Stranded Travelers In The Arctic Receive Emergency Supplies From Canadian Military

Earlier today the Canadian military conducted an operation to deliver emergency supplies to a group of stranded travelers that are adrift on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean. The supplies were dropped onto the ice via a C-130 Hercules cargo plane and included life-rafts and other survival gear to help keep the castaways safe until further assistance can arrive on the scene.

The nearly two dozen travelers were exploring remote Baffin Island on a tour offered by a company called Arctic Kingdoms. Late Monday evening or early Tuesday morning, the 30-mile long ice floe on which they had made camp broke away from land and began to drift out to sea. With no way to get back onto Baffin, the travelers are at the mercy of the ocean currents while they wait for someone to come rescue them. Canadian authorities say that they are currently about 12 kilometers (7.8 miles) off shore.

Arctic Kingdoms provides adventurous travelers with an opportunity to go on wildlife spotting excursions in the Arctic. The tourists on this particular trip were hoping to encounter polar bears, seals and other animals unique to the region, but now they are getting a bit more of an adventure than they bargained for. According to a post to the company’s website however, everyone is in good health and spirits.

Due to the remote nature of Baffin Island, it is taking some time to scramble helicopters from Newfoundland that can mount a rescue operation. Those helicopters were expected to be onsite later today at which time search and rescue teams hope to begin evacuating the travelers.

Celebrate World Oceans Day With A Live Tour Of The Great Barrier Reef

This coming Saturday, June 8, is World Oceans Day, a global event designed to celebrate the important role that the oceans play in keeping our planet a vibrant place for us to live. Throughout the day there will be hundreds of events taking place across the globe that will help educate us on the importance of keeping our oceans healthy, while raising awareness of the challenges they face in the 21st century. One such event is an ambitious 12-hour live tour of the Great Barrier Reef that will give us a very personal look at one of the most important and beautiful marine ecosystems on Earth.

Stretching for more than 1600 miles along the coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is home to a dizzying array of species including sea turtles, dolphins, whales and countless smaller fish. Massive in size, the reef covers more than 133,000 square miles and is large enough to be visible from space. It also attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors on an annual basis, many who come to snorkel or dive the GBR’s breathtakingly clear waters.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time on Friday, June 7, a team of marine biologists will launch a live event that will stream to the Internet via Google Hangouts. They’re calling this event “Reef Live” and throughout the 12 hours that follow, they’ll be broadcasting from their floating “Sea Studio.” While the event is ongoing, divers will share live images from the reef, while taking us on a guided tour of this very special place both above and below the ocean’s surface.
The event won’t be just about streaming pretty pictures from the waters off the Australian coast, however. Anyone who attends the Google Hangout will be able to ask the team questions about what they are seeing on their screens at any given time, while also interacting with a group of expert panelists who will be in attendance as well. This will give us unprecedented access to marine biologists and reef experts who will be able to provide the insight and knowledge that will make this event a unique and special one.

Reef Live is melding technology, the Internet and social media in new ways to deliver a live event that just wouldn’t have been possible a few short years ago. Streaming real-time video across the Internet while millions look on and have the opportunity to directly participate is a fantastic idea. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in a few days time. If you want watch the live broadcast and participate in the event, there is a handy countdown clock available on the Reef Live site that will help you determine when the project has officially started. Find it by clicking here.

Antarctica’s Tallest Peak Captured, North Pole Not So Much

Antarctica is our planet’s southernmost continent and home to the South Pole, permanent manned research stations, penguins and an occasional adventure cruise ship expedition. This time of year, a lot of attention traditionally goes to Earth’s North Pole, home of Santa and the gang. But NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory recently passed over Antarctica’s tallest peak, Mount Vinson, as we see in this photo.

On October 22, 2012, during a flight over the continent to measure changes in the massive ice sheet and sea ice, NASA captured this image as part of its ongoing program.NASA’s Airborne Science Program at the University of North Dakota manages operations of NASA’s DC-8 Airborne Science Laboratory aircraft, which collects data for the world’s scientific community. The DC-8 flies three primary missions: sensor development, satellite sensor verification and basic research studies of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere.

Operation IceBridge is a multi-year airborne campaign to watch changes in the Earth’s polar ice caps in both the Antarctic and Arctic. Mount Vinson is located in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica.

The North and South poles are the two points where the Earth’s axis of rotation intersects with its surface. While the South pole actually exists in a physical place on Antarctica, the North Pole is really in the middle of the Arctic Ocean in waters covered with sea ice almost year-round … except for around Christmas time when Santa, Mrs. Claus, the reindeer and elves are busy with the holidays.

NASA has tried repeatedly to photograph Santa’s home but cannot come up with more than an image of ice and snow.

“NASA’s Terra satellite was able to piece together a number of images it took to give us a complete look at the North Pole, which is usually very difficult to see by satellites, so Santa can keep his exact location secret,” says NASA captioning this Flickr photo.

[Photo Credit: NASA]

Svalbard: The World’s Northernmost Inhabited Place*

For bragging rights, few places can match the Norwegian Arctic territory of Svalbard. It’s far north. Really, really far north. How far, you ask? The northernmost piece of Alaska is at a latitude of 71 degrees north; Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard, can be found at 78 degrees north.

After years, possibly decades of looking at Svalbard on maps, pricing flights, and perusing websites, I finally visited the territory in late April. I felt as if I was shooting into the unknown, despite my advance research and my knowledge of the territory’s tourist infrastructure. I felt a bolt of uncertainty as the plane landed, in a snowstorm no less, and then a sense of wonder as I spied enormous mountains. It was more beautiful than I’d imagined, and far quieter. The silence was a constant presence. Even the abrasive sound of a snowmobile didn’t really disturb it, not for more than a few seconds.

