Towing Icebergs

Every year 20,000 to 40,000 icebergs are born out of glaciers in Greenland and carried away by the currents and into the North Atlantic where they threaten ships and oil installations off the coast of Newfoundland. An iceberg millions of tons in weight, don’t just bump into things – they slice through steel hulls and cause irreparable damage to offshore oil rigs. While a ship can alter course to avoid collision, an oil rig can only remain stationary watching in horror as a ten million-ton floating piece of ice approaches.

Instead, oil rigs hire independent ice management contractors whose job is to monitor movement of icebergs in the vicinity of the oil platform. When a particular iceberg is found to make a beeline for an offshore asset, its operators are alerted so that the rogue piece of ice can be towed out of harm’s way.

Towing an iceberg from a collision course with Hibernia oil platform. Photo by Randy Olson

After the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, after it hit a half-million-ton iceberg 400 miles south of Newfoundland, a consortium of North American and European nations established the International Ice Patrol (IIP) to prevent such tragedies. Using data from satellite and radar technology and airplane reconnaissance, IIP supplies information to the maritime community about potentially troublesome icebergs and lanes safe for travel. Ice management contractors use this data to identify those bergs that may be drifting into the danger area. When an iceberg is found to drift too close to a sea platform, anchor handling tug supply (AHTS) vessels are deployed to tow them away.

To round up an iceberg, the vessels uses polypropylene towropes eight inches in diameter, and up to 400 meters long a piece. The rope is attached to a buoy and the vessel goes around the iceberg staying within approximately 200 meters as the rope is played out. When the circling is complete the rope is attached to a tow cable three inch in diameter. Between 800 to 2,000 meters of open water is maintained between the vessel and the iceberg while it’s being towed. Icebergs can turn over when towed and some have hidden undersea projections that cause chaos when the bergs flip. And a flipping berg can generate large waves, which is why the vessels stay clear out of the iceberg during operation.

Because of the immense weight of the ice, towing can take up to three days and the vessel may need ten hours to reach a speed of just one knot. The icebergs aren’t towed all the way to safety; just pushed a sufficient distance so the current will carry it safely past the rig.

Towing vessels are also equipped with powerful water cannons to push away icebergs that can’t be towed. The Maersk Placentia tow boat has a water cannon that sprays 3,200 liters per hour through a five-inch nozzle at a force that can push the vessel back at three knots.

Iceberg towing is commonplace in the Arctic near oil rigs. Some ice management contractors has to regularly deal with 70 to 100 icebergs each year.

The MÆRSK TOPPER towing an iceberg out of the way of an offshore installation in the North Atlantic.

Workers prepare to “tow” an iceberg, lassoing it with enough force to move it out of the path of an oil platform.


The Deer Stones

Throughout the grasslands of northern Mongolia and southern Siberia lay scattered hundreds of megaliths bearing mysterious carvings that seems to depict flying reindeer. Known as deer stones, these upright stone slabs measure 3 to 15 feet tall and occur in small groups, or concentrated in larger groupings, often in association with stone burial mounds, called khirigsuur. There are over 900 deer stones in Central Asia and South Siberia, of which 700 are in Mongolia alone. These monumental features is believed to be erected by Bronze Age nomads, approximately 3000 years ago.

Deer stones are usually constructed from granite or greenstone, depending on which is the most abundant in the surrounding area. Reindeer feature prominently in nearly all of the deer stones. Early stones have very simple images of reindeer, and as time progresses, the designs increase in detail. A gap of 500 years results in the appearance of the complicated flying reindeer depiction. Reindeer are depicted as flying through the air, rather than merely running on land. Sometimes the reindeer hold a sun disc or other sun-related image in their antlers.

Reindeer and the sun is a very common association in Siberian shamanism. Tattoos on buried warriors contain deer tattoos, featuring antlers embellished with small birds' heads. This reindeer-sun-bird imagery perhaps symbolizes the shaman's spiritual transformation from the earth to the sky: the passage from earthly life to heavenly life. As these deer images also appear in warrior tattoos, it is possible that reindeer were believed to offer protection from dangerous forces. Another theory is that the deer spirit served as a guide to assist the warrior soul to heaven.


The World’s Longest Tree-Lined Avenue

The Cedar Avenue of Nikko, in the city of Nikko in Japan, stretches for 37 km and lined on either side by some 13,000 cedar trees, known as Sugi. The street is listed in "The Guinness Book of World Records" as the longest tree-lined avenue in the world, and was created almost 400 years ago.

