Monday, August 30, 2010
Donated by Keith's company, SpaceRef and built by Keith and Marc, SpaceRef geniuses...
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Here are the links to things happening at HMP and the Mars Institute.
http://www.marsonearth.org/multimedia/gh-webcam1.html You can see Berrimilla's rock to the right of the ridge on the horizon above the greenhouse - cool! The wind turbines on the poles are the same as we used on Berrimilla.
For the ride home, I found a copy of Michael Collins' book 'Carrying the Fire' (NY, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) reissued in 2009 for the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. Beautifully written and evocative. Hard to believe that those three guys are all 80 this year.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Courtesy of Dale Andersen, who was one of the people in the bar in Baton Rouge at the genesis of Berri's NW Passage gig.
The other end of the world -HMP's John Schutt and the Resolute Twotters are all going down there in September. Envy! The Twotters fly down from Resolute and across Drake Passage from Punta Arenas (I think) and the pole - what a ride
I'm sitting under a tree about 100 metres from the building at the centre of the old Naval Air Station at Moffett Field where the Admiral once had his office. There's a big flagpole with the Stars and Stripes and it's a glorious day – just a bit of misty haze that filters the deep blue of the sky. I'm hanging around for a couple of hours before my lift to the airport and my flight back to Sydney – the redeye that leaves at 2250 and arrives on the other side of the dateline at 0610 after adding a day to the date.
The contrast is extraordinary. The stark, bleakly indifferent ice age landscape on Devon Island with its savage beauty and its tiny wonderfully adapted wild flowers, its damp fog and its cloudbase that blends with your consciousness, the occasional sunshine through the exhilarating clarity of an almost unpolluted atmosphere – and the silence so deep that you can hear it – these things don't live in the same world as the crimson rose and the rampant daisies beside me. Yet they do – and that's the point – Mars (almost) on Earth.
A memorable three weeks rounded off yesterday by dinner with Pascal's asteroid team who are developing a plan to land humans on an asteroid and do some science….
And there I was interrupted in full hyperbolic tilt by a text from Pascal requiring me to front the Medical Review Board, Dr Cooper himself, no less. Noice!
And now I'm at SFO airport having spent a significant dollop of tolerance and an hour convincing the United check in staff that I am actually booked on my flight – I suspected that my earlier euphoria was premature and so it was. But I have a boarding pass - we'll see if it gets me on the plane!
I will try to summarise the 2010 HMP program in my next. Meantime all the photos are now on the website – just follow the earlier link.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Today, DV & WP - C130 to Vancouver, then to Moffett Field tomorrow. Oh Joy - United have changed my ticket (and waived the fee!!) to allow me to fly back to Sydney from SFO.
Would be a real blast if the weather is clear and we can retrace some of Berrimilla's track from two years ago on the way to Yellowknife.
Sad to leave the Crater - a very special week with some very special people out in the boonies. Thanks Pascal and all y'all on the project.
And thanks to Steve J, who, I understand, has cleaned up the website yet again while I fiddled in the background.
I now must do a search for flights that will get me to the Church aka Ottawa Airport on time. Complicated as I have to decide where to get off the C130 and I don't yet know when we will leave tomorrow.
If I can keep my eyes open after that, I will put the rest of my photos on picasa.
The weather is now just inside the marginal for flying - we've been keeping hourly skeds with Polar Shelf in Resolute - "Ok - 350 to 500 ft, no precipitation, vis 4 miles...seems to be breaking up in the lower layer - we can see the sun's disc - we can see the upper level cloud through the gaps - back to 300 ft, rain, no breaks - looking better to the west - call back in an hour while we check the satellite data - seems to be clearing over the Wellington Channel...". And so it goes.
Right now, Resolute has the first signs of a real break and it's moving towards us...we'll call you again in an hour...
I wrote earlier about the geological treasure chest we are living in. HMP have lent me some samples of breccia and shatter cones (at 39 million years old) and a bit of fossilised coral from a 450 million year old Barrier Reef to show to schools in Australia and perhaps to generate projects and experiments for the camp as contributions to the space program. Physics, medicine, communications, geology, astronomy - anything relevant to the space program is ok. Just keep it simple and focused. If there are any teachers reading this - get in touch! HMP would be especially pleased to have Australian schools involved.
