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US researcher claims explorer Byrd came close, but did not reach North Pole in 1926.

Washington, Apr. 9 ( ANI ): When renowned explorer Richard E. Byrd returned from the first-ever flight to the North Pole in 1926, he sparked a controversy that remains today: Did he actually reach the pole?

Studying supercomputer simulations of atmospheric conditions on the day of the flight and double-checking Byrd's navigation techniques, a researcher at The Ohio State University has determined that Byrd indeed 'neared the Pole', but likely only flew within 80 miles of it before turning back to the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen.

Gerald Newsom, professor emeritus of astronomy at Ohio State, based his results in part on atmospheric simulations from the 20th Century Reanalysis project at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NO).

"I worked out that if Byrd did make it, he must have had very unusual wind conditions. But it's clear that he really gave it a valiant try, and he deserves a lot of respect," Newsom said.

At issue is whether Byrd and pilot Floyd Bennett could have made the 1,500-mile round trip from Spitsbergen in only 15 hours and 44 minutes, when some experts were expecting a flight time of around 18 hours.

"The flight was incredibly controversial," Newsom explained, adding: "The people defending Byrd were vehement that he was a hero, and the people attacking him said he was one of the world's greatest frauds. The emotion! It was incredibly vitriolic."

Newsom was unaware of the debate, however, until Raimund Goerler, now-retired archivist at Ohio State, discovered a flight journal within a large collection of items given to Ohio State by the Byrd family at the naming of the university's Byrd Polar Research Center.

In 1995, Goerler opened a previously overlooked cardboard box labeled "misc." In it, he found a smudged and water-stained book containing hand-written notes from Byrd's 1926 North Pole flight and his historic 1927 trans-Atlantic flight, as well as an earlier expedition to Greenland in 1925.

Goerler looked to Newsom for help interpreting the navigational notes.

"Given the strong opinions on both sides from people in the polar research community, we thought an astronomer who had no prior opinion about the flight would have the skills to do an assessment, and the neutrality to do it in an unbiased way," he said.

The problem, Newsom quickly found, is that the notebook didn't contain any calculations of ground speed, only the results of the calculations.

Newsom found that the barograph recording and calibration graph were remarkably small. A change of atmospheric pressure of one inch of mercury would equal only one quarter of an inch on the barograph record.

Changes in the atmosphere at different latitudes meant that Byrd's calibration graph lost accuracy during the duration of the flight.

Newsom calculated that this could have led Byrd to believe that he had reached the pole when he was still as much as 78 statute miles away, or caused him to overshoot the pole by as much as 21 statute miles.

Next, Newsom decided to test whether Byrd could have experienced strong tailwinds as he claimed, and to do that, the astronomer turned to an unbiased resource of his own: NO's 20th Century Reanalysis dataset.

Using U.S. Department of Energy supercomputers, NO calculated likely atmospheric conditions all over the earth for every six hours between 1870 and 2010.

The data used a computer model that calculated 56 plausible scenarios for every six-hour interval, and the results of the 56 model atmospheres were averaged together to arrive at the most likely conditions.

The model winds did not appear consistent with what Byrd said, so Newsom examined each of the 56 scenarios individually, to see if even one of them allowed for strong tailwinds during the trip. They didn't.

And, since the plane was theoretically high enough to see nearly 90 miles to the horizon, Byrd may not have reached the pole, but even in the worst-case scenario, he almost certainly saw it through his cockpit window. ( ANI )

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Publication:Asian News International
Date:Apr 9, 2013
Words:671
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