The trees were planted over a period of 20 years beginning in 1625 as an approach to Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine by Matsudaira Masatsuna, a feudal lord serving Tokugawa Ieyasu. After Tokugawa Ieyasu death in 1616, Masatsuna Matsudaira undertook the construction of Nikko Toshogu shrine, and he began to plant Japanese cedar trees along the main roads leading to Nikko. It is estimated that some 200,000 cedars were planted on this occasion. Large-scale felling for road construction and the relentless exposure to vehicle exhaust has damaged the trees reducing their numbers to just 13,000 today.

Back in the Edo Period, the Cedar Avenue used to be under the control of the Nikko Bugyo (Magistrate), and was well cared for. Whenever withered or uprooted cedar trees were discovered, village officials were obliged to notify the magistrate's office. Damaged trees could only be felled after it was permitted by the officer of the Magistrate, and it was mandatory to plant seedlings in the empty plots of land where the trees had been removed. At the same time, the villages along the road were responsible for road repair, weeding, and for keeping the entire Cedar Avenue clean, and so forth.

With the modernization policies of the Meiji Government, civil engineering work came to be carried out nationwide. During this period, thousands of trees were felled for road maintenance. Furthermore, plans were drawn up to implement the full-scale logging of the Cedar Avenue for the purpose of financial reconstruction, but this was fortunately evaded.

Today, the Cedar Avenue of Nikkō is a cultural property and the only one designated by the Japanese Government as both a Special Historic Site and a Special Natural Monument.


Totem Pole Tasmania - A Best Challenge for Climbers

Tasmania is an island state, part of the Commonwealth of Australia, and is located around 150 miles from the southern side of the Australian continent. This beautiful island is widely known for its natural environment, and is promoted as the ‘Island of Inspiration’, as about 45% of the island is made up of natural parks, reserves and World Heritage sites.

Among the natural beauties Tasmania has to offer, there is a wonder of nature that has been suitable named The Totem Pole, which is part of the Tasman National Park. Located at Cape Huay, this amazing structure is a coastal stack, or sea stack, which peeks at the edge of the Tasmanian coast. Its 65 meter (~213 feet) height makes it a tempting attraction for climbers all over the world.

From a geological viewpoint, a sea stack is a form that is defined by steep and mostly vertical columns of rock that have been eroded by the winds and waves that have basically become isolated from the coast. As amazing as coast stacks are, they are not a permanent feature in the landscape, as in time, erosion causes them to eventually collapse. What makes the Totem Pole so special is the fact the geologists estimate that it has been standing tall for roughly about a hundred years.

Considering the erosion that the base of the Totem Pole is subjected to, due to the constant action of the waves, some might consider the fact that it is standing at all to be a miracle of nature. With a diameter of only 4 meters (13 feet), the Totem should have collapsed ages ago, which makes it a climber’s dream come true. Despite the fact that the Pole is at risk of collapsing any second and is notoriously hard to climb, many climbers accept the challenge it represents and document their attempts at conquering this unique beauty of nature.

The Totem Pole is likely most famous for the accident that changed climber Paul Pritchard‘s life, in February 1998. The British climber was hit by a boulder while attempting to go up the infamous sea stack, an accident that caused hemiplegia, which robbed him of the ability to feel movement on his right side, impairing his speech and memory. While he went on to write three books about his ordeal, the Totem Pole remains on the bucket list of many experienced and professional climbers.


Crows Build Nest Out of Coat Hangers

When Aesop wrote the famous fable “The Crow and the Pitcher”, he wasn’t making up a story. The fable was based on actual observation that was confirmed by recent scientific studies that found that crows, indeed, do just the same as the crow in the fable when presented with a similar situation. Crows are remarkably intelligent creatures who demonstrate complex skills like the ability to manufacture and use tools, remember human faces, and use individual experience to predict, plan and adapt to their environment. Crows are found to bend wires into hooks to acquire hard to reach food, crack open walnuts by dropping them into pavements from a height, and even memorize the schedule of the garbage truck so that could pick up some tasty morsels.

Food isn’t the only motivation factor that drive crows to adaptability. Crows also demonstrate intelligence when building nests, using whatever materials that are available to construct them. A typical nest is composed of interlocking twigs, often recycled from the old nest, and pieces of wires of various lengths and thickness, gathered from the surrounding, to strengthen the nest structure. Tokyo residents have observed that crows in the city have learned to use coat hangers instead.

In such a large city, there are few trees, so the natural materials that crows need to make their nests are scarce. As a result, the crows will often steal hangers from the people who live in apartments nearby, and carefully assemble them into intricate nests. The completed nests almost look like works of art.

Nests built from hangers were also discovered in other Japanese cities. In Fukuoka City, the Jungle Crow would often make nests atop power lines during the breeding season that could cause large blackouts due to short circuiting. The Kyushu Electric power company actually has "crow patrols" that search out and destroy hanger nests on their power grid.