So we mingle and dissipate and find things - mindless things, often - to do to pass the time. Almost everything except toilet paper is packed away - the kettles are still cooking water, the little generator makes this email possible, last minute jobs await the departure of the plane from Resolute - or not. Almost the last job will be bearproofing the Humvee as far as is possible. I have seen photos of the devastation caused by a hungry bear and it's astounding. This particular bear probably departed on a caffeine high judging by the state of the instant coffee jars. The camp has learned from that experience and now stores remaining food in the Humvee and locks and cargo straps it. Even so, a bear nearly got through last year by distorting an aluminium door.
My bags are packed, for the fourth time, and this bit of bloggery is a time sponge. If we don't get out this afternoon, I must cancel my return flight to Sydney and plead with United to let me rebook it. That will be an interesting discussion. I can hear the rain clattering on the tent - not looking good...Hanging in for that break over Wellington to come this way...
Sunday, August 15, 2010
So - 13 of us, temporarily marooned in a tent complex in a geological treasure chest. The camp is close to the remains of a 350 million year old coral reef with fossils from before fish had teeth. Channels, canyons and lakebeds everywhere, from the ice age and the great melt - the valleys were formed by moving ice and water as the huge ice sheet melted. This site was under about 2 miles of ice which formed lakes as it melted and then rivers that carried deposited silt on to flood plains and down to the sea. There are huge rocks scattered around that were carried on the surface of the ice and dropped through as it melted - called, not surprisingly, drop-stones. Berrimilla's Rock is a piece of the original coral reef that broke off an exposed ridge perhaps 10,000 years ago and rolled down to its present spot.
And the camp is beside the Haughton Crater, formed about 39 million years ago by the impact of a meteorite estimated to have been half a mile across. The meteorite vaporised as it impacted, bringing up the geological strata from a mile below the surface and melting it in the explosion so that as it cooled it became breccia - a complex mix of once molten fragments and cooling vapour that is a a grey and rough rock - until you cut it and polish the surface to reveal the complexity of the structure of the rock. The crater was formed in a few seconds as the molten fragments spread outwards at a kilometre a second. Pascal is, among other things, a geologist and he is taking samples this year for analysis to try to establish the composition of the meteorite impactor.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
So here we sit. The C130 should be in Resolute by now and is due to leave again tomorrow. Doesn't look as if we will be on it unless it can wait for us and that means a whole lot of gear that is still here will need to be sent south by commercial flights when it can be moved out. Us too.
The camp gets its water from a stream a few hundred metres away. In normal operations, there's a water pump to get it up here. Not any more - all the pumping gear is packed away and we do a water run when heeded with jugs and big urns. Noodles and freeze dried food - back in Berrimilla mode for me but the food ain't so good here. One way I can certainly contribute is to make some suggestions as to what to bring next time. The only thing that gets cooked is water - big kettles on the tiny Coleman stove - and the hot water is kept in 2 big thermos containers and of course, is never hot enough for a good cup of tea! Two teabags and a long jiggly soak is the go, for a brownish stain in the water in my slowly collapsing paper cup that will I keep recycling until it dies.
Pascal is writing his reports, John and his people are at the moment out in the cold fetching more fuel drums and finishing all the close-down jobs that can be done without squeezing the heartbeat out of the place while we are still living here. The others are sleeping or here with their laptops.
It is beginning to get darker at night - it is now 2315 and quite gloomy inside the tent - I can only just see to type. The 300ft cloudbase doesn't help.
Outside, bleak, wet, misty magnificence. I will post more photos when I have a proper link again. The mess tent in what I hope will be its last few hours of animation before it slowly becomes a crystal cave in the dark of winter.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Yesterday evening just for fun, I pulled in the GRIB weather for Devon Island and Resolute. It was giving 10 kts from the north at midday today - perfect for flying out. I did not specify precipitation in the file...and it has been blowing about 30 kts and gusting ever since, with heavy rain. The rain is abating and the cloudbase is now about 1000 ft but still gusty 25+. Will be an interesting day!
There are still two hardy people camped out in personal tents - everyone else has moved into one of the sturdier permanent tents . I've just braved the frigid blast to go across to the mess tent and make some coffee (works better than tea when the water is tepid!) and Ben is sitting next to the stove, hoodied (twice, I think) and headphoned watching movies on his laptop. Slept all day yesterday, he said - what else is there to do? Actually, he worked his butt off yesterday. The kids from Grise Fiord are all wired into the information age - iphones and laptops - and they find it easier to pass the time than I do.
