Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
Prologue No one would have believed in the first years of the twenty first century that humans were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences equal to ours and yet as mortal as our own; that as we busied ourselves about our various concerns we were scrutinised and studied, not as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water, but in our major deleterious impact on the stability and biodiversity of our world ocean. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. Few gave a thought to the vast deep seas as a source of human danger, and if any people did consider the range of marine surprises, their thoughts of the watery depths dismissed the idea of intelligent life within the ocean as impossible or improbable, meanwhile considering the security risks of climate change a distant problem. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most, terrestrial men fancied the whales were inferior to us. Yet across the oceans, minds that are to our minds as equal but different, intellects vast and ancient and sympathetic, regarded this earth with high anxiety, and slowly and surely drew their plans to work with us, awaiting the moment of contact, not some war of the worlds but a program of repair, when human technology would acquire the ability to communicate mind to mind with whales by telepathic cyphone. The planet Earth, I scarcely need remind the reader, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 93,000,000 miles, and the light and heat our evolving biosphere receives from the sun provide the life of this world with the source of our stable fecund durability. The oceans are older than our continents, and against the framework of deep time the mountains come and go on the tectonic tide like so much jetsam on the waves. The whales, having held dominion throughout the waters for nearly fifty million years, possess an understanding of time that is formed by this unimaginably long period of stability. Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no writer, up to the very end of the twentieth century, expressed any idea that the intelligent life of the mammals of the ocean might have developed far, or indeed at all, beyond human level. Nor was it generally understood that since the oceans are older than our land, the minds of the whales might be beyond our ken, with senses of perception that we cannot even imagine. The steady warming that humans had caused on our planet had already gone far. The physical condition of the pelagic depths is still largely a mystery, but we know now that from its equatorial region to the poles the temperature rise had been enough to set in motion unforeseeable changes in the planetary climate. That last stage of instability, which to us in those days still seemed incredibly remote, has become the major present-day problem for the inhabitants of Planet Earth. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened our intellects, enlarged our powers, and sensitised our hearts. If we imagine the vision of Earth from Mars, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 of miles sunward, we will see a morning star of hope, more brilliant than the appearance of Venus from Earth. Our warm planet, green with vegetation and blue with water, has a white cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and trade-crowded seas. And we humans, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must face an incessant struggle for existence, setting our minds on the things of today rather than the big story of deep time, failing to think big about the slow order that eventually will govern all things. For the whales, deep time is the only reality. In continuity and in memory, whales perceive over millions of years; the momentary presence of the fleeting instant of today is but a lens for the eternal reality. Under the eye of the whale, time is the moving image of eternity. The alarm for the whales was sounded ten thousand years ago. Near the beginning of the time that humans call the Holocene, an unprecedented period of stable sea level began, after the end of the last ice age. The whales had expected that a short interglacial would naturally be followed by a return to the advance of the ice and falling seas, as had occurred every hundred thousand years in the current epoch. But the earth did not cool. Instead, as science was to discover, the emergence of agricultural settlements with new technology in the early Holocene enabled stone-age humans to add enough methane to the air, from domestication of rice and cows, to prevent the natural order from following its ordained path. The whales did not at first know the cause, but the failure of the ice to return meant they could see that a new terrible dispensation had dawned for the planet, a time of mass extinction that would come to be called the Anthropocene. What humans saw as steady progress into enlightenment was viewed by the whales as a fall from a state of grace into a state of corruption and delusion and suffering. Before we humans judge our technological focus on the immediate calculations of the present moment as superior to contemplation of the eternal, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon indigenous people. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human genes, were almost entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years, with only some genetic remnant on offshore islands, and with language and culture almost entirely lost. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the planet should develop antibodies to our presence, warring in the same spirit, treating humanity in the way our own bodies treat dangerous bacterial germs? The wrath of Gaia is against those who destroy the earth. The whales calculated their contact with humans with amazing subtlety--their mathematical learning is evidently far in excess of ours--and carried out their preparations with perfect unanimity. From the time of the great ecocide of the factory ships and explosive steel harpoons, whales could see that humans would develop technology that would enable our two species to communicate. So they were ready for us. Had our instruments permitted it, we might have seen the gathering trouble far back, even in the nineteenth century. Great scientists like Darwin and Humboldt watched the oceans evolving, but failed to interpret the fluctuating changes they mapped so well. All that time the whales were getting ready. And then the catastrophe struck. Early in the twenty first century came the great disillusionment. During the southern summer of 2018-19, the warming Southern Ocean caused the mile high ice cliffs on the Antarctic continental shelf to suddenly fracture and fall, in an event of unanticipated speed and scale. Just as the stress fracture of a bone causes weakness, so too the hairline fracturing of the great ice sheets and shelfs had produced a scale of weakness and brittle fragility that even our scientific close study had failed to imagine. Humans had put the driver in place. By geological or whale-eye timespans, we had suddenly mixed an amount of carbon into the air that the planet had not experienced for millions of years, since a time when seas were thirty feet higher. This chemical cocktail, this invisible trace gas even in its minute proportion of one part in two and a half thousand, was enough to produce an earthshattering kaboom. Together with the warming seas sapping the buttressing foundations of the ice castles, insidious water from above percolated through the ice, creating new rivulets flowing out to the deep, in braided growing waterfalls within the ice structure. Like a cancer, the constant flow of warm water gradually converting what was solid and durable into a façade; the previously stable and secure walls of ice became brittle and vulnerable to shock. Fragile sensitive complex natural systems are prone to chaotic tipping points, phase shifts where a slow build up produces an instant punctuation of the equilibrium. And so it was with the great ice sheets of Antarctica. Sitting on rock a mile deep, the tongues of warming water licked the oceanic glaciers, leaving their structure seemingly in place but turning the previously solid ice into a structure akin to a honeycomb lattice. As the whales sounded to the depths to observe the foundations of the summer ice, they saw that the vast Antarctic walls were riddled and crackled throughout with hairline fractures. From these thin fissures in the ice came fresh water, coursing down from miles above, cascading from the top of the ice mountains of the South Pole, water working its way through unseen to rot the innards of the formerly majestic ice shelves of the Antarctic coast. The world’s scientists read the causes first in the issue of Nature dated 23 March 2019, as the researchers in the southern wastes who had survived the catastrophe reported their observations and theories. But these mere factual details of observation were lost in the midst of what was an unparalleled global collapse of great and sudden devastation, laying waste to the whole inhabited earth. The ice sheets covering the Ross Sea, the Wilkes Basin, the Aurora Basin, and the Weddell Sea simultaneously fell apart. Hidden tensions and stresses and cracks induced by climate change had created an invisible threshold. The die had been cast. Once crossed, the power of this change of phase became the great marker of before and after, like Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Like the breaking of a series of dams, but trillions of times bigger than any puny human construction, the ice sheets collapsed as one, not in a gradual glacial retreat but in an unimaginable single massive event. A few scientists at the polar bases had somehow been able to escape by helicopter to solid ground at the top of Mount Erebus, adjacent to the Ross Ice Shelf. This remnant of polar observers stood by and looked upon the sky tumble and fall, as mountains of ice crumbled to the sea. Their colleagues were swept away in this descent into the maelstrom. Mile high ice mountains on a scale bigger than ever before collapsed into the surrounding waters like a house of cards. Seemingly slowly, to the stupefied horror of those who were there to watch, in reality the slowness was a mask for the sheer immensity of this planetary movement. This ice collapse brought the first tsunamis. The crashing of the ice into the sea caused tidal waves so big that they circled the planet many times, radiating and rippling out from the South Pole in every direction, straight up the Ganges River in Bangladesh, the Plate River in Argentina, sweeping across the top of all the coral atolls of the planet, smashing into coastal cities on every continent and wreaking unprecedented scale of havoc and death. But Mother Nature was not done with her wroth at man for his foolish vanity, his impudent destruction of the earth. The loss of the ice from the shallow seas all around the southern continent suddenly released vast weight from the sea floor, and with such a scale of sudden rebound the result was a cascading series of earthquakes along the great fault lines of the earth, firstly around the rim of the Antarctic Plate, and then, because of the sheer simultaneous scale of this momentous event, the whole earth rebalanced, producing a global fiery tectonic catastrophe of equal or greater calamity as the first watery doom events. Around the planet, volcanoes belched sulphur and lava, the skies went dark, and the human world of the Holocene era was broken. As the earthquakes ended, the seas remained five yards higher, due to the vast amount of ice that had slipped off the South Pole. All of a sudden, the former coasts of the world were inundated. Hundreds of millions of people died under the combined impact of the different disasters, turning in the widening gyre. The world economy was in wreckage, with all ports destroyed. Surely the time of the whales was at hand. As it turned out, the whales were to become our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, a vast image of the spirit of the earth. Humans were consumed by fear, as if the earth would be removed, and even the solid mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. The waters roared with trouble, and mountains shook with the swelling. Only the river of stars in the Milky Way above seemed serenely unaffected in its stable eternal paternal order. We found that the whales could help us, and that right early. People raged, the kingdoms were moved, the earth seemed to melt. What desolations we had made in the earth. But now, as like the appearance of a rainbow after a flood, there was no longer any scope for wars. The message went out, be still, and respect the earth, our refuge.
A note to the reader: this novel uses extensive borrowing from classic sources, as a coded game. Readers are invited to find the origin of any suspect phrase. Lines which lack a classic source must be considered original creations.
Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
“Hoy, Shimela, join the whale!” Captain Oldthumb makes his morning call to me from the bridge of The Jug. Time to begin our daily inspection of the giant kelp farms. Ding dong bell, I flick the switch to open the hatch and am out once again in the deep dark heaving cold grey vast and trackless swell of the sea, away and away in the Southern Ocean, swimming with the whale. Sublime exhilaration! The frigid chill is a shock to the system. I am back in the pure zone, leaving my hypos behind. New again every time, among the free elemental wilds of nature, in icy southern waters full four miles deep, together with my good friend Eerigcold, whose pellucid cetacean intelligence is always an enlightening delight to encounter, helping to shift my merely human understanding into undreamt of realms of reality. Our boat is vast beyond easy imagining. The Jug is a submarine bulk cargo carrier, designed in collaboration with the whales. Slowly travelling around the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, The Jug is a fabric tube, full five miles long and four furlongs across. She has a glass octahedron control bridge at the front for management and crew, connected by a flexible plastic-iron spine through the middle of the storage hold to great flukes at the rear for propulsion and steering, copying the proven evolutionary efficiency of design of our cetacean friends, the great whales. The technology is simple, elegant and economical, a five-mile-long hollow sausage full of algae sludge, surrounded by a multi-layered woven skin about one-foot thick, propelled by wave and current power. The Jug is a design wonder, light and strong, so basic that once it existed everyone thought its principles had always been understood. Today, The Jug has just passed the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. We are heading slowly across the Indian Ocean, bound for South Australia along the red line clockwise around Antarctica in this picture, drifting with the elements. This map helps to establish our new global paradigm, centred on Antarctica and its surrounding seas. As you can see from studying this map projection, the fastest sailing route from Australasia to Europe heads off sou-sou-east, near opposite what you might expect, joining the howling forties and heaving fifties to overcome the tyranny of distance as in the olden clipper days. Ordinary thinking about rivers will not easily grasp the scale of this biggest river of the world ocean. Long known to sailors as the West Wind Drift, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current has a constant flow of about three thousand cubic miles of water per day at every point along its twelve-thousand-mile length. That vast flow rate is about a thousand times bigger than the amount of water leaving the mouth of Brazil’s mighty Amazon River. The Amazon is a giant by fresh water standards, discharging four cubic miles of water every day into the Atlantic. The Amazon River carries one third of all the fresh water flow of the planet, but is only a midget on the oceanic planetary order of magnitude. The great ocean river wanders around Antarctica twice each year, providing what we call the planetary pulse. Our work aboard The Jug operates on this grand scale. We keep this main global circum-perambulatory artery of the ocean clean and regular in its beat. If, as Leonardo da Vinci thought, the world ocean currents are like veins and arteries in the global circulation system, and as Stephen Jay Gould surmised with his impeccable scientific evolutionary logic, the macrocosm is a reflection of the microcosm, then Antarctica is at the pulsing planetary heart of our oceanic system, which can be imagined in philosophy as a vast mirror of how our blood flows around our body, thinking of the earth as like a person. By the ancients man has been called the world in miniature; and certainly this name is well bestowed, because, inasmuch as man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, his body resembles that of the earth; and as man has in him bones for the supports and framework of his flesh, the world has its rocks the supports of the earth. As man has in him a pool of blood in which the lungs rise and fall in breathing, so the body of the earth has its ocean tide which likewise rises and falls every six hours, as if the world breathed; as in that pool of blood veins have their origin, which ramify all over the human body, so likewise the ocean sea fills the body of the earth with infinite springs of water. The body of the earth lacks sinews and this is, because the sinews are made expressly for movements and, the world being perpetually stable, no movement takes place, and no movement taking place, muscles are not necessary. But in all other points they are much alike. The Jug is designed to operate at a safe depth beneath the stormy crash of polar weather. We permanently float just below the big surface swell, protected from the crushing power of the waves which in stormy conditions can rise to a hundred feet high. In the calm cold deep under the sea, we safely store the vast amounts of algae that we have grown in the industrial farms of the calmer tropical seas at the equator, floating gently around the corridor of the current. The cylindrical hold of the Jug contains a gigatonne of carbon in its cubic mile of liquid holdings. Other ways to express this size of fluid are one teragallon, or four petagrams, teralitres or cubic kilometres. Whichever measure you use, the quantity of thick soupy algae sludge we carry and manage is a lot. At least by human scale. By oceanic scale The Jug occupies about three billionths of the vastness of the world’s watery cover. This holding is one twentieth of the total amount of carbon that we add to our storage every year around the planet, rapidly accumulating carbon until we can make practical use of it, mainly in construction, food and energy. Ocean storage of carbon in floating fabric containers uses the great currents as storage corridors. This carbon mining system is helping to steadily push the air quality back from the perilous brink, aiming to restore the previous safe CO2 level of stable sea level and temperature of the last ten thousand years, to reverse global warming and save human civilization from collapse, saved by our new collaboration with the whales.
Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
A Descent into the Maelström The ways of natural providence are not as our ways; nor are the models that we frame any way commensurate to the vastness, profundity and unsearchableness of the works of nature, which have a depth in them greater than the deepest atomic well.
We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag on Ross Island, Mount Erebus, named after the ancient Greek mythological lord of darkness. Erebus is just to the northwest of the former Ross Ice Shelf. We gained the high volcanic peak, above which was only peace, after climbing two and a half miles in altitude from the Hut Point Peninsula. For some minutes the old man, who went only by the single name of Sholano, seemed too much exhausted to speak.
"Not long ago," said he at length, "and I could have guided you on this route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past, there happened to me an event such as never happened to mortal man—or at least such as no man ever survived to tell of—and the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a very old man—but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy?"
The "little cliff," upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme and slippery edge—this "little cliff" arose, a sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet from the world of crags beneath us, a narrow edge with the other side falling away in equally orthogonal precipitation down to a burbling cauldron of hot molten lava. Nothing would have tempted me to within half a dozen yards of its brink, and the sulphurous stink inspired in me a mad fear of hellfire. In truth so deeply was I perturbed by the perilous position of my companion, that I fell at full length upon the ground, clung to the rocks around me, and dared not even glance upward at the sky—while I struggled in vain to divest myself of the idea that the very foundations of the mountain were in danger from the fury of the winds. It was long before I could reason myself into sufficient courage to sit up and look out into the distance.
"Listen Shimela, you must get over these fancies," said my elderly guide, "for I have brought you here that you might have the best possible view of the scene of that event I mentioned—and to tell you the whole story with the spot just under your eye. We are now," he continued, in that particularizing manner which distinguished him—"we are now close upon the former Ross Ice Shelf coast—in the seventy-eighth degree of latitude. The volcano upon whose top we sit is Mount Erebus. Now raise yourself up a little higher—hold on to my hand if you feel giddy—so—and look out, beyond the belt of vapour beneath us, into the sea."
I looked dizzily at Sholano's instruction, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer's account of the Mare Tenebrarum. Into my mind came the visions of Erebus, the primordial Greek God of darkness, the son of Chaos, brooding over the waters like some abominable Sauron from Mount Doom.
A panorama more deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, lines of great mountains, whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against its white and ghastly crest, and by the howling and shrieking katabatic winds descending forever from the Antarctic mainland across McMurdo Sound. Just opposite the volcano upon whose apex we were placed, and at a distance of some five or six miles out at sea, there was visible a small, bleak-looking island; or, more properly, its position was discernible through the wilderness of surge in which it was enveloped, with its steaming clouds indicating the emergence of a new lava landmass. About two miles nearer the land, arose another of smaller size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at various intervals by a cluster of dark rocks.
The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant island and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although, at the time, so strong a gale was blowing landward that a vessel in the remote offing lay to under anchor, and constantly plunged her whole hull out of sight, still there was here nothing like a regular swell, but only a short, quick, angry cross dashing of water in every direction—as well in the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of foam there was little except in the immediate vicinity of the rocks.
"The peak in the eastern distance," resumed Sholano, "is called Mount Terror. The one midway north Mt Bird. To our South we see the beginning of the Trans Antarctic Range. These are the given names of the places—but why it has been thought necessary to name these deserted and forsaken locations at all, is more than either you or I can understand. Do you hear anything? Do you see any change in the water?"
We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Erebus, to which we had ascended up the southern face from the old McMurdo Base, so that we had not seen the vast expanse of the open sea to the north until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound, like the extinct moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American prairie; and at the same moment I perceived that what seamen term the chopping character of the ocean beneath us, was rapidly changing into a current which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its speed—to its headlong impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea was lashed into ungovernable fury; but it was between us and the mainland that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into frenzied convulsion—heaving, boiling, hissing—gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the northward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes except in precipitous descents.
In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks, at length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast rotation. Suddenly—very suddenly—this assumed a distinct and definite existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.
The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw myself upon my face, and clung more tightly to the bare stone and to the bony hand of my guide in an excess of nervous agitation, there being no plants whatsoever to hang onto in our harsh surrounds. "This," said I at length, to Sholano—"this can be nothing else than the great whirlpool of the Maelström."
"So it is sometimes termed," said he. "Entirely new, since the great ice shelves of Antarctic dissolved and vanished, an astounding replica of the system the Norwegians call the Moskoe-ström, from the island of Moskoe in the midway, described if I am not mistaken in very similar terms by Mr Edgar Allan Poe."
Sholano now proceeded to recount his encounter with the events that created this astounding natural phenomenon, speaking like a fountain that freely pours so rich a stream, as a father to a son. I listened with fear and trembling upon my brow. Like Virgil guiding Dante through the gates of hell, Sholano told his tale, poe-faced like the one from whom these episodes drew. The astounding role of Fortune in the human realm, the structure of the ocean and its submarine rivers, the geography of the earth, were all part of the harrowing tale.
