Things are a bit dull, at the moment, up at Barneo. (Not for the people up there, but for onlookers like myself). Huge jets are air-dropping cargo, which holds the housing for scientists, soldiers, and tourists (who will pay over $30,000.00 for a certificate that states they stood at the North Pole). This cargo must be retrieved from 1500 pound polar bears (who think it is for them), unpacked, and then erected, and, because the start of operations is behind schedule, all bodies up there are likely are as busy as bees, and have little time to blog or post on Facebook.
You can see the base is located farther from the Pole than usual, towards Russia.
(Map no longer available)
The choice may seem odd, for the ice actually looks thinner in that direction. The 90 degree longitude line is straight sideways in the map above, but straight up in the map below.)
The reason for avoiding the thicker ice at the Pole was because it had been shoved north over the winter, and was crisscrossed by pressure ridges (seen below). Not only is it hard to build an airstrip when you have to level pressure ridges, but the pressure ridges also represent a fault in the ice, in a sense like a polar version of the San Andres Fault in earthquake-prone California. In the case of multi-year-ice, some faults are active and some are inactive, but it is taking a chance to build an airstrip across one. I imagine considerable thought went into the choice they made.
You can see (above) that at this point in the season the ice doesn’t look like it is any sort of “Death Spiral”. The temperatures stay below freezing deep into the month of May, and the melt-water pools usually don’t start to form until late June. It is in the month of July that the melt-water pools get common and the Media gets its sensationalist pictures, that support the “Death Spiral” stories. This can be seen from the view below, (which I think is taken from a far lower altitude), and was likely taken in late July or early August.
This slushy, summer ice is not necessarily “rotten”, and often can still support considerable weight.
In terms of the arctic environment, the Russians tend to be too messy for most environmentalists, especially Alarmists. While Russians are realists, Alarmist tend to be surrealists.
Therefore many have been highly critical of the Russian clean-up the the Barneo site. Largely the Russians do a good job, but have been known to burn things rather than to carry everything in plastic bags back to the mainland. Pictures like this one can cause the tops of some environmentalists heads to explode.
To environmentalists, the very word “exploit” has an unsavory sound, but Russia fully intends to exploit its arctic resources, and when Greenpeace tried to get in the way of Russia’s exploration and exploitation, Greenpeace’s members were arrested and spent time in Russian jails. Therefore the two sides are at war, (albeit a war of words, for the most part).
Consequentially there has been a great deal of focus on the whereabouts of a certain jet, that showed how strong the ice was last year, by coming down so hard on the ice the landing gear crumpled, without cracking the ice.
At first the word was that the jet would be repaired on the site, and flown off. However the damage was serious.
At this point the plan changed, and it was decided to remove the jet in bits and pieces, by icebreaker. Environmentalists worried whether oils would be spilled, and wanted to know every detail of the project, but Russians (and even the Ukrainians, who actually owned the aircraft), felt their business was their business, and went ahead without giving the media the satisfaction of press releases. Basically the
evironmentalists conservationists like myself who were interested had to scrutinize websites and search for pictures, and come to their own conclusions.
The best job I have seen done was by the blogger “Patrick” at the “Arctic Sea Ice Forum” here: http://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php/topic,1505.0/nowap.html The links he supplied are a mother-lode of pictures, and supplied me with many for this post. I was not willing to arrive at the conclusions he arrived at, regarding the missing jet. As usual, I avoid concluding much of anything, but hope readers think for themselves.
The Borneo base itself is a hive of activity for the month of April, but shuts down around Mayday. Then the base changes its name, and becomes a quieter base, inhabited by scientists as the ice slowly drifts towards its eventual doom in Fram Stait and the North Atlantic. They stay well into the melt season.
These fellows stay long after jets can land on the slushy landing strip (though an airplane with skis might attempt it in an emergency). They are supplied by helicopter, and in the end are evacuated by a huge Russian icebreaker, which is big enough to have its own cargo helicopter.
It was during the process of removing the parts of the base last summer that pictures were taken that seem to show parts of an airplane being removed as well.
Of course the most valuable, and heaviest, parts are the engines. The picture below seems to show the ghostly imprint of the fuselage, with the engines still sitting.
And the following picture seems to show an engine in the background of objects awaiting removal.
The blogger “Patrick” concluded the engines were removed and dragged off, because he does not see engines on the wings of the jet in this bird’s eye view, but only “scorch marks” made by a welder removing them. (I can’t tell, and leave the decision to experts, but I do notice there are no melt-water pools, and conclude this picture was taken early in the season, no later than the middle of June). (The jet is at the bottom of the picture, and the various houses for scientists are out of view, further down.)
“Patrick” then concludes only a few fins and flaps of the jet were removed, and the rest of the jet fell through a crack and sank to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. He sees a lead in the bird’s-eye-view below. The jet’s parking place is to the top of the picture. No jet remains, at this point. (My assumption is that the icebreaker’s path is invisible because it berthed off the margin of this picture, to the lower left.)
To my eyes the only active “crack” runs along the bottom of the picture. Other cracks look to be inactive, and perhaps turned into the lazy melt-water streams, (that roam across the summer ice until they find a route down through the ice). It also looks to me like the Russians did a fairly good job cleaning up, though they did make the ice a bit dirty, and perhaps could have bagged all that dirty slush and moved it south, to make Greenpeace happy. But I think that isn’t high on their list of priorities. (There seems to be something they left behind at the center, which I suppose is a weather station.)
Lastly, “Patrick” discovered an interesting Russian “chat room” which hold the suspicious comment “It was decided that the aircraft will not be repaired, it will remain on the ice, and later fell through the ice.” The problem with making too much of this comment, and later comments on the comment, is that the initial comment was made on April 28, even before the final tourist left Barneo. However the forum is well worth visiting, because there are later videos, in Russian, from TV newscasts about the decommissioning and evacuation of the base, with some good footage. The forum is here:
Anyway, this mystery-of-a-missing-jet annoys outsiders, who are suspicious of the Russians. A Norwegian Newspaper, the “Svalbardpostan” is especially interested in a pristine arctic, and has been following the issue of the missing jet from the start.
Their most recent post was this past March 11th, and seems to suggest that if the fuselage did sink to the bottom, the Russians should still crank it back up and remove it. (Not going to happen.)
Speaking for myself, to me it seems the Russians might have actually removed the jet. What I’d really like to know is how in the world they removed those jet engines. They were big suckers, and how to budge them must have been something the Russians thought long and hard about.
TEASER FOR NEXT POST:
Barneo Base-camp reports, on April 5: