A search begins for the wreck of the ENDURANCE

Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute/1915

A century after Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance sank in the waters of Antarctica, resulting in one of the greatest survival stories in the history of exploration, a team of modern adventurers, technicians and scientists is setting sail to find the wreck.

With a crew of 46 and a 64-member expedition team aboard, a South African icebreaker, the Agulhas II, is set to leave Cape Town on Saturday, bound for the Weddell Sea. Once there, the team hopes to find the wreck and explore it with two underwater drones.

Shackleton himself, whose plans to be the first to cross Antarctica were derailed by the loss of his ship, described the site of the sinking as “the worst portion of the worst sea in the world.”

“It’s the most unreachable wreck ever,” said Mensun Bound, a marine archaeologist and director of exploration of the expedition, Endurance22. “Which makes this the greatest wreck hunt of all time.”

Endurance is also one of the most famous shipwrecks, perhaps on par with the Titanic. It’s a relic of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, when adventurers undertook elaborate, risky and wildly popular expeditions to the continent and the pole. Some, like Roald Amundsen, succeeded. Others, like Robert Falcon Scott, died in the process.

Bravery against the elements has been a signal characteristic justifying the existence of our species.

Research Icebreaker Parked on Arctic Ice Floe for the Next Year

Esther Horvath/MOSAiC Expedition

❝ German research icebreaker Polarstern is now parked on an Arctic Ocean ice floe where researchers will set up camp for a one-year-long drift around the North Pole in the name of climate science.

❝ Experts from the MOSAiC expedition used satellite imagery and helicopter flights to scout the perfect ice floe, perhaps the most critical piece of the puzzle in the year-long expedition to study the climate system in the Central Arctic.

❝ Over the course drift, hundreds of experts from 19 countries will be on board for what is described as the largest-scale Arctic research expedition of all time…The mission: to take climate research to a completely new level by spending a full year at “ground zero” for climate change.

Fascinating stuff. Nowadays, being able to shuttle in and out of the research environment should help with sanity. I remember an old mate of mine who spent a long stretch BITD stationed in a remote military weather station in Thule, Greenland. Not a happy camper.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch is worse than researchers expected

❝ The Ocean Cleanup, the Dutch foundation developing advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic…presented the initial findings of its Aerial Expedition — a series of low-speed, low-altitude flights across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the plastic accumulation zone between Hawaii and California. Using a modified C-130 Hercules aircraft, expert spotters, and an experimental array of plastic scanning equipment, the expedition aims to accurately measure the biggest and most harmful debris in the ocean. This is an essential milestone in preparation for the cleanup of the patch, scheduled to begin before the end of the decade.

❝ This first-ever aerial survey of floating ocean plastic provided confirmation of the abundance of plastic debris sized 0.5 m/1.5′ and up. While the flight plan took us along the Northern boundary of the patch, more debris was recorded than what is expected to be found in the heart of the accumulation zone. Initial estimates of the experienced observer crew indicate that in a span of 2.5hours, over a thousand items were counted.

❝ For the development of a cleanup technology, it is essential to understand the problem, specifically the dimensions of the individual objects and the plastic accumulation as a whole. The nature and amount of the debris determine the design of cleanup systems, the logistics of hauling plastic back to shore, the methods for recycling plastic, and the costs of the cleanup.

❝ The quest to answer this question started in August 2015, when The Ocean Cleanup’s fleet of about 30 vessels crossed the patch simultaneously in an operation named the Mega Expedition. On their crossing wide range of debris sizes were sampled, producing the first high-resolution map of the patch. By using sampling nets that were 80x larger than conventional scientific measurement tools, it was discovered that the amount of large debris was heavily underestimated

Once all exploration flights are finalized later this week, the results from the Aerial Expedition will be combined with the data collected during the 2015 Mega Expedition in a peer-reviewed scientific paper expected to be published early 2017…

❝ Instead of going after plastic debris with vessels and nets – which would take many thousands of years and billions of dollars to complete – The Ocean Cleanup is designing a network of extremely long floating barriers that will remain stationary in the water, enabling the ocean to concentrate the plastic using its own currents.

We won’t know if that experimental measure works until the group moves to a pilot plant stage. As important as questions of plastic pollution in our oceans appear to be – it might be nice if nation-states and governments provided some regulation and oversight along the way to solutions.

The Arctic’s devastating transformation

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Click on the image to reach Camille Seaman’s gallery of photographs

There was no snow, no sea ice anywhere to be seen. These would be my last days in Svalbard in August of 2011.

The only snow was in the many glaciers that bled deafening waterfalls into milky turquoise-colored fjords and into the dark sea. I lowered my gaze, averted my eyes whenever someone on the ship said to me, “See you next season!” I knew I was finished.

