Archive for January, 2011

Shackleton’s whisky stands up to test of time

January 19, 2011

Radio New Zealand, 19 January 2011 Original article here

Bottles of whisky encased in Antarctic ice for more than 100 years have been found to be in good condition after being returned to Scotland from New Zealand in a private jet.

The three bottles were slowly thawed at the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand and opened in August last year.

Eleven bottles of Mackinlay brand whisky dating from 1896, made by the Whyte & MacKay company, were discovered at the hut of Sir Ernest Shackleton in 2006.

The Shackleton expedition was unsuccessful and the base and the whisky were abandoned in 1907.

On Tuesday, Whyte & MacKay’s master blender Richard Patterson drew out a sample by syringe and judged the whisky only by smell, as no one has yet been allowed to taste it.

“My initial reaction is very, very interesting, but I must wait and see. It’s that lovely rich, golden colour.

“This is a whisky that’s been kept stable for these number of years and I think when Sir Ernest Shackleton tasted this it was a great honour for him, as it is an honour for me too.”

The original recipe for the blend no longer exists, but distillers hope they can replicate it.


Copyright © 2011, Radio New Zealand


Feeding The Robotic Guardians Of The Arctic Seas

January 19, 2011

Strategy page January 19, 2011. Original article here

Although the Cold War ended in 1991, the U.S. and Canada still maintain a string of radar stations from Alaska to Greenland. The system, originally called the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line, was built in the 1950s, to detect Russian bombers or reconnaissance aircraft coming in. Right across the Arctic Ocean, and the North Pole from the northern coast of North America, is the north coast of Russia. Right across the pole is the shortest distance (for aircraft or ballistic missiles) from Russia to North America.

After the Cold War ended, Canada took over control of the entire system, which is now managed from an underground facility in Ontario. The U.S. still picks up 60 percent of the cost, and has access to information the radars collect.

Even as the Cold War was ending, the DEW line was already being replaced by a system consisting mostly of unmanned radar stations (which cut operating expenses 50 percent and spared many Canadian and American air force personnel periods of duty on the coast of Arctic Ocean). The new North Warning System (NWS) consists of 15 manned long range radars (11 in Canada), and 39 unmanned radars (36 in Canada). This radar system covers an area 5,000 kilometers long and 300 kilometers deep. The DEW line was much longer (going from the Aleutian Islands to Iceland) and deeper (there were two more radar lines farther south, north of the U.S. border.

The DEW Line and the NWS give no warning of ballistic missile attacks, so a different system, using ground and space based radars, has been developed over the last half century. But you still want to know what aircraft are out there over the cold Arctic seas.

A civilian firm provides most of the logistic and technical services to maintain the radars, their generators and communications equipment of the NWS. This costs about $63 million year. The unmanned radars are marvels of automation, built with many redundant systems, so the radars can remain operational until maintenance crews can be flown in from one of the five support bases. This is particularly difficult during the long, cold and dark Winters.

Alaska whalers will wear white float coats for spring hunt

January 19, 2011

The Associated Press

STEPHANIE AGUVLUK / The Associated Press Eskimo whalers wear float coats on the Chukchi Sea north of Wainwright. The whale hunters have traditionally worn white as camouflage, forgoing the use of life jackets because they've been unavailable in white. When the whaling season arrives this spring hunters from 11 coastal villages will wear the white float coats.

Published: January 17th, 2011 09:46 PM
Last Modified: January 18th, 2011 02:32 PM

Gordon Brower has been hunting bowhead whales for most of his 47 years, forgoing life jackets because no one made them in white, the only color that would work as camouflage on Alaska’s icy Arctic coast.

Now the whaling captain from the nation’s northernmost town of Barrow and other Eskimo whalers have begun to wear personal flotation devices, custom-made in the white they’ve traditionally used to make them more invisible to their massive prey.

When the subsistence whaling season arrives this spring, more Alaska Native hunters from coastal villages will be outfitted with the white float coats being distributed through a safety program that’s been greatly expanded since its debut last year. A couple dozen whalers also will receive white float pants.

Brower’s crew was among whalers who tried the coats last year. On the first trek out with the new gear, the crew landed a 30-ton bowhead.

“Everything kind of lined up in a straight line and the stars were with us, and we got a whale,” he said, noting the only glitch with the coats is the noise they make in extremely cold weather. “Other than that, I think they work pretty good. We were happy to use them.”

