Friday, December 30, 2011

National Science Foundation Awards Lockheed Martin Support Services Contract

Lockheed Martin will now be providing the support services for the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Program.  The contract is initially for the next 4.5 years and it could be extended for another 8.5 years.  The logistical support services contract was previously awarded to Raytheon (a Lockheed Martiin competitor also in the defense business) in 1999.  Lockheed Martin was among 7 of the companies bidding for the contract along with Raytheon, although it was not a finalist.  The two other finalists were CH2M Hill of Englewood, Colorado and KBR of Houston, Texas.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

South Pole Cupcakes

The other day I came across a post about North Pole cupcakes for Christmas and instantly thought it would be awesome to adjust the idea to make South Pole cupcakes that resemble the Ceremonial South Pole, which is red and white with a silver mirror style round top.  It took me several days and seven stores before I finally located some regular candy canes (last box at 2nd Target I went to!).  I almost thought about paying ridiculous prices to buy them online because I did not want to wait until next year to make the cupcakes.

To make the South Pole cupcakes, I started by making this Peppermint Vanilla Cupcake Recipe.  If desired, you could also use the frosting recipe there, but I only like cream cheese frosting.  I used this recipe, but I substituted one of the teaspoons of vanilla extract with peppermint extract to make peppermint cream cheese frosting.  I also only used 1.5 cups of powdered sugar, since I do not like it too sweet.

For the actual South Pole that I stuck in the cupcakes I broke off the hook part of the candy cane to end up with just peppermint sticks.  I dipped the rounded end of the stick into melted white chocolate and then dipped it into a bowl of silver pearlized sprinkles (Wilton brand purchased at Michaels craft store).   This did not work out too well when I put it straight into the cupcakes, but it did if I put them on a plate and let the chocolate harden before putting it in the cupcakes.  I also did a few using the frosting instead of white chocolate and that actually worked out much better and could be put straight in the cupcakes without it drooping down.

Sparta Incident

Sparta is a Russian ship that hit a submerged iceberg on December 16, 2011.  The crew abandoned ship when the ship began to take on water, but later returned to the ship to make repairs to keep it afloat while waiting for help to be able to reach them.  The damage caused the ship to list 13 degrees.  Due to the sea ice conditions of their location near the Ross Sea Ice Shelf in Antarctica, the nearest ships could not reach the Sparta because they were not capable of breaking through the ice.  The Aaron, a South Korean ice-strengthened polar research vessel, was then commissioned to rescue the Sparta, but it was at least a week away from the Ross Sea.

On December 17, 2011, the New Zealand Air Force dropped supplies on the ice near the Sparta using a Hercules C130.  The supplies included extra pumping equipment, which helped the crew of 32 (15 Russians, 16 Indonesians, 1 Ukranian) be able to keep the Sparta afloat and make temporary patch repairs to the 30cm hole made by the iceberg.  Overnight the repairs failed and Sparta took on more water, but the crew was able to stop the flow by the morning of December 18, 2011, with the help of the extra pumping equipment.

The crew of the Sparta were able to get the ship back on even keel, but they needed more supplies to try and repair the hole.  A second Royal New Zealand Air Force drop of supplies took place on December 21, 2011.  This drop included pumps, patches, and other equipment.

The Aaron was expected to reach the area where the Sparta is trying to repair itself and remain afloat on December 25, 2011.  The Aaron was traveling with Sparta's sister ship the Chiyo Maru No 3.  It was going too slow and could not handle the ice, so the Aaron temporarily abandoned the rescue to escort the Chiyo Maru No 3 back to open waters.

Aaron finally reached the Sparta about 1am on December 26, 2011 (still Christmas in many other time zones).  The Aaron took on fuel pumped from the Sparta to raise the ship, so that the hole could be seen out of the water and better repaired.  The crews of the Sparta and Aaron repaired the hole with a double plater (one inside and one outside).  They also discovered a second hole, but were able to make the Sparta seaworthy enough to begin being escorted out of the ice on December 28, 2011to meet up with its sister ship Chiyo Maru no. 3 and head north for permanent repairs to be made.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sea Shepherds using drone to track Japanese whalers

This year the Sea Shepherds tracking of the Japanese has gotten more sophisticated with the use of a military-style drone.  This will allow them to cover more ground and perhaps be more successful at stopping the whaling this year.  However, it also means that there is going to be more confrontation and the Whale Wars are very likely to escalate to a whole new level this year.  Might make the upcoming Whale Wars Season 5 on Animal Planet more interesting, but the whole thing seems to be getting more and more ridiculous from both sides.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Movies with Penguins: Happy Feet Two

Happy Feet Two is the sequel to the 2006 Happy Feet movie.  This animated movie was released in US theaters on November 18, 2011 with 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D versions.  In this movie the main character of the first Happy Feet, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), now has a son named Erik (voiced by Ava Acres).

Happy Feet Two opens with the Emperor Penguins all dancing, except Erik.  Erik is afraid to dance and when he finally does try for the first time he horribly embarrasses himself.  Erik ends up leaving Emperor-land and following Ramon (one of the Adelie penguins from the first movie) to Adelie-land.  Erik is joined by his friends Boadicia and Atticus.

