Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Scott Expedition": Coming Home

The boys in the Antarctic, Ben and Tarka, have been there and got the South Pole "T" shirt and are now high-tailin' it home.

In this case "high-tailin'" means over another month of beatin' it back to McMurdo Base in order to take the series of flights necessary to get them reunited for a belated Christmas and some well-needed heart-to-heart's with their families, friends and sponsors in Great Britain.

They've been on their way back for a couple of weeks (and believe me the turn around was NOT uneventful - see below) and we've substantially updated the Offroading Home Google Earth Antarctica Resource File. [Offroading Home has developed an extensive Google Earth Resource File which brings all the meaningful resources together all in one place and it's available free: Antarctica Resource File]

First, the new file enhancements:

File Housekeeping

As is best practice on a trail this long, we've split the GPS track into two portions now: "There, and" and "Back Again" containing the trail to the pole and back from the pole, respectively. The first portion has been moved into the permanent file inside the "Trails - Historical Expeditions" folder along-side Scott's, Amundsen's and Shackleton's trails. After all, a couple months from now and this will be "historical" too.

Additionally, this way the entire thing doesn't need to be RE-uploaded every 30 minutes when the link is updated. All the waypoints have been treated similarly and placed in their own folder. That way as all the camp sites start to overlap you can merely uncheck the box and turn the old ones off – something I wish the Scott Team would get around to doing with their own file.

And speaking of getting confusing, we've had to kloodge up some of the styling in order to prevent the old trail on the official site (which has NOT been split or re-colored) from completely over-powering the new trail and campsites.

New Cache Waypoints

Many have asked where they have been leaving cache's of food and supplies along the way. Their refusal to give out anything more than "in due time" (right out of "Yes Minister") upset some readers. Well now Ben has "let slip" the location (sort of) of two caches before he reached them.

In celebration of this new "openness" we have created NEW CACHE ICONS. Ben said they had marked their mid-plateau cache with an extra ski stuck in the ground having a streamer attached. Well so did we. The new icon is actually a tiny photograph of their actual ski stuck in the ground (with a photoshopped streamer attached.)

Look for them.

A Little Closer Tracking

Right under the "Current Trail" link you'll see a new folder: "Track Timings." That's an interesting collection of points (time consuming to generate but interesting) which merely add visibility to all the hourly track-points the expedition publishes.

They are not visible by default, but if you want to see them check the box to the left of their name. Once on, you'll see tiny diamonds along the trail which are hoverable with your cursor. Doing so will pop-up the time and date that the track-point was added. What can you do with it?

As they should all be an hour apart, you can get an overview of the variable distances they've traveled in that hour - perhaps due to troublesome terrain. You can see when they stop for the night because the hourly "pings" all begin bunching up.

You can tell what time they started moving during the day and when they stopped for the night. I've also been able to see that on occasion the GPS "pings" skip a beat and miss an hour. At the pole, the duo had left their "high-powered" tracker behind at a cache and were using a mobile device which was extremely intermittent, possibly (as we have not yet been told) due to battery issues.

The MODIS Ice Overlay

This is a satellite imaging overlay which was added earlier BUT which has become very useful as they have traveled over the plateau. Having it turned on and watching their GPS "dot" move along is highly entertaining. Even though the satellite is thousands of miles away, you can see enough detail to watch them walk around "dark spots" - I assume lower and higher areas or possibly colder/warmer.

It's not going to be too useful while they are going down the Beardmore Glacier, because there it's all dark, but it'll be interesting to watch again when they reach the Ross Ice Sheet.

Enhanced Feature Labels

As Ben and others have mentioned place names in their posts, I've set waypoints for them. Not so much that I'll ever use them in my travels, but so that they can have a dot and a label on Google Earth!

Additionally, I got weary of manually zooming in and zooming back out again so I set up some clickable "look at" waypoints to do it automatically. They are the tiny camera icons you see along-side the trail. The purple ones take you in and tilt your point of view and the red ones reset you back out again.

The South Poles (all of 'em)

There are many South Poles and they keep moving all the time. In this new folder you'll find points for the Geologic South Pole, the Magnetic South Pole and the Geomagnetic South Pole. AND, as far as they are known, the many measurements over the years of each of them to see how they've moved around.

You can see that even Scott made an original measurement of the magnetic south pole back during his expeditions.

Auroral Activity

We haven't had occasion to use this much to date - because it's summer and the flippin' sun never goes down! I didn't realize it when I took the trouble to add this to the resource file, but apparently even the aurora can't be seen when the sun is out.

