Friday, 28 November 2008

State of the Ice Technology

Phillip Clement and the rest of the EcoSearch team attended an event on Tuesday to meet the Ice Team of the upcoming Catlin Arctic Survey. Phillip takes a trip down memory lane to gives his thoughts on the technology needed for such a vitally important scientific mission.

My first proper job after leaving college was with a small and not very well known radio telecommunications company called RACAL (soon to evolve into Vodafone). As a fresh-faced wet behind the ears engineer, but a wannabe Gordon Geckko (Wall Street 1987) I began my career as a mobile telecommunications Account Executive.

As part of the package, along with a shiny brief-case that opened up – James Bond style - into a rather snazzy presenter that aided the complex explanation of a seven cell repeat pattern, followed by the “FAB’s” of mobile communications (that’s features advantages and benefits, for those of you that didn’t attend the rather corny 1980’s school of selling, delivered by an ex-double glazing salesman sporting a pale grey suite and pink socks) and the keys to a Ford Mondeo complete with a hanger in the back for my new, big shouldered Moss Bros suite jacket and screwed unceremoniously to the dashboard was my mobile phone! I’d arrived!

But it got better, much better! When I wasn’t in the car driving in the ‘fast lane’ of the M4 to Newbury (actually it was the middle lane, so that people passing me in the outside lane could see that I was on the phone) I could ‘do lunch’ and in the evenings I would frequent a highly popular wine-bar in Guildford, where I could rub shoulders with other shoulder padded jacket wearing, slick backed haired “dealers”. Only I went one better. I would park the Mondeo somewhere obvious, remove the handset of my car phone from its utilitarian (Russian tank utilitarian) clamp and go to the boot where I would unscrew, unclip, disconnect, slide, pull and twist a metal box from another utilitarian clamp, connect this to the handset that I had removed earlier and then attach a leatherette carry strap – I was now in “portable mode”! When this piece of hi-tech, high fashion was on the bar next to me I was truly a woman magnet and all the guys wanted one too. It’s amazing now that if you even appear to have the slightest bulge in your pocket for a mobile phone then you’re just not with it.

It was at the recent launch of the Catlin Arctic Survey, to which I am proud to say I am an Honorary Advisor, that made me recall those heady Sauvignon Blanc fuelled days of the very early mobile phones and how much we now take for granted without a thought for the technology that we carry around in our pockets. In a piece of equipment that is smaller than a pack of JPS (John Player Specials) I can call anyone, anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world, e-mail from multiple e-mail addresses, edit documents, watch TV and video, have video conferencing with my team, check my location using GPS, take photographs and send them to people anywhere in the world and book a table at The Ivy!

Immage Copyright Martin Hartley

So, with all this technology at our finger-tips, it becomes really hard for the Arctic Technical Team to impress when they tell us that they will be streaming millions of readings from the North Pole, sending live video from one of the remotest places on Earth and updating progress on a website from the floating sea ice at minus fifty degrees. The task to impress becomes even greater, when we find out that the equipment necessary to achieve this will weigh more than 10 stone and need to be dragged behind one of the Arctic Team on a seven foot sledge! But as an engineer dating from the early days of wireless technology, I can tell you that what the Arctic Technical team have accomplished is a brilliant piece of engineering genius, enabling them to collect and transmit groundbreaking information that will change our thinking on global warming.

My advice is, tune in.

The Ice Team will be setting off on the Arctic Survey in February 2009. You can find their latest Newsletter on the EcoSearch Facebook Page.

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