Though the age of electronics has robbed bells of many of their traditional roles,there is a world of ringing that has remained unchanged for 300 years.
Though the age of electronics has robbed bells of many of their traditional roles,there is a world of ringing that has remained unchanged for 300 years.
A few days before Christmas, 1989, his brain and body weary after a business collapse, Graeme Dingle stretched out in his hot tub and picked up an atlas. The page opened at a map of the Arctic Circle. He looked at the map and a shiver went through his bony frame. No one had ever followed that dotted line that etched such a perfect circle around the globe. Dingle studied the map for a full hour, with rising excitement. "Then I decided," he said. "The first circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle would be my next adventure." In February 1992, mountaineer and adventurer Dingle, by this time joined by fellow outdoorsman Kim Price, set out. They are calling their expedition Arktikos, and it will be the longest polar journey ever undertaken: 25,000 kilometres through five countries in 250 days. They are travelling at temperatures of minus 50°C—temperatures so cold that metal shatters and fuel turns to jelly; so cold that if you inadvertently put a metal object in your mouth it will freeze instantly to your lips and tongue. With them is a Muscovite, Tolya Chernishov, who works for a private adventure tourism company in Moscow. Travelling ahead of the team is their radio operator and manager, Aucklander Annie Bradshaw. The expedition started—and will finish—on the shores of Bering Strait at a small Siberian town called Uelen. From there they are travelling by foot and snowmobile some 10,000 kilometres across the Siberian Arctic, then by ship from Murmansk in Russia across the Norwegian and Greenland Seas to the coast of Greenland. Here they will begin the most treacherous part of their journey: crossing the notorious Northwest Passage between Greenland and Canada. This is the passage that merchants long dreamed of as an Arctic shortcut to the Orient; many died in pursuit of the dream. In this stretch of water and thick pack ice, which the team will travel across by inflatable raft,icebergs as big as the city of Wellington travel at speeds of up to 10 miles a day. Compasses will be of no use because the magnetic North Pole lies within the passage. Once through, the team will travel up the Mackenzie River in Canada to the Yukon, then across Alaska and back to the shores of Bering Strait. As we go to press the men are boating up the coast of Greenland—a distance twice the length of New Zealand. Later in June they will cross the 350 kilometres of open water of Baffin Bay to Grise Fiord in Canada, where the Northwest Passage begins. A 1000-litre fuel tank has been installed in the boat, and the trip is estimated to consume 860 litres—which leaves little room for an emergency. So heavy is the weight of the fuel that should the inflatable capsize, it would not be able to be righted by the crew. A mechanical "righting mechanism" is being installed—it will be a slim thread upon which three people's lives will hang if the boat flips. The story of the team's experiences with their machinery so far has been a sobering one. The crew were to start their journey with three Russian-built machines capable of taking them across the vast Siberian expanse. In the trials before the start, however, two of these had to be abandoned, and after leaving Uelen the team endured one breakdown after another. Dingle recounts one of the frustrating episodes, early in the journey, in their "Slavamobile"— named after its crusty Russian driver, Slava. "There was a sickening clunk, whereupon Slava looked under his seat and Tolya said, 'Car is broken.' The half shaft had become detached from the diff, a problem that Slava described as being common with Volga diffs. 'Vulgar diffs, all right', I muttered. Then began one of the most bizarre afternoons of my adventuring career. We found that it was possible, with several forceful kicks, to drive the offending half shaft back into the diff, and as I wore heavy climbing boots this became my job—every 150 metres for the next 10 kilometres." And their luck, unfortunately was not to change. In late March the team limped into Pevek, one third of the way through their Siberian leg. A town of 15,000 inhabitants, Pevek began life as one of Stalin's gulags. Now, many of the town's best citizens are the children of those prisoners. Tall steel chimneys belch black coal smoke in a constant effort to provide life-giving heat to the town, and the sea ice and surrounding snow are stained black with soot. "But Pevek was full of human warmth, hospitality and goodwill to Arktikosa legacy that our support team Annie and Russian translator Alexei Krylov were responsible for." Dingle continues: "Here, at Pevek, determined to have reliable machinery, we hired a vehicle called a GTT, a nine-tonne cross between a tank and a locomotive-powered vibrator. "From the outside the GTT looks pretty much like any other armoured troop carrier, except that we had plastered it with the brightly coloured decals of our sponsors. It is a two- by three- by six-metre steel box with tracks, with a mean looking snout and small savage eyes at the business end. Once everyone takes up their positions and adjusts their ear protectors, Sasha (the driver who came with the vehicle) looks around, grins and gives the thumbs up. The oil pump whines and the six