Virtual Trip… Over the Top

Ice Caps

Polar ice caps are dome-shaped sheets of ice found near the North and South Poles. They form because high-latitude polar regions receive less heat from the Sun than other areas on Earth. The polar ice caps contain the majority of Earth’s supply of freshwater, scientists estimate that 70% of Earth’s freshwater supply remains in an ice sheet at the South Pole.

Global Warming

As average temperatures at the poles have risen in recent years due to changes in the environment. The polar ice caps have started to melt and break apart. NASA satellite photographs show that the polar ice caps are shrinking 9° every 10 years.

The changing environment at the poles affects native people, animals, and plants. Animals such as seals, polar bears, and whales may be forced to change their natural migration patterns and people who live in coastal villages may have to abandon their homes as sea levels rise. The effects of the melting polar ice caps may one day be felt well beyond the poles. As the polar ice caps shrink, sea levels begin to rise, creating serious problems for coastal areas around the globe. Fortunately, we can do our part to slow down and prevent the environmental changes causing the polar ice melt. Scientists blame the use of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and gasoline, for the production of gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to higher average temperatures. Scientists call this phenomenon “global warming.”

What can we do to prevent global warming? Conserve energy! Some communities have begun to use renewable resources, such as solar energy (from the Sun) and wind power. Doing our part, though, can be as simple as turning off a light switch when you leave a room!
This image shows ice in the Beaufort Sea, which is just north of Alaska. (Credit: Elisabeth Calvert, Hidden Ocean 2005 Expedition: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration)

Unlike Antarctica, there’s no land at the North Pole. Instead it’s all ice that’s floating on top of the Arctic Ocean. Over the past four decades, scientists have seen a steep decline in both the amount and thickness of Arctic sea ice during the summer and winter months. There is no territorial claim to the North Pole but it is governed by the Arctic Council

Using a compass won’t necessarily take you due north if you’re traveling to the North Pole. That’s because there’s a difference between the geographic North Pole and the geomagnetic North Pole, which is what compasses and that handy GPS app on your phone use. Geomagnetic poles change over time, so what was geomagnetic north 10 years ago isn’t the same as it is now. In other words, trekking from Greenland to the North Pole isn’t the best idea if you’re relying solely on a compass.

The North Pole

And there’s more…

Virtual Trip… Canada

The Athabasca Falls is part of Jasper National Park, Alberta, that became a national park in 1930, and it is said to be the most powerful waterfall in the Rocky Mountain area in Canada. It drops a distance of 24 metres (80 feet) and reaches 18 metres (60 feet) in width. The geology is primarily of quartzite, very hard rock, and limestone also exists in some parts

Scenic Jasper, MA photo
The Force be with you Jasper. MA photo

The story of the Fundy Basin begins about 200 million years ago in the early Jurassic, when all the earth’s land was part of a supercontinent called Pangaea. At that time this area was situated near the equator and had a warm tropical climate and vegetation was lush. As continental drift reshaped the world, rift valleys formed, including the Cobequid-Chedabucto fault system.

The rifts which formed during continental separation filled with sediment which became sedimentary rock. Many fossils have been found along the Fundy shoreline including oldest dinosaur fossil in Canada found at Burntcoat Head. Very early reptiles have been discovered in Carboniferous tree trunks at Joggins. Wasson Bluff has a rich trove of Jurassic fossils.

Joggins Fossil Cliffs in Nova Scotia Canada
wikimedia commons

The North West Passage

History of Exploration
Several European kings commissioned dozens of their explorers to find the fabled Passage throughout the past five hundred years. John Cabot, Jacques Cartier, Martin Frobisher, John Davis, and Henry Hudson amongst others, searched for the route. Europeans wanted a shortcut of their own to East Asia, where they could trade for spices unavailable in Europe. They tried this by searching for what then came to be called the Northwest Passage, a sea route through North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and East Asia beyond. The Northwest Passage, in its traditional sense, was never found. However, in the early twentieth century, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen successfully sailed through the Canadian Arctic, proving that a Northwest Passage does exist.

Amundsen and his crew were the first to cross the Northwest Passage entirely by sea in 1906. Although the crossing was an important “first,” it had little economic value because the journey took three years in a small fishing boat and used waters that were too shallow for commercial shipping.