The Arctic had been transformed over the decade I had spent documenting through the lens of my camera. I was the ship’s expedition photographer. My photographs were about awe and beauty. To return here would mean documenting the devastation. This place was sacred to me, it was like no where else on the planet.

It broke my heart knowing I would not return

We are out of time. There is no safe place left to be apathetic.

This Earth Day is perhaps similar to many others that came before it. It is a call to consider our biosphere. It remains a call to honor the place that gives you safe haven from the dark cold emptiness of space. It is a day to stand up and declare what aspect of life on this planet you will lend your voice, your support, your time and energy to protecting.

Please RTFA. Read it all. Click on the photo up top to get to Camille Seaman’s gallery. I think you will feel her love for what she has captured. What she is losing.

What we all are losing.

Thanks, Mike

Egyptian expedition confirms spectacular meteorite impact

One day within the last several thousand years, a rare metallic meteorite travelling over 12 000 km/hour smashed into Earth’s surface near what is today the trackless border region between Egypt, Sudan and Libya. The impact of the 1.3 m, 10-tonne chunk of iron generated a fireball and plume that would have been visible over 1000 km away, and drilled a hole 16 m deep and 45 m wide into the rocky terrain.

Since then, the crater had sat undisturbed by Earth’s geologic and climatic processes, which usually render all but the very largest terrestrial impact craters invisible. It was also, as far as is recorded, unseen by humans.

But that changed in 2008, when the crater was spotted during a Google Earth study conducted by mineralologist Vincenzo De Michele, then with the Civico Museo di Storia Naturale in Milan, Italy. He was searching for natural features, when by chance he saw the rounded impact crater on his PC screen.

De Michele contacted an astrophysicist, Dr Mario Di Martino, at the INAF (National Institute for Astrophysics) observatory in Turin, who, together with Dr Luigi Folco, of Siena’s Museo Nazionale dell’Antartide, organised an expedition to the site in February this year…

After a tiring, GPS-guided, three-day drive across the desert in 40°C heat, the team reached the crater.

They collected over 1000 kg of metallic meteorite fragments, including one 83-kg chunk thought to have split from the main meteorite body shortly before impact (it was found 200 m away from the crater). The joint team also conducted a thorough geological and topographical survey, using ground-penetrating radar to create a 3D digital terrain model. Geomagnetic and seismic surveys were also carried out.

The researchers were stunned to find that Kamil crater, named after a nearby rocky outcrop, remains pristine, and must have been created relatively recently…

“We are still determining the geochronology of the impact site, but the crater is certainly less than ten thousand years old — and potentially less than a few thousand. The impact may even have been observed by humans, and archaeological investigations at nearby ancient settlements may help fix the date,” says Dr Folco.

Google Earth rules. I’ve used it to trace El Camino Real, the original trail between Mexico City and colonial Santa Fe over four hundred years ago. I get motivated to crank it up, again – every time I bump into one of these tales.

Shackleton’s whisky a treasure trove in Antarctica

Three crates of Scotch whisky and two crates of brandy left beneath the floorboards of a hut by the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1909, at the end of a failed expedition to the South Pole, have been unearthed by a team from the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Al Fastier, who led the team, said the discovery of the brandy was a surprise, according to a news release posted online by the trust. The team had expected to find just two crates of whisky buried under the hut. The trust reported that that ice had cracked some of the crates and formed inside, “which will make the job of extracting the contents very delicate.”

Richard Paterson, a master blender for Whyte & Mackay, which supplied the Shackleton expedition with 25 crates of Mackinlay’s “Rare and Old” whisky, described the unearthing of the bottles as “a gift from the heavens for whisky lovers,” since the recipe for that blend has been lost. “If the contents can be confirmed, safely extracted and analyzed, the original blend may be able to be replicated.”

Mr. Paterson addressed the question of what the whisky might taste like in a post on his blog when the plan to dig it up was first announced, last year:

Whiskies back then — a harder age — were all quite heavy and peaty as that was the style. And depending on the storage conditions, it may still have that heaviness. For example, it may taste the same as it did back then if the cork has stayed in the bottle and kept it airtight.

The trust’s Web site has a detailed history of the failed expedition, as well as this video on its efforts to preserve the hut built as a base for the Shackleton expedition at Cape Royds, Antarctica, in 1908:

I would give my late father’s left whatchamacallit to sip a dram or two of that whisky. The spirit of Earth’s adventure.

Chinese completing first detailed land map of Antarctica

Chinese scientists from the country’s 26th Antarctic expedition are expected to complete the world’s first land cover map of the Antarctica at the end of this year.

