Voyage to the bottom of the sea

While some very wealthy people attempt to become astronauts, and move towards colonising other planets, presumably so that we can mess up climate change there as well, some people with money do useful things, like the Gates Foundation, and the people behind “Five Deeps”

An American explorer, Victor Vescovo, has become the first person to reach the deepest point in every sea in the world.

Reaching the Deep

DSSV with smaller DSV

The first dive being in December 2018 reaching almost five miles down in the Puerto Rico trench, in the Atlantic Ocean. Vescovo also reached the deepest place on earth, the Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean, at 10,925 m (35K feet) it is deeper than Mount Everest is high. Mind you, Vescovo has also climbed Everest, so that’s also a first.

DSV – Easy, just hop on board

The “Five Deeps” programme, was on a mission to reach all five of the deepest points in the world’s five oceans. The final dive was August 2019, reaching 18,209 feet (5.5km) down in the Molloy Trench, the deepest point of the Arctic Ocean.

FIVE Oceans you say….

The dives were made possible by developing a Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) called “Limiting Factor”. This $48m (£38m) submarine enabled these intrepid explorers to complete the “Five Deeps”, and was funded by Vescovo, a wall street trader and founder of US private equity firm Insight Equity Holdings.

DSV waiting to be seen

The research vessel that reached these locations, was the “Pressure Drop”, able to map depths 36,000 feet (nearly 11km), the DSSV mapped the seafloor as it traversed the five oceans. he bathymetric (depth) data covers roughly 300,000 square km – an area equivalent to Italy. This data is being donated to the international project that seeks to chart the entire global ocean floor by 2030.

Keep to the right

As well as that exceptional data , the expedition has demonstrated the capability of the latest deep-sea technology and future activities are underway. Human endeavour and sharing knowledge, versus rich boys in rockets! Let me think which is the greater endeavour.

Sky Pool soaks up the sunshine

Sky Pool Rooftop View

The newly installed Sky Pool at Embassy Gardens, Nine Elms in London, is a striking and innovative design. At first view it’s childishly exciting to look at and reminds you of something futuristic. As a design it is stunning, a huge acrylic structure holding glimmering blue water 35 metres up in the air. It spans 15 metres between two buildings with a roof top deck for access. Have a look at these short videos, the technical perspective and the vertiginous drone footage.

Sky Pool RoofTop and Walkway View

While it has become controversial, with the idea that it’s an obscene travesty of wealth flaunting over a relatively working class area of London, maybe the real criticism should go further. As an awe-inducing spectacle shouldn’t they add a wave machine, and a glass waterslide plummeting vertically to the ground? I’m not sure I would really want to actually swim the gap, given the unlikely possibility of being invited. But if I did, I would want to do it soon. This is England mate, not Australia. Soon the water will look as grimy as the neighbour it overlooks, the river Thames. It will get cold and grey and be shut for days for maintenance, and then when you do get in there will be a sticking plaster floating in the water. It probably won’t even be there for long, being replaced with something less maintenance heavy, like a garden.

The robots are coming…

Decades ago I read sci-fi book that had automated machines farming the otherwise deserted countryside. The first stages of automation are now happening in the UK countryside.

Robotti

A vegetable grower in Suffolk has just taken delivery of a Robotti 150D, from the Danish manufacturer Agrointelli though to be fair it sounds more Italian!

However if you’re imagining some giant tractor dwarfing the small hedgerows of Sussex think again. It might be the first robotic tractor that is fully operational in the UK, but the machine while sophisticated, is simply undertaking mechanical weeding.

Robotti Weeding

There are advantages to that. Manual weeding is repetitive work, and with it being seasonal work, overseas labour increasingly difficult to find. As the robot can work constantly, it can be more effective, moving the soil so that weeds find it hard to gain a footing, not just removing the weeds that are there.

The clever bit is the GPS technology and the robotics, with mapping the farm out so that the robot can follow the exact same pathway, and with sensors so that it can respond to any changes. You can imagine future illustrated children’s books with the Robot stopping for Mr Fox crossing the field, or halting by a fallen tree. All clever stuff unless the network goes down.

Every picture tells a story…

The Sony Photographer of the year award provides a plethora of images and diverse categories to enjoy be they Landscape, Environment, Portrait etc. The winners have just been announced but here’s my selection of fascinating images, captured by skilled photographers, well worth a view.

