Sunday, 31 May 2009

Thanks Carl Skou

for following "Ultima Thule".

Here you have where I live, in Porto :

And a tipcal view of my town:

One of my favourite spots:

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Under water to the Pole

February 9, 1960

The USS Sargo, a Skate-Class submarine, was designated for an Arctic cruise. She received alterations to strengthen her sail before she left the building yard.

Passing through the Bering Strait, by the Diomede Islands, and crossing the Arctic Circle, the Sargo arrived at the North Pole at February 9, 1960 ; she began searching for thin ice, and surfaced 25 feet from the pole, through 36 inches of ice.

The following morning, USS Sargo submerged and departed the pole. The expedition proved the following points:

1. The submarine guidance system could be rated at pinpoint accuracy.
2. The submarine can travel submerged through the ice-locked Bering Straits in midwinter.
3. The submarine can reach the North Pole from east or west at any time of the year.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Artcic Ice melting

Very good video from NASA: Sea Ice 2008

Monday, 25 May 2009

Rarely seen icebergs in Antarctica

Icebergs in the Antarctic area sometimes have stripes, formed by layers of snow that react to different conditions.

Most icebergs are white due to tiny bubbles trapped inside, which scatter the light in every direction.
Blue stripes are formed when a crevice in the ice sheet fills up with meltwater and freezes so quickly that no bubbles form.
Green stripes are created by the freezing of algae-rich sea water

Photographs taken north of Antartica by Norwegian sailor Oyvind Tangen from a research vessel, and published in March 2008.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Nadir Afonso, a painter for Thule

Nadir Afonso is a portuguese painter that pursues an eternal quest, the geometrical perfection; I love his paintings where mathematical geometries are used to exploit fantastic patterns and points of view, colours and rythms. In all his painted cities there is a bit of Thule...

Bridges over the Rhine



Golden purple

New York

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Ny-Ålesund (Svalbard) and the flight to the Pole

Following my research in a recent post, I gathered all the data about Ny-Ålesund setlement in the Svalbard archipelago and Amundsen's flight to the North Pole in the airship Norge in a slideshow. Organized to be attractive and educative, here it is:

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

When music is beyond time and space

Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli is one of those mythical pianists that few had the oportunity to listen live ; he didn´t record much , but what he did record is so utterly sublime that we feel the presence of some remote thulean genius...

Here the 2nd movement (adagio) of Ravel piano concerto, with Michelangeli playing and Celibidache directing.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Passarola

An adventure in the skies of Lisbon

300 years ago, the jesuitic priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão was the first to attempt the rise of an object heavier than the air. That took place in Lisbon, in 1709. The priest was a student at the Coimbra University, only 24 years old.

He started raising acclaim of an important audience – King, Queen, Rome Church representative – when he successfully left rising up to the ceiling a balloon filled with hot air.

Then he built a large manned version called “Passarola”. Launched from the St Jorge Castle, on the top of a hill in Lisbon, Gusmão drived his Passarola flying about 1 Km before landing at the city’s main square.
Known since then as “The Flying Priest”, he deserves a place among the airship flying pioneers.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Kajaani - a castle in the far North

Kajaanin Linna, as the finns say, is nowadays just a ruin; but once it was a fine, strong and fearful castle at 64° 13' N, in the remote wilderness of north Finland, not far from the the arctic circle.

By 1666 the castle, although not a perfect fortification, presented a formidable obstacle to any invasion from the east. Kajaneborg, as the castle was known in Swedish, took the form of a long rectangle with a circular tower at each end.

Its purpose was to protect Northern Ostrobothnia from Russians and oversee movements on the inland waterway. It also functioned as an administrative centre and a prison.

It was so formidable that throughout the 1600s the Russians did not even attempt an attack. Only during the Great Northern War and after a long siege did the castle fall to Russian forces. On taking the castle the Russians proceeded to blow it up in March of 1716.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

a quote for Thule

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, thats all.

Oscar Wilde

Monday, 11 May 2009

Tales from the far North : Kiviuq

Kiviuq came across a woman bathing. He thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. However, he noticed that on the shore lay her clothing. It was all feathers. The beautiful lady was actually a goose-woman! Kiviuq decided that he did not care if she was a bird woman. He wanted her for his wife, so he stole her feather clothing. Kiviuq then asked the goose-woman to marry him. She agreed.