It will be the most accurate map of the continent, presenting various land features, they told Xinhua correspondent aboard Xue Long (Snow Dragon) icebreaker in a recent interview…

The map, with the application of high resolution remote sensing technology, will for the first time in the history show the distribution of key features on the continent, including sea ice, snow, blue ice, rocks, soil marshes, lakes and ice crevasse…

The map is also based on 1,073 remote sensing images acquired from the U.S. satellite Land Sat mainly during the austral summer from 1999 to 2002, Cheng Xiao, deputy dean of the College of Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University, told Xinhua via email…

The map will provide not only more accurate ground parameters for scientists to forecast global change or global warming with climate system models, but also important data for detection on the change of Antarctica land cover in a long run, Cheng said.

I’ve always been one of those geeks crazy about maps. Looking forward to seeing the final product.

Arctic summer ice could vanish within decades


A pioneering expedition to the north pole has confirmed that Arctic ice is thinner than expected, highlighting fears that the region could be free of ice in the summertime within a few decades.

The Catlin Arctic Survey, led by polar explorer Pen Hadow, found that the area covered by their survey was covered almost entirely by ice less than one year old. The region, in the northern part of the Beaufort sea, used to contain older, thicker ice that formed over several years, and is more resistant to summertime melting.

The survey, carried out earlier this year to increase understanding of the impact of climate change in the Arctic, was beset with technical difficulties and ended with the three explorers being plucked from the ice 300 miles short of the pole, their original destination.

Peter Wadhams of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, who analysed the team’s findings, said: “With a larger part of the region now first year ice, it is clearly more vulnerable. The area is now more likely to become open water each summer, bringing forward the potential date when the summer ice will be completely gone…”

Wadhams said the results agreed with other studies of the region, but that the thinning could not simply be blamed on global warming. Recent changes in wind patterns in the Arctic have also contributed, he said, because it has redirected much of the floating ice.

Scientists continue to evaluate more and better data as acquired. Skeptics condemn a whole realm of investigation because the answers disagree with their belief system.

Seeking the science of the Pacific Garbage Patch

Marine scientists from California are venturing this week to the middle of the North Pacific for a study of plastic debris accumulating across hundreds of miles of open sea dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

A research vessel carrying a team of about 30 researchers, technicians and crew members embarked on Sunday on a three-week voyage from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based at the University of California at San Diego.

The expedition will study how much debris — mostly tiny plastic fragments — is collecting in an expanse of sea known as the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, how that material is distributed and how it affects marine life.

The debris ends up concentrated by circular, clockwise ocean currents within an oblong-shaped “convergence zone” hundreds of miles across from end to end near the Hawaiian Islands, about midway between Japan and the West Coast of the United States.

The focus of the study will be on plankton, other microorganisms, small fish and birds.

“The concern is what kind of impact those plastic bits are having on the small critters on the low end of the ocean food chain,” Bob Knox, deputy director of research at Scripps, said on Monday after the ship had spent its first full day at sea…

Besides the potential harm to sea life caused by ingesting bits of plastic, the expedition team will look at whether the particles could carry other pollutants, such as pesticides, far out to sea, and whether tiny organisms attached to the debris could be transported to distant regions and thus become invasive species.

You can track their progress through the project at the Seaplex blog. Interesting stuff, useful to the whole planet.

Gruelling Arctic mission confirms “old” ice disappearing”

The Catlin Arctic Survey, a gruelling 10-week expedition to measure the thickness of sea ice, has ended…slightly ahead of schedule to ensure a safe pick up…

It also reinforces a new forecast, by a leading UK scientist, who says that the Arctic sea ice could vanish in summertime far sooner than predicted…

“In our time here we have captured around 16,000 observations and [taken] 1,500 measurements of the thickness of the ice and snow as well as its density,” he said…”[The data] seems to suggest it was almost all first-year ice,” Pen Hadow said…

“Our science advisors had told us to expect thicker, older ice on at least part of the route, so it is something of a mystery where that older ice has gone. It’ll be interesting to see what scientists think about this…”

At the same time, Peter Wadhams, head of the polar ocean physics group at the University of Cambridge has brought forward his estimate for the demise of summer sea-ice in the Arctic.

He believes the ice, which has been a permanent feature for at least 100,000 years, is now so thin that almost all of it will disappear in about a decade. He says it will become seasonal, forming only during the winter…

Although this bleak forecast is reinforced by the survey team’s data, Professor Wadham’s new assessment is based on analysis of nearly 40 years of sonar data gathered on Royal Navy submarines patrolling beneath the ice.

Until recently, most climate forecasts suggested that the Arctic Ocean would have ice-free summers only towards the end of the century.

Ain’t any good news for nutball reactionaries.

What qualifies for good would be politicians getting off their collective dusty butts and fighting for cleaner alternative energy sources.