My Favourites

from the Sony Photography Awards 2021

I was very taken with the other-worldly landscape of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, by Fyodor Savintsev

Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, by Fyodor Savintsev

Really loved the images from Anas Alkharboutli “Sport and Fun instead of War and Fear”, depicting Wasim Satot’s karate school in the Syrian village of Aljiina, near the city of Aleppo. Absolute magic.

Anas Alkharboutli, Syria

The stunning pictures of Iceland by Simone Tramonte are just inspired.

Iceland, Simone Tramonte

Finally, “Drying Fish” is just mesmerising, by Khanh Phan, set among the rooftops of Vietnam.

Rooftops Vietnam, by Khanh Phan

Cargo Ship goes off-course.

Container ports and giant cargo ships are modern icons of the age. Along with giant cruise ships we are both a little in awe of their leviathan scale and at the same time don’t really understand how they work.

And for most of the time we don’t really need do, they are just one of those facets of live that happen around us and carry on regardless.

Left a bit, oh I meant the other left…

Except when they don’t. So it is that the Evergiven, a huge cargo ship has managed to be blown off-course and block the narrow waterways of the all-important Suez Canal.

A bit more your way…

It almost defies belief that a giant cargo ship can be nudged off-course, and in most circumstances it would probably not have much of an impact,. Unfortunately this happened in the busy trade waterways of the Suez Canal and now the vessel has been stuck for several days, blocking the waterway for all other ships and traders.  Of course at 400m-long (1,312ft), the length of four football pitches, and 200,000 tonnes, it is not a case of a few men pushing it back on track or a tug boat giving it a nudge!

There’s big, then extra big!

The thrill of MARS Exploration

We can all see the Moon, which makes our landing and travels to space so understandable, and also extra-ordinary. Usually we can see Mars as well, that twinkling red planet, caused by iron oxide on the surface, that because of its visibility suggests it is within reach of human exploration, and at the same time confounds us with the ingenuity, resources and bravery needed to reach for the planets.

Mars from the UAE mission

NASA has just landed, yet again, on Mars in February 2021. The latest rover called “Perseverance” (aka “Percy”) is full of latest technology, including an “helicopter” or drone-type thing, that may be able to take flight from its rover base later in the exploration.  Being English and parochial, success is partly due to the parachute being made in England! And hey, those hieroglyphics were intended, not some fake Mars mystery!  Of course getting to Mars isn’t new, since the US orbited Mars for the first time in the 1960’s, Mars has been visited by the European Space Agency and the seminal 2014 exploration by the Indian Space Agency. But in February 2021, while the world is still gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, it seems travel to Mars is even more popular.

First image from NASA’s Peseverance

The UAE’s first spaceship to Mars, “Hope”, is intended to orbit around Mars, showing both close up views as well as the full planet. “Hope” arrived first in early February and started returning fabulous views of the red planet.  China has also reached Mars for the first time, with its Tianwen-1 spacecraft reaching orbit around Mars, a day after the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission. Tianwen-1 had left Earth last July (same time as the UAE spaceship departed) and has been travelling since. While currently in orbit, it too has a rover vehicle that will be sent down to Mars to explore. For China this follows its historic launch to land on the Moon to retrieve rock and soil samples in December 2020.

Easy bit of Planning…and then it just LANDS.

Our science and technology has developed since the first flights to Mars, so the science and technology that will be returned from these Mars explorations will be potentially enormous. Hurrah for human ingenuity!

Around the world…

The Vendee Globe is just about to be completed by the winning boats, a round the world, single-handed, yacht race. Meanwhile of the thirty-three skippers who entered, eight have had to retire and the twenty-fifth boat is down near Cape Horn, while the winning boats compete to get to Les Sables d’Olonne, the west coast of France.

So imagine whatever you have been doing. Now do it in the cold. With the floor moving underneath you, not just up and down, but side-to-side. And in the wet. With howling winds. Possibly with waves that are battering your boat, in limited visibility and even in the dark. Any you’re probably cold and hungry. Sounds like the challenge of a lifetime to you? Not to me either, thanks very much.

“But, actually, the sort of sailing we are doing is about coping with adversity, it’s about being on your own and it’s about problem-solving.”

