I wrote this series of comics to amuse and inform my kids while I was on fieldwork a few years ago. It turned out to be quite a success and my kids classes both read the Danish versions at their school.
I asked yesterday on mastodon if I should do another this year, and the only feedback I got was I should try to finish the one I started last year. So maybe that’s what I’ll try to do. It’s always challenging fitting around field tasks though so no promises.
This is just a quick post from the airport: you’ve been warned, bat girls and her friends are on their way back with a new season!
It’s a really thorough introduction to the climate system and all the natural sources of climate variability and cycles of change, including links to sources. Well worth taking your time over with a morning cup of tea and probably I’ll assign it as an introduction text for BSc students (and management) on the big picture of climate change.
I also love it for the introduction where multiple eminent and respected scientists are asked what they’d buy with all the dollars they’d have if they were given one dollar every time someone asked them about “natural climate cycles”. As you might expect, the answers range from heat pumps and solar panels to new bicycles and a time machine.
Not sure what I’d use it to