Turning on this overlay will bring up a very interesting (and almost real-time) display of the current ionization situation. The deeper red the ring gets, the exponentially more ionization there is in the atmosphere - hence greater aurora sightings.

The one thing that I did notice was that while they were running up to touch the pole (and keep from letting their tongue get stuck) the upper atmosphere was going wild with sun-induced electromagnetic activity. If they could have seen it, I bet it would have been grand!

Amundson-Scott South Pole Base

I began working on a "map" (of sorts) to include in the resource file which displayed all the many buildings and areas that exist now at the pole. They've replaced the old main building with a bran-spankin' new one on stilts - to allow the near constant wind to blow snow under it instead of piling on top of it.

There are telescopes and gamma-ray detectors and airport terminals and research antennas galore - in addition to all the support buildings like machine shops, cafeterias, "summer camps" for visitors and recreation halls.

I even had help from a fellow who spent a long time working at the pole and had maps! BUT, and it's a BIG BUT, Google Earth (as we all know) goes completely WILD at the poles - both of them. It has MAJOR bugs and issues; which, to date, Google hasn't felt any need to devote much time solving.

I thought I could force waypoints and lines, despite all the bugs, by hand-drawing them; but, it took over 40 hours of frustrating tinkering to even begin to get things to look right.

I did get some of the major buildings in relatively the right places, along with all the restricted areas and Ski-way. And you can see Ben and Tarka's route through the base (as dummied-down as hourly trackpoints makes it). Unfortunately, it wasn't in time for their actual visit.

If you'd like to see what their trail looks like now, click and open the "SP Base" folder to turn it on and see the various labels. Double-click the Area, Base or Station View icons to zoom visually into the various levels.

Those are the new additions to the Offroading Home Antarctica Resource Map. Hope you find them useful.

Now, the continued saga:

The Penultimate Reality-show

We're so used to the continual fake whining and hype in television programs these days about how "dangerous this is," "one step and they could die," "this could kill them," "they could be maimed for life" yadda, yadda, yadda! It gets so bad that the whining is beyond tolerance and I freely use my TIVO "skip forward" button many times in one show.

The problem is, that this little adventure in Antarctica really DID nearly kill them! It's a story that needs some "ponderin'" before it's ready for the telling; but, as far as I've been able to put it all together, sufficeth it to say for now that a bit of hubris seemed to have gotten caloric needs under-calculated, abilities over-estimated and food over cached; macho-ism kept them stoic and silent about it; worry (panic?) and near-starvation made them try to over-reach the too-far-distant cache site; and lack of openness kept it out of the blog (and even possibly from their command and control back in Great Britain).

It's doubtful that those of us who "don't need to know" ever will know the full story but followers of the blog one moment read the all-too-often claimed: "they're fine and taking an administrative day" blog post from their team... right before we saw a photo of the "rescue plane" and an apology that they had needed an emergency food drop! First Ben and then a couple of days later Tarka.

Apparently, it took many days of short rations to reach their debilitated state and by then weren't thinking to clearly. Ben wrote that he diagnosed himself with hypo-thermia and barely (or didn't) even remember Tarka seeing to it that he got into his bag and had a hot drink! A couple days later, Ben needed to help Tarka with early stages of hypothermia, malnutrition and exhaustion as well.

We're still left to fill in for ourselves many major blank areas about how it all came down, but: somehow they realized and admitted to themselves they couldn't make it to the cache, Andy (the expedition manager) got involved, a ski-plane landed with several days of extra food, they "rested" at the same camp for an extra day and now are underway "home."

Frankly, if this doesn't fit the term "Offroading Home" I don't know what else does! They are now nearing the second homeward cache of food (which they've told us about) and are almost poised for the descent down the Beardmore Glacier and onto the Ross Ice Sheet.

Let's hope the rest of the journey is less eventful, safe and more transparent. We wish them a speedy and safe conclusion to their expedition. We'll continue to follow and intend to keep this resource available on the web for others to use as an Antarctic resource.

[Available free: Antarctica Resource File]


kev wilson said...

I've read your comments on the Scott expedition blog and I've also downloaded the resource file, must say it's excellent. As ever I have a question and I know that if I ask this on the Scott blog then I will be shot down, hung, drawn and quartered etc.. The question is about the way points. I counted the way points on google earth yesterday (Day 82) as Ben said in his blog that they skied for 9.5 hours. But when I counted the way points including where they pitched camp there were 12, so that's 12 hours of skiing and that is also confirmed with the times on the way points. So which is correct? Ben with 9.5 hours or the way points with 12?