An over simplified explanation of the politics: HMP is just outside an area owned by the native peoples of Nunavut which includes the whole of the Haughton Crater. The Grise Fiord community come across from Ellesmere Island to hunt and fish in the bays and inlets just to the north. Nunavut now has a capital, Iqaluit and, at least in theory, all the communities are administered from there. I suspect that it is just in theory. Each community speaks for itself as far as I can tell, and with some force. Just as with native title areas in Australia, permission is required to enter native lands and NASA has to go through the process each year in order to gain access to the Crater. In return, the Project employs local people and whenever possible uses community facilities - the Co-Op shop and the Co-Op hotel in Resolute, for instance.
And the rain is back. We will call Resolute in a couple of hours and we are on standby for whatever is available given the conditions. The C130 is due into Resolute tonight - no predictions at this stage but we did learn 2 years ago that things change amazingly fast up here.
Tomorrow will be the second anniversary of Berrimilla's transit of the ice in Franklin Sound - that scarily beautiful 0300 pinkout with a solid ice centre that, to me, marked the critical point in our NW Passage transit. A sort of full circle if we actually make it to Resolute this time!
The best laid plans - while setting up to send the last one via Iridium I discovered that when I loaded the Sailmail application into this computer for this trip I forgot to transfer Berrimilla's address book and Sailmail only recognises addresses in its address book. And the blog address is complicated and I could not remember it - senile old fart that I am. So a phone call to my sister Isabella in the UK and she fired up my Gmail account and extracted the address from that. Egg all over face, but embarrassment tempered by fix.
The Humvee is jacked up on blocks for the winter - but not yet sealed. The mess tent still has power, the Palace of the Imperial Throne is cold and windy but functional - makes one wonder how the Franklin and Shackleton people managed in the icy and open conditions they faced, and for months at a time. The parts shrivel in sympathy! And I think about the need to go outside the shelter to empty the pee bucket on Elephant Island (and what to do about those who cheated) and I wonder how I would have survived - if at all. Hmm.
Everyone finding things to do - watching movies on their laptops, sleeping, writing blogs...again, how did the early survivors cope with the unknown - how long would it last; how to pass the time, day after day; peoples' idiosyncrasies that are ok when things are going well but grate under stress.
So who is left here - Steve Braham's team of communications heroes: Steve, resident super boffin, Parna, Isiah and Vik; the support team of John Schutt - amazing man and central pillar of the camp (Google him - astonishing career) with Jesse and Travis and the three kids hired from the Grise Fiord Community - Ben, Terry and Salya; then there's Geoff, the cook who now has no kitchen and Pascal and me. And, of course, Ping Pong.
Just heard no flights today - if we are lucky, then early tomorrow. We have all day to get to Resolute and load the Herc. Vancouver Saturday evening if all goes well.
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No internet, so this via Iridium if I can get it to work...
There are 13 people and perhaps a ton of gear to get out to Resolute - tight squeeze but might just be possible in two Twotter flights if we can get them into here. Ideally, a third flight to take gear to Humvee Beach just south of Domville point on the west coast of Devon Island and to retrieve a snowmobile left there with the Humvee after the North West Passage drive (google it or www.marsinstitute.com and find a link).
There is an Air National Guard C130 due into Resolute early tomorrow to load us and the gear bound for NASA Ames and depart on the first leg to Yellowknife in the evening - a deadline we really do need to meet if we can because the Herc is a one-off trip and things can get expensively pearshaped if we miss it. If we make it, I'll get off in Vancouver and make my way back to Ottawa for my flight back to Sydney.
So that's it - for the mo!. No more pics until I get somewhere wired again. If I can get this to go, then I can keep all y'all posted as things develop.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The poo is incinerated and the pee is flown out to Resolute where it goes into the sewage system. There will be 70 odd gallons of frozen pee here in the dark of winter waiting until the start of next season when it will be flown out on one of the empty flights returning from camp set-up. The blokes stand on the cooler box and let fly, the women use a jug in the privacy of the Palace and airlift it to the drum.
Kind of cool to think that there will be a bit of me up here for the winter.
One for the wall:
Today should be the final day for packing up the camp. We're down to the minimum in the kitchen, most of the comms are down with just the C band working to keep this internet link up for as long as possible, all the science is done, greenhouse comms set up for the winter and all but the essentials packed away. Everything must be packed dry because any moisture will freeze and possibly destroy the equipment and tents etc will mildew. There will be about a metre of snow and ice in winter. Then the whole place must be made bearproof - even the Humvee where the remaining food is stored is vulnerable to a hungry bear and the doors must be cargo-strapped.
