In this modern world of instant communications, cloud computing and Google answers to any question within a second, we find ourselves almost lost when part of the network fails us. We take for granted the ability to connect, to converse, to problem solve, to be aware of what is happening around the globe until we lose even the smallest piece of connectivity. In so many ways we are spoiled. And so it is onboard RV Mirai in the Chukchi Sea. Having taken up station at 74º45’N 162º00’W, about 225 nautical miles NW of Point Barrow Alaska, we are at the end of the communications thread. No longer are we so completely connected to the world. We are at arms reach and will remain so until the 26th of September when we depart our “Weather Station Mirai” and begin the final phase of cruise MR14-05.
I am not sure of the percentage of the globe that is covered by very reliable communications networks, whether it is land based hard wired, cellular or satellite communications, but it is far from 100%. Experienced as I am in polar operations, I am aware of the gaps at the poles. Systems such as INMARSAT that provide the backbone of marine communications are based on geo-stationary satellites that are positioned to provide coverage to the most frequently travelled oceans. The two gap areas are the two poles.
A cursory glance at published coverage maps will provide anyone with an understanding of the gaps at the poles presented by the conventional geo-stationary satellites. Certainly, there are other methods of communication than the broadband connectivity of the INMARSAT system. Some are prohibitively expensive, only within the realms of billion-dollar hydrocarbon exploration, for example. Of course, Medium and High Frequency (MF-HF) radio, when not adversely affected by solar activity, is the ultimate fallback. Other satellite systems such as Iridium with it’s constellation of low earth orbiting satellites provides the footprint over the poles, but it’s low data transfer rate precludes the luxury of broad band and instant communication.