The coats are the result of efforts by the Coast Guard, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Burnaby, British Columbia-based Mustang Survival Corp., which makes flotation and extreme climate protection products. The whalers’ coats have a nylon shell and flotation foam filling, which also offers protection against the frigid conditions faced in the Arctic.


Mike Folkerts, a recreational boating safety specialist with the Coast Guard, was participating in a mission to Barrow in 2009 when he noticed the town’s main grocery and general store had no life jackets for sale. Local whalers told him life jackets were too bright and would scare away the animals. He asked if they would wear the jackets if they were available in white.

The hunters said sure.

Folkerts called a couple companies, including Mustang, that sent prototype samples, which Folkerts showed to the whalers.”They loved them,” he said.

There is no federal or state requirement to wear a life jacket in a recreational boat unless the person is under 13, although life jackets on board are required, he said.

The Coast Guard can’t purchase equipment to give to the public, so Folkerts turned to the tribal health consortium. The organization tapped $12,000 of its own funds and ordered 52 coats from Mustang, distributing them among whalers in Barrow and two other villages.

It was an apt connection.

One of the consortium’s areas of interest is reducing the disproportionate rate of drownings among Alaska Natives.

Between 2000 and 2006, Alaska Natives accounted for 179 drowning deaths in the state, or 45 percent of the 402 such deaths in that period, although they represented less than 18 percent of Alaska’s population at the time, according to Hillary Strayer, the organization’s injury prevention specialist.



Drowning deaths are a rarity among whalers, who are extremely safety conscious, according to Folkerts.

But Brower has seen his share of tipped boats over the years. He points out that his boat is only 24 feet long, while whales can be more than twice as long, averaging a ton per foot.

“Once in a great while, somebody has lost their lives,” he said. “The potential is always there, especially when you are attempting to harvest a whale and the animal is a big animal.”

As far as Strayer is concerned, whalers are role models. She’s hoping they inspire others to start wearing life jackets.

“They are pillars of their community,” she said. “They’re really looked up to.”



For the upcoming spring whaling season that begins in April when bowheads are heading north, the consortium is distributing 96 coats among crews from the remaining villages that are members of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which represents 11 communities.

Four crews, including Brower’s, will get the float pants.

The funds for this year’s effort came from a $15,000 donation from Shell Oil and almost $11,000 from Conoco Phillips, an oil producer on the North Slope, where some of the whaling villages are located. Shell has offshore oil exploration projects in the region.

Representatives of the companies said the donations stemmed from their support of the subsistence lifestyle of Natives in the area and the companies’ devotion to safety.

“If outfitting North Slope whalers with traditional-looking, but effective, float coats saves a life, that’s a behavioral change that we’re proud to be part of,” Shell’s Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said.

Russia to draft program for Arctic shelf exploration by 2012

January 14, 2011

Russia is first in the world in natural gas reserves (24 percent of the total) and 7th in oil reserves (6 percent), but these resources are not renewable

02:44 14/01/2011© RIA Novosti. Vladimir Baranov

Original article here

The Russian government will develop by 2012 a state program for prospecting and extracting mineral resources on Russia’s Arctic shelf, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev said.
“The Security Council discussed this issue during a recent meeting and instructed the government to finish drafting and adopt by the end of 2011 a long-term state program for prospecting and extracting mineral resources on Russia’s Arctic shelf, Patrushev said in an interview with the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily published on Friday.
Russia is first in the world in natural gas reserves (24 percent of the total) and 7th in oil reserves (6 percent), but these resources are not renewable.
According to Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry, the country is already exploring 75 percent of its oil and gas deposits on the continent. Many of these deposits register 50-percent depletion and low extraction coefficient (30 percent).
“In these circumstances, Russia’s continental sea shelf becomes a major source of energy supplies, and its exploration assumes an enormous strategic and economic significance,” Patrushev said.
Russian experts estimate recoverable oil and gas resources on the continental shelf at 100 billion tons of reference fuel.
The new program will help focus the efforts of the state and the leading Russian energy companies on efficient exploration of deposits on the continental shelf, Patrushev said.

MOSCOW, January 14 (RIA Novosti)

Neanderthal life spans similar to modern humans

January 12, 2011
By Charles Q. Choi, 1/11/2011
Original article here

Those who investigate Neanderthal remains have long known of a puzzling gap — elderly individuals are rare. Scientists have thus suggested that these prehistoric humans might have had an inherently shorter life expectancy than us modern humans, with our lineage ultimately outnumbering theirs, and so contributing to their demise.