D J said...

@kev Wilson ... Like scientists say "data doesn't lie" - it's the interpretation or presentation that can mislead. I too have seen the phenomenon that you reference on the Scott Blog, I'll offer this forum for those not seeing the expedition as a daytime soap-box drama and have serious questions, concerns or comments.

There are a few very odd occurrences with the Scott Expedition track. I've seen that it can be manually modified somewhere along the path from the GPS unit to the Pilot to the KML file. In addition, I have not ever seen the seemingly non-random matrix pattern during station keeping anywhere before in the hundreds of trails that I've published. Which is a reason that I've begun studying the track more closely and placed the hourly trackpoints where Google Earth will display them instead of hiding them. All that said, the actual moving track seems reasonable to me and most likely actual trackpoints; and, for the most part, the distances make sense. I've actually sat here with my computer refreshing every 30 seconds and watched the track be updated to the point that I know the times when they are updated (every hour). So, the distance traveled between trackpoint IS the miles per hour.

The "team" has, to date, absolutely refused to disclose what they consider technical aspects of their expedition and has actively discouraged questions of that nature in the public forum. And, you are correct, I doubt that questioning their travel time on their blog would be well received.

As I've stated in several of the "Ed Note's" there is clear evidence of substantial active movement (translation along the earth) for all TWELVE hours - these are not my coordinates, they are the ones in the Scott Expedition trail file. We don't count night time "station-keeping" in which the distances are given in yards, only those with an obvious delta. Even figuring that the first and the last hours can be partial - that, at minimum, would leave 11 hours of movement. The only thing that might make sense is that Ben and Tarka are subtracting the time for all their rest stops and lunch. Until such time as they decide to release such description - we can only guess. Which is what I... and you... have done.

kev wilson said...

I read your comment about do less and increase the calories.
It might seem obvious but that is exactly what they should be doing, decreasing the mileage. Going for the high mileage is admirable and looks good on a blog for the ordinary followers but at what cost. I think we have already seen the cost of terrible planning, sledge far too heavy to pull for the first few days, the body suffering and the negative blog. But the alternative plan was to dump as much as possible very early on which included a lot of rations, so then we see the dramatic mileage increase. They didn't really have much choice because if they gave up or failed then it would have been the end for someone's polar career.

I would be very interested to hear your theory about the South pole saga as I find it very strange that dramatic mileage (near McMurdo) and even more mileage at the south pole (both populated areas) where they were spirited away from the pole to their tent in the blink of an eye.

kev wilson said...

One quick question. Earlier today when they were at about 9 miles on google earth the way points were not there but the red trail and markers were. Is that usual?

D J said...

@Kev... I think you can read into the comment I left my concern that (as much as they like to say there's been intensive planning and high level consultants) some very basic and critical aspects have not been addressed! Frankly, I worry for their safety and well being. The unfortunate thing, from my way of thinking, is the absolute secrecy and the active avoidance of specific verifiable data given on their public forums. I honestly can NOT envision a rationale for such action that doesn't involve some aspect of dishonesty; and I'm terribly surprised that they would leave such things to public conjecture - which as we all know too well, is difficult to correct and/or stop once it gets started.

I've never publicly conjectured about the large gaps in trackpoints. I have my suspicions that it had to do with batteries and or recharging. Why, as they claim, they lost their entire GPS track from their hand-held I can't fathom either. Crap happens, accidents happen, and even mistakes. Why an explanation is considered beyond them, is anyone's guess. I personally doubt there were rides from anyone in the scenario - can't believe they would let themselves become so debilitated and need to call in a plane if they had access to such transportation. However, "the Team" are SO sensitive about the topic - it truly makes one "think they doth protest too much."

Your other comment about markers: The "resource file" that I produce is just that - a resource. It's meant to be an addition to what "the team" produce. Obviously, THEY are the one's who control data acquisition and display and the ones with the ability to do any automations. Therefore: my files are only meant to provide reference, and lately a bit of explanation and commentary, with the idea that they are updated a couple of times a day. However, while I'm sitting at my computer, I've got my machine set to "refresh" their site every 60 seconds so I notice changes immediately and have been updating my files ALMOST real-time. As such, the last few weeks, while I've been trying to determine the specifics that they have so far refused to make public, I've been staying up till way after midnight and the blog has posted in order to verify timings. I do have to sleep some time, so perhaps the time you were referencing was before I awoke and did the morning update - all the time zones considered.

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