If we get flights today, some of the 13 people left here will fly out with as much of the gear as will fit and tomorrow all the rest of the people and gear. All depends on the weather - we could end up camping in the mess tent living on noodles until Polar Shelf can get to us with aircraft. Here's the forecast:
At 0430 (I'm in boat mode so three hour sleeps...) we have 8/8 at 2000 ft and 20 miles vis and it's not raining yet so flyable. We will hear from Resolute in about 3 hours.
Watch this space - the Mice are in charge.
and I will keep adding to it until the comms go. The traverse would take all the cliches to describe - bright sunshine, awesome, breathtaking, gobsmacking amaaazing. All that stuff. And pretty cool too. We got back to camp after midnight. The crater is a very complex feature and I cannot do it justice - Pascal, on the other hand, knows it intimately and it was fascinating to listen. There's an old coral reef in the rim...
For the curious - the poop tent I took down yesterday was the backup - it housed the Second Throne. Today we took down the Poo Palace, after moving the Imperial Throne into the shed containing the about to hibernate ATVs. Pic will follow eventually.
It's astonishing what you can get into a Twotter. We had 3 flights today taking gear and people out - probably none tomorrow as the forecast is bleak. High wind and rain. Hoping to get everything out on Thursday.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Sorry no captions yet - wireless link way too slow - may be able to add them later or when back in Resolute.
G Earth Berrimilla Rock @ 75 26'50.53N 89 54'08.50W.
Everyone working flat out to dismantle the camp ready for pull out over the next two days. Weather looks set to get nasty again and some urgency so these will be very short.
The Rover team
End of a long and ultimately successful day
Ping Pong who runs the show - she's an Australian cattle dog.
Monday, August 9, 2010
I've been checked out on an All Terrain Vehicle aka a quad bike in Australia. Driving and safety rules are sensible - helmet, radio and shotgun if going out of sight of camp, always at least in pairs and usually threes with the most experienced front and rear. To preserve the landscape as much as possible, never - ever - go off the track. Tell someone where you are going...
The Haughton Crater is a mile or so away - I'm hoping to drive down into it tomorrow if anyone can be spared to be the lead traverse and show me the way.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
We are too far north to see the recent spectacular northern lights displays across sub Arctic Canada (you need darkness to see them...) but this is a good substitute. Enjoy it with me.
This one crashed in 1955 0r 1956 as far as I can discover from the internet. Here's one link and there are others:
From the photos in this site, the wreckage has deteriorated significantly since they were taken. It would not be difficult to recover it but expensive. The wings and nascelles are substantially intact, most of the two main tailfins and elevator are there but mangled and full of bullet holes. The central fin is mixed up in there somewhere too. There are oil coolers and other bits and pieces scattered about. The fuselage is completely destroyed - looks as if there has been a fire at some stage. No sign of the 4 engines or the props. I guess 4 Merlins in any condition would have been souvenired years ago. There is a bulldozed gravel ramp close to the wreckage, possibly to assist with removal of the engines.
I suspect it must have crashed on snow or it would have been a lot more mangled by the terrain where it sits. Or it was pushed there by a bulldozer over snow.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
More 2008 and 2010 pics here - click on the Wildlife albums. Captions may follow today if we are still stuck here.
Some high arctic flowers here:
Captions to follow if I get time to go through and identify them. Takes a mindboggling time to do it - there must be an easier way.
And then I will put up some wildlife pics from the same time.
Unfortunately, I did not bring the Southern Ocean Albatrosses and the Kerguelen pics with me else I'd have got them sorted too. Nothing like a spot of freezing foggg to spur one to action.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Till it does, I've got a lot of time on my hands - can't roam far because of bears, did not bring my running shoes and have to stay close anyway in the forlorn hope that the freezing fog and drizzle will go away for long enough for a Twotter round trip to the Crater - about 45 minutes each way, but it has to be able to land at each end with some certainty.
