Expedition Technology

Tech_01_Thumb.jpg How do you get audio, text, images, and video from the frozen Arctic to connected people everywhere? Although there are still several challenges to overcome, today’s advances in satellite technology have brought Will Steger’s expeditions a long way from the days of the 1989-90 TransAntarctica Expedition and text messages limted to a handful of characters.

The Global Warming 101 Expedition’s goal was to provide frequent and informative dispatches during the expedition. To do this we had to look at different options that would meet each of the particular needs. Although at times a bit cumbersome and time consuming, it has been worth it to connect everyone.

Here is how we did it

Audio Dispatches:

There is no better way of making a phone call in a remote location than with the Iridium satellite network. Using the Motorola 9505a Iridium satellite phone Will and the team make a telephone call to our voicemail dispatch service. This audio dispatch is then emailed to our basecamp as an attachment and from there it is edited if necessary and uploaded to our website.

This technique of getting an audio message out to the world was something Will started doing during Arctic Transect 2004. It worked so well during that expedition that we’ve continued to use it with great success.

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Trail Dispatches – Text, images and video:

Leaving an audio dispatch is far easier than creating a text dispatch with images and video, but to provide a visual experience as well as audio we needed to look to a different solution. We knew going into this project that we wanted as few satellite connectivity limitations as possible and that we could make our Trail Dispatches as rich as possible.

To do this we looked to the Inmarsat BGAN satellite system and specifically the Hughes 9201 Terminal. Not much larger than the Apple MacBook we use to compile the dispatches, the Hughes 9201 terminal is the king of mobile satellite internet. Properly configured and running off a charged battery, the terminal creates an ultra-portable, highspeed, wi-fi network that our team can connect to and send out their dispatches to the world. We like to call it the Global Warming 101 Expedition Internet Cafe. Although it lacks the hustle and bustle of internet cafe’s in the city; you can always get a cup of hot tea and find people working on their laptops.

Tech_02.jpg Once the trail dispatch is compiled, it is sent via email to the base camp and from there posted to our website. All told, the dispatch travels from the Canadian Arctic, to our internet host in the US, back to the Arctic and our basecamp for editing, and finally back to the States where it is made available on our website.

Portable Power

On any expedition, a portable power solution is critical to being connected to the outside world and telling your story. Between satellite phones, computers and cameras, power is a hot commodity and in an environment where temperatures are constantly well below freezing, it can be extremely difficult to come by. On this expedition we weighed many different solutions and settled on sealed lead acid, rechargable battery packs. Between charging sessions we can keep all of our technology charged and get about 9 days out of the packs. The biggest sacrifice of going with a rechargable system instead of a disposable, cold weather friendly lithium system is weight. We have 4 AC/DC battery packs weighing in a about 9 pounds each. These packs are kept in a single hard case that the team has affectionately nicknamed, El Diablo. Everyone knows the importance of bringing El Diablo on the trail, but no one relishes its added weight on their sled.

The expedition looked into several solutions for charging the battery packs. On shorter legs, such as between Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, the battery packs will last the entire distance. But on longer legs they need to be fully charged at least once. Options available to the expedition were wind, solar and a gas-powered generator. Solar was out of the question because of the sheer size of the panels required to generate enough electricity at Arctic lattitudes to be useful. Wind, although a very tempting option was just to impractical, dangerous and weather-dependent for an expedition like this – Global Warming 101 Expeditions is continuing to research reneawable solutions for future expeditions. In the end, the only reliable means for generating power to charge batteries was to go with a gas powered generator. It wasn’t the solution the team wanted, but it was the only solution that met most of the criteria necessary.

Website

After expedition content has been created and transmitted it lands at its final destination, www.globalwarming101.com. The Global Warming 101 website is powered by a Content Management System (CMS) known as Joomla!. It is with tools such as Joomla! that Global Warming 101 can provide visitors with a literal library of content and still be easy to navigate and powerful enough to handle the volume that a project like this needs.

Wrap up

The Global Warming 101 website has no shortage of information for visitors, and it is the dedication of the expedition team members and the complexity of the above technology that make it all possible.

Jim Paulson

Global Warming 101 Expedition Webmaster and Technology Logistics

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