big diesel pots explode into life. With the clatter of the steel tracks, even shouted conversation at close range is impossible. "We departed Pevek with Annie filming and Slava following up in the Slavamobile. This was the last we were to see of the tough little Russian and his desperate machine. A few kilometres across the sea ice the mobile broke down for one last time. Slava nursed it back to Pevek where it was sold, and he departed for his home town, where it was time to put in his spring crop of potatoes. "As we clattered into the wilderness in our GTT towards our next goal, the town of Tiksi (the half-way point of the Siberian leg), the navigator kept his eye on the Trimble satellite navigation system, plotting progress on the map and indicating by sign language the course to Sasha. It was not quite the romantic voyage across Siberia that we had dreamed about. We reached Tiksi at 4am on April 16. We drove into the harbour on the sea ice, past ships that had been frozen in all winter. A full moon floated eerily over the city." At this point in their travels, Dingle was not to know that the GTT was also to go the same way as the others. On the last leg of their Siberian overland travel, from Tiksi to the port of Dudinka, a worried project director, Rob Mounsey, could do nothing while he listened in Auckland to reports of daily breakdowns while the sea ice cracked up under the team. "In parts the ice was moving under the vehicle, and they would have to back off and find a safer route. Meanwhile, the breakdowns continued, and at one stage Kim and Tolya had to ski for three days to the nearest village for help, while Graeme and Sasha waited with the vehicle," Mounsey says. But in spite of the problems, on May 16 the team made it into the port of Dudinka. From there, in a much-welcomed break which will stand them in good stead for the coming sea voyage, the crew hitched a ride on a research vessel to their last Siberian destination, Murmansk. In the relative warmth of a 10°C-plus New Zealand winter it is perhaps hard to understand why a group of New Zealanders should want to go through such grim physical—and sometimes spiritual—conditions at the other, alien, end of the earth. Reading between the lines of the problems and hardship of the expedition, another story emerges, as a paragraph from Dingle's letter early in the journey shows: "In the evening we went out in a tracked vehicle to recover the machine and its driver, Slava. We stopped on a point overlooking a gulf. In a moment we knew why we had come to the Arctic. Why we had suffered storm and bureaucracy, risked bankruptcy and frostbite: for 300 unspoiled degrees we had a vista of gulf and hills. No trees, no rocks, no sharp edges, just gentle curves, and as the weak sunlight slanted through the atmosphere, it dyed everything a pink and mauve as if it were filtered through gold and diamond dust." There is still more of this journey ahead. After it is completed later this year, New Zealand Geographic will tell the team's story in full.
Over a year's experimentation with high-speed photographic techniques has paid dividends for Dunedin natural history photographer Nic Bishop. Enlisting the help of two electronics experts, and with financial backing from Shell New Zealand, he has succeeded in developing equipment to photograph insects in flight and freeze other action too fast to be seen by the human eye. Photographing flying insects is one of the most demanding challenges of nature photography. Simply getting the insect to fly into the field of view of the camera is one hurdle, but even more problematic is getting the shutter to fire at the precise moment the insect is in focus. The speed at which many insects fly means that they remain in focus for a mere 1/500 of a second, necessitating virtually instantaneous detection and shutter opening. Then there is the need to freeze the insect's wings on film—in some species the wings beat at 1000 cycles per second. To tackle these problems Bishop built a flight tunnel and wired it with light beams and detectors able to respond even to the wing tip of a flying insect, and to operate the camera at the precise instant the insect zooms into focus. The conventional camera shutter was discarded, being about 25 times too slow at opening, and has been replaced by a modified shutter system. Freezing the insect's motion is done by exposing the subject with a very brief flash pulse. Once again, conventional flash equipment had to be dispensed with because it simply did not have the power and speed requirements. Instead, a new flash circuit was developed, one which delivers a light output equivalent to conventional units, but compressed within a pulse lasting only 1/40 as long. This pulse, a mere 1/40,000 of a second duration, is brief enough to stop even the most active animal in mid-motion. The project has not been without teething problems. For example, the voltages unleashed by the flash circuits are so high (lethally so) that they have blown up flash tubes with explosive finality. At the other end of the scale, the detection circuitry is so sensitive that it can respond to outside interferences such as temperature fluctuation, vibrations, and electrical perturbations in nearby equipment. With the system now working, Bishop has been exploring the high speed action of some of New Zealand's smallest inhabitants, and some of his initial results can be seen in his latest book Natural History of New Zealand, published by Hodder and Stoughton.