So I've been headbanging with picasa web albums and there are some more photos here
The Canadian army is moving in in strength for a big exercise - tents, field kitchens and soldiers everywhere.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
The ice seems to be more extensive this year. I have just spoken to Peter Semotiuk, that wonderful man in Cambridge Bay who, in his own time, looks after all the small boats attempting the passage with twice daily radio skeds. He says there are about 9 vessels hanging around waiting including someone in a solo rowing boat who is about 70 miles east of us, holed up in a bay on Devon Island sheltering from the wind and snow. There's another in Pond Inlet, a couple in Greenland and others in the west near Point Barrow. Lancaster Sound was not nice when we flew over and I'm sure it's a lot nastier at the moment but things can change very fast.
But as Peter says, ain't no-one going nowhere at the moment and the central arctic ice is still solid. Just goes to emphasise how lucky we were when we went through.
In the photos, the icebreaker in the bay is the CCGS Henry Larsen. Her chopper has been doing crew transfers and freight lifts all day. A C17 that was scheduled to land earlier did a low pass over the airstrip and diverted to Yellowknife. I'm not surprised, but it seems to be clearing now and appendages crossed we will get out tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Just another day in the boonies at 74.43N 094.59W.
The weather is also testing my planning - what do you pack into a 20 kilo bag for a couple of weeks beside the Haughton crater? There's not a lot of room after the arctic sleeping bag and mat and I had to compromise. Lots of thin thermals, a quilted jacket that's seen better years and waterproof pants and an oversize sailing jacket. Gloves - 3 layers - monster socks, balaclavas and other headgear and neckies to keep the wind out of the jacket.Waterproof shoes - my Bering Sea fisho's boots were a bit too big and heavy but would have been ideal. So far so good but not really good enough for heavy freezing rain. I went for a walk with the camera yesterday and only my fingertips got cold. Kira has the right gear in the photo.
I never knowin what order gmail will load the photos - seems to be a bit random - the blue building is the Polar Shelf Program, the wooden box is the Arctic Hotel, there's a ship in the bay above the red truck (I magnified it to pixel grain and it has Peace on it's side - will research later) and at 75 degrees north, satellite dishes point to the horizon. And it's cold and wet and about 20 knots in all of them. And the airstrip with Twotter, choppers and a sort of boxcar in the distance.
Resolute is under the centre of this little low and it's not moving very fast. Not a lot else has moved either.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
This is just like the day we pulled the plug and turned for home 40 miles south in Berri in 2008.
Squeaked into Resolute - 20 minutes later and the fog would have been too thick to land - Murphy and the Examiner clearly out of practice. The Arctic in all its stunning desolate in your face indifferent beauty, Arctic Poppies and mosquitoes included. Iqaluit to Nanisivik mostly cloudy but it opened to allow us to land and I felt that eerie shiver - back again, without the stress and again gobsmacked by the splendour of it all. Out of Nanisivik over Arctic Bay and Admiralty Inlet and the same patch of ice - I'm sure it was! - that we had to dodge in Berri almost exactly 2 years ago - past Prince Leopold hugged by the cloudbank and across Berri's track from the photo in an earlier blog post. Into Resolute and Kira drove me in the NASA mule to the insulated box of the Arctic Hotel and then we went out into the Arctic night to look at downtown Resolute and the ice in the bay. Cold wet wind across the 1000 year Inuit settlement - whalebone and a walrus skull - and more poppies. There's a bear warning in force so one on watch all the time...
0345 now (1845 tonight in Sydney) and the BBC in the background - still low cloud and gloom outside - I have my window open because the room is way too hot - I can see the tail of the battered old HS 748 that brought us in. If the cloud lifts, Twin Otter to HMP in a few hours. Woohoo!. I have my Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic from the airport shop in Iqaluit and I'll try to do better with the descriptions as we go. Slow link here and uploading pics not a little tedious. I need Marvin for the car parking work but he'd be utterly incapable of describing the exhilaration of being back - awestruck astonishment too at being only about 40 miles from Berri's eastward turn two years ago. Doesn't seem in tune with humdrum reality.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Idle musings on the way about different lives - squashed in a window seat 5 miles above night time Canada and looking down through gaps in the cloud at the headlights of the cars on isolated roads and wondering what the drivers could see ahead and how their day's experience influenced their moods. I doubt that most of them had the quiet excitement of anticipating tomorrow's flight and of seeing again the desolate grandeur of the high arctic.
Dry July is over - Dr Gordon had a cameo part in the long trip across the Pacific today and between us, Pete and I raised a bit over $2000 thanks to the generosity of all y'all.
No photos yet - was dark or cloudy - but I'll try to get some desolation in the viewfinder tomorrow and maybe even a glimpse of Berri's little track along its edge..