Having convinced me to come with him to Erebus, Sholano began his larger-than-life story, like some battle between good and evil, recounting events at the foundation of the restoration of honour, integrity, glory, culture, piety and spirituality in our world, for all their terrible impact.
“The old accounts of the Norwegian vortex”, Sholano explained, “had by no means prepared me for what I saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which is perhaps the most circumstantial of any, described the original Maelström, but cannot impart the faintest conception either of the magnificence, or of the horror of the scene—or of the wild bewildering sense of the novel which now confounds the beholder of this astounding new environmental phenomenon at the southern end of our planet. Other writers have already surveyed the Antarctic maelstrom, but not as far as I have heard from the summit of Erebus, nor with the personal experience of escape that I will relate.”
“Between Ross Island and White Island, the depth of the water is not ten fathoms; but on the other side, in McMurdo Sound, this depth increases suddenly to above one hundred fathom. When the tide is in flood, the stream now runs through the strait with a boisterous rapidity, where once the water was held in the frozen stillness of all-encompassing ice. The roar of its impetuous ebb to the sea is scarce equalled by the loudest and most dreadful cataracts; the noise being heard several leagues off, and the vortices or pits are of such an extent and depth, that if a wooden ship were to come within its attraction, it is inevitably absorbed and carried down to the bottom, and there beat to pieces against the hard jagged rocks; and when the water relaxes, the fragments thereof are thrown up again. But these intervals of tranquility are only at the turn of the ebb and flood, and in calm weather, and last but a quarter of an hour, its violence gradually returning. When the stream is most boisterous, and its fury heightened by a storm, it is dangerous to come within a mile of it, even for the sturdiest polar vessel. Boats would be carried away by not guarding against it before they were within its reach, although such a disaster has only happened the once, with the tragic first polar explorer after the catastrophe, the Wormsdiet. We now must approach the new base through the waters formerly covered by the Ross Ice Shelf, to avoid this new malevolent charybdic suckhole.
“It happens frequently, however, that penguins and seals and even whales come too near the stream, and are overpowered by its violence; and then it is impossible to describe their shrieks and howlings and bellowings in their fruitless struggles to disengage themselves. The mashing of the poor creatures caught in the vortex plainly shows the bottom to consist of craggy rocks, among which they are whirled to and fro as in the frenzy of the razor teeth of a killer whale, before chunks of red blubber appear at the surface where intrepid scavengers, mostly birds, feast on the carrion. This vertiginous stream is regulated by the flux and reflux of the sea—it being constantly high and low water every six and a half hours, and not even the mighty albatross will venture close when the flow is high.”
Looking down from this pinnacle upon the howling Phlegethon below, this infernal oceanic river akin to the myths of hell, it appeared to me, in fact, a self-evident thing that the largest vessel in existence, coming within the influence of that deadly attraction, could resist it as little as a feather the hurricane, and must disappear bodily and at once. The idea generally received is that the collision of waves rising and falling confines the water newly travelling through the strait so that it precipitates itself like a cataract; and thus the higher the flood rises, the deeper must the fall be, and the natural result of all is a whirlpool or vortex, the prodigious suction of which is sufficiently known by lesser experiments. The loss of the ice sheets and the secular warming of the seas has sent the tides into chaos, increasing the tidal range in the extended Ross Sea to a full ten yards of elevation between the high and low water marks. And this Charybdis that we behold as a modern-day Odysseus is truly like the Erebus of old, a child of that planetary chaos.
The ancients imagined that in the centre of the channel of the northern Maelström was an abyss penetrating the globe, and issuing in some very remote part, much as Verne or Dante or Dodgson imagined chthonic shaman holes taking the intrepid adventurer on a journey to the centre of the earth, whether to icy infernal depths or merely to converse with an egg about glory, or with a walrus about why the sea is boiling hot. The opinion, idle in itself, that at the dark base of the spinning watery hole the earth itself opened its subterranean secret passages, was the one to which, as I gazed, my imagination most readily assented; and, mentioning it to my white-bearded guide, I was rather surprised to hear Sholano say that, although it was the view almost universally entertained by the Norwegians, it nevertheless was not his own. As to the former notion, a wormhole into the underworld, he confessed his inability to comprehend it; and here I agreed with him—for, however conclusive on paper, it becomes altogether unintelligible, and even absurd, amid the thunder of the abyss.
"Listen to me now Shimela. You have had a good look at the whirl now," said my teacher, "and if you will creep round this crag, so as to get in its lee, and deaden the roar of the water, I will tell you a story that will convince you I ought to know something of the Maelström."
I placed myself as desired, and Sholano proceeded.
"Myself and my two brothers Dayo and Nolad crewed a polar science expedition on the Aspidistra. We were there more for our physical strength than for our brains, as general roustabout hands. We occasionally had the personal use of the vessel on our days off work when the scientists did not need it. In all eddies at sea there is good fishing, at proper opportunities, if one has only the courage to attempt it. Among the whole of the Antarctic community before the catastrophe, we three were the only ones who made a regular business of going out to the islands to fish. Our usual grounds were to the north of Ross Island, where we would compete with the local carnivores to catch the abundant game on offer in the mid-summer open waters. We would dodge the occasional icy growler and watch the whales sing and play. Usually we brought back a feast for dinner.
On the day of the catastrophe, we were indulging our recreational pastime, and doing particularly well. Unusually, we saw far more penguins and seabirds than normal, all moving north. A message came across the ship radio. It was the duty officer at McMurdo, with a rather terse instruction, and no chit chat: “Head back to base immediately, the ice shelf is playing up. You are recalled to duty.” This of course had us wondering what playing up might mean, a phrase we had never heard before about ice, but base was in no mood to explain, except to say we better move fast.
We found out soon enough. We could see the ice shelf on the horizon. First we rolled over a wave big enough that it could only come from a substantial new iceberg calving off the ice shelf cliff wall. And then, above the noise of our boat engine as we chugged back to base, the most extraordinary creaking sound came from the ice, an eerie and unique emanation that had us all thinking, quite why I cannot say, of the groans of a mother giving birth. My brother called base to report this unusual travail, and we then heard the first losses confirmed. A team walking on the ice shelf had suddenly disappeared from radio and phone contact with no warning, swallowed up like in some mysterious hanging rock. It seemed that the ice shelf was getting ready for something big. We waited in eager expectation for the revelation of whatever the ice would bring. It was as though all our work in Antarctica was subjected to futility, and the ice was preparing to set itself free from bondage, groaning together in the pains of childbirth, with groans too deep for words.
Now the marine mammals appeared in even greater number, like ants before rain or birds before an earthquake. Now the sea around us was suddenly full of whales and seals and walruses and porpoises, together with all the penguins, heading away from the coast at top speed, as if they could intuit that the ice was in danger and they had to get away for safety. The sky suddenly blackened with flocks of birds turning and turning, wheeling and rising and squawking in the widening gyre. Animals have these mysterious senses for survival, an intuition of purpose which we humans have lost due to our rational superiority, as we see it. Meanwhile we chugged on toward base, nestled close under the high ice cliff. And now the weather radar told us a rather savage storm had just brewed up out of nowhere.
As we turned the corner past Mount Erebus, we saw all the helicopters from base aloft. We radioed, and one of the pilots, Klekks Wayrule, said they were headed for the hills. We were on our own. And then it happened. In just a moment, all that was solid melted into air. The high shelf of ice, extending as far as the eye could see, gave a shiver and a death rattle of such immensity that just to recall it traumatises my soul. The sound of the ice collapsing was so loud that I am surprised my hearing survived it. It was as though the ice was conscious and intentional, moved at once by a will to change, to transform our world in a terror of disorientation and disintegration, of life falling apart in a deliberate glacial avalanche. The steep ice face, like a towering pile of sand, turned to a fluid unstable glacier and fell apart, collapsed out toward the sea, loosing an icy tide that would drown all before it, a blank and pitiless wall of fast moving slush, an iceberg tsunami.
The thrill and dread of this astounding sudden spectacle with its vast scale and momentous impact and implication was soon replaced for us by the immediate problems of survival. Our plucky vessel The Aspidistra was hardened for ice breaking. To keep our flower of England flying through the wave that was headed our way would be a remarkable escape for our band of brothers. Our boat had been named after the idea that the indestructible aspidistra was the tree of life, a beastly plant that was practically immortal, immune to salt, cigarette butts, human neglect and extended drought, and so suitable for the cast-iron exigencies of the pole. But the ice storm coming our way was something else. Shaping up like Agamemnon’s sword, almost pathetic in our ugliness like our namesake, we turned the Aspidistra’s bow south about face past Erebus the dark lord and kept moving.
We were never going to see base. And even The Aspidistra was not up to the titanic ice wall headed our way like Burnam Wood on its way to Dunsinane. The towering wave contained icebergs mostly half a mile across, big enough to obliterate all trace of anything that messed with them, mashing and grinding everything in their huge maw rather like a pepper mill managing corns, or a giant vacuum cleaner in its battle with dust.
We had made rather less way than we could wish, while the currents rendered the boat unmanageable. My eldest brother had a son eighteen years old, and I had two stout boys of my own. It went briefly through our heads that these lads might have been of assistance, but it was a horrible danger, and that is the truth, and no extra crew would make the slightest difference.
It is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to tell you occurred. It was on the tenth day of January 2019, a day which people of the world will never forget—for it was one in which arose the most terrible disaster that ever came out of the earth since the asteroid that ended the age of the dinosaurs sixty five million years ago.
