Aurora Borealis – The Northern Lights

Posted by batman on Jan 13th, 2009
2009
Jan 13

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The beautiful blaze of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is caused when material thrown off the surface of the sun collides with the atmosphere of the Earth. Thus, by following events on the sun and the velocities of the gaseous matter being thrown off its surface, we can predict the appearance of the Northern Lights with a fair degree of accuracy – certainly enough to meet the needs of the average observer of the night sky. These predictions and observations are collectively referred to in the style of weather forecasting as ‘space weather’.

The aurorae appear over the Earth’s polar regions in what are known as the auroral ovals; in the northern hemisphere the auroral oval bulges that much further to the south, the stronger the solar wind is at any given moment. The oval normally extends over northern Finland and Scandinavia, the whole of Canada and the northern USA, Alaska and Siberia. In the event of a solar storm, it may reach as far south as the skies over central Europe. Because the oval does not extend symmetrically around the Earth’s rotational axis, each degree of the Earth’s longitude rotates deeper into the oval once every 24 hours; in the case of Finland this rotation means the best time for viewing the Northern Lights is around 10.30 in the evening (Standard Time). On the other hand, it is always worth bearing in mind that a solar storm can appear at any time of the day or night, and hunters of spectacular shows would therefore be well advised to concentrate on following the various types of forecasts and predictions which are published on the Internet.

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The Northern Lights are constantly in motion because of the changing interaction between the solar wind and the earth’s magnetic field. The solar wind commonly generates up to 1000,000 megawatts of electricity in an auroral display and this can cause interference with power lines, radio and television broadcasts and satellite communications. By studying the auroras, scientists can learn more about the solar wind, how it affects the earth’s atmosphere and how the energy of the auroras might be exploited for useful purposes.

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The Great Green Wall of Africa

Posted by batman on Jan 13th, 2009
2009
Jan 13

Three years after it was first proposed, preparations for an African ‘wall of trees’ to slow down the southwards spread of the Sahara desert are finally getting underway.greenwall2.jpg

The ‘Great Green Wall’ will involve several stretches of trees from Mauritania in the west to Djibouti in the east, to protect the semi-arid savannah region of the Sahel – and its agricultural land – from desertification. But tree planting is a crucial part of the exercise. At the CEN-SAD meeting last month Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said: “This project consists in planting trees over a distance of 7,000 km from Dakar to Djibouti to constitute a 5 km wide green strip across the desert to stop any further progress of desertification process. With the regeneration of biodiversity, we plan to give our planet a new ‘green lung’ and contribute thus to the fight against climatic changes. Alongside of the Great Green Wall we are planning to build water capture basins…to enable farmers in rural areas to grow food all year long, develop fish farming and satisfy their nutritional needs and even export market garden produce.” Senegal has been chosen to provide technical leadership for the effort owning to its past successes in combating desertification.

Mariam Aladji Boni Diallo, the Benin-based president of the Cen-Sad summit organising committee, says she hopes the Green Wall will consist of more than just trees. Diallo told SciDev.Net that “reforestation, restoration of natural resources and the eventual development of fishing and livestock breeding” were priorities for the project. However, she said that funding for the project was still tentative.

greenwall3.jpgThe UNESCO-linked non-profit Observatory of the Sahara and the Sahel has prepared a report on the project, saying the labour-intensive project should be used to create employment but advising that payments be partly withheld for two years until the trees were established, and that payment be based on plant growth.

The Green Wall initiative was conceived and first proposed by Nigeria’s ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. While the idea was met enthusiastically, the African nations have lacked funding to begin work on the project. In late 2007 however, the European Union pitched in with help in designing the plan. The EU has promised further support with implementation, as well.

Further Reading:

Link to Observatory of the Sahara and the Sahel Great Green Wall report

Africa’s Great Green Wall

ENN

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Robben Island, Cape Town

Posted by batman on Nov 12th, 2008
2008
Nov 12

Robben Island, Cape TownFor nearly 400 years, Robben Island, 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It was here that rulers sent those they regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society.