Amundsen, sailed north of Baffin Island and through Parry Sound. Despite his discovery, the path was blocked by sea ice during the first period of the search and is only viable today as a route for larger, commercial vessels because of the warming climate’s impact on seasonal sea ice.

The first single-season trip through the passage was by Henry Larsen and crew in 1944. Again, the route taken was not deep enough for commercial shipping.

Gjoa (Amundsen’s Ship)
(courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)
At Nome, Alaska, in 1906 after the completion of the Northwest Passage.

In 1957, three United States Coast Guard Cutters – Storis, Bramble, and SPAR – became the first ships to cross the Northwest Passage along a deep draft route. They covered the 4,500 miles of semi-charted water in 64 days. The first ship capable of carrying significant cargo to traverse the Passage was the SS Manhattan, a specially reinforced supertanker, in 1969. It was accompanied by the John A. MacDonald, a Canadian icebreaker. This trip was taken to test the Northwest Passage as an alternative to building the Alaska Pipeline. At that time, it was determined that the Northwest Passage was not economical, and the Alaska Pipeline was built.

Canadian flag.



Aurora Borealis Wikimedia commons

Virtual Trip… New Zealand… Christchurch

New Zealand

The people of Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury plain are no strangers to seismic events but at 12.51pm on February 22, 2011, Christchurch was struck by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. It was deadly, killing 185 people and seriously injuring 164 others. It also caused major and lasting damage across the city. Maureen and I had left Christchurch a couple of days before.

February 20th 2011 Christchurch NZ Gothic Revival Cathedral (me kneeling) before the earthquake…

The Christchurch Cathedral was designed by the prolific English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, one of the most successful Gothic Revival exponents of the Victorian Era. Benjamin Mountfort who lived in the church’s spire during its construction also collaborated in the project, and monitored the construction process. The cathedral’s cornerstone was laid in December 1864, while its foundations were completed in 1865.

It took 10 years for Christchurch’s first appointed Anglican bishop, Henry John Chitty Harper, to get the construction under way. Money soon ran out, building resumed in 1873, and was officially concluded after the addition of the chancel and transepts in 1904. The final cost at the time totalled to £65,572… over eight million pounds in 2020.

… and after.

Christchurch Transitional Cathedral

The building was designed by Japanese born architect Shigeru Ban as a temporary replacement for the city’s ruined Anglican cathedral. With an expected lifespan of around 50 years, it will serve the community until a more permanent cathedral can be constructed.

The building features a triangular profile constructed from 98 equally sized cardboard tubes. These surround a coloured glass window made from tessellating triangles, decorated with images from the original cathedral’s rose window.

The building features a triangular profile constructed from 98 equally sized cardboard tubes. These surround a coloured glass window made from tessellating triangles, decorated with images from the original cathedral’s rose window.

Moeraki boulders located on the Koekohe Beach between Moeraki and Hampden.

The boulders were formed by the cementation of Paleocene (66 to 65 million years ago),mudstone in the Moeraki Formation. The main body of boulders started forming in the marine mud. The larger boulders are estimated to have taken 4 to 5.5 million years to grow, while 10 to 50m of marine mud accumulated on the seafloor above them.

There are currently over 50 boulders on the beach, the largest weighing around 7 tons. Waves continue to erode the mudstone of the area, made up of local bedrock and landslides, which means that embedded boulders are often exposed, resulting in “new” boulders.

We were at Otago about 200 miles further south down the coast and felt the 2011 tremor after visiting the Royal Albatross Centre.

Back to north island and the Hundert Wasser Public Toilets in Johnson Park, Kawakaka.

The main tourist attraction in Kawakawa is the colourful public toilet designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who had a house nearby. In 1998 with the help of the community he transformed the town’s public toilets into a work of art using discarded materials.


The Hakka.

Virtual Trip…USA

Durango, Colorado.

Durango is home of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, one of the most scenic North American train journeys. The spectacular ride aboard a historic, coal-fired, steam-powered train has been in operation since 1882. As the train winds through breathtaking canyons in the remote wilderness of the 728,000-hectare San Juan National Forest, you’ll experience the wilds of Colorado. Along the Million Dollar Highway, originally built in 1883, discover the ghost town of Animas Fork and the old silver-mining town of Silverton.
My you tube video of the start of the train journey from Durango to Silverton.
JC & CN enjoying ice creams!
In Durango 2012.