It is quite amazing in retrospect that we had such little trepidation beforehand. All the morning, and indeed until late in the afternoon, there was a gentle and steady breeze from the south-west, while the sun shone brightly apart from during the brief divine summer polar twilight, so that the oldest seaman among us could not have foreseen all that was to follow. The three of us—my two brothers and myself—had crossed over to the islands about two o'clock in the early afternoon, and had soon nearly loaded the boat with fine fish, which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day than we had ever known them. It was just seven in the evening, by my phone, when we weighed and started for home, on receipt of the radio instruction. "We set out with a fresh wind, somewhat anxious of danger, although apart from the movement of the animals, the terse trepidation from base and the large waves indicative of recent iceberg calving, until the centre of the ice could not hold we saw not the slightest reason to apprehend it. Not even the weather forecast told us of the looming storm.
As I recall the events, which are rather mixed in my memory, one distinct moment is when all at once we were taken aback by a breeze from over Erebus. This was most unusual—something that had never happened to us before—and we began to feel highly uneasy, without exactly knowing why. We put the boat on full steam ahead, but could make only slow headway against the eddies, when, looking astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with a singular copper-coloured cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity.
This state of things, however, did not last long enough to give us time to think about it. In less than a minute the storm was upon us—in less than two the sky was entirely overcast—and what with this and the driving spray, it became suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in the boat. Such a hurricane as then blew it is folly to attempt describing. The oldest seaman in the world never experienced anything like it. But the real problem we faced was the high wall of molten ice bearing down on us from the south like a wide pyroclastic wave of freezing rocky lava, which by now completely blocked our view of land and appeared destined to bring us all an immediate doom. We experienced the weirdest combination of waters, now placid as a lake at dawn, now rising in clashing waves from every direction, now exposing the jagged rocks of the sea floor, all caused by the powerful undertow sucking from the unhinged ice mountain on a scale larger than anything hitherto dreamt of.
Before such an act of nature, our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon water. Another vessel should have foundered at once—for we lay entirely buried for some moments, but The Aspidistra somehow survived these initial perils. At times I threw myself flat on deck, with my feet against the narrow gunwale of the bow, and with my hands grasping a ring-bolt. It was mere instinct that prompted me to do this—which was undoubtedly the very best thing I could have done—for I was too much flurried to think. For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands, and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave herself a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and thus rid herself, in some measure, of the seas.
I was now trying to get the better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my senses so as to see what was to be done, when I felt somebody grasp my arm. It was my elder brother, and my heart leaped for joy, for I feared that he had fallen overboard into the sea—but the next moment all this joy was turned into horror—for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed out the words 'Ice Wall!'
No one ever will know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook from head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit. I knew what he meant well enough—I knew what he wished to make me understand. With the vast force of nature bearing down upon us, we were bound for destruction, and nothing could save us! I cursed myself for being so great a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were doomed, had we been a thousand times bigger in size. This wall of ice was like the fury of fate, as though the frost giants of Ragnarök, the Norse myth of the end of time, had been unleashed by all the Gods of Valhalla to trample us down upon their apocalyptic icy horses.
By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or perhaps we did not feel it so much, but at all events the seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and lay flat and frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular change, too, had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still as black as pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all at once, a circular rift of clear sky—as clear as I ever saw—and of a deep bright blue—and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a lustre that I never before knew her to wear. She lit up everything about us with the greatest distinctness—but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up!
I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother—but, in some manner which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I could not make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top of my voice in his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale as death, and held up his index finger and thumb, as if to say 'listen!' At first I could not make out what he meant—but soon a last hope flashed upon me. I dragged my phone from its fob.
A message had come in, which I had not heard amidst the fury of the elements. I glanced at the screen, and then burst into tears. The chopper was on the way to save us! The thundering rising wall of the ice was in full fury and would be upon us in minutes. I texted back to Klekks as there was no chance to hear a voice on the phone. Get to the back of the boat, the three of us tied together to each other, firmly lashed to a boat hook held aloft, ready to grab the loop on the end of the thin line of hope connecting us to our salvation. One chance only.
Like a weather-beaten vessel that gladly seeks a port, though shrouds and tackle are torn, through the emptier waste of the air, his full spread blades, at leisure to behold like an angel flying towards us from far off in the imperial Heaven, fast by, Klekks Wayrule piloted the Antarctic supply helicopter Ringtail, aptly named for it was hanging a golden chain dangling a lasso towards our pendent ship. From Klekks’ angle, The Aspidistra was big as a star against the sky. Thither, full fraught with mischievous revenge, accurst, and in a cursed hour, the ice wall cometh.
Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
Descent into the Maelstrom (continued) And now the mile high swell of Antarctic ice was less a mile away, the waters drained down to the rocks of the sea floor, and the giant wave started to curl high above us as we watched in horror. Deep inside the tube, shooting the barrel of the breaking wave, came the helicopter, dangling a bright golden chain. The lasso was only two yards wide, and the ice wave was rising and preparing to crash upon us. Klekks would have to navigate the barrel of the wave tube like a jet fighter to allow our hook to catch his loop. Perfect accuracy was required.
Under such conditions, we had no confidence of escape. As Klekks commenced the main run to target The Aspidistra, forcing at full throttle in order to keep in front of the ice wall, we fully expected he would be forced to abandon us, unable to keep up with the moving water. As he closed the distance, Klekks positioned the lasso as we rose on the wave of ice. He raised the nose high to cut speed.
The chopper swung in as the wave reached us. The gigantic sea bore us with it as it rose—up—up—as if into the sky. I would not have believed that any wave could rise so high. Our tiny hook seemed a useless gesture. Manoeuvering to decelerate from forward flight to as near a hover as will stay in front of the water wall, Klekks flares the helicopter, pitching the nose up with rapid power decrease with an extremely tail low attitude, maintaining rotor thrust and descending into the downwash vortex close to stall. At this critical moment, Klekks deactivates his auto-controls and veering close to collision with the moving ice, lassoes our boat hook perfectly just seconds before the ice wall destroys The Aspidistra, and we speed away to a spectacular narrow escape.
And then up we came with a sweep, a slide, and a plunge, that made me feel sick and dizzy, as if I was falling from some lofty mountain-top in a dream. While the chopper bore down upon us I had thrown a quick glance around—and that one glance was all sufficient. I saw our exact position in an instant. We held the skyhook high above our heads, and nearly felt our shoulder bones pull from their sockets as the lasso found its mark, grabbing the hook, lifting us into the sky and accelerating away from the monster wave as we watched The Aspidistra vanish into the maelstrom without trace.
As we now stand here atop Erebus on this windy cold day, the new whirlpool is about a quarter of a mile dead ahead. If I had not known where we were, and what we had to expect, I should not have recognised the place at all. Recalling that moment as it was, I involuntarily closed my eyes in horror. The lids clenched themselves together as if in a spasm. It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we landed here on Erebus on that fateful day, and watched the wide new seas enveloped in foam.
The copter had made a sharp half turn to larboard when she collected us, and then shot off in its new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water completely drowned the chopper in a kind of shrill shriek that still chills me as I recall it—such a sound as could only be given out by the grinding together of many thousand giant icebergs all crunching together like some cosmic millstone. We rode the belt of surf of the big wave; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the icy doom, which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we were borne along. We seemed to skim like an air-bubble upon the surface of the surge. Our starboard side was next the wave, and on the larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. The wave below us stood like a huge writhing wall between us and the horizon.
It may appear strange, but when we were in the very jaws of the wave, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung my nerves. It may look like boasting—but what I tell you is truth—I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of the planet’s power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the wave itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy a man's mind in such extremity—and I have often thought since, that the unique situation might have rendered me a little light-headed.
"If you have never been at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no idea of the confusion of mind occasioned by the wind and spray together. They blind, deafen, and strangle you, and take away all power of action or reflection. Something similar was the situation that we experienced. But as we all know now, these events that I describe were just the start of the vast planetary transformation that we have all lived through in a stupefied state of wonder and awe.
The sudden collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf happened contemporaneously with the dissolution of all the great ice sheets surrounding the pole, as though the earth had reached a tipping point, a threshold, an irreversible phase shift, with the rise of CO2 from human industry forcing the planetary system across the brink into a new wild chaos.
The union of the waves caused by the ice collapse achieved a scale and power that rolled around the planet smashing everything in its path. The low countries of the great river deltas and the tiny coral atolls had no chance before this power of the world ocean. But we have survived; and this experience has its good side, strange as it may seem to say about such a massive catastrophe, in that it forced us to change the old ways which we had fantasised could somehow continue. Now, we hope with some piety, we have placed our civilization on a sustainable path, in collaboration with the whales.
As Klekks hovered to land atop Erebus on that terrible day, he came in close by where we now stand. We were in a state of shock, severely traumatised by our near death episode. We wrapped ourselves in warm blankets and shared shots of whisky. But our adventure was not complete. As we watched the ongoing slow train wreck of the glacier falling to sea, the whole shape of the ocean was transformed. Whales in McMurdo Sound who had managed to survive beneath the ice tsunami, sounding to the profound depths of the sea floor, now rose to the surface and blew, expelling the stale air from their lungs in a sea that was suddenly briefly calm. But this strangely quiet and peaceful interlude was rudely ended by a further drama.
Icebergs had formed a logjam between Ross Island and the coast, and this brick puzzle now itself collapsed, allowing water dammed behind it to flow into the Sound. The maelstrom began. A vast sucking noise established a new whirlpool on the previously placid sea, dragging all around it into its inexorable vortex.