During the next two months, early evening shows the Southern Cross, Crux, at its most spectacular, standing upright on the meridian. Emblazoned on our and our neighbour's flags, used and abused in a hundred commercial devices, and exploited mercilessly in colonial verse, or worse, the Cross remains the most striking of the southern constellations. For anyone north of latitude 26° North (which runs through southern Libya and Egypt. Bahrain, the Gangetic plain, northern Burma, Okinawa, Miami and just south of the Canary Islands) the Cross is never seen entire, while from the site of Greenwich Observatory's 4.2-metre telescope atop La Palma at latitude 29° North just two of the four principal stars can be seen. At 33° South and beyond, the constellation is circumpolar, which is to say that it is always above the horizon even as it swings inverted below the South Celestial Pole. Since we southerners lack a naked eye star at this pole (and thus a simple marker for geographical south) it is fortunate that the Southern Cross is always, weather permitting, visible, for it is the key to one of the two methods of making a reasonably accurate estimate of the pole's position- something which many a benighted tramper has been thankful for. As shown in the diagram. the trick is to imagine a line projected through the length of the Cross from top to bottom, and at the same time another line running between the Pointers and at right angles to a line joining them. Where these two projected lines meet is a very fair approximation to the position of the South Celestial Pole. Because the Pointers and the Cross are so close together there is a good chance that even with quite thick scattered cloud one will be able to see all these stars at once, and so make an estimate. Geographical south is always on the horizon directly below the celestial pole. Smallest of all the constellations, Crux is far from being visually insignificant, for its definite form and the close grouping of its brightest stars immediately attract attention even though it is almost surrounded by Centaurus. Explorers at the end of the fifteenth century, such as the Portuguese sailing south down the western coast of Africa, were the first Europeans to sight the Southern Cross. But it was not until after 1600 that the stars forming the Cross were separated from the Centaur, where they had originally marked the rear hooves and fetlocks. Serendipitously, when Crux is at upper culmination, i.e. on the meridian and above the South Celestial Pole, the Milky Way forms an almost symmetrical arch from east to west with the cross as a keystone. (This dramatic moment is illustrated in the New Zealand Geographic chart "The Southern Sky"see inside back cover for details). The symbolic significance is obvious, but one should not read too much into it, for Crux, like all the other constellations, is a chance and temporary conjunction of bright stars which, in a matter of a few millennia, will have so changed their relationship with one another that the present pattern will be distorted out of all recognition. Writing in the 1890s, astronomer R. H. Allen stated that 54 of the stars in Crux were visible to the naked eye, but within modern terminology there are only 40 stars charted with a magnitude of 6 or brighter. Of these, (all of which should be visible on a dark night under a clear, unpolluted sky) one is hard put from the suburbs of a city like Auckland to sight more than 12. Unskilled observers will generally report seeing only the five brightest stars of the Cross, which suggests that their night sky from the back porch contains only about 300 visible stars-about five per cent of what is on offer. It is a sobering thought that in this community, which will argue bitterly, and even go to court over a view of Rangitoto or some other scenic feature, the question of protecting the night sky has yet to be raised. In Australia and the United States of America, communities are rallying to the flag of the Dark Sky Association. Founded originally to protect the great professional observatories, in particular the 5metre (200-inch) Hale telescope at Mt Palomar, the movement has now spread to local authorities with no such multimillion dollar investment to protect, simply on the grounds that the night sky is part of our environment. The key to reasonable levels of illumination is to use light which is only as bright as required for the task, and so directed and shielded that it falls only on the target. The payback is in the savings, both in power consumed and in the lesser cost of low intensity fittings. The lucida, or brightest star in Crux, which lies at the foot of the cross, a Crucis (also called Acrux) appears as a blue-white star with a magnitude of 0.87, which places it fourteenth in the top 20 brightest stars. Examination with even a small telescope reveals that it is visually a double star with one component only slightly brighter than the other, from which it is about four arc seconds distant. Close by, and in fact part of the same gravitationally bound system, is a third fainter star, magnitude 4.9, distant 90 arc seconds. All three stars are sub-giants, which means they are much more massive than our sun, generate several thousand times its radiation and are due to pay for their profligate consumption of their stock of hydrogen with an early death, when compared to the ten million-year life span calculated for our sun. The spectra of a Crucis A and B reveal that both of these stars are themselves spectroscopic binaries, stars with orbiting companions