From 1836 to 1931 the island was used as a leper colony and animal quarantine station. During the Second World War, the island was fortified and guns were installed as part of the defences for Cape Town.

Under the apartheid regime, Robben Island became a maximum security prison in 1959, and its character as an island-prison near to a major population centre invites comparisons with Alcatraz. Between 1961 and 1991, over three thousand men were incarcerated here as political prisoners, often for decades. Prisoner family member visits were restricted to once every six months, for a period of only thirty minutes, in conditions which made even conversation difficult. The only reading material allowed was the Bible. A variety of barbaric impositions were made on prisoners, including breaking rocks and mining lime. In the early 1980s, many prisoners engaged in more active demands for rights, and a 1981 hunger strike reinforced their case and led to some minor improvements in conditions. It is of particular note as it was here that former South African President and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela and incumbent South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, alongside many other political prisoners, spent decades imprisoned during the apartheid era.

Throughout this period, security was very tight and the island off limits to almost all civilians, including fishermen. Before about 1980 almost no-one, even among inhabitants of Cape Town, had set foot on the island. It is not generally known that the use of the island as a prison was greatly inhibited for centuries by a lack of fresh water. The island is arid, with low scrubby vegetation and has no watercourses. Boreholes were drilled in the first half of the 20th century but in due course the fragile water table was invaded by sea water and the bores became useless. Sometime after 1965 a pipeline was laid on the bottom of the ocean from Cape Town.

The particular character of the apartheid era prisoners, and their disciplined morale in the face of considerable difficulties and even abuse, is well attested as being sustained by their commitment to the cause of the struggle for freedom, in particular for the majority black African population.

In June 1980 Frederik Willem de Klerk initiated the removal of political prisoners, and most prisoners left by May 1981. The last of the non-political prisoners (who had always been held separately from political prisoners) left the island in 1996, and it became a museum in 1997. Nelson Mandela left to worldwide acclaim on February 11th, 1990.

Nelson Mandela at Robben Island, Cape TownSince 1997 Robben Island has been a museum acting as a focal point of South African heritage. Daily tours of about 4 hours long, including the two half-hour ferry rides are offered (weather permitting) from the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town. In 1999 the island was declared a World Heritage Site.

The main centre of Robben Island is located in a small village and mostly everything – from milk to building materials had to be ferried over from Cape Town Harbour. Robben Island generate it’s own electricity and obtains its water from nine boreholes.Limestone Quarry, Robben Island, Cape Town

Much has been done to restore the Robben Island’s ecological haven to what it used to be centuries ago. In 1991 Robben Island was included in the SA natural heritage program and the northern parts of the island was declared a bird sanctuary. Buck, ostrich, and rabbits are also to be found on the island.

Robben Island and nearby Whale Rock have been the nemesis of many a ship and its crew. The surf of the open Atlantic Ocean thunders continuously at its margins and any vessel wrecked on the reefs offshore is soon beaten to pieces and disappears. In the latter half of the 1600s a Dutch ship laden with gold coins earmarked for the payment of the salaries of employees of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia (now Indonesia) disintegrated on these reefs a short distance off shore, in relatively shallow but very restless waters. The gold today would be worth tens of millions of pounds sterling or U.S. dollars. A few coins have washed ashore over the centuries but the treasure itself remains in the ocean. It is protected largely by the almost ceaseless and violent surf. Many other vessels have been wrecked around the isle.

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The Ice Hotel, Sweden

Posted by batman on Nov 5th, 2008
2008
Nov 5

The Ice Hotel, Sweden

Sweden’s Ice Hotel is built from scratch every year. A new design, new suites, a brand new reception – in fact everything in it is crisp and new. The Ice Hotel is situated on the shores of the Torne River, in the old village of Jukkasjärvi in Swedish Lapland.