Time passed and the goose-woman grew to love Kiviuq. Eventually, they had children. She liked being a goose. However, she was unhappy. She liked to eat her own food that consisted of grass and sand instead of people food like caribou and seal meat. Kiviuq insisted that she eat people food because that is what he hunted. One day, the goose-woman decided that she should be able to eat whatever food she wanted, so she did. Kiviuq got angry with her.

The goose-woman did not think it was right for Kiviuq to insist that she eat human food. One day when he was away hunting she found her feather clothing from where Kiviuq had hidden it. She put her feathers back on, gathered her children and flew with them far away to the south. Before she met Kiviuq she flew south every winter, like many birds do.

When Kiviuq returned his family was gone. He did not know where they went, so he searched everywhere for them. Searching everywhere takes a long time. One day he met a big man chopping wood. His name was Eqatlejok. With his axe, the man created fish from pieces of wood. Kiviuq begged Eqatlejok to help him. The fish-maker decided to help Kiviuq because he felt sorry for him. Eqatlejok made Kiviuq a large fish to carry him over the sea to where his family was living. He climbed on the fish and it carried him through the water.

At the end of the journey, Kiviuq found his goose-family. His goose-wife decided that she liked it better when Kiviuq was around and Kiviuq decided that he did not care if she ate goose-food. They decided to live together again and let each other be who they really were.

Image: Qiviuq’s Journey, by William Noah

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Ny Ålesund and the adventure of the Norge
- part II

From Ny Ålesund to the North Pole

The main historic event connected with Ny Ålesund is the flight of the airship "Norge", the first expedition to reach the North Pole.

The "Norge" (Norway) was an Italian-built airship that was the first aircraft to fly over the North Pole and the polar ice cap between Europe and America. The expedition was under the leadership of Roald Amundsen and the airship's designer and pilot Umberto Nobile.

The "Norge" was specially designed by Umberto Nobile for Arctic conditions: reinforced by metal frames at the nose and tail, connected by a flexible tubular metal keel connecting the two, driven by three engine gondolas, these were the main characteristics:

- Lifting gas: hydrogen
- Length: 106 m
- Gas capacity: 19,000 m³
- Performance: 115 km/h
- Payload: 9,500 kg
- Engines: 3 Maybach total power of 780 Hp/582 kW

The flight started off from Rome on 29 March 1926, then went via Oslo and Leningrad to Vadsø in northern Norway, where the airship mast is still standing today. The expedition then crossed the Barents Sea to reach Ny-Ålesund, on the Svalbard islands. On the 7th of May the dirigible moored in King's Bay, Ny Ålesund, to make its final preparations.

The airship left Ny-Ålesund for the final stretch across the polar ice on May 11 at 9:55.
The 16 man expedition included Amundsen, the airship's designer and pilot Umberto Nobile, and polar explorer and expedition sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth.

On May 12 they reached the North Pole, at which point the Norwegian, American and Italian flags were dropped from the airship onto the ice. Amundsen wrote in his notebook that, at 02:20 in the morning, they were at the North Pole, 200 metres high with a temperature of -11 Celsius.

After crossing the pole ice encrustations kept growing on the airship to such an extent that pieces breaking off would be blown by the propellers and make holes in the hull. Nobile reported they had many holes to repair. Battered by the fog and bad weather, the Norge only managed to land on 14 May, in Alaska.

The airship was later sold to the Norwegian Aero Klubb and renamed.

Besides the still standing mooring mast, a monument to the successful crossing over the North Pole stands at Ny Ålesund.


Saturday, 9 May 2009

Ny Ålesund and the adventure of the Norge
- part I

Ny Ålesund is situated on the NW coast of the Svalbard island Spitzberg.

Ny Ålesund station is probably the most northern inhabited place on Earth. It has some 30 permanent residents, although all of them are scientist or research related personnel.

It is located almost at 79º N, inside a beautiful fiord called Kongsfjord (King's fiord). It started as a coal mining site and lasted until 1962 reaching some 400 residents. After a tagic mining accident, coal mines where shut and some years later Ny Ålesund became a scientific station.