PIP HARE

That is why I am in absolute awe of these people challenging themselves. Pip Hare, is the leading women currently in the race, her boat Medallia, is somewhere off the coast of South America. What I truly love about Pip Hare is that she looks like she has turned up at the docks to wave her impressive daughter away on the journey, and her daughter has said “oh mum I’ve got something else to do, do you want to go, it’s all ready”. And she has replied “Yes”. Rather than an aggressive domineering racer, Pip Hare just seems to have rocked up and given it a try. Of course I know that is fanciful. But among all the atypical mega-athletes that are participating, Pip Hare is one who looks just like your mum.

The challenges of just getting your boat to pass through these challenging waters would, you think, be enough, what with being on your own for three months. But videos have shown Pip Hare pulling the rudder of her boat out of the water and fixing it, something normally done with lots of people and large bits of specialist kit, as well as scaling her mast to fix a problem, the mast is about 90m high and the boat is moving all this time. It only takes about an hour to get up the mast safely. So wherever they finish, whenever they finish, it is glorious. Thank you Vendee Globe for such a reminder of the human spirit in these troubled times.

La Tour, no, not Le Tour…

There’s an ever-changing landscape in the new city of Milton Keynes, which for residents is taken as de facto. In 1967 the new city arose from the existing towns of Bletchley, Stony Stratford and Wolverton and while the US-style grid roads with their endless roundabouts provoked ridicule, some fifty years later it is still possible to drive straight into the central shopping area of MK while driving past woodland, lakes and parks. Over these years of sometime frantic development, vast changes have been implemented in MK. The original design plans were viewed to reflect that there would be no building taller than the tallest tree. Of course, our trees have grown, but even so, over the years the planners and developers have moved this interpretation so that MK now has its share of tall buildings, or what are termed landmark buildings.

La Tour Development

Right now there are two monolithic concrete blocks that seem to over-shadow one end of the shopping centre and dominate the skyline over Campbell Park, towards views of the Grand Union Canal and countryside. Apparently the 14-floor concrete blocks, handily they are visibly numbered, are part of the new La Tour hotel which is due to open in 2022. This hotel and conference centre will have a fourteenth-floor sky bar and restaurant, roof terrace and a panoramic lift up to the 43-metre high top floor, where there will be a public viewing area with art installation, to be known as “SeeMK”. Meanwhile the adjacent MK Gallery also provides extensive views if the skyroom is open, as does just standing in Campbell Park!

There is a multi storey car park somewhere

Waiting in line for the next Hyperloop

You know that feeling when some technology comes creeping up behind you, like the internet, and then as it matures you look back and think “well I didn’t see that coming”. Well some precursors to the future do that, and some just roll right on in and say “hiya, watch this”. So it is with the evolving mega-fast transit system, the Hyperloop. Well not really a system, but you know what I mean.

First passengers aboard the Hyperloop.

The technology used is not new. Magnetic Levitiation (Maglev), has been around a while, but the technology used to propel passengers safely, and equally importantly, comfortably, is new and being developed by Virgin, and possibly Musk but in an underground way. The first passenger journey has just taken place at speeds of 107mph, well short of the envisaged 600mph journeys of the future.

While it heralds a compelling view of future fast mass-transit it also has challenges. Not least of which is probably that it would not be much use on our crowded island which is already burdened with dis-connected transport links.

Designing a Hyperloop Hub versus Actual test site

So it may be more cost effective and feasible in a larger country, or indeed in one of the fast developing future cities. Any bets on “Hyperloop Dubai” or  “Hyperloop Kazakhstan” being one of the first?

Faster than a speeding Godwit…

A remarkable natural story of the long-flying Godwit has hit the headlines recently, and rightly so.

Jet-Fighter Godwit

This remarkable bird has been tracked flying from its summer base in Alaska on a non-stop flight to NZ. All 7,500 miles across open ocean, without food, water or stopping.

The bar-tailed godwit 4BBRW (so called as its tagged with blue, blue, red, white tags on its legs) took eleven days to navigate from SW Alaska to a bay near Auckland, New Zealand, having flown at speeds up to 55mph. It’s since been joined by its chums, including 4BWWY, who could have done it quicker if it hadn’t been for those pesky metal tags on its leg!

This remarkable feat must surely be able to tell  scientists a lot about navigation, stamina, body adaptability, all sorts. Truly brilliant.