When one thinks Arctic landscape, one usually visualizes serene endless tundra or boreal forest with snow covered trees! There’s a section of that austere boreal forest in Inuvik that has five dormant satellite receivers that look alien to the habitat and have been ready for use since 2016.
The satellite receivers were built by Norway’s Kongsberg Satellite Services and American satellite company Planet Lab. Over 18 months ago the application process for federal licensing commenced and since has been caught up in government red tape. The anticipated turnaround was six months.
Going into the application process, both companies expected a turnaround of about 180 days. Word surfaced last week that the licenses were finally approved though no formal announcement has been made. Global Affairs Canada, needs to approve an auxiliary license under Canada’s Remote Sensing Space Systems Act. Until this happens the dishes cannot be activated. Since these installations are integral to a remote sensing space system they need approval from the two agencies.
Inoperable Invuk Satellite receivers constructed two years ago are unused due to one federal license still needing approval. Rolf Skatteboe photo.
President and CEO of Kongsberg Satellite Services, Rolf Skatteboe, stated the license delays are costing his business money since he is unable to fulfill a contract with the European Space Agency.
“I’ve got the message … hey you’ve gotten the approvals now you can get started, which unfortunately isn’t true,” he said.
Global Affairs Canada apparently has cleared the department to “proceed in evaluating our application” according to Skatteboe.
“We still don’t know … when we will potentially get a license or not,” Skatteboe said. “That’s the most frustrating part.”
Planet Lab and Kongsberg have spent millions to build the installations at Inuvik Skatteboe values the single large antenna installation at around $6 million, and four of the smaller Planet Lab installations at roughly $8 million. The sixth antenna has received the licensing it needs since its use under the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act did not require review.
Kongsberg constructed its satellite installations in Inuvik prior to being issued a license since the building season in the North is so short and doesn’t allow for flexibility. The company didn’t anticipate delays of the magnitude that has occurred.
Skatteboe added Kongsberg contracted with the European Space Agency to utilize the Inuvik ground station in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) environmental Earth monitoring project named the Copernicus program.
A Kongsberg Satellite Services satellite station in Svalbard, Norway is one of 21 stations around the world and had very little resistance for permitting unlike what he has encountered in Canada according to company president and CEO Rolf Skatteboe. Rolf Skatteboe photo.
“[Kongsberg Satellite] has 21 ground stations around the world and they have all been licensed without any problems,” he said.
“So [Kongsberg] did not expect any problems related to approval to receive … data from an ESA satellite, an organization where Canada also is an associated member.”
“[Kongsberg Satellite] applied more than a year before the system was planned to be operational,” said Skatteboe.
The uncertainty surrounding when, or if, Kongsberg’s installations will ever be approved for use is the main concern.
“If Canada decided what we’re doing is a threat to national security, fine, I accept that,” he said.
“The frustrating part is that we haven’t gotten any feedback on the timescale for them to rule on this one.”
Global Affairs Canada, department spokesperson Brittany Venhola-Fletcher said in an email statement that, “Global Affairs Canada continues to work closely” with Kongsberg and Planet Labs to finalize and hopefully approve their licensing application.
The Global Seed Vault in Norway will undergo improvements. Getty Images photo.
Norway will make critical improvements to the Global Seed Vault located on Svalbard Island in the Arctic. Melting permafrost in an unusual Arctic summer caused water to enter the front section of the vault. No stored seeds were damaged though safeguards will be taken to prevent future incidents of risk.
The storage facility lies predominantly inside a mountain with consistent cool temperatures ideal for preserving seeds from around the world.
Ironically the protected storage facility stores seeds in case a country sustains a disaster of some sort that necessitates replanting of key vegetation and plants. Nobody anticipated that the facility would have its own near – disaster. Water from melting permafrost seeped into the entry tunnel though never made it further into the storage area.
Plans to waterproof the walls as well as install drainage ditches outside the vault entrance are underway to ensure the precious seeds are safe. Scientists describe the vault as the most important room in the world.
When the vault was constructed, the idea of permafrost melting this far north was unheard of. In a short period of time we have seen climate changes of an extreme measure. Last October temperatures rose from a normal of -10C to around 0 C…causing meltwater to appear.
