Happy St. Paddy’s Day…Wally


Yup. You’re in Ireland.

Oversleeping can cause all sorts of problems. Just ask this walrus — who seems to have fallen asleep on an ice floe and drifted at least a thousand miles from the Arctic Circle to Ireland.

The walrus was first spotted along the coast of Valentia Island in County Kerry, one of the westernmost points of Ireland. Alan Houlihan and his 5-year-old daughter, Muireann, were walking along the beach this past weekend when they noticed the creature lounging on some rocks.

“I thought it was a seal at first, and then we saw the tusks,” Houlihan said. “He kind of jumped up on the rocks. He was massive. He was about the size of a bull or a cow, pretty similar in size; he’s big, big.”

Walruses rarely appear in Ireland, so how did this one end up on the coast? According to Kevin Flannery, director of the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium in County Kerry, it may have been an accident.

“I’d say what happened is he fell asleep on an iceberg and drifted off,” Flannery said. “Then he was gone too far, out into the mid-Atlantic or somewhere like that — down off Greenland possibly. It’s incredible. It’s a one-off as far as I’m concerned.”

At least he won’t be hassled by passport control.

Russian scientists find WW2 Nazi weather station


Click to enlarge

❝ A secret Nazi base in the Arctic abandoned after scientists ate infected polar bear meat has been unearthed.

The mysterious site, named ‘Schatzgraber’ or ‘Treasure Hunter’ by Hitler’s underlings, was constructed in 1942 – a year after the Third Reich invaded Russia.

Russian researchers have now rediscovered the military base, which the former garrison evacuated by U-boat after eating infected polar bear meat…

❝ More than 500 objects were recovered from the site as Russian scientists explored the former Nazi compound located in Alexandra Land, an island around 1,000 kilometres from the North Pole.

❝ On the barren moonscape of the isolated island, relics of the Second World War can be seen, with shells and other fragments of the conflict lying on the shale.

The ruins of bunkers, discarded petrol canisters and even paper documents have also been discovered, preserved in the intense cold

❝ Allied forces occupied most suitable sites for polar weather reports, so the Nazis landed a small group of observers on Alexandra Land.

Supplies for the men at the remote post were dropped by air.

In 1944 all of the men at he base ate raw polar bear meat, which resulted in trichinosis disease from roundworms living in the infected flesh.

A U-boat had to rescue the scientists posted there after infection ravaged their base.

Not exactly good duty. I hope they at least received combat pay.

Tornado Alley for electrons — Chasing the aurora borealis

In America “storm-chasers” are the intrepid types who pursue tornadoes, and sometimes hurricanes. But the Arctic Circle has its aurora chasers – people who speed around in search of the best views of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.

“Last week we saw one that had everything – spiralling, curtains, ribbons, greens and reds, and the whole sky lit up. We were amazed at what was unfolding before us,” says Andy Keen.

Five years ago he left his job running a charity in the UK to move to Ivalo, a remote village in northern Lapland, Finland, latitude 68 degrees – two degrees above the Arctic Circle. “I saw a TV documentary about the Northern Lights. So I went there to have a look. Now I’m absolutely addicted,” he says.

Mr Keen’s company, Aurorahunters, now takes seven tourists a week on hunting trips in the Arctic wilderness to search for the Northern Lights…There are similar companies operating elsewhere in Finland and in neighbouring Norway where the official tourism website describes the aurora as “a tricky lady”. It adds: “You never know when she bothers to turn up. This diva keeps you waiting…”

When a location has been selected, Mr Keen and his group jump into minibuses and head into the wilderness, sometimes taking to sledges pulled by huskies to reach the most remote areas. They often see moose and bear tracks and have ventured as far north as the Arctic Ocean.

All to get the best vantage point to see the aurora borealis, named after the Roman goddess of dawn (Aurora) and the Greek name for the north wind (Boreas)…

RTFA. Details about the causes, predictions. Suggestions about chasing and photographing the elusive beauty of the aurora. All useful.

The last refuge of Neanderthals may have been found

A Neanderthal-style toolkit found in the frigid far north of Russia’s Ural Mountains dates to 33,000 years ago and may mark the last refuge of Neanderthals before they went extinct, according to a new Science study…

“We consider it overwhelmingly probable that the Mousterian technology we describe was performed by Neanderthals, and thus that they indeed survived longer, that is until 33,000 years ago, than most other scientists believe,” co-author Jan Mangerud…told Discovery News.

Most anthropologists believe modern humans began to replace Neanderthals starting around 75,000 to 50,000 years ago. Project leader Ludovic Slimak said the study suggests “that Neanderthals did not disappear due to climate shifts or cultural inferiority. It is clear that, showing such adaptability, the Mousterian cultures can no longer be considered as archaic.”

Slimak, a University of Toulouse le Mirail anthropologist, Mangerud, and their colleagues made the determinations after analyzing hundreds of stone artifacts and remains of woolly rhinoceros, reindeer, musk ox, brown bear, wolf and polar fox unearthed at a site called Byzovaya in the western foothills of the Polar Urals. Dates were obtained for sand at the site as well as for some of the bones, many of which “have cut marks that indicate processing by humans,” according to the researchers…

Even though Neanderthals may have disappeared from other locations throughout Europe and Asia, Slimak argues they likely persisted in this remote area near the Arctic Circle. Since conditions in the region were harsh even then, Slimak believes only strong individuals existing in a well-ordered, savvy group could have survived there.

Paleontology is still one of the most exciting sciences and studies. Events like this provoke much discussion and rediscovery as they replace and enlighten prior analyses, the previous extent of our knowledge.

New directions established for Arctic Council


Hillary attends Arctic Council meeting for the first time
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Canada and other Arctic nations will work together on major search and rescue operations in the Arctic, under an international treaty signed by eight nations Thursday in Greenland….U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Canada’s Leona Aglukkaq were at the Nuuk meeting, along with foreign affairs ministers from Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark…

The leaders meeting in Nuuk also agreed to set up a task force to work on an Arctic oil spill preparedness and response agreement. Given companies’ growing interest in drilling for offshore oil and gas in the Arctic, northern countries need to work fast on an oil spill plan, said Alexander Shestakov, director of the Global Arctic Program with the World Wildlife Fund…

Observers in Nuuk said Thursday’s meeting shows that the Arctic Council is moving in a new direction, in which there will be more action than talk.

Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak said in a statement that she welcomes the “trend within the [Arctic] Council for more policy-making” as a step towards a stronger council.

It is historic for the Arctic Council to agree today to a binding legal instrument,” Aariak said. “I look forward to the work of the next task force towards another potential agreement for 2013 on emergency response and preparedness,” she added…

Shell has set its sights on the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the northern Alaskan coast, while BP is trying to work out an arrangement in Russia’s Arctic.

Meanwhile, oil rigs are already heading west of Greenland, where Cairn Energy plans to drill four holes this year. The government in Greenland has authorized oil and gas exploration in the area, despite concerns from some that development is moving too quickly and could harm Arctic wildlife.

RTFA for beaucoup details.

Indigenous peoples, first nation folks are claiming significant boundaries, rights and responsibilities. Looks like all the treaties accept environmental responsibilities as a basic premise.