Saturday, 13 June 2009

Bouvetøya: the most remote island on earth

Bouvet Island (Bouvetøya ), an uninhabited and small Norwegian island in the South Atlantic Ocean, is the most remote spot on earth. The nearest land is over 1600 km away to the south, which itself has no fixed population, and is inhabited only with a small Nordic crew to run the all-year research station.

Bouvetøya lies some 1600 km south west of the Cape of Good Hope, on the southern extremity of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, at 54°26'S 3°24'E. Bouvet island is volcanic, the center of the island containing the ice-filled crater of an inactive volcano. Most of Bouvetøya is blanketed in a thick ice cap of at least 100 m in thickness , and 93% of its 49 km² area are covered by glaciers which block the south and east coasts.

It has no ports or harbours, only offshore anchorages, and is therefore difficult to approach. Wave action has created a very steep coast. Cliffs as high as 500 m surround the island. Small beaches composed of black volcanic sand or shingle are found on the eastern side of the island. The easiest way to access it is with a helicopter from a ship. So you see, the ideal hiding place ...

A temporary five-man station was established in 1978, but was destroyed by strong winds. Only an automatic weather station continues to operate, now and then visited by a maintenance crew.

Penguins and seals have breeding colonies on Bouvet beaches. Large seabird colonies also frequent the island.

NASA astronaut Charles "Chuck" Brady visited the island in 2000. The best photos of the expedition are here.

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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Global Seed Vault : well worth its cost

Situated on a remote island in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, the Global Seed Vault sits at the end of a 120-meter tunnel cut into rock with a natural temperature of -6°C, into Arctic permafrost.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will protect unique varieties of food staples such as eggplant, lettuce, barley, potato, maize, rice, wheat, cowpea and sorghum.

It is able to withstand wars, pestilence and attack by missiles, not to mention rising tides and other by-products of global warming.

Every nation has been invited by the Norwegian government (who financed the project) to place its seeds in this vault. It's the last line of defence against extinction for all the crops we have, and the most long-lasting, most futuristic and most positive contribution to humanity being made by the international community today.

Each country's seeds will be stored inside heat-sealed, four-ply aluminium envelopes originally designed for use by the military, placed inside sealed boxes, stored on metal shelving and secured inside an air-locked chamber. Each packet will hold one representative crop sample, and about 500 seeds depending on their size. They will remain the property of the country that donated them.

1 - Entrance
2 - steel reinforced tunnel
3 - offices
4 - grain vaults

Steel-reinforced doors, multiple-locked chambers and a video-monitoring system supervised from Sweden – plus, presumably, the polar bears – will further protect the vault. Even in the event of equipment failure, the mountain’s permafrost will ensure temperatures inside the vault never rise above -3.5C – perfectly adequate for seed conservation for some years.

Other crops are on the danger list as being susceptible to disease. 'The ones that have the biggest challenges are bananas, wheat and potatoes. Potatoes are perennially on the list.'