Friday, May 20, 2011

Every story has a beginning III

Here I am, back in the virtual world after a far longer absence than I would have liked. The truth is that things have been rather difficult over the past few months. I haven’t even had time to update this blog. Followers of Hyperborea Exists, I hope you’ll accept my sincerest apologies. Now that I’m back, here is a new entry in the series ‘Every story has a beginning’. In this series, I’m progressively explaining how I came to be professionally and academically involved in the Hyperborea myth.

As I explained in the second post in this series, the first week of our work and observational expedition was calm and routine with nothing out of the ordinary. The second week began very much like the first. No new developments. Until we reached the twelfth day of underwater prospecting. On the twelfth day, Olve, Geir and I woke up as usual. We were just finishing breakfast and having our first coffee of the day when we received an alert informing us that we had reached the next waypoint. That meant it was time to launch one of the mini-submarines into the water. It would show us the ocean floor before we laid the next stretch of guide cable.

Rise of Barracuda 1. After carrying out on-site observations with the underwater robot throughout the day, it had to be recovered in order to collect the samples gathered and perform maintenance.

After winching Barracuda 1 up and launching it into the ocean, we squeezed into the operations room where Olve was in charge of operating the robot by remote control. The submarine slowly descended to the ocean floor, almost ten thousand feet deep. It took half an hour for the robot to reach the bottom then it started to explore the area where the guide cable would be laid. This part of the seabed wasn’t flat; there was a mini-fault and several sharp drops so it was important to check the entire area carefully. We were at the far south of what is known as the Jan Mayen reef, about half a mile from Iceland.

The environment was rich in marine flora and fauna. Geir was thrilled, this was a great opportunity to observe the species that populated this small section of sea, even if it was from a distance. Fish tend to be extremely shy at these depths, so each animal we spotted was a small achievement for all of us. Geir’s enthusiasm was catching. He was focused on any living creatures that appeared before Barracuda 1’s cameras. Olve was concentrating on operating the submarine, no easy task considering the underwater conditions. Meanwhile, I was carefully examining the reef, rock and ocean floor formations in search of any pattern that might mean possible archaeological remains. I was very thorough, even if I was convinced that we wouldn’t find anything there.

We spent two hours observing the seabed. This phase had nearly finished and we were just about to raise Barracuda 1 back up to the boat when we made our first discovery. We spotted what looked like a well, an opening in the middle of a hundred-foot long ridge. I was keen to explore it. Geir was too. He thought there might be a rich ecosystem inside the well and perhaps he would be able to catalogue a new species. I was interested because I’ve always been fascinated by underwater subterranean formations. I wanted to see whether it was just a well or the entrance to a larger system of galleries.

Nyocema in detail. This elongated orange and very rare fish was seen both in the Niflheim cave and in other abyssal points of the Atlantic Ocean.

Olve carefully guided Barracuda 1 into the well. It was a tricky manoeuvre. If the robot bumped into the rocky sides, or was struck by falling rocks, it could be seriously damaged. And this visit wasn’t exactly within the remit of our mission. It turned out to be a fairly large cave measuring about sixty-five metres high, a hundred and thirty metres long by a hundred metres wide. The floor was covered in very pale sand. Small coral colonies were scattered across the cave and Geir made his first great discovery of the mission when a strange-looking, long orange fish appeared. It would later be named ‘neocyema’. We also found an unusual blue octopus that was extremely curious about Barracuda 1.

When the submarine robot entered the cave, its propeller blades stirred up lots of ‘dust’ that had been lying on the floor. At one point it became very hard to see, so we decided that as soon as the dust settled and our vision improved, we’d guide the robot back up to the surface. When Olve could finally see, he drove Barracuda 1 towards the exit. That was when I saw it. A reflection caught my eye. We hadn’t spotted it earlier because it had been covered by a layer of dust but now it stood out clearly. It was a small, spherical formation and although it was surrounded by coral it instantly grabbed my attention. It definitely wasn’t naturally occurring.

Abyssal Octopus. This animal showed great curioisty for the Barracuda 1 when it entered the cave of Niflheim.

We guided Barracuda 1 closer for a better look. When we were about three feet away, Olve used a robotic arm to get a feel of the formation. The arm stretched out and opened its pincers to grab the sphere. The pincers closed around the object and tried to pull. We were out of luck. Whatever it was, it was firmly stuck to the ground. However, we soon noticed that as the robot pulled, the ground around the object moved too. It appeared to be attached to something bigger, something that was neither the ocean floor nor rocks. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Everything pointed towards the discovery of strange archaeological remains. But the remains of what? I didn’t have the faintest idea.

Followers of Hyperborea Exists, I’m afraid that’s all for this post. When I return, I’ll explain what happened next and our first discoveries in the Cave of Niflheim. That was the name we gave to the cave, after a world that appears in Nordic mythology. Thank you for your support, as always, and above all your patience with my delays in updating the blog. Best wishes to you all.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Every story has a beginning II

Dear followers of Hyperborea Exists, it’s been over a month since I last wrote. It seems that the gods are determined to prevent me updating the blog more regularly but fear not, sooner or later I’ll always be back in touch. The truth must be discovered.  In my last post I started to tell the story of how I really became involved in the Hyperborea myth. Here is the second part.

