Shackleton and the Quest for the Holy Grail

McChoppinites, I’ve returned! To talk once more talk about my hero Shackleton.

One of the perks of working in a research environment is I get to hear about other people’s interesting research, and, way before it’s on NPR. Today I got to hear about Dr. Stephen Rock’s, a professor from Stanford’s Aeronautics & Astronautics Department. He came to tell us about robotic submersibles, which is totally awesome. Sure underwater robots are very topical right now, but he actually wasn’t there to talk about turning off the well head of Deepwater Horizon. He was there to talk about icebergs!

As it turns out, the place to go to find icebergs is the Antarctic, of course. Specifically the Weddell Sea. What else is in the Weddell Sea? Oh right, Elephant Island! That’s right, Shackleton!

Dr. Rock is interested in developing technology that would autonomous map an iceberg to allow an unmanned craft to collect ocean samples at specific points relative to said iceberg. Interesting stuff to me, but I realize it might not be exactly McChoppin’ material. But that’s not what I want to talk about. See, Dr. Rock was doing a technology demonstration for a future program that is driven by the needs of oceanographers and marine biologists that want to study the ecology of the sea around an iceberg. More importantly, he was doing this work on an icebreaker in the Weddell sea with a bunch of biologists who actively study icebergs. So while he was gathering this data for the proof of concept, they were studying the icebergs. One of the things that the biologists are concerned about is better tracking of the icebergs. See, they wanted to put a GPS device on the iceberg. But the ship can only get so close to the iceberg; icebergs being dangerous and all.1 So how do you you get a GPS transponder onto an iceberg? Well, their idea was to shoot it onto the iceberg. But not with a gun or cannon. Their idea was to shoot it on with a water balloon-style launcher. Being that are good scientists and wanting to test their device first, they decided on a test shot. What did they test it with? A coconut, of course.

I think the only question left unanswered here is: what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen Antarctic Swallow?

iceberg coconut(photo badly Gimpped together from egvvnd and tim ellis)

1 For anyone who doesn’t know about icebergs we are talking about an iceberg 40 km long and 20 km wide… dangerous? yes!

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