"The whales imagined they had escaped to safety. They now found themselves swept into a circular current so strong not even the strongest swimmer could escape. We watched a dozen great whales and a few smaller sea creatures, together with icebergs of every size, career round the circuit of the belt for perhaps an hour, getting gradually more and more into the middle of the surge, and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge where they would suddenly tumble and fall as over a precipice down the tube. All this time I gazed as in some bewildered trance at the unfolding scene. As each unfortunate creature approached the brink of the pit, bellowing in the agony of terror, for some reason, obviously due to the singular events of that momentous day, I never felt deeper grief.
“But then Klekks made the most extraordinary proposition, to fly us down into the maelstrom in the helicopter! Seeming mad, my two brothers and I agreed to join this extreme jaunt. Dayo and Nolad jumped aboard first, and we soon rushed headlong into the abyss, piloted by the ever-intrepid Klekks. I muttered a hurried prayer to God, and thought all was over. Off we flew, heedless of the quite insane risk we were taking in this plunge into the mystic unknown.
"As I watched the sickening sweep of our descent toward the new vast whirlpool swirling beneath us, I had instinctively tightened my hold upon my security blanket, and closed my eyes. For some seconds I dared not open them—while I expected instant destruction, and wondered that we were not already in our death-struggles with the water. But moment after moment elapsed. The chopper made its slow meticulous descent to the ocean surface, and then into the open centre of the maelstrom. The sense of falling had ceased, and our motion seemed stable, in an eerie calm like the eye of a hurricane. I took courage, and looked once again upon the scene.
"Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The various marine flotsam appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, reflecting the rays of the full moon, which from a circular rift amid the clouds streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost invisible deep recesses of the abyss.
"At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I recovered myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively downward. In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, from the manner in which the helicopter hung above the inclined surface of the pool. We seemed quite upon an even keel—that is to say, in a plane parallel with that of the water—but this latter sloped at an angle of more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying upon our beam-ends.
"The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering burning rainbow bridge Bifröst which the old Norse say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. This mist, or spray, was no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at the bottom—but the yell that went up to the Heavens from out of that mist, I dare not attempt to describe.
We glanced at each other, and were later able to confirm that our thoughts travelled along similar lines, that this weird place, this immense maelström, somehow connected our ordinary temporal world with some mysterious incomprehensible transcendental beyond.
This bridging liminal magical situation, full of all the quivering and changing hues of the rainbow, seemed almost a channel for the Gods to travel to and fro, up and down the tree of life as a ladder between earth and heaven. As if we could hear the trumpet of the dawn of Ragnarok, the awesome advent of the Frost Giants to destroy our puny constructed human world, we somehow all shared the intense fear that the rainbow bridge above the high funnel of the maelstrom would collapse and shatter beneath the weight of imaginary transcendental monsters, that the maelström might suddenly braid in nine twined lines like the roots and boughs of the mighty Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree of life.
"Round and round the water wall swept before us around the circuit of the whirl with progress downward, at each revolution, slow, but very perceptible. Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony within which we were thus encompassed, I gazed up and down the tunnel at the array of objects in the embrace of the whirl, this horrific cornucopia of destruction. Funnily I thought of a pepper grinder, whose useless product was rocks and salt, where once had been produced all things good. Tragically I now saw that the scientific bases of Ross Island must have been utterly destroyed by the ice wave, because here were many highly recognisable things that until that morning had been functioning parts of buildings and equipment. Forklift trucks, forty foot steel cargo containers, satellite dishes, windows and pieces of building were among the big chunks of ice and thrashing sea animals descending this conical tunnel of water. And now, in horror, we spied our own ship, The Aspidistra, flying like some ghostly battered hulk, joining the mad celestial whirl of jetsam in this great event of the end of the world. Farewell we bid to everything we ever knew.
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Re: The Jug
The Jug – Design, Operation and Maintenance Fabric skin one foot thick covers The Jug. This new ocean fabric provides a tough and flexible plastic container to securely hold the carbon cargo contents. The skin is made of a multi-layered double hexagonal weave. We call it the Tetraktys Weave because it incorporates the old geometry of a stack of ten points forming a triangle, the secret magical mathematical symbol of the ancient Pythagorean mysteries. Looking too long at its crystalline lattice reveals cubes and other interdimensional optical illusions that square the circle like a neural net, each connected to each like singing mermaids. Each main point in the tetraktys weave is the centre of a clock face formed by six intersecting lines, adding four robust angles to the warp and weft. We make the fabric in volcanoes at the bottom of the sea, as I will explain later.
The fabric material of The Jug’s skin was developed from algae plastic, designed with structure and density tough enough to endure the hazards of the cruel sea, flexible enough to move with the swell, and shaped and textured for kelp to hold fast. The Jug’s skin provides an impermeable barrier to contain the algae slurry inside. Unlike the now-obsolete steel tanker container ships, the skin of The Jug is flexible rather than rigid, so the whole vessel becomes part of the ocean swell, oscillating up and down with the waves, and converting the up and down motion into forward propulsion, suitable both for bulk haulage and for container transport.
The volume contained within the skin of this gigantic robotic whale will yield the bulk of five billion barrels of oil. When considered that in weight that oil is below half of the algae substance, some idea may be had of the enormity of that animated mass, yielding such a lake of energetic liquid as that. Reckoning ten barrels to the ton, you have five hundred million tons of oil within the simple artifice of our robotic whale's mechanical skin and bones.
The skin of The Jug is covered across its upper surfaces with golden forests of giant kelp. On a clear summer’s day, sunlight streams with a certain grandeur, in shining iridescent golden-blue-green beauty through the tempestuous polar waves into the fringed curtains and evolving tangled banks of the seaweed jungle. Clothed with plants of many kinds, with various fish flitting about, and with worms and shellfish crawling through the damp floor, these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved. The Jug supports the rich and strange range of myriad living things of the sea, serving as a living and evolving ark of marine biodiversity.
The wondrous ocean forests of The Jug are part of our successful work to stabilize the global climate after the great Antarctic catastrophe. Our shifting ecosystem has more things than you have dreamt of. You never know what you will see next. But it takes a lot of ongoing work to keep The Jug’s ecosystems healthy and safe. The human partnership with the whales is focussed on our shared work on planetary repair, building peace and prosperity after the turmoil and torment of the age of destruction. The practical side of our relationship focusses on maintenance and operations of The Jug, and on the many other working components of our global ocean carbon management system. Whales and humans have established collaborative programs to research and develop new innovative oceanic technology.
Whale-human symbiosis began in the early twenty first century following the invention of the telepathic cyphone, based on our mutual interest in sustaining the abundance and stability and diversity and beauty of life in the world seas, in all its amazing complexity. We now manage new industrial systems that are working rapidly to reduce ocean heat, acidity and nutrient damage, both across the vast open expanses of the pelagic deep and in locations at specific risk, such as coral reefs and river mouths.
Whales and humans are gradually learning to communicate and cooperate, to negotiate and to achieve shared understanding. Like attempts at dialogue between humans, we often talk past each other. Comprehension of the whale perspective has not been without difficulties for humans, who bring a host of dubious assumptions that distort our ability to listen, and who are still basically incapable of comprehending the whale eye view of time. Patience and repetition and effort do wonders for teamwork, and for our slowly emerging shared understanding of what is real and true and good.
We are gradually learning to float the waves of ideas, so to speak. We shoot the breeze in conversation between our species about science, culture, technology, philosophy and religion, of which more hither and yon. In addition to their sense of time, the whales have such senses as we have, some more and a few less, with many surprises. Beginning to see, and to echo-locate, through whale eyes helps to open our doors of perception.
The human members of The Jug operation and maintenance team meet every dawn on the bridge. Captain Oldthumb is a crusty old salt. He provides the day’s working orders and news from global management, all in his terse and occasionally blue laconic phrasody. The bridge is a glass octahedron located at the bow. Rated to one-mile depth of water pressure, the bridge provides the quarters for the crew and the operation and steering hub. It is heated by algae oil to keep out the icy chill of the sea.
The bridge is built of eight identical equilateral triangular glass panels, forming a perfect solid octahedron. Each panel is one-foot thick and each edge is five chains long. The centre of each panel is connected by a carbon beam through the centre of the bridge to the opposite panel to provide strength at depth. The internal working space is over fourteen thousand cubic yards.
A general principle for the operation of The Jug is to be self-sufficient, as far as possible. Food, energy and materials are all produced on board. Delivery of supplies is mainly restricted to high technology, bulk algae sludge and personnel. There is no use of diesel for pumping or propulsion, although we use electricity for light and power. Antennae from the top of the bridge go to the sea surface, where the movement up and down with the waves powers the circulation of air in the submarine living quarters, sucking fresh air in with the rising swell and expelling stale air on the falling wave.
The standard depth for the top surface of The Jug is about one hundred feet, or seventeen fathoms below the wave surface. At that depth, the half mile height of The Jug means the bridge is a quarter of a mile deep. We sit in calmer waters beneath the big seas at the surface, while having enough of a swell for the flukes to give propulsion and steering energy, pushing us east along the great Antarctic Circumpolar Current at a pace equal to a quick walk. We occasionally have to go deeper still, to find the snug calm waters below rough crashing weather, on those turbulent storm days when the high swirling swell and biting polar wind lash the white foam along in heaving stinging sleety breakers that you must experience to believe.
In cross section, The Jug is a circle half a mile wide, an area of 125 acres. Each linear foot of the vessel therefore holds 125 acre feet of algae slurry, and the five-mile length contains 3.3 million acre feet, almost one cubic mile. That seems big until we realize that the world ocean holds about 300 million cubic miles of water, and has average depth of nearly three miles. We are only now opening up the real potential of the world oceans, the great pioneering frontier for the new age, using the abundant capacity and massive scale of the world’s oceans to support biodiversity in ways that will continue to grow for ever. Appalling as it may seem to say, the collapse of Antarctica’s ice was the decisive break we needed to engage with reality and develop sustainable technology.
