10/28/2011

Two polar flights evoke questions

Seen in a BBC TV series about the North and South poles, two fascinating flights should make us ask ourselves whether we can protect our planet and the future of our descendants.


The TV programme which I watched this week on BBC TV, and which I hope will be shown on Swiss TV (in dual language option) is the first of a seven part series called "The Frozen Planet". This series shows what happens during the year at the North and South poles, and will certainly explain what things are changing (global warming!) and how these changes can affect everyone on our planet. In accordance with the title of this blog, I picked out two different "flight" subjects.

The start of the programme showed how, when the Arctic ice cap progressively melts in Spring, many species go there to feed. The sequence showing vast flocks of shearwater birds flying around, and diving to catch fish, is accompanied by the comment that these birds have flown 10,000 miles from Australia (no low-cost aviation companies involved!). Related comments include the mention that if wildlife (such as caribou) get their timing wrong they could die, either  from late Winter storms or because they miss the feeding season, and that the North American taiga forest has over 20% of the trees on earth. The sequences on the movement of the immense Greenland glaciers, and the calving of giant icebergs, is also hugely impressive.

Now add into the equation the fact that the polar icecap is rapidly diminishing, while the ozone hole there is increasing. The probable results are not limited to the disappearance of polar bears and the establishment of polar sea passages between continents (the Northwest Passage: book your 2015 summer cruise now, folks!). Rather, they may be much more life-changing for us all.

Then the programme turned to look at the Antarctic: a mountainous continent covered and surrounded by ice. The flight that captured my imagination was of a helicopter flying over the second biggest active volcano there, Mount Erebus, which is one of a series of volcanos forming the Pacific Ring of Fire. To look down into this volcano, the helicopter had to operate at its upper limit of around 14,000 feet: so high that it cannot hover, but must keep moving.

After the programme finshed I looked up the registration of the helicopter, which was N5736J. The US registry shows it as owned by PETROLEUM HELICOPTERS INC. A look-up of this company comes up with their Web site which states the following :-

PHI offers services to the offshore Oil and Gas, onshore mining, International, Air Medical, and Technical Services industries. The Company's core business consists of offshore operations in the energy basins around the world.

This is something which I find somewhat disturbing. Are we to suppose that the search for oil-based energy is taking us into both the Arctic and the Antarctic? If so, then what could be the consequences when errors are made (errare humanum est)?

To finish with a program quote from the narrator, standing on the point of the South pole almost exactly 100 years after Scott and Amundsen raced to be the first ones there (with tragic consequences for Scott and his team):-

What happens here and in the North affects every one of us, no matter where we live on this planet.

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