As I explained, on 7 June 2000 I set forth from Bodø in northern Norway aboard the Blue Sea with Geir Grønvoll and Olve Raaen, my colleagues from the NTNU. Geir is a renowned expert in submarine ecosystems and Olve specialises in applied robotics. Olve was in charge of Barracuda 1 and 2, the submarine robots that would reveal first-hand what lay in the murky depths. I was involved in the expedition as an expert in submarine archaeology, just in case we discovered any remains along the proposed route. It was rather like building a motorway. Before you can begin, first you have to study the environmental impact and check whether or not the work will affect any archaeological remains.
Descriptive diagram of the elements that configure a submarine cable system. 
On this project we didn’t expect to find anything significant because the route was a long way away from all standard maritime routes and there were no records of any shipwrecks in the area. However, international regulations meant that these checks were compulsory. As you can imagine, my expectations were low. In fact, of the three of us, I was the only one who didn’t expect to find much. Greir was the most enthusiastic because the expedition served as the perfect excuse for him to closely observe marine environments that he would never have been able to study otherwise. The cost would have been prohibitive, after all, we’re talking about depths that range between ten and thirteen thousand feet.

The first week was fairly routine. Our route was north-northeast for six hundred nautical miles, at which point we would turn east-southeast until we reached Iceland. A direct route east had been ruled out because Nordic Communications hoped that this cable would be the first of two. The second cable would connect to Greenland. The point where we changed direction would be the location for an interconnector that would one day function as a bridge between Iceland, Greenland and the continent.

Submarine cable. During our surveys we deployed hundreds of kilometers of Steel guide cable. This photo was taken by Barracuda 1, one of the two underwater robots that we used during this Project.

We woke up between 5 and 6 am each morning to start work just as the first rays of sunlight appeared over the horizon. Our routine was to move from waypoint to waypoint releasing the Barracuda robots at each location and observing the ocean floor and environment to assess the viability of the ‘path’. If a waypoint proved to be viable, the next waypoint was assigned and the Nordic Comms team released the steel guide cable. This guide cable would be used to lay the real cable once we had finished our job.

Among our observations, we focused on the following aspects: local fauna and flora, rock and coral formations and, for my part, any traces of archaeological remains. The Barracuda robots made our work far easier. Before they were invented, we would have had to carry out highly dangerous dives in pressurized suits. Or simply omit on-site checks, so that the workers who laid the cable would be unaware of any damage that they could cause. That first week was fairly calm and without incident. Things started to get interesting in the second week. 

But I’ll save that for the next update. That’s all for today, I’m afraid, duty calls. We’re making good progress and are closer and closer to revealing the truth behind the Hyperborea myth.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Every story has a beginning I

Dear followers of Hyperborea Exists, I hope that you’re having a good start to 2011. I’ve begun the New Year much as 2010 ended: working non-stop. Obviously that’s a good thing, considering these difficult times. Today I’d like to begin a series of posts that will progressively explain how I first became involved in researching the Hyperborea myth. As the title describes, every story has a beginning, and this is the beginning of mine with Hyperborea.
NTNU main building. Trondheim, Norway.
It all started over ten years ago, in the summer of 2000. Back then I had been working as a resident teacher and researcher at the NTNU for over eight years. My time was divided between teaching submarine archaeology classes and various field work projects that we were developing for the Norwegian government, other institutions and private companies. We had our own research to complete on top of that.

As I’ve mentioned before, ever since I was a boy I’ve always had a great passion for Nordic mythology, for the legends of my land. It was, and is, a subject that inspires me and I’ve always read, studied and researched anything I could find on it in my spare time. In an ideal world, a researcher like me should be able to live off researching their grand romantic dreams. But real life isn’t like that. So the field work that dominated my schedule normally had nothing to do with the area that fascinated me the most.

I don’t mean that I didn’t find it interesting to rescue 17th century shipwrecks or Second World War remains. Quite the opposite. All the projects I’ve worked on have been both important and personally satisfying. But there was always something niggling away inside me, telling me that something was missing. That I needed something more if I was going to feel fulfilled in life, on a personal level and also as a professional researcher and explorer. A challenge that matched my true interests.

It seems that fate heard my secret wishes for once. In June 2000, the Nordic Communications consortium contacted the NTNU requesting assistance with a study. It needed help assessing the viability of laying an underwater fibre optic cable that would connect the continental Nordic countries with Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The project proposed to use over 900 miles of submarine cables. It was unquestionably one of the largest projects in which we had ever been involved. Our role, in collaboration with the company contracted to carry out the on-site work, required us to study the best route for the cable, its environmental impact on the ocean floor and ultimately, whether or not the project was viable.

It would involve several procedures. First a sonar and radar study of the ocean floor along the route proposed by Nordic Communications. So far, the suggested route had been chosen because it was the most economical i.e. it was the straightest route possible. Once we had studied the results, if this initial route proved to be unworkable, we would then study secondary routes and repeat the first step. If the first route was viable, we then had to lay a basic steel test cable. This would determine the actual conditions on the ocean floor and reveal any high risk points that would require additional action when the real cable was laid.

So, after running some preliminary studies, we packed up our kit and boarded Nordic Communications’ chartered boat, the Blue Sea. I was joined by Geir Grønvoll and Olve Raan, colleagues at the NTNU, and two small but highly useful submarine robots: Barracuda 1 and Barracuda 2. They belonged to the NTNU and would be essential for observing what was happening on the ocean floor as we laid the steel cable in real time.

It was 7 June 2000. A long month of hard work on the high seas awaited us..