The skin of The Jug is about eight square miles in surface area, 500 square furlongs. Every day except Sundays and holidays, seven teams of robot fish, each supervised by man and whale, inspect and clean a square furlong, ten acres. The need for this regular inspection arises from the harsh marine environment. The tube of The Jug oscillates gently with the surface swell, converting the up and down motion of the waves into propulsion, driven by our vast whale flukes at the stern, copied from the tails of our good friends the kings and queens of the sea. The waves drive the flukes in mimicry of the whales, with the spine of The Jug like unto a string of iron pearls, strung out at the length of the swell, and weighted to set our depth.
The iron balls are each connected by ropes to the skin of the tube, and the entire chamber including the spine rises and falls with the swell. This vast wave energy is then transmitted through the connecting spine into the flukes, which rise and fall like the flukes of a whale, pushing us forward.
This simple mechanical robotic wave movement, combined with the activity of various marine pests, naturally brings stresses and strains to the fabric structure. Points of weakness must be found and repaired well before any risk of rupture. We float along in the strongest part of the circumpolar current. The system design and our management regime prevent the risks of fabric failure, whether from ordinary wear and tear, or from the larger challenges of icebergs, tsunamis, gales, whales, sharks, flotsam, jetsam, lightning or any other hazard. Happily in our new age of peace and planetary repair we are not worried about human hazards.
We are now halfway to our goal of building a thousand Jug-type carbon storage vessels, mining carbon to step back from the Permian precipice of global extinction that carbon emissions caused. We launch twenty cubic miles of capacity each year into the vast currents of the world ocean, using the currents as stable storage corridors. That will be enough to stabilise the climate through carbon mining.
The point of building The Jug and all its sister craft is to restore the ocean to health by mining carbon from the air and sea. Algae is grown at the equator and then transported as slurry for storage in vessels such as The Jug. Outlet pipes along the underside of the tube carry away the heavy settled slurry for sale and use, for fuel, food, fabric, fertilizer, fodder and construction materials. I will tell you more later about how all that works, and some of the political challenges, speaking politely, that we had to face to make it happen.
Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
Numbers and Dates
Measuring everything in old fashioned units – miles and furlongs - was still a surprise, at least to me, and if truth be told, an irritant for those of us not born into the new paradigm. I was raised with the belief that the metric world of base ten is universal and necessary. Although it seemed strange at first to use the new single digits ɸ and Ω for our old ten and eleven, it had not been too difficult for humans to return to the old twelve-based counting and measurement systems that the whales insisted on. After all, we had managed to keep the twelve-hour system for our clocks, with its useful quarter hours and so on, despite Napoleon’s suggestion to shift to a ten-hour day as part of his metric imperial irrationality.
Metric units had seemed so clear and distinct in the old days, but never to the whales. They would only work with us in our old traditional measures, eight furlongs to the mile, ten chains to the furlong, twenty-two yards to the chain, three feet to the yard and twelve inches to the foot. Similarly with ounces, pounds, gallons, stones, barrels and tons and all the other traditional units of size and length. The whales insisted that these units were all more natural than metric ones.
Surprisingly enough, most humans soon again found what a relief it was to count with these older measures, even if I have not caught up completely myself. What was more mind-bending for us was to also change our decimal base number system to base twelve, especially adding the new single digits for the old ten and eleven in this amazing new twelve-based whale world.
Whales lost their fingers and toes fifty million years ago when they evolved from proto-hippos to live at sea. They divide schools of fish into three or four groups, based on twelve. Their practical needs mean that whales generally prefer units which divide by three and four. Systems based on twelve divide by two, three, four or six, which from the whale perspective is better than the ten-based decimal counting which only divides by five and two. They also have an argument based on astronomy, not only that the moon has twelve months in each year, but also that the sun forms twelve years in each orbit of the planet Jupiter, and this twelve structure is part of deep time. Many humans thought that one was totally irrelevant, but the whales see Jupiter as important, as I will explain more in due course.
The new counting system with new single numbers for the old ten and eleven was simple for computers which work in base two anyway. (In deference to the reader, whose mind may well already be bending and straining, the numbers here are from the old paradigm based on the ten human digits.)
In addition to our change to base twelve counting, we have gone back to a calendar using weeks and months based on the phases of the moon. Again, this was a mind-bender that the whales insisted on as part of our paradigm shift. Whales mark time in rhythmic patterns based on tides and seasons. They feel these rhythms as easily as you can see the palms of your hands. They consider our old Roman calendar from Julius Caesar an appalling botch, even with Pope Gregory’s update to chop the extra leap days. They often take the chance to explain why they think our old calendar was indicative of a human sickness of alienation from nature, due to its separation of the month from the moon.
For whales, the seven-day week is defined by the four quarters of the moon, seen in the weekly pattern of the tides. Once we started talking to the whales, humans learned again to feel the stable seven-day pattern of the tides, getting back in tune with the cosmos, using the lights of the sky for signs and seasons.
Each month the tides have a constant cycle, as fishermen and sailors and surfers know. The new and full moons are big tide weeks, when the sun and moon are lined up and pull together in spring tides, and the first and third quarters of the moon are small tide weeks, when the sun and moon are at right angles and pull against each other in neap tides. The seven-day pattern of the moon’s phases flows straight into the size of the tides to form the structure of time. Ignoring such a basic fact was just part of our sickness, which our new therapeutic marine friends explained as one symptom of human total depravity.
Whales are nestled in the amniotic ebb and flow of the great world ocean, like a baby in the womb. In the sea, the natural structure of time measured by sun and moon is all that there is, much as an unborn baby feels its mother’s breath and pulse.
Tidal weeks now regulate our calendar. So we shifted from the old Roman solar calendar to lunar weeks. We add one or two days of holiday at the end of each month while we wait for the new moon. Every lunar quarter is now on a Monday, the weekly day of the moon, so you can tell the day of the week by looking at the size of the moon in the sky. Seven years out of every nineteen we add an extra thirteenth month for a blue moon, keeping the calendar in synch with the seasons. The year has shifted to begin in spring, a fortnight before Easter. At that time the new moon and sun are together in the stars of Aquarius or Pisces, an event which gave The Jug its name. Whales can see the stars too, and sense the planets, but more of that later.
Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
The Argice Eerigcold, my working companion inspector, is waiting at the hatch, ready to get underway with the day’s tasks. Eerigcold is a mature female orca. We have now worked together as partners on The Jug for nearly three years, and are beginning to understand each other well. The killer whales are best suited among the great whale species for the marine cooperation required to operate vessels such as The Jug. Intelligent, strong, practical, fast, helpful, communicative, wise, Eerigcold will take the lead in supervising today’s job sheet.
Today we have a routine robot clean. We will also inspect and identify any points of concern in our allotted zone. Today’s job list was provided this morning by Captain Oldthumb at the daily tasking meeting. Eerigcold and I will conduct the usual routine maintenance of Zone 23.
The communication system between humans and whales now seems directly telepathic. The technology has evolved rapidly. We share thoughts mentally as a straightforward advance from the initial human development of mental telephony. Once I have strapped in to our pod, The Argice, I flick the switch to turn on my cyphone and hear Eerigcold’s mind speaking in my brain.
“Good morning, Shimela my good friend. Are you okay?” The standard whale greeting. “Very well thank you, Eerigcold. And yourself?” “Fine thanks, nice to see you. What’s on today?” “Zone 23, routine wrasbot clean and inspect.” I repeat the Captain’s orders. “How far along?”
The zone numbers form a mosaic pattern, changing annually to randomise the maintenance schedule like a natural system of forest fire ecology. I open the log book in the pod computer screen visible to both of our minds.
“Second mile, fourth furlong.” “All buckled up? Good to go?” Eerigcold is raring. “Let’s move” I reply.
Eerigcold sets off at a steady twenty-mile-per-hour clip. We go ten furlongs from the bridge to Zone 23, the whale towing me and our gear in our scuba pod, The Argice.
We are surrounded by more fish than you could imagine, of every size and shape and every colour and shade of the rainbow, darting and weaving and glittering through the giant kelp forests around The Jug as their floating reef hatchery home.
A shimmering silver school of sardines splits the bright sunlight before us as Eerigcold and I make our way from our meeting point at the upper side of the bridge. We swim together through the blue-green sea down the long starboard flank of The Jug. Eerigcold’s flukes provide our propulsion, easy power driven by the strong muscles along the whale’s spine, joining and amplifying the energy of the ocean swell.
Swimming with whales is the most exhilarating thing people can do. Our work on The Jug and the rest of the algae haulage fleet is sometimes compared to a cowboy’s relation with his horse on the old American frontier, riding the fence line or corralling a herd, although our work with whales is a partnership of equals. The technology we use to work together with whales on pods such as The Argice enables direct communication between our nervous systems, while the pod also provides a physical container holding the materials we need for the immediate tasks at hand.
Today our main cargo is the dozen wrasbots to clean Zone 23. The Argice carries communication systems, storage capacity, long snorkel breathing hoses for both whale and man to remove any need to go to the ocean surface, and safety gear with back up propulsion system, buoyancy, air tanks and contact beacon if Eerigcold and I somehow get separated.