10,000 tons of crystal clear ice from the ‘ice manufacturing plant’, the Torne River, and 30,000 tons of pure snow generously supplied by Mother Nature are needed to build the Ice Hotel every year. The hotel sleeps over 100 guests, and every bedroom is unique.

Covering more than 30,000 square feet, the Ice Hotel includes an Ice Chapel, the hotel itself, an ice art exhibition hall, a cinema and last but not least, the world famous Absolut Ice Bar.

The Ice Hotel, SwedenRebuilt every year out of ice and snow from the pristine clear waters of the Torne River, the Ice Hotel is a sight to behold. Touted as the world’s first ice hotel, its halls are filled with ice exhibits, ice chandeliers, and unique rooms which are rebuilt every year. It boasts over 80 rooms and suites, a bar sponsored by Absolut Vodka, a reception, and a church. Nuptials are exchanged in the church, mostly by tourists who find its location and appeal very exotic. The day before our visit, a Scottish couple had tied the knot at the church, with the groom donning his traditional kilt.

The hotel comes to life only between December and April every year, and it costs about $196 per night to sleep in an ice cold room atop reindeer skin.

The rooms are simple – blocks of artistically carved ice with stacks of reindeer skin lain over. You could easily spend hours navigating the maze of amazingly designed rooms. The interior décor – shelves, stools, chandeliers, all made of ice – were quite impressive. Ice sculptures of native animals such as reindeer and moose adorned its grounds. The hotel itself was shaped like an igloo, and we joined a guided Swedish language tour of the grounds to learn more about its history and the many artists who collaborate on the hotel’s construction every year.

A quick stop at the Absolut Ice bar for a sip of vodka, and hunger had begun to set in. Lunch was a nice clean Scandinavian buffet – five different types of pickled fish and some salmon – at the Old Homestead Restaurant which is a brisk 800 meters from the hotel.

The Ice Hotel, Sweden

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Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy

Posted by batman on Oct 28th, 2008
2008
Oct 28

Mont Saint-Michel is a small rocky island currently connected to the mainland by a causeway. Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy

According to legend, the Archaengel Michael appeared to a local bishop in 708 AD and told him to build a church on top of the rock. He did so, and over the centuries, the church grew into a large abbey. A town also developed on the slopes, and walls were built around the island for defense from invaders and pirates.

The Wonder of the Western World forms a tower in the heart of an immense bay invaded by the highest tides in Europe.

It was at the request of the Archangel Michel that Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand.

With Rome and Saint Jacques de Compostelle, this great spiritual and intellectual centre, was one of the most important places of pilgrimage for the Medieval occident. For nearly one thousand years men, women and children went there by roads called paths to paradise hoping for the assurance of eternity, given by the Archangel of judgement

Mont Saint-Michel, NormandyThe Abbey was turned into a prison during the days of the French Revolution and Empire, and needed to be restored before the end of the 19th century.

With the celebration of the monastic’s 1,000th anniversary, in the year 1966 a religious community moved back to what used to be the abbatial dwellings, perpuating prayer and welcome the original vocation of this place. Friars and sisters from “Les Fraternités Monastiques de Jerusalem” have been ensuring a spiritual presence since the year 2001.

At the same time as the abbey was developing a village grew up from the Middle Age. It flourished on the south-east side of the rock surrounded by walls dated for the most part from the Hundred Years war. This village has always had a commercial vocation.

UNESCO has classed the Mont Saint-Michel as a world heritage in 1979 and this mecca of tourism welcomes more than three million visitors a year.

TidesMont Saint-Michel, Normandy

Mont Saint Michel is always accessible, and the causeway is never recovered by the water. The water starts to rise up two hours before the high tide.

The parking lot is about 400 meters. Those can be recovered sometimes. Arriving on the car park, you will be told the place where you can leave your car. In case of high tide, you can let your car on the causeway. If there are too many cars you will have to use the parking lot at two kilometers. It is free of charge and situated at the entrance of the causeway.

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