Administered by Norway since 1925, Svalbard has around 2,500 residents. Most live in Longyearbyen, a little valley town with a cultural and retail infrastructure typical of far larger towns: a mall, a well-stocked supermarket, an Arctic Museum, a cultural center, hotels, restaurants and bars. During my visit in late April, all were pretty lively, tourists more rare than residents.

Though a Norwegian territory, Svalbard does not belong to Norway proper. Before boarding flights from Oslo or Tromsø–and after disembarking on return to the mainland–passengers have to go through passport control. The territory is governed under the terms of the Svalbard Treaty, which allows citizens of all signatory nations to commercially exploit the land and waters around and take employment in the territory. This explains the existence of Russian mining towns in Svalbard – Pyramiden (closed in 1998) and Barentsburg, which had 380 inhabitants at last count.

As befits a place commercially open to the world, Svalbard is a rather diverse place. While most residents are Norwegian, the territory is impressively international, with tourists adding to the linguistic melee. During a short midday stroll in the center of town, I heard Norwegian, Swedish, Tagalog, Swiss German, German, English, Thai, Portuguese, French, Flemish and Polish.


During my visit, I used the world’s northernmost ATM and had a coffee at Fruene Kaffe & Vinbar, a café that bills itself as the world’s northernmost coffeehouse. I saw a handbill advertising a forthcoming Thai restaurant, which will surely be the northernmost restaurant of its kind in the world. I bought a magazine and a hot dog at the world’s northernmost convenience store. And then I sort of lost count of northernmost claims or projections. Almost everything in the territory, with the exception of snowmobiles, scientists, polar bears, and the odd research camp, is the most northerly example of its kind on earth.

What is there to do in Svalbard? The adventurous have many choices. There are all sorts of extreme skiing and mountaineering tours on offer for those interested in heading off into the wilderness with an expedition leader, gear, rifles (as protection against polar bears) and other necessities.

Many tourists overnight in Longyearbyen and take exploratory day trips. The most popular winter day tours include dogsledding, snowmobile journeys to Barentsburg (eight hours) or the east coast of Spitsbergen (ten hours), glacier hiking, and ice caving. During the summer, there are glacier hiking tours, fossil hunting trips, dogsledding (on wheels) and journeys by boat along the coast.

For the less adventurous, there is an informative two-hour taxi tour, and there is the Arctic Museum, a truly fantastic resource, devoted to Svalbard and the wider Arctic region. The museum addresses climate change, the flora and fauna of the region, the impact of human activity on the territory, and various implications of technology. Its library is wide-ranging and multilingual, with books on a huge number of Arctic topics.

*There are in fact a few inhabited places farther north than Ny-Ålesund, the northernmost settlement on Svalbard, though none of these are towns. These are Russian meteorological stations on Sredny Island and in Franz Josef Land; a Danish military base in northeastern Greenland; Alert, a Canadian military and science station; and Barneo, a seasonal Russian ice camp housed on the Arctic Ocean ice sheet.

[Images: Alex Robertson Textor]

Explorer Mark Wood reaches South Pole, completes first half of journey

Back in November, we told you about British adventurer Mark Wood, who was preparing to set out on an epic adventure. Mark was hoping to become the first person to make back-to-back journeys to the North and South Pole on foot, and at the time he was getting ready to travel to Antarctica to start his expedition. Fast forward a few months, and Wood has now reached the South Pole, successfully completing the first phase of his journey.

Last Monday, after 50 days on the ice, Wood officially reached the bottom of the world – 90º South. That was pretty much exactly on schedule for what he had predicted, which is remarkable considering he had to deal with challenging surface conditions, unpredictable weather, equipment failures, and whiteout conditions for much of the way. All told, Wood covered about 680 miles on skis, all the while towing a sled laden with his gear and supplies.

Despite the fact that it has now been more than a week since he completed his journey, Mark remains stranded at a research station located near the Pole. Bad weather has prevented a plane from coming to pick him up, although conditions are expected to improve this week. When they do, he’ll get airlifted back to Chile, where he’ll take some time to reorganize his gear, and recuperate, before immediately flying off to Canada to start the next phase of the expedition.

While skiing to the South Pole is an impressive accomplishment, traveling to the North Pole is considerably more challenging. The journey will be similar in that Wood will go on skis, once again pulling his sled behind him, but while the Antarctic is ice formed over solid ground, the Arctic consists of giant slabs of ice floating on top of an ocean. As a result, Wood will face much more unstable ground and will have to navigate around or across large areas of open water. That open water has become much more prevalent in open years thanks to global climate change.
Because the ice floats on top of the Arctic Ocean, he’ll also have to deal with the frustrating natural phenomenon known as negative drift as well. This is a condition that actually causes polar explorers to loose ground – even as they travel north – due to the shifting of the ice. It is not uncommon for someone traveling through the arctic to spend all day skiing northward, only to stop for the night, and wake the next day to find that they’re actually further away from the Pole than they were when they went to sleep. It can be very disheartening for the explorers, who sometimes describe the feeling as much like being on treadmill.

The presence of polar bears is another hazard that Arctic explorers must be aware of as well. While those traveling to the South Pole seldom, if ever, encounter any other forms of life, those going to the North must be ever vigilant for bears. Because of this, most skiers add a shotgun to their gear list before setting out, hoping that they won’t have to use it along the way. Polar bears are the largest land carnivores on the planet, and they have been known to stalk humans traveling through the Arctic, bringing yet another element of danger to an already challenging journey.

Mark’s accomplishment of reaching the South Pole on on skis is indeed an impressive one, and while he has now technically completed the first half of his expedition, it’ll only get tougher from here. The North Pole trek is expected to take roughly 65 days to complete, and will be another test of endurance and determination.