Not so, according to a new study. Our once closest living relatives likely had similar life spans as us.

Our species, Homo sapiens , is the only surviving lineage of the genus Homo. Still, there once were many others, all of whom could also be called human.

Anthropologist Erik Trinkaus at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed fossil records to gauge the adult life spans of Neanderthals and early modern humans, which coexisted in different regions for about 150,000 years. He found roughly the same number of 20- to 40-year-old adults and adults older than 40 in both Neanderthal and early modern human populations, suggesting life expectancy was probably the same for both.

“Arguments for longer survival among early modern humans causing the demise of the Neandertals have no basis in fact,” Trinkaus told LiveScience. (Neanderthals are also called Neandertals due to changes in the German spelling over the years.)

Trinkaus did caution that a number of factors might skew his life-expectancy calculations. For instance, all these archaic and modern humans apparently had very mobile lifestyles during the Pleistocene to search for their next meals. That likely means any older members who could not keep up were left behind to die, and their remains would have been scattered by scavengers and lost from the fossil record.

Still, “new fossil discoveries could change the pattern some, but it is unlikely to alter it very much,” Trinkaus said. Overall, he contends that longevity did not factor into the extinction of Neanderthals. If early modern humans did have a population advantage, he argued, it was probably more due to high fertility rates and lower infant mortality.

Trinkaus detailed his findings online Jan. 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How Neanderthals also enjoyed their greens: Meat-only diet was myth, teeth reveal

January 9, 2011

By COLIN FERNANDEZ 28th December 2010
Original article here

For years it was believed the Neanderthals were carnivores who devoured meat.

But new research has found that not only did our primitive ancestors eat a lot of greens, they were able to cook them as well.

It was widely believed that the limited meat-only diet of Neanderthals and their lack of cooking skills contributed to their extinction.

Vegetable kebab? A depiction of a Neanderthal woman working with fire

Their rivals Homo Sapiens, our direct ancestors, who lived alongside them were more adaptable as they had a wider variety of food sources to choose from.

But a microscopic analysis of the fossilised teeth of Neanderthals reveals their diet was more varied than previously thought – with their vegetable intake including beans, roots and tubers and palm dates.

The evidence, from cave sites in Iraq and Belgium, also suggests Neanderthals controlled fire in much the same way as Homo Sapiens.

Many of the plant remains had undergone physical changes that make scientists believe they were cooked before they were eaten.

Researchers are still trying to identify remains of other plants on the teeth.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers led by Dr Dolores Piperno, from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, said: ‘Our results indicate that Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant foods available in their local environment and transformed them into more easily digestible foodstuffs, in part through cooking them, suggesting an overall sophistication in Neanderthal dietary regimes.’

Dental data: A neanderthal's tooth has shown scientists that they ate a lot more vegetables than originally thoughtDental data: A neanderthal’s tooth has shown scientists that they ate a lot more vegetables than originally thought 

Neanderthals are thought to have migrated from Africa between 300,000 to 400,000 years ago. They were followed 70,000 years ago by Homo Sapiens, but around 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals died out – the exact reason for which remains a mystery.

Excavations carried out as part of the Gibraltar Caves Project had revealed that seafood figured in the Neanderthal diet.

Hearth embers, shells, animal bones and the remains of marine species were found in the Gorham and Vanguard caves, on Gibraltar’s eastern flank, by an international team of scientists led by Chris Stringer from London’s Natural History Museum and Clive Finlayson from the Gibraltar Museum.

An impression of the Neanderthals’ coastal foraging habits and diet was provided by the discovery of fossiled bones and shells from dolphins, monk seals and mussels alongside the more expected bear, ibex, red deer and wild boar.

Many of the bones showed signs of damage from cutting and peeling, and the mussels were apparently warmed on a fire to open them up.

Earlier this week, scientists revealed a new variety of humans called Denisovans lived alongside Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals.

The cavemen were identified from DNA taken from a tooth and finger bone found in a cave in Siberia.

It was found in the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia in 2008 alongside ornaments and jewellery.

Provisional tests published earlier this year suggested that the remains belonged to an entirely new species.

The Denisovans were physically different from the thickset Neanderthals and modern humans, although they also walked upright.

