I dont see why they call it a bird. I think it looks rather like an artillery shell!, exclaimed Ulysse, who hadnt said a word since the Russian MI 8 helicopter had taken off from the base camp.
Because it flies, silly, answered Elliott joyfully. He was really enjoying the flight over the pack ice.
And you say this gadget measures the thickness of the pack ice? said Ulysse, rather sceptically.
Ulysse, I explained all that in the tent!
I wasnt really listening. The little salmon eggs on toast didnt want to be interrupted while they were being eaten
Interrupted! Elliot was just about to give his brother a really good thump when some turbulence threw him against the seat in front.
Elliot, how many times to I have to tell you to fasten your damn seatbelt? scolded Sam.
But I want to be ready to get out quickly if we run into an electromagnetic storm.
What a load of rubbish!
Snuggling back comfortably in his seat, Elliot turned and went on with his explanation, whispering in Ulysses ear.
By hanging that apparatus, the electromagnetic bird, under the helicopter, well be able to measure how thick the ice is.
OK, Elliot, but flying up here, how does it know how far the ice goes down under the water? objected Ulysse.
Thats easy. It uses two different rays.
Rays? You means lasers like in Star Wars? Ulysse was really interested now.
No. Well, in a way, yes. Oh, now youve got me all confused, you idiot! complained Elliot. Ill start again. One of the rays they use is a laser. The rays bounce back off the surface of the ice and tell us the shape and size of the upper surface of the ice.
Are you listening to me?
Course I am. Go on, answered Ulysse, pulling his little finger out of his nose.
Well, the other ray they use is electromagnetic. It goes right through the ice and tells us what shape it is under water.
You know everything, dont you?
And I suppose you knew all that already? huffed Elliott. So tell me, where do you find the biggest ice peaks, on the surface or under the water?
On the surface of course, laughed Ulysse.
Wrong! On the surface theyre only two or three metres high. But the ones underneath can stick down twenty metres. Theyre called keels.
There was a heated discussion in the cockpit. The Russian pilots were talking very loudly and quickly, and tapping on some instruments in front of them.
Wonder whats wrong, said the two brothers in unison.
Sam leaned over and whispered: Apparently theres a magnetic storm around, and its disrupting the flight instruments. It sometimes happens now and then, but the problem is that its been going on too long.
I cant see any storm, objected Ulysse.
If it was night time, youd see what they call an aurora borealis, with wreaths of light in the sky
green, purple and yellow light. Thats the sign of a magnetic storm. The storms are caused by solar eruptions.
One of the pilots turned around and explained that because the weather was fine, they could still fly without instruments, but that it was time to turn back anyway because everyone was breaking camp that evening.
Why are we all leaving today? We were only supposed to go tomorrow, werent we? complained Ulysse.
Sam patiently explained the situation: You remember the landing strip got a crack in it, and they repaired it by pouring fresh water in until it froze? Well, the low temperatures these last few hours have sealed up the crack with ice, so we had better leave now before a new low pressure system comes through.
And when the helicopter landed at the base camp, the whole team was packed ready to climb aboard the Antonov for the flight back to Spitsbergen.
There we are boys, said Jean-Louis. Our first little expedition to calibrate the instruments is successfully finished. Next time we come up to the North Pole, well be flying in an airship.
Are we coming too? asked Elliot.
Jean-Louis didnt really answer. He just gazed at the strange light effects caused by the ice particles kicked up by the planes engines.