Flying a Kite in the Great White North

Ben Ruhe
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Dr. Mike Jensen demonstrated the continuing utility of the kite for scientific studies on a two-month trip to the North Pole last summer. Traveling with a group of scientists aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden, Jensen, 32, a research associate with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in Boulder, Colorado, put up a Stan Swanson Parafoil preparatory to attaching a package of instruments to the line. The instruments measured temperature, air pressure, humidity, and wind direction and velocity as the kite rose some two kilometers into the atmosphere. Another instrument aboard measured particles in the air—how many and their size, from 20 nanometers up to 1 micrometer. The vertical profile Jensen obtained was distributed to other scientists aboard measuring specific chemicals in the air so they could try to understand where the chemicals came from, how they moved through the atmosphere, where they would end up. The data was used in studies to preserve and if possible improve the global environment. With guards posted to warn off roving polar bears, Jensen did his kite, and sometimes balloon, studies on a number of days during the voyage, which climaxed with arrival at the North Pole at 7:02 a.m. on July 31. The scientists knew they had arrived at the top of the world when their global posititioning instruments registered 90o00.00! After a breakfast that included pickled herring, smoked salmon, caviar, and champagne, the scientists and crew celebrated on the ice sheet with snowball fights, dancing, golfing, and the building of snow angels. Some skied around the world. Others took a dip in the water, guarded by scuba divers. Although it was snowing hard, Jensen flew a kite. Flags and messages in bottles were placed. Photographs were made. “Altogether, an awesome, scientifically useful trip,” sums up Jensen.

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