The vault stores seeds from nearly 5,000 crop species from all over the planet. The dried and frozen specimens can be preserved for hundreds of years in the vault. Most countries on Earth have their own emergency supply of seeds though they also store back-ups at the Global Seed Vault.
Recently we reported on the deposit of 50,000 seeds into the “Doomsday Vault” on Svalbard Island in Norway. The vault is buried in the side of a snow packed mountainside and sealed to preserve the precious seeds that produce Earth’s food supply. In case of a catastrophic event jeopardizing our most fruitful plants and vegetables, these seeds are stored safely and can remain usable for nearly two centuries. The consistent cool temperatures resulting from the surrounding permafrost act as a built in refrigeration system.
Now, another similar storage system on the same island, Svalbard, is serving to protect the massive information files for humanity. The new “Digital Doomsday Vault” or Arctic World Archive, managed by Norwegian company Piql as well as a Norwegian coal mining company, will store data transferred to film for 1,000 years or more.
Global Doomsday seed vault on Svalbard Island. Global Crop Diversity Trust photo.
National Archives of Mexico and the National Archives of Brazil have sent data so far to be stored in the vault.The Brazilian constitution was one of the documents sent though the storage facility is open to any and all historic documents states Piql.
All data processed by Piql will be formatted to photosensitive film which is impossible to delete or manipulate and is able to resist heavy wear and tear. When data is stored in analog form the contents is protected from remote alteration or cyber attacks of any kind. Considered more future proof than digital, analog requires no special updates or codecs to read the information if some rest of catastrophic degree were to occur. As long as internet servers are functional all data will remain accessible online and digitally delivered or shipped by request of a user.
These film reels will be stored deep inside a permafrost encased abandoned mine with a consistent temperature of 0 degrees Celsius.
Photographers stationed outside the “Doomsday” seed vault in Svalbard at its opening in 2008. (AP Photo/John McConnico)
Having both the “Doomsday” seed vault and now, the “Doomsday” data vault on the same island, Svalbard, opens up discussion from critics on ease of terrorism or natural disaster implications. With the widespread and multi – level destabilization in our world today, these precious archives will help humans piece together a cultural puzzle should a catastrophe of mass proportions destroy large amounts of data.
Polarsteam during a research expedition in 2015. Mario Hoppmann photo.
Sir John Franklin and a few other early Arctic explorers would have been shocked at this announcement. Scientists are organizing one of the biggest research expeditions ever planned and the challenge is somewhat unconventional. Tentatively scheduled to sail in the summer of 2019, the 120 meter research vessel Polarsteam will spend a year drifting across the North Pole locked in sea ice. During the drift the crew of researchers from 50 institutions and 14 countries will try and discover trends leading to the dramatic climate changes we have been experiencing recently.
Camps will be set up on the ice surface and measurements and analysis data from expeditions will be taken in places not previously possible.
“The decline of Arctic sea ice is much faster than the climate models can reproduce and we need better climate models to make better predictions for the future,” said MOSAiC expedition co-leader Professor Markus Rex, at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) meeting. “There is a potential that in a few decades the Arctic will be ice-free in summer. That would be a different world and we need to know about that in advance; we need to know is that going to happen or will that not happen?”
Arctic research sailing ship Fram in 1894.
There was one 19th century expedition that attempted this same lofty goal of drifting across the north Pole. In 1893, the Fram, lead by Norwegian explorer Fridtjo Nansen, attempted to “naturally” drift across the pole while locked in sea ice. Nansen armed with a generous budget raised by the Christiana Geographical Society as well as a personal contribution from King Oscar of Norway commissioned construction of a stout ship designed with a rounded hull to resist the crushing affects of the ice pack. Nansen left the ship after nearly a year and attempted to reach the North Pole on foot with another crew member. The story ends well and will,be covered in a subsequent post.
The Polarsteam will have no risk being trapped in ice as the technology of the day allows fro a sturdy hull unable to be crushed by the pressure of the Arctic ice. Polar bears will be the only danger for researchers on the ice and armed alert guards will be stationed at each camp along the journey.
The total cost of the German expedition is expected to cost $67 million to form a full view of the polar ice cap through the utilization of the most modern technology. Partner institutions from China, UK, Russia and the United States,will all take part in the endeavor.