Yes, penguin time again, as we review some interesting facts published on World Penguin Day, April 25th! Did you know that this is not the only day devoted to these flightless birds – that there is also the Penguin Awareness Day on January 20th? Well we didn’t. If anybody can tell us where these dates first came from, please do. The website worldpenguinday.com, mentioned by Greenpeace and National Geographic, looks private rather than official. Not a problem of course – any excuse to draw attention to penguins is welcome!
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It’s hard to believe, but exactly 101 years since Scott and his companions were believed to have died, on 29 March 1913, a letter of his has been published. It was written, in the last moments before the freezing conditions overcame Scott, to his once superior, Admiral Sir Francis Bateman. Kept in family hands since, it has finally been purchased by the Scott Polar Research Institute for £78,816 and published.
Our initial impression, at the Antarctica Discover’s igloo headquarters, was to suspect skulduggery and conspiracy. What could a man, at the end of the world, at the end of a inhumanly gruelling race to the Pole, possibly write to his boss that needed to be kept hidden away for so long? Flattery hardly likely, we thought, it had to be the final shout of disobedience from the abyss, a last complaint perhaps for non-delivery of the long promised dogs? (more…)
The news is exciting – New Zealand and USA have just announced a joint initiative to create the world’s largest marine park, covering the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. The map below shows the position of the Ross Sea and the Ross Ice Shelf, to the southwest of the Antarctic continent. The size of the park is staggering: almost 9 times the size of New Zealand. Fishing in the area will be tightly controlled, and will include an exclusion zone – this was an initial stumbling block for New Zealand but an agreement was subsequently reached.
US, NZ call for giant Antarctic Marine Park
The Age, on Tue, 19 Mar 2013 01:27:35 -0700
Kerry and New Zealand’s ambassador to the US, Michael Moore, announced yesterday a joint New Zealand-US proposal to establish a Marine Protected Area, or MPA, in the Ross Sea, a 1.9 million-square-mile area off the Antarctic coast. “When it comes to …
Yes, it certainly looks like it! In a fascinating interview yesterday with the Economist, the architect for the Halley VI base, Hugh Broughton, explained how and why it was designed. Halley VI is the new Antarctic base inaugurated in February by the British Antarctic Survey, BAS. The base is in effect the sixth to be positioned on the Brunt Ice Shelf (shown on the map below) and is required because the others have always eventually drifted off the ice shelf as it calves, thus requiring replacement. (more…)
It is sad to indeed to see that Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the leader of the extremely ambitious winter Antarctica expedition called The Coldest Journey, has been obliged to pull out at an early stage due to frostbite. The expedition set off from Cape Town in January this year.
The expedition is the first to attempt to do a 3,200km (2,000 mile) traverse of the Antarctica during the winter months, when temperatures are of course at their lowest. In fact, temperatures of around minus 70C are likely during the six-month crossing, and as yet the effect of these on equipment and humans is unknown. The crossing will also be mostly in darkness, adding to the risks the expedition faces.
Penguins have fascinated the general public of the world in recent years. From “March of the Penguins” to the movies “Happy Feet” and “Surfs Up”, penguins are everywhere in the media. Is there any truth in rumours that these black tie formal ambassadors of Antarctica have been known to fly?
Ballooning in the Antarctic? And for physics experiments? The more I read, the more surprises were in store for me. I’d imagined something the size of weather balloons, which in turn I’d always assumed were like children’s coloured balloons, with a simple thermometer and rotating wind vane hanging on underneath (are they??). Well my imagination did not rise to the task, since the balloon program being run from McMurdo Station carries payloads of 2 tons or more, and so the balloons have to be truly gigantic.
We’ve set up various blogs for countries in Latin America. Each demands a deep and fascinated interest in the country. But when it comes to the Antarctica, the pen almost freezes (bad pun, sorry). This is a continent of extremes, whether of heroes or of nature, and anything remotely mediocre strikes a dissonant note. Facts need to be correct, opinions well-supported. There is little room for anything less.
This is daunting. But I’ve long nurtured unfulfilled dreams about the Antarctic. I’ve read many of the classic explorer accounts, re-read Shackleton’s crossing to South Georgia many times, listened raptly to Vaughan Williams’ Symphonia Antarctica, and dreamt of hunting for Emperor’s eggs in the true style of Cherry-Garrard. So my enthusiasm should give some right to express opinions. And twice I’ve tried to join Antarctic missions.
The first, while at university, was with British Antarctic Survey . After an initial exploratory interview and a brief meeting with one of the gods (Sir Vivian Fuchs, leader of the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic Exxpedition), it became obvious my chances were zero without further preparation. So I signed up for a special survey course, along with a friend.
To cut a long story short, the friend re-applied to BAS and was accepted, whilst I, impatiently, headed off to South Africa well before. A year later I applied for the South African program; was invited to Johannesburg for a battery of interviews and psychology tests; and then returned to the bush, waiting, waiting waiting. Nothing ever came, and so ended the dream. Or did it?
In both cases I had been applying for a 2 year stint on a base camp. Could I have stood it? To this day I’m really not sure. But the answer was probably crystal clear to the interviewers, looking for social animals able to get on perfectly at all times despite frostbite and colleagues stealing the last of the whisky. As I’m quite unable to shout with the lads (one of Shackleton’s interview questions) and left-handed to boot, the interviewers must have quickly consigned my application to the scrapheap.
In recent years it has become much easier to take a cruise to the Antarctic, and I’ve jumped at these. They are truly spectacular. A 10 day cruise is of course much easier to handle than 2 years. Is the dream spoilt? No, not all. It is simply a different one, more intense in the speed of events, more superficial in the depth of experience. And much safer. One simply just can’t get enough of the experience of visiting such a forbidding but fascinating continent, so alien it really can’t be part of the same planet!