too close to be seen directly, but known to be present because of the rhythmic Doppler shift of the spectral lines. Light from an approaching star is shifted towards the blue part of the spectrum, whereas a receding star produces a red shift. A pair of stars with their orbital plane lying parallel to our line of sight will, when they are seen in line, crossing our line of Sight, show a normal spectrum, for neither has a velocity component either towards or away from us. However, a quarter of a cycle later, when they are seen at maximum separation, one will be directly approaching us while its companion is receding around its orbit. Thus the spectral lines of the first will be blued and of the other reddened, resulting in a doubling of the lines recorded in the spectrograph. Further complicating the picture, a. Crucis B itself shows blurred spectral lines, indicating that the star is rotating very rapidly. (Rapid rotation is thought to be a characteristic of very young stars.) So, this naked eye star turns out to be a system of some complexity, and one which promises a spectacular future, for the two brightest members are blue sub-giants with close companions, and thus candidates for eventually becoming supernova. Being only 360 light years away, the display will be dazzling- as bright as the full Moon. But don't hold your breath: neither star is showing signs of entering its death throes yet. ß Crucis marks the end of the eastern arm of the Cross, and is also a more complex object than simple observation reveals, for it is a triple system in which the primary or brightest member is variable. ß Cru. A is a ß Canis Majoris-type variable star-a blue sub-giant or giant fluctuating in brightness, in this case less than 0.1 of a magnitude every five hours and forty minutes. The two fainter companions are relatively distant: B, magnitude 11.2 at 44 arc seconds, and C, magnitude 7.1 at 159 arc seconds. Just east and south of ß lies the faint star K Cru. which at magnitude 6 is just about at the limit of naked eye visibility under any circumstances. How ever, this star lies in a cluster, and the combined light of its members constitutes a hazy patch of magnitude 4.2 which is known as the Jewel Casket, listed as NGC 4755. First examined by John Herschel from the Cape of Good Hope in the early 1830s, he named it and likened it to "a gorgeous piece of fancy jewellery," a description endorsed by all who have examined it since. At low magnifications the cluster has a distinctively triangular shape as defined by the class B super-giants which are its major component. However, right in the centre lies a red super-giant in dramatic contrast with its blue neighbours. In all, the cluster is composed of some 80 stars, and lies 7700 light years away. Were it as close as a. Crucis it would be a blazing group which would just fit inside the upper part of the cross. At the head of the Cross lies y, a yelloworange star whose spectrum places it amongst the red giants-stars entering their dotage, unstable and paradoxically bloated as their hydrogen fuel runs out. They will have a final brief moment of glory as they explode as novae, blowing their outer envelope away and leaving a white dwarf at the centre of a new planetary nebula. The fourth star of the Cross, its western arm, is I) Crucis, a blue sub-giant with a magnitude of 2.8, which means that it is markedly fainter than the other three stars of the Cross. No account of Crux can be comp ete without mentioning the Coal Sack, that dark area which looks like a hole in the Milky Way hard against the south-eastern flank of the cross. Such dark patches, which are only visually detectable against the background of the Milky Way, were at first thought to be holes through it, allowing us a view of the depths of space-William Herschel's "Loch im Himmel." They are, in fact, clouds of cold matter principally hydrogen, but also containing a wide variety of simple organic molecules, as well as granules composed of soot and metals. This is the stuff from which stars are made, and also planets, and hence life. Who knows what rough beast may slouch out of these inky depths in the distant future?
In 1860 James Mackay described the stretch of land from Kahurangi Point to the Heaphy River as a "frightfully rocky and precipitous coast . . . which none but those who have travelled over it can conceive the nature of " In 1991 four adventurers decided to see whether Mackay was telling the truth.
The ocean at Kaikoura is an eerie world—an emerald expanse of emptiness that falls away to a sea floor a thousand metres below. I lie splayed out on its silky skin, waiting, my limbs swaying like flotsam in the swell.
The men of the New Zealand frigate Southland are packed into a tiny world that has its own language and traditions and operates by rigid codes of conduct. They endure stresses and experience fulfilments that no outsider can really understand.
For centuries, ti rakau (cabbage trees) have been renowned for their remarkable ability to defy age and decay, and to virtually "live forever." Although the old trunks might perish, there were always new sprouts to carry on the life of the tree; But now the cabbage trees are dying. Particularly in the north of the country, these curious trees - among New Zealand's most distinctive native plants - are giving up the ghost. While Maori and pakeha have grieved their loss, scientists have struggled to discover the cause of the sudden decline. Then, late last year, a breakthrough...
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