They arrive in Adelie-land as a strange penguin named Sven (voiced by Hank Azaria) that can fly is about to tell his story.  Sven talks about being the last of his kind and being rescued by a Russian vessel, which also ends up rescuing Lovelace the Macaroni penguin who also appeared in Happy Feet Two.  Sven and Lovelace escape the ship after Sven thinks they are going to eat them.  They end up in Antarctica where Sven becomes revered like a god because he reveals lichen when he first lands on the continent.  Ramon accuses Sven of being a false god, but begins to believe when he tries Sven think to find a mate (Carmen).

Mumble follows after his son and friends when it is discovered they have left Emperor-land.  Erik thinks Sven can teach him to fly and does not want to return to Emperor-land, but goes with his dad after Sven tells him to.  On the way back to Emperor-land they have an encounter with an elephant seal named Bryan, who does not want to let them cross the ice bridge.  Bryan ends up falling in the ice crevasse and Mumble gets a leopard seal to follow him to help break ice and save Bryan.  Bryan thanks Mumble and says he owes him.

Mumble, Erik, Boadicia, and Atticus notice the terrain is different as they are returning to Emperor-land and when they get there discover that Emperor-land has been blocked by a giant iceberg.  The iceberg has trapped all the other Emperor penguins and they try to bring fish to keep them from starving while they try to find a way out.  They soon realize it is hopeless on their own and Boadicia goes to Adelie-land to bring help.

While Boadicia is gone, Erik breaks down and skuas attack.  The trapped Emperor penguins fight back and the skuas are scared off when the help from Adelie-land arrives.  The penguins (Chinstraps as well as Adelie penguins) with Sven as their leader begin sending fish down to the trapped Emperors with a bucket brigade style of passing fish.

The Russian vessel that Sven and Lovelace were on appears and Sven hides.  Lovelace on the other hand goes and gets the Russians to come help the Emperor Penguins.  The Russians begin to make a path up the iceberg for the penguins to get out, but abandon the effort when bad weather moves in.   When the storm clears it is realized the ocean has frozen over and the humans cannot return to help and the Adelies cannot go that far to bring food for the Emperors.  Erik tries to get Sven to teach the Emperors to fly, but Sven cannot and finally admits he is actually a puffin and not a penguin.

With hope lost again, Mumble realizes that if they all tap dance they make chunks of ice fall of the iceberg.  Mumble injures himself when he saves Erik from falling along with a large ice chunk and many Adelie penguins.  Sven then returns and leads the penguins in dancing, but they need more power.

Mumble and Erik go to Elephant Seal beach to get Bryan to return the favor.  At first Bryan will not come help because he is in the middle of trying to maintain his dominance.  After Erik sings an opera, Bryan is convinced to help and the Elephant Seals come to dance on the iceberg with the penguins.
Throughout the movie there is also a sort of side plot with two krill named Bill and WIll.  Will wants to see what is beyond the swarm and Bill ends up going with him.  In the end, though, they end up back in the swarm under the iceberg blocking Emperor-land.  They dance on the bottom of the ice as the penguins and elephant seals dance on top.

Working together the Elephant Seals, penguins, and sort of the krill break the iceberg up enough to make a path for the Emperor Penguins to escape and families to be reunited.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whale Wars Fifth Season to Begin Airing in June 2012

This winter's Whale Wars is already underway with the Sea Shepherd's Operation Divine Wind campaign that is expected to continue through February 2012.  Yet, again their actions to prevent the Japanese from successfully hunting whales will be featured on Animal Planet with the fifth season of the Whale Wars show.  The show will begin airing in June 2012. The exact number of episodes has not been determined.

South Africa's New Icebreaker: Angulhas 2

South Africa's new icebreaker is almost finished in Finland.  The icebreaker is a research vessel with facilities for scientific work.  The icebreaker can break through 1 meter of ice.  Watch the video below to learn more about the Angulhas 2.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sparta crew waiting for rescue in Antarctica

The Sparta is a fishing vessel that is currently in the Antarctic waiting to be rescued.  The ship has taken on water due to a hole caused by an iceberg.  There have been several attempts by other ships to reach the Sparta, but the ice conditions have made it too difficult.  The crew did abandon ship to lifeboats at one point, but have returned and at least temporarily repaired the hole partially with help from supplies including a pump dropped off by at C130 Hercules from the Royal New Zealand Air Force.  A South Korean icebreaker, Aaron, has been commissioned to rescue the crew, but it could be a week before the ship gets to them.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

100th Anniversary of First Expedition Reaching South Pole

Recently there has been a lot of news about preparing for next year being the 100th anniversary of Scott's expedition reaching the South Pole, but I think today deserves more attention in terms of Antarctic history.  Today is the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen and four others (Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting) being the first humans to reach the South Pole on December 14, 1911.

While Amundsen is criticized for just racing to the pole and not doing surveying or taking more than 2 photographs, he still did lead a much better planned expedition that allowed his men to safely reach the pole as well as return.  One of the reasons for his success is his use of sled dogs instead of how Scott attempted to use horses, which did not work out and ended up forcing him and his men to pull their supplies.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Is Meteorite Hunting in Antarctica a Wasteful Project?

The Antarctic Search for Meteorites (Ansmet) is beginning its 35th year of searching for and collecting meteorites in Antarctica.  The program is quite successful at finding meteorites, but what value does it have?  It was recently listed at #75 on a list of 100 most wasteful projects.  The report was made by two Senators (McCain and Coburn).  It does seem that the project has collected a lot of meteorites and that there certainly are more to find in Antarctica.  However, what is the value of finding the meteorites?  I am not saying they have no value, but I cannot really figure out the practical value the meteorite hunting has.

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