Siberia From The Air

On the road…again!!!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek

 Siberia From the Air

You can’t see much from the small oval window of a jetliner but if you don’t look out you won’t see anything of the world below.  There is much you can learn if you make the effort to coax out the meaning of the passing scenes when you are fortunate enough to be in the window seat, lucky enough to have that vantage point in good sunlight and to have it all in a cloudless sky.  It can be an adventure of discovery but the experience requires a little deliberation about what to expect, what to make of it, and how to package everything into a meaningful experience.  Some people will be elated.  Others will be bored.  Some people will be able to describe a few things they saw from the air.  Others may say that there just wasn’t anything to see.  And everything in between. There are no boring passages over our magnificent landscapes but there are boring people who don’t feel the least excitement about the opportunities or the experiences. What we make out of it is limited only by our collective abilities to know, to understand, and to appreciate our natural world.

Few people would fail to grasp the magnificence of a high-level panorama of the Grand Canyon or the snow-covered Rockies.  On the other hand, there may be little enthusiasm for a passage over open ocean, or even over long stretches of snowy plains.  And everything in between.

A fortunate Footloose Forester had the privilege of a window seat on long flights over many varied landscapes.  There was a little something to remember about most of them, despite the small windows of jetliners.  As usual, he challenged himself to seek out whatever there was to see and he was seldom disappointed.  The photo below is a glimpse of Siberia from 38,000 feet.  It was late winter (20 February 2017) but there still was snow on the ground for about 1000 miles, an unbroken stretch of snow.  The in-flight maps and navigational aids that were readily available to passengers on our Airbus 380 made it possible to estimate our location, speed, elapsed time, and other clues that made for fair guesses regarding our flight plan over northern Canada, along the Aleutian chain, and into Siberia.  A thousand mile stretch of snowbound Siberia was not an exaggeration.

It should be acknowledged that the flight simulations are only crude models of the dynamics, partly due to limitations of precision as a result of the scale of the optic depictions.  From time to time, it is possible to "ground truth" the realities by comparison with ground features.  In-flight dynamic maps are, nevertheless, very useful as sources of information.


A seeming sameness from one vantage point is anything but sameness on the ground

Taking photos was not very fruitful that day because there was cloud cover most of the way.  Only occasionally was it worthwhile for the Footloose Forester to take a photo on his iPad and even then, the features on the ground in the regions with the heaviest snow tended to be smoothed out into large banks of deep snow. The photo above was chosen to emphasize the remoteness and vastness of Siberia.  Occasionally, a small city or large village glinted in the sun as we flew by.  We passed east of the major cities of Khabarovsk and west of Vladivostok but almost without exception, the cities and towns were isolated from one another and connected by a long solitary road.  There was little sign of industrial activity or movement on the ground, although the visibility was good enough to pick out individual houses and apartment buildings.  One supposes that people are housed primarily in apartment buildings because of the efficiency in constructing living spaces that have community heat and energy systems.

There was a gradual decline in the expansiveness of the snowpack as we left Russian airspace and penetrated into the airspace of North Korea.  Despite flying in a southwesterly direction toward Seoul, South Korea, snow blanketed most of the rugged land in the northern part of North Korea.  The photo below was the only one suitable to show some features on the ground.



The northern mountains of North Korea were just as bleak as Siberia

The region was as bleak as Siberia and uninhabited, for the most part.  The Footloose Forester looked for ice-free rivers but could see only frozen ones.  It was late February but it was still bitter cold on the ground. The temperature outside of our airplane was -85° F. at one point but at 38,000 feet above the snow, that was not unexpected.

The polar route from New York to Seoul taken by our Asiana Air Flight 221W also passed over Alaska before turning southwest along the Aleutian Islands.  There was just enough definition in the occasional sightings of land to make out some terrain features and to get a pretty sharp image in bright sunlight of large sections of floe ice breaking apart. To some people that might seem as interesting as seeing a broken pane of window glass on the floor, but to the Footloose Forester, that broken sheet of sea ice became a mental snapshot that persists.


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