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Mon, Jul 27, 2009

The Polar Pumpkin – Art Mortvedt And Polar Exploration

Using A Single Engine Aircraft On Polar Scientific Expeditions

By Chris Batcheller

If polar expeditions to study photosynthetic cyanobacteria in the earth cryosphere doesn’t sound like something that you’ll find at Oshkosh ... well read on. An incredible aviator is turning science into an adventure.

Art Mortvedt

Art Mortvedt is that extraordinary aviator. He operates a lodge in Alaska where the norm is quiet wilderness, cracked with the occasional rumble of a seaplane delivering hunters and adventurers into the wilderness.  His passions include science, and he proves that you don’t have to be a university scholar to make a significant contribution to the scientific community. 

Art has worked on over twenty plus expeditions to the Antarctic, the southern pole. Along on those missions was a bright Orange Cessna 185, nicknamed the “The Polar Pumpkin”.  A few years ago the Polar Pumpkin came up for sale, and Art became the proud new owner.  Determined to not let the Polar Pumpkin rest long from its mission, Art is planning a new adventure to the geographic north pole to study photosynthetic caynobacteria.  When Art completes his mission the Polar Pumpkin will have landed on both poles.  A feat that few, if any airplanes can claim.

Why study this stuff ... photo cyano what?  These bacteria can live for a really, really long time in the ice.   Studying this simple living organism will help unlock secrets to global warming and to life on Mars.  But don’t think Art is growing this stuff on his kitchen table in a Petri dish. He wants to learn about it from a birds eye view.   Enter the Laser Induced Fluorescent Emissions or L.I.F.E. camera.  With this emerging piece of technology Art can fly above the ice and gather data on the bacteria without having to disturb the environment.  This technology is also planned for use on future Mars missions.

Art isn’t going at this alone.  He has assembled a team of world experts, including Dr. Birgit Sattler of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, an expert on photosynthetic caynobacteria.  Dr. Michael Storrie-Lombardi of the Kinohi Institute, USA, an expert on the L.I.F.E. camera, is also on the team. 

To develop the methods to use the L.I.F.E. camera from the air, Art and Dr. Storrie-Lombardi flew low level in a Citabria over the Alaskan Tundra last May.  Dr. Storriee-Lombardi was able to look at the images as they are taken, giving feedback to Art to adjust his flying on the fly. 

Art plans on flying the Polar Pumpkin to the North Pole next April with the L.I.F.E. camera.  Logistics of a mission like this are complicated and take years to plan. Things like positioning fuel on a Russian polar outpost are the norm. While on his mission Art hopes to demonstrate the practicality of a ski equipped single engine airplane to polar science.  Images from the L.I.F.E. camera will be sent back to Dr. Sattler and Dr. Storriee-Lombardi for analysis. 

You can find Art and the bright orange Polar Pumpkin next to the Grimes Aviation Light Lab Beech 18 and next to Diamond Aircraft. Stop by and ask him about some of his aerial adventures.

FMI: www.polarflight90.com 

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