exploration.
Designed to work as a team, the robots can monitor specific target areas, and are fitted with sensors as well as cameras to help navigate terrain – while sending back important data to scientists at a home base.
Popsci.com reports -
The current version of the SnoMote, built by Georgia Tech engineer Ayanna Howard (who previously worked on NASA’s autonomous Mars rovers), was field tested last month on Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. If you’re thinking the SnoMote looks suspiciously like a toy—well, it is. The three prototypes, each just two feet long, were engineered from off-the-shelf remote control snowmobile kits and souped up with advanced electronics and monitoring equipment. Despite their humble origins, they withstood the harsh Alaskan conditions just fine. The final version of the SnoMote is expected to be twice as large and include a heater to keep the circuits from icing up. The idea is to deploy a fleet of 30 or 40 SnoMotes in the Arctic or Antarctica to give researchers comprehensive real-time data concerning climate change. They’re designed to be cheap enough that an accident or two won’t bust the budget.
Eurekalert shares more information on the development of the SnoMote -
“In order to say with certainty how climate change affects the world’s ice, scientists need accurate data points to validate their climate models,” said Ayanna Howard, lead on the project and an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. “Our goal was to create rovers that could gather more accurate data to help scientists create better climate models. It’s definitely science-driven robotics.”
Howard, who previously worked with rovers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is working with Magnus Egerstedt, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Derrick Lampkin, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Penn State who studies ice sheets and how changes in climate contribute to changes in these large ice masses. Lampkin currently takes ice sheet measurements with satellite data and ground-based weather stations, but would prefer to use the more accurate data possible with the simultaneous ground measurements that efficient rovers can provide.
Have you heard of a Grass Drag? I hadn’t either until Graham emailed me about this snowmobile sport. These people have solved the age-old question of what to do with your vehicle during those pesky seasons lacking in snow. Store it in the garage? What a waste.
Pretty rocking soundtrack on this video! The New Hampshire Snowmobile Association website posts their rules for competitors, in case you aspire to be a grass drag racer.
Deep sea exploration technology is always interesting! This interview by marine biologist Al Dove with Don Liberatore, pilot of the Johnson Sea Link submarine comes to us via boingboing.net. Don (who possibly has one of the coolest jobs ever) also gave a brief tour of the sub, which is shared on Al’s blog.
Scope this video, filmed on Georgian Bay in Ontario, of snowmobiles crossing huge areas of water -
This second video gives whole new meaning to the term ‘going offroad’.
A case study on Arctic Kingdom is currently featured on Intel Canada’s home page as part of their series of ‘Success Stories‘, discussing how small businesses in Canada are embracing technology to increase productivity, solve problems, and push forward innovation.
Arctic Kingdom depends on mobile technology solutions, supported by a dependable network server infrastructure powered exclusively by Intel, to keep expedition leaders and travelers informed and safe. Arctic Kingdom Marine Expeditions Inc. started in 1999 when Graham Dickson led the first expedition to dive with walruses and bowhead whales in the arctic. Within a few short years, the tourism company expanded from offering land-based arctic tours and dive trips to supporting film and television crews working in the North, including location management for Disneynature’s Oceans.
In addition, Arctic Kingdom works with specialists in polar science from around the world including managing research campaigns for the Alfred Wegner Institute in Germany, Environment Canada, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the University of Alberta.
To ensure ongoing communication links with head office and other emergency services, Arctic Kingdom sets up its own IT infrastructure in the camps to support satellite phones, GPS data, ice mapping, SMS messages and even blog or Twitter updates. They have also set up post-production blackout tents for precise colour-corrected monitors.
You can download the study, to read more about the specifics of some of the tech gear we rely on in the field, why we choose it, and how well it holds up in the specific conditions in which we work.
(Download will require Adobe reader, free and available here if you don’t have it.)