The daily human-whale inspection regime is needed to respect the wild unpredictability of the open sea and for routine maintenance. The kelp and fish environment grows better and the skin fabric lasts longer when we remove barnacles and other surface growth at regular inspections. For this job we bring along a dozen wrasbots, marine robot vacuum cleaners designed to mimic the work done by wrasse, the cleaner fish that keep pests off the skin of big fish like manta rays.
Each wrasbot has a programmed path. It swims by itself, implementing its instruction to find all the biggest barnacles and suchlike that may have lodged as an unwelcome passenger along its scrubbing furlong. Similar robot technology, based on vacuum cleaners, is also now used in forests on land, where wombots clear out underbrush to keep the ecosystem healthy and safe.
Along a line four rods in width (a rod is 5½ yards), four adjacent wrasbots plough a furrow path on the vessel surface fabric of The Jug, plucking up all the detritus that has lodged since the last clean. Together, in two hours the chain of four wrasbots clean an acre of skin once they reach the end of the furlong plough track, a furrow long. An acre is a chain times a furlong. In the old peasant tradition of European field division, the strip field of the acre is made of four parallel rod furrows. Taking this old subsistence agriculture model to the sea, three teams of four wrasbots pluck up everything bigger than half an inch in size, vacuuming up the collected calcium and other useful material into a storage bag, cleaning the surface skin of The Jug. A day’s work for the whole chain gang is a square furlong, ten acres.
Today is completely routine, no surprises. The two wise eyes of Eerigcold watch the work of the robot fish beginning each morning as the sun rises from the east. All day they hunt for barnacles and little snails and other things to pluck and store, working like ducks through the thin dappled lines of sun which shine through the great kelp forest on The Jug.
In the evening as the sun sets in the west, I put out the call, “La-la-la-la-lei!”. Quickly all the wrasbots come scurrying, quickly they swim, one by one, up into The Argice, our cargo pod carried by the wise-eyed whale which is their home on the Great Ocean River. The wrasbots almost never get pinged for being late, although from time to time a mechanical failure or such like will mean they don’t come back at all, and Eerigcold and I will have to go and find and fix and fetch them.
Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
Captain Oldthumb addresses the crew.
“Berg Delsorissing has changed course. Current settings indicate iceberg collision with The Jug in two-months-time, in the third week of Leo.” The Captain’s long grey beard and glittering eye speak of a life lived under the slow regular swell of polar seas, in the high southern latitudes where the sun rises upon the right.
He continues: “Delsorissing is ten square miles in surface area, and one mile deep. Minimum safe distance is ten miles. We commence course adjustment today.” The bridge of The Jug is jam-packed with equipment and experts. As well as inspectors and adventurers like me, the science, technology, engineering and mathematical crew are formidable, producing constant advances in safety, knowledge, productivity and efficiency in this grand marriage of ocean science and industrial algae management for the goal of sustainable ecology.
Iceberg avoidance is routine. The path of The Jug around Antarctica is well within the northern iceberg limit. Bergs are now once again getting bigger and more numerous, taking longer to melt since we reversed global warming after the great ice sheet collapse. We plot our path months in advance to prevent any risk of collision. From the biggest mountains down to the tiny growlers, all the bergs are mapped and tracked by global positioning satellite systems from the moment of glacial calving when they are born.
As with the weather, even our best computer systems still cannot always accurately predict the iceberg’s path. There are still more currents in the ocean than are known in our analysis. We constantly improve, and the whales continue to inform us. Course changes due to unpredicted iceberg path shift are nevertheless still a regular event.
The Captain holds our eye: “Adjustment to course to pass twenty miles north of Delsorissing at closest point. Eerigcold and Shimela depart today for berg inspection.”
And soon enough once again we are out beneath the mist and snow, wondrous cold, and then among ice mast-high, floating by, as green as emerald. Through the drifts the snowy cliffs send a dismal sheen. The ice cracks and growls, it roars and howls, it sings and groans and sighs and moans like noises in a swoon.
Eerigcold and I make good time, rollicking along beneath the waves and leaving the first ice field in our wake. A full day’s travel and all through the night. Black are the waters that sparkled so green. The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us, a-moving in hollows that rustle between. Billow meets billow, deep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.
Peace attends us. Soft the drowsy hours are creeping, whale and man in slumber sleeping, together we our watch are keeping, all through the night.
In my oceanic dreams I linger in the chambers of the sea by sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown. I hear the mermaids singing, each to each. I see them riding seaward on the waves, combing the white hair of the waves blown back when the wind blows the water white and black. They sing to me, but like Ulysses I resist the siren song.
Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!
Through the lonely sea and the sky, a star to steer, the wind’s song and a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking. The call of the running tide, a windy day with the white clouds flying, and the flung spray and the blown spume, and the seagulls crying. The gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife.
Our task is to check the Delsorissing iceberg for structural integrity, to ensure no risk exists of the berg splitting asunder before it crosses the path of The Jug. Icebergs present a fascinating variety of shapes and sizes, often battered and broken, scarred like the face of the moon. The departure of Delsorissing from its plotted path is like an asteroid perturbing in its orbit due to some unknown influence. A late cracking could change the path again, posing risk of collision.
An algae container at sea is an order of magnitude bigger than the largest supertankers of the previous metal container ship era. The Jug does not turn on a dime, and is designed to always stay in the fastest part of the Antarctic current to insure against unexpected course shift and potentially damaging structural vibration. The Jug can safely navigate within a hundred-mile-wide band in the deep Antarctic current, which has a daily flow volume of water that is six hundred times bigger than the mighty Amazon River. But safety and risk management always come first.
When an iceberg is cruising anywhere near a collision course, we plan our evasive action well in advance. Delsorissing is an unusual shape for an iceberg, long and thin, curved like a crescent moon, spinning slowly in the current. This shape was enough to throw it off the expected course for a berg of its mass, but not enough to generate such a shuddering series of shivers as to send it splitting asunder. Every iceberg is like the human mind, nine tenths of it invisible below the surface like our subconscious and unconscious, but still guiding the direction for the small visible part.
We dock at the base of the berg for inspection, aided by robot drone birds and fish. We send our drones vehicles above and below the iceberg on every side with all their laser and sonic and other sensors, and assess from the return data that this floating marine mountain is structurally sound and will not break before it crosses the path of The Jug. The planned twenty-mile course deviation for The Jug will easily be enough to avoid collision risk. I call Captain Oldthumb with this report, and send him the full data set for further analysis.
Our inspection voyage has given us the opportunity to check a field of tiny icebergs, growlers that have calved off their mother. While we are in the Indian Ocean we are looking for any bergs that we may bag up and send by kite power to Australia. Old ice water, fallen a million years ago on the high Antarctica snow mountains and then slowly making its glacial way to the sea with all its primeval isotopes and fizzy air, is well worth the price of collection. We have found a goodly number of growlers and heavers that are well worth capturing, presenting most entertaining sport for our hunt.
I, Shimela, and Eerigcold, the wise-eyed whale, explore the cruel sea together. Our souls meld, our oaths weld in wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling. As usual, Eerigcold and I have brought our collecting equipment. Today, as we pass through the southern waters of the Indian Ocean, our task is to hunt down as many growlers as we can find, bergs up to ten yards across, and send them whistling with the west wind towed by kite array on their way to Australia.
Hunting small icebergs is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, the process, although mostly quite safe to those who know their business, will strike terror into the neophyte. The growlers float among the southern seas, unaccompanied and secluded or together in random packs, often hard to see. Some mariners who give battle to the iceberg ascribe a peculiar respect to its perils. Some who boldly and fearlessly lower below the berg have seen calamities ensue in these assaults--not restricted to sprained wrists and ankles or broken limbs, but fatal to the last degree of fatality; with repeated disastrous repulses, all accumulating and piling their terrors upon the hunt for the ice.
Those things had gone far to shake the fortitude of many. Wild rumours of all sorts could not fail to exaggerate, and still the more horrify the true histories of these potentially deadly encounters. Fabulous myths naturally grow out of all surprising terrible events. In maritime life, far more than in that of terra firma, wild fantabules abound, wherever there is any adequate reality for them to cling to. And as the sea surpasses the land in this matter, so the iceberg huntery surpasses every other sort of maritime pursuit, in the wonderfulness and fearfulness of the stories which sometimes circulate there.
Of all sailors, the icemen are by all odds the most directly brought into contact with whatever is appallingly astonishing in the sea; face to face they not only eye its greatest marvels, but give battle to them. Together with the whales, in such remotest waters, that though you sailed a thousand miles, and passed a thousand shores, you would not come to any chiseled hearth-stone, or any hospitality beneath the sun. In such latitudes and longitudes, pursuing such a calling as he does, the iceberg hunter is wrapped by influences all tending to make his fancy pregnant with many a mighty birth.
Many will hearken with a childish fireside interest and awe to the wild, strange tales of the great southern seas. The pre-eminent tremendousness of those icy waters is nowhere more feelingly comprehended than on board those hardy vessels who venture there. Not altogether unlike the ferocity of the great Sperm Whale in the evil days of the great whale genocide, the icebergs of today strike more than healthy respect among those who seek to harvest them.
Hermann Melville mentioned that Moby Dick was a consternation to every other creature in the sea, and was thought so incredibly ferocious as continually to be athirst for human blood. Overawed by rumours and portents concerning Moby Dick, long practised right whalemen would refuse to embark in the perils of this new and daring warfare. Those who were ready to give chase to Moby Dick without superstitious accompaniments were sufficiently hardy not to flee from the battle if offered.