Did man come out of Israel? panel

Cretan Tools Point To 130,000-Year-Old Sea Travel

January 7, 2011

by The Associated Press/via NPR, original article here

ATHENS, Greece January 3, 2011, 04:10 pm ET

Archaeologists on the island of Crete have discovered what may be evidence of one of the world’s first sea voyages by human ancestors, the Greek Culture Ministry said Monday. A ministry statement said experts from Greece and the U.S. have found rough axes and other tools thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old close to shelters on the island’s south coast.

Crete has been separated from the mainland for about five million years, so whoever made the tools must have traveled there by sea (a distance of at least 40 miles). That would upset the current view that human ancestors migrated to Europe from Africa by land alone.

“The results of the survey not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids’ cognitive abilities,” the ministry statement said.

The previous earliest evidence of open-sea travel in Greece dates back 11,000 years (worldwide, about 60,000 years — although considerably earlier dates have been proposed).


The tools were found during a survey of caves and rock shelters near the village of Plakias by archaeologists from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Culture Ministry.

Such rough stone implements are associated with Heidelberg Man and Homo Erectus, extinct precursors of the modern human race, which evolved from Africa about 200,000 years ago.

“Up to now we had no proof of Early Stone Age presence on Crete,” said senior ministry archaeologist Maria Vlazaki, who was not involved in the survey. She said it was unclear where the hominids had sailed from, or whether the settlements were permanent.


“They may have come from Africa or from the east,” she said. “Future study should help.”

The team of archaeologists has applied for permission to conduct a more thorough excavation of the area, which Greek authorities are expected to approve later this year.

Russian trawler safely escorted to ice free waters from hummock ice trap

January 5, 2011

Original article here

VLADIVOSTOK, January 5 (Itar-Tass) – An operation to rescue the Mys Yelizavety trawler from a trap in hummocked ice in the Sakhalin Bay has reached a successful completion in the Sea of Okhotsk.

The Admiral Makarov icebreaker that took the Mys Yelizavety to the clear waters is now moving at full tilt to help the icebreaker Magadan, which took part in the escorting effort but got stuck in the ice itself, spokespeople for the Far-Eastern Shipping Line told Itar-Tass.

The Mys Yelizavety got to the ice-free water area at 12:00 hours sharp Vladivostok time.

Given that the Magadan, too, has stuck in the thick ice filling the spaces of the Sakhalin Bay, the number of ships drifting amid ice floes towards the shore has again increased to five.

A total of three ships – the Sodruzhetsvo floating factory, the Bereg Nadezhny refrigerating ship, and the Professor Kizivetter, all of them registered in the port of Vladivostok – found themselves stranded in the ice December 30. They are located at a distance of eleven to twelve nautical miles away from Sakhalin’s shore.

One more ship, the Anton Gurin trawler registered in St Petersburg, joined the trapped ships January 3.

The Magadan, a port area icebreaker, has the technical characteristics largely inferior to those of the Admiral Makarov. It has a length of 88 meters and a capacity of 13,000 horse-powers.

The Admiral Makarov has the length of 135 meters and the capacity for 12,000 horse-powers.

Prior to the latter ship’s arrival, the Magadan’s crew had been doing its best to get to the stranded crews but could not reach them closer than at a distance of 3 miles.

A mass of ice floes has been driven into the Sakhalin Bay by northern winds.

The ice is covered with hummocks and its thickness reaches 2 meters in some spots.

The total number of seamen trapped by the ice at present stands at around 500. The Sodruzhestvo floating factory has the largest crew of 340 persons.

The crew of the Mys Yelizavety, which has been rescued from the icy captivity, has a 78-strong crew.


Russia to build nuclear-powered icebreaker for Arctic region

January 4, 2011

(Xinhua via, 26 December 2010) — Moscow – Russia will build a nuclear-powered icebreaker for use during winters in the country’s western Arctic region. The money earned through selling a stake in Sovcomflot, Russia’s largest shipbuilding company, will not go to state coffers but will be spent on building a new-generation nuclear-powered icebreaker, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said, according to Xinhua. The construction of the icebreaker, whose speed would reach 37 km per hour, will be completed in five years, he said. Russia’s Federal Atomic Agency, Rosatom, is currently waiting for a go-ahead for the project scheduled for 2011. Some officials, however, said that more analyses of the project’s cost were needed, because the project’s expense exceeded the initially estimated cost. The icebreaker will be used for work in the western Arctic, including Barents Sea, Pechora Sea and Kara Sea.

Original article here