Being so northern, the place has some absolute records, like having the most northern train, hotel and post office. It also has a souvenir store and a museum, also records themselves, as well as the most northern statue - of Roald Amundsen, the norwegian explorer .

Ny Ålesund is becoming increasingly popular as a base for polar research. The latest newcomer from the far east, after China and Korea, is India, which opened a station in early 2008. Now there are 11 participating countries in several projects.

The main historic event connected with Ny Ålesund is the flight of the airship "Norge", the first expedition to reach the North Pole ... by air! This will be Ultima Thule 's next story...

Is Global warming just delaying a new Ice Age ?

Maybe the causes of global warming are not as recent as the industrial coal-fueled revolution 200 years ago, but as old as thousands of years ago with intensive agriculture and large scale deforestation. That´s what recent studies show: following a pattern of alterning warm and cold periods, such as have occurred at regular 100 000-year intervals during the last million years, the world should presently be living a new cold era! Only the cumulative effects of thousands of years of human activity are preventing the world from entering a new glacial age.

Stephen Vavrus and colleague John Kutzbach , climatologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Climatic Research and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, provided detailed evidence in support of an idea first put forward by climatologist William F. Ruddiman of the University of Virginia.

"We're at a very favorable state right now for increased glaciation," says Kutzbach. "Nature is favoring it at this time in orbital cycles, and if humans weren't in the picture it would probably be happening today."

Using three different climate models and removing the amount of greenhouse gases humans have injected into the atmosphere during the past 5,000 to 8,000 years, Vavrus and Kutzbach observed more permanent snow and ice cover in regions of Canada, Siberia, Greenland and the Rocky Mountains .

Source: ScienceDaily

Friday, 8 May 2009


In his book about the Arctic Thule expeditions and the inuit people, Knud Rasmussen (the greenlandic explorer) gives an account of that remarkable skill they call "Silanigtalersarput", the capacity of seeing clearly in darkness and even see through the clothing, skin and flesh of the fellow beings, into their very innermost being."

Anyhow, it is a great word for deep wisdom. I could use some Silanigtalersarput.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

An Arctic Poem

Emily Dickinson - As if some little Arctic flower

As if some little Arctic flower
Upon the polar hem
Went wandering down the Latitudes
Until it puzzled came
To continents of summer
To firmaments of sun
To strange, bright crowds of flowers
And birds, of foreign tongue!
I say, As if this little flower
To Eden, wandered in
What then? Why nothing,
Only, your inference therefrom!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

My town

I live in Porto - Gaia, a double city in Portugal on both sides of the Douro river, close to its mouth on the Atlantic Ocean. You can find a rather nice quality of life here, despite a little too much litter on the streets, rude talking and some very ugly buildings. Street crime is growing too.

But the old trading town center is attractive, there is quite a lot of nice cafés ( I mean, coffee houses: they mainly serve coffee), paved pedestrian streets with old houses and many many shops,some baroque churches and an old beautiful public garden.

The problem is that Porto - Gaia is off the circuit of the great cities of culture. It's a rather dead provincial town. Almost everything looks old and in decay. The only joyful area is by the sea - the sea promenades: North and South of the river , they are the best places to live.

There is absolutely no feeling of adventure here, no research teams, no explorers whatever, no dreams of Thule! Just a conventional and sad day-by-day, without horizons to look for except the sea.

That´s why I started this blog. I feel I am living elsewhere, in lands of mistery and unexpected thrills, of calm lonesome beauty waiting to be discovered and explored.

Images: Isabel Fiadeiro, Henrique Matos

Monday, 4 May 2009

Music for Thule :
1 - Spiegel im Spiegel

Written by Arvo Pärt in 1978 , "Mirror in a Mirror" is my first choice for Ultima Thule music. I found in it the mistery, the strangeness, the tranquility, the solitude, the sense of infinity and transcendence I search.

Here we will moor our lonely ship

Here we will moor our lonely ship
And wander ever with woven hands,
Murmuring softly lip to lip,
Along the grass, along the sands,
Murmuring how far away are the unquiet lands.

The Indian to his Love