As the secrets of the currents in the seas have never yet been divulged, even to the most erudite research, so the hidden ways of the iceberg remain, in great part, unaccountable. The whale hunters speculated on the mystic modes whereby, after sounding to a great depth, the Spermaceti would appear to transport himself with vast swiftness to the most widely distant points. Like whales who journey to the Pacific from Greenland seas through the North West Passage, some icemen today continue the superstitions of the sea, declaring the icebergs to be living beings with conscious and deliberate and occasionally malicious intent and steering powers.
But even stripped of these supernatural surmisings, there was enough in the earthly make and incontestable character of the monster bergs to strike the imagination with unwonted power. For, it was not so much their uncommon bulk but the tokens whereby, even in the limitless, uncharted seas, each individual iceberg revealed its unique identity. Streaked and spotted and marbled with shrouded hue, in vivid aspect when seen gliding at high noon through a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all spangled with golden gleamings.
The icebergs are not altogether unlike some myths of the Leviathan of old. The unimaginable magnitude, remarkable hue and deformed shape is enough to invest the intrepid sailor with natural terror, even if the stories of intelligent treacherous malignity be mere fancy. Fatalities had attended the chase for icebergs, prompting a most healthy respect and caution amongst us who sought to control these creations of the vast and wild sea.
Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
Growler. In the heaving waste of the Southern Ocean, the emerald glint of the iceberg catches the sun. A small chunk, suitable for drinking water collection. It will fetch a good price in Perth. The berg is mapped by satellite, guiding us to its coordinates. Now, the capture.
Our net is a strong sheet of flexible impermeable tetraktys plastic, big enough to totally surround our quarry. We launch from next to the berg in the high seas south west of Australia. Laser holography confirms the dimensions: 120 cubic yards above the sea, 880 cubic yards below the surface. Diameter 12 yards. Exactly one acre foot in volume, minus debris. Nearly a quarter million gallons of liquid gold.
The Argice carries the equipment to tackle bergs just like this nice one. A growler-sized iceberg brings $50,000 net profit, after costs and wages. Sold at 10c per ounce, this berg would gross $200,000 for drinking water. Getting it to the tap is the goal.
We lower a 50-meter long roller of plastic into the sea, hooked to submarine drones towed and steered by Eerigcold. These marine robot craft unroll the plastic deep under the growler until the sheet is evenly positioned to surround the ice. Ropes at the four corners float to the surface and shoot by helicopter drone rockets onto the top of the berg. Joined together, the ropes shoot up a sail to pull the iceberg to Australia.
The sail catches the howling fifties. Rising high above the ocean, it pulls the sheet around the berg, and starts the slow trek north. This sail is a robot. Others use humans, like paragliders, but costs for humans are higher unless the pilot rides the sea wind for fun. 2000 km at 2 km/hour takes 40 days. A long time to sit above the blank swell, but some like it. Mostly we use robot computers.
Many men have tried it. The technology for iceberg capture started from paraglider competitions using a ball of fresh water as ballast as they flew from New Zealand to Australia and back. Fun. Flying at sea tethered to a ball of fresh water is the new adventure sport.
Now the tuna industry is on to it. Water is scarce in the desert. Acre foot bergs are fine for drinking water, but the big money is in irrigation. Eyre Peninsula wheat farmers in South Australia will pay half a million dollars for a thousand acre feet of fresh water. Reliable supply gives them two good crops every year, like California. Money in the bank. An iceberg a hundred yards in diameter sticks ten yards above the sea. Once we worked out how to catch growlers, the step up to medium and large bergs was just scaling up, and better money.
The first sail caught the wind. It let out a next sail, and a next, until a set of seven sails rode the howling winds of the Southern Ocean pulling the cargo north. The computer brain in the first sail reefed the lines to catch the wind, managed initially from the Argice, and then from the remote office in Perth.
The next step is getting the fresh water out of the bag. We use tidal pumping, the same technology that has revolutionised large scale ocean based algae production. A floating balloon tethered in sheltered water at the coast is used to pump out a bag beneath it on the ocean floor, one cycle of rise and fall per tide. Pumping a thousand acre feet of water to shore takes a day. The growler moors at the tide pump station after it has melted on the journey north, turning into a big sack of pure fresh water, with all the debris sunk to the bottom of the bag. Floating in the sheltered water of Spencer Gulf, the tide and wind give a low-cost energy pumping source for the farms. No need for polluting expensive desalination!
Icebergs are the new whales. Some men have been lost catching them, but berg catchers are a hardy breed, the pay is good, and working with an orca as a team is the most amazing and exciting and beautiful and inspiring thing a person could possibly imagine or actually do. The industry is good for the environment and the economy, so the risk is okay. There are a lot of bergs in the sea, and they will just melt anyway if we don’t catch them first.
Joined: Oct 2005 Posts: 5175 Location: Canberra
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Re: The Jug
50 million years As we move into the era of cooperation with whales, we are finding that the ideas of human superiority still have some place, within a framework of equality. Our dexterity with ideas and technology has built a global civilization. Yet the deep wisdom of the whales, their knowledge of the sea, is extraordinary. Whales have an old long term view of slow time, an accurate intuition of our cosmic place on this planet, reflecting their fifty million years of global oceanic evolution. Their view from the top of the ocean food chain, buoyed and sustained by the durable stable fecund order of the sea, has given whales a form of intelligence that humans will never match or grasp. Humans are better than whales at some things, but in spiritual wisdom and sensitivity we are their pupils. We are like children tossing pebbles into a vast ocean and imagining the ripples we cause are all there is.
Modern humans left Africa less than a hundred millennia ago. Whales have swum the seas for 500 times as long, fifty million years. Whales have learned the currents and tides and habits of fish and plankton and patterns of the seasons and skies for ten thousand times as long as humans have had metal and agriculture and writing technology. For every modern human year, the whale brain has been around for ten thousand years of stable evolution.
Humans are young in soul, every one of us. By the standard of the whales, we possess not a single belief that is ancient and derived from old tradition, nor yet one science that is hoary with age. Like ancient Greek philosophers encountering the vastly more ancient wisdom of Egypt, humans today engage with the whales in a spirit of humility and learning.
Eerigcold and I Shimela are shooting the waves as we watch the wrasbots cleaning zone 23. Eerigcold continues her explanation of whale attitudes.
“You see, Shimela,” the whale began, “our sense of time is very different from yours, deeper, longer, more sensitive, more accurate, intuitively attuned to the order of the world. For us a thousand years is as a day. We have a direct evolutionary continuity going back to the time our ancestors entered the sea, fifty million years ago.”
“We have a gravitational sense, like the sense that enables oysters to open when the moon passes above them each day. Our sense of gravity can be compared to the way a human with perfect pitch can hear and sing a musical note based on the pure fractional frequency. All life on earth shares this sense of gravity, but in the course of evolution some species develop a more acute gravitational sense. In others, such as humans, the sense of gravity mostly fades away into nothing more than a sense of up and down, and an unconscious pull like a puppet. For us whales, living in the floating environment of the sea, we are protected from the jarring that you experience on land and we have continued to enhance our deeper sensitivity to gravity.”
“Whales find it very useful to know when the moon is above the horizon for feeding and travel purposes. For this reason our genes have been selected by nature to give us the ability to sense the position of the moon by gravity. I understand that terrestrial rats have a similar gravitational sense which enables them to be more active when the moon is down so as to avoid predators.”
“Our gravitational sense is remarkably acute by human standards, and even extends to being able to sense the direction of the planets in the sky, and of the deep pulsing rhythms of the entire solar system driven by the slow orbits of the great gas giant planets. These are themes which are now the subject of important scientific dialogue between our species. We mark time by the great planet Jupiter, orbiting the sun every twelve years and joining Saturn every twenty years, as did ancient humans such as the Mayans. We have long known due solely to our gravitational sense that the solar system has a heartbeat 178.9 years in duration. Our discussions with your astronomers have enabled us to see the celestial mechanics of this pulse of the centre of mass, driven by the gas giants, and how it cumulates to even longer periods, standing in a twelvefold relation to the spin wobble period of the earth.”
“We feel this pulse of the sun, moved by the cycles of the planets, with Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune coming together every 179 years as shown in this picture of the solar distance measured by astronomers over 6000 years.”
It may seem impossible for humans to imagine that whales can somehow feel the position of the planet Neptune, which your astronomers only discovered just over one of its orbits ago, and yet here we see the deep mystery of sensitivity, how the long stability of whale evolution has attuned us to the almost undetectable feeling of the shape of our solar system as a whole.”
“Time goes by so slowly. We order time in our annual migrations between the poles and the equator, sensing the timing of the solstices and equinoxes directly like an unchained cosmic melody. We watch the rivers flow to the open arms of the sea. We whales feel the pulsing life in the rivers and currents of the ocean. As we return every year in our migrations we have a collective mind, sharing together our knowledge of our environment. We watch the slow changes of the marine cycles of sand and silt and life under the eye of eternity.”
“Our intergenerational memory means we are aware of how the things we see today slowly evolve over deep time. The rivers are lonely for us; they sigh as we return each year, as though they are asking us to wait and never leave. We hunger for the touch of the same waters that our ancestors have visited every year for many millions of years. That time scale is so far beyond your human comprehension that it is hard to explain what a long time we have been here.”
“We whales have slowly built our sensitivity to the deep stable cycles of the tides and seasons and even the great glacial and planetary cycles. Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much to build our deep love for the complex order of nature, our God. We need the love of nature, and now we need your love, so we can teach humanity to love the world and not to condemn it, to overcome the trauma of your imagined separation as a species from nature. Like the mountains, we gaze at the stars each night, waiting for the dawn of the day, together dreaming of our great love for the nurturing sustaining order of nature in the seas and stars.”
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