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To the Arctic... by blimpWritten by Lucia Simion
Last Friday, October 12, Jean-Louis Etienne could finally smile. The expedition blimp was inaugurated during a ceremony in Marseille — it was christened Total Pole Airship, after the sponsor Total. The blimp arrived in France from Russia (where it was designed and built by the firm RosAerosystems) at the end of September. It was delivered to Jean-Louis Etienne onboard an Iliushin 76, completely folded up, like a giant carpet.
In France there is only one hangar big enough to house the blimp once inflated: the Boussiron hangar, located at the Marignane airport area in Marseille. The Total Pole Airship was inflated and mounted there last week, and was presented on Friday to a small audience of media people and officials (including Prince Albert II of Monaco, Mr. Arthur Chillingarov, and Mrs. Kosciusko-Morizet, France's Secretary of State for Ecology).
October 12 was also the day Al Gore and the IPPC were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For Jean-Louis Etienne, whose aim is to raise awareness of the retreat and the thinning of the sea ice in the Arctic by taking comprehensive measurements of sea ice thickness, this was a really positive kick off.
"In September 2007, the sea ice cover reached a new minimum extent. The situation has never been so serious," said Jean-Louis Etienne. Sea ice is being studied by remote sensing (satellites such as Envisat by ESA and Aqua by NASA) and by expeditions. But comprehensive sea ice thickness measurements have never been done, so this could be the key role of the Total Pole Airship. The blimp will carry an instrument called the EM-Bird, which can measure the upper and the lower surface of the sea-ice with an electro-magnetic system across long distances.
The dirigible is 54 meters long and 17.4 meters high, inflated with 5,000 cubic meters of helium. The envelope (white with red, blue and yellow stripes) is made of polyethylene and polyurethane (both synthetic materials) to hold the helium, which would otherwise escape through other less "airproof" materials.
The passenger gondola is 10.3 meters long and can host 2 pilots plus 6 passengers. The blimp thrust is provided by two 168-horsepower engines. The blimp cruises at 50-80 km/h, with a top speed of 105 km/h.
The Total Pole Airship is a prototype, so it will have to undergo several tests before the take-off from Marseille to Paris. The tests will be conducted in the coming months. On March 1, 2008, Jean-Louis Etienne and the members of his expedition will take off from Paris for an extraordinary 10,000 km journey across Europe (Belgium,The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway) and then on to Spitzbergen. The blimp will travel with a ground support vehicle which carries the ground crew, the main mast, spare parts, the fuel and the supplementary equipment.
The most hazardous part of the journey will be the flight from Spitzbergen to the geographical North Pole: some 1,000 Km over a vast expanse of sea ice. Since the flight of the Norge in 1926, with Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth on board, no-one has attempted to fly an airship over the Arctic Ocean.
In April 2008, the Total Pole Airship will make transects over the sea ice, carrying the EM-Bird instrument under its belly and measuring the thickness of the sea ice. Sea ice thickness is fundamental to the understanding of climate, ocean circulation and polar biological systems. The EM-Bird was calibrated last spring in the Arctic by Christian Haas from AWI and Jean-Louis Etienne and his crew.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Stéphane Compoint, Expedition official photographer
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Comment Link Tuesday, 30 November 1999 00:00 posted by Pierre
Spectaculaire ce projet de balade en ballon!
JL Etienne arrive Ã aller au bout de ses rÃªves!
Comment Link Tuesday, 30 November 1999 00:00 posted by Jim McNeill
Comment Link Tuesday, 30 November 1999 00:00 posted by karis muller
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