Silverton and a nice bit of Geology! 2010

Tiny and nestled between two rugged San Juan Mountain passes, Red Mountain and Molas, Silverton has been a tourist destination since its mining days, especially those pursuing new heights outdoors, from off road trails, wild camping and hiking, fishing and much more available in the district.

Bryce Canyon, Colorado

The Bryce Canyon area was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded in the area in 1874. The area around Bryce Canyon was originally designated as a national monument by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 but was redesignated as a national park by Congress in 1928. The park covers 35,835 acres (55.992 sq mi; 14,502 ha; 145.02 km2) and receives substantially fewer visitors than Zion National Park or Grand Canyon National Park, largely due to Bryce’s more remote location.

JC CN JB and MA June 2010

Bryce Canyon is not a single canyon, but a series of natural amphitheaters or bowls, carved into the edge of a high plateau. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheater (pictured below), which is filled with irregularly eroded spires of rocks called hoodoos. Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point are the four main viewpoints.


If it weren’t for an artist and a photographer, Yellowstone National Park might never have become the world’s first national park in 1872. For years rugged explorers returned from the Yellowstone region with stories of a strange landscape dotted with steaming pools and shooting geysers. Most people passed them off as myth.

Things changed dramatically in 1871 when artist Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson joined a 40-day geological survey to document the area. Through brushstrokes of paint and a camera lens, Moran and Jackson captured the wonders of Old Faithful, the beauty of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the splendor of Hayden Valley. When Congress viewed the men’s work in 1871, it had an electrifying effect. In 1872, Congress and President Ulysses Grant created Yellowstone National Park.

Thomas Moran
William Henry Jackson with a load of photographic equipment on the summit of Mount Washburn, Yellowstone Park, c1872.

Cone Geysers

Old Faithful 2010

Old Faithful is an example of a cone geyser. They are visible on Earth’s surface as mounds of porous deposits of siliceous sinter (geyserite). They typically produce steady eruptions lasting several seconds or minutes. The duration of Old Faithful’s eruptions ranges from 1.5 to 5.5 minutes. Billowing steam and 3,700 to 8,400 gallons (14,000 to 32,000 litres) of hot water are ejected at each eruption. The geyser’s fountainlike columns reach heights averaging about 130–140 feet (40–43 metres), although eruption height can exceed 180 feet (55 metres). During an eruption, the water temperature at the geyser’s opening is about 203–204 °F (95–95.6 °C).

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 2010
Pass this bull bison at your peril!


Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

Hubbard Glacier, which is found in Disenchantment Bay at the end of Yakutat Bay, is one of more than 110,000 glaciers in Alaska and North America’s largest tidewater glacier. Hubbard Glacier was named in 1890 for Gardiner G. Hubbard, who was the founder of the National Geographic Society.

As cruise ships enter Yakutat Bay, Hubbard Glacier can be seen from more than 30 miles away. This massive Alaska glacier is a staggering 76 miles long, 6.5 miles wide, and 1,200 feet deep. Its face is more than 400 feet high, which is as high as a 30–40 story building.

The Malaspina Glacier is also found in Yakutat Bay. Malaspina is a piedmont glacier, does not reach into the bay, and is difficult to see from a ship, even though it is about the size of Switzerland!

This tidewater glacier in southeast Alaska is not like the others; it’s advancing, and threatens to transform a fjord into a lake.

Off the coast of Yakutat—200 miles NW of Juneau—Hubbard is certainly gigantic: it’s more than six miles wide where it meets the ocean. It’s also been very active in the past, having had two major surges in the past 30 years. Those surges were big enough to cross the bay, turning the fjord into a lake and threatening to flood the coastal town of Yakutat. For now, the glacier isn’t surging but often calves. The face is up to 400 feet tall, and icebergs 3 to 4 stories in height aren’t uncommon. Granted, most of that ice is below water, but the ice can be so thick that cruise ships can’t get too close. In the right conditions, however, ships might be able to get within 1/2 mile of the face.

Symbols of the USA