Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, May 23, 2015

True North/erner

"We were a family of four kids. There would be a certain amount of talk that we would allow him to get away with at home, but then it was like, 'OK, come on, Dad!"
"He ... really loved the landscape, the wide-openness, the wildness of it. It got in his blood."
"Fairly soon after he started with the GSC [Geological Survey of Canada], he started going up north, to the Arctic."
Linda Hobson

"George cared passionately about mentoring young scientists and supporting science in the north, and involved northerners as best he could in that."
"[George consulted with northern communities] and as a result he built up a group of contacts in most if not all communities in the Arctic, because he really made a point of reaching out to northerners. A lot of scientists don't have that background, don't know how to talk to people. But George really made an effort in that."
"This included younger scientists, [he] brought them into the fold and made sure they had someone to work with."
Michael Schmidt, Geological Survey of Canada

"My attitude was to get the job done. I got my knuckles rapped a few times, even at the Treasury Board level."
"I just wanted to share what I've been able to see. The Arctic is about one-third of our [Canada's] land mass. Most Canadians live along a narrow strip and have never been able to see the North."
"It's just in me."
George Hobson, Canadian Geographic Magazine interview

George Hobson photographed on an ice island in the Arctic Ocean. Hobson died in April at age 92.

George Hobson, trained in geophysics began his career in the Edmonton and Calgary areas in the late 1940s and 1950s, heading seismic crews during oil exploration expeditions. In 1958 he moved to eastern Canada to join the Geological Survey of Canada, located in Ottawa. His daughter Linda recalls being terrified that polar bars and the darkness would spell danger for her father.

By 1972 he was appointed director of the Polar Continental Shelf Project, and he remained in that position until his retirement in 1988. The Polar Continental Shelf Project began as an initiative for Canada to explore, in the modern era, the country's northern continental shelf. It was later transformed into an agency supporting broad-based northern research.

It functions as a base where some services [time on the base or in a helicopter] were provided free of charge [or subsidized] to visiting scholars and scientists to enable them to study the land, the sea and the life that prevails there. George Hobson's position was to control the logistics involved in arranging for academics and government scientists to travel to the Arctic for study and experience.

He was a man fully committed to what he loved to do, and what he loved to do was, in essence, the job he undertook with the Polar Continental Shelf Project. He arranged for annual meetings to take place in Ottawa where Arctic researchers could meet and confer and trade ideas and remain connected with each other's research projects. The Internet makes all the contact and transmission of ideas and data more readily accessible now.

He was a down-to-earth, practical man who used the barter system to enable himself to get work done. This casual kind of exchange, hugely practical in its setting, but anathema to accounts-dependent bureaucrats often landed him in hot water. He was advised it was critical to lock up oil drums to avoid pilfering. An Ottawa functionary recommended chaining drums to a tree. A practical suggestion but not in a treeless landscape.

This intrepid northerner-at-heart operated for years  on an ice island on the Arctic coastline that had broken away from the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf at Ellesmere Island. On the ice island there were wood buildings and a runway for aircraft. But it was a solid ice foundation, floating on the Arctic ocean, however stable; not a tree has yet been seen that could grow on ice.

After retiring, Mr. Hobson took up the position of base commander for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's expedition to climb the highest peak in Canada, Mount Logan. The expedition, taking place in 1992, was a success, enabling the intrepid scientist-summitteers to accurately measure the height of the Yukon's Mount Logan.

George Hobson received recognition in being awarded the Massey Medal in 1991, for his extensive Arctic work. The Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration was added last December. This was a man, the geophysicist with an extraordinary fascination for the North, who was also involved in the search for the Franklin Expedition's missing ships; he joined three such expeditions.

Mr. Hobson died on April 16, at age 92. That date also was the birthdate of Sir John Franklin. And yet another search was undertaken with divers looking for the wreck of Sir John Franklin's flagship Erebus the very same day. "The one thing he wanted to know before he died was to know where the ships were", noted his daughter.

This photo has become nearly emblematic of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the non-profit educational organization that publishes Canadian Geographic magazine. Fun fact: it was taken on this day 20 years ago on the 150th anniversary of the Geological Survey of Canada, when a group of climbers took celebrations to a new level.

They had decided to climb Mount Logan in the Yukon, whose actual height had never been measured. Surveyors had previously used a theodolite, a type of telescope, to measure the mountain’s height. To get a more accurate measurement, the climbers lugged two GPS systems to the summit.

Sponsored by the RCGS, Michael Schmidt (who took the photo), Lisel Currie, Leo Nadeay, Charlie Roots, J-C. Lavergne, Roger Laurilla, Pat Morrow, Karl Nagy, Sue Gould, Alan Björn, Lloyd Freese, Kevin McLaughlin and Rick Staley flew to Quintina Sella Glacier to set up their base camp in May 1992. On May 12th, the team of GSC members, surveyors, mountain guides and park wardens began to climb.

They faced steep slopes, battled storms and bore the brunt of heavy loads that included climbing and scientific equipment. GPS was not as developed in 1992 as it is today, so they needed two sets of GPS units in case one failed. They also carried nearly half a ton of food for the entire climb. 

On June 6, the first of four parties strapped on their skis and headed for Mount Logan’s summit with one of the GPS systems. Their original plan was to set up the system at the summit and descend and then have a second party return four hours later to check the GPS readings. The weather was so good that day that the first party stayed on the summit for four hours. That’s when one of the climbers pulled out the RCGS flag and posed for this photo.

It turns out Mt. Logan is 5,959 metres high, making its summit Canada’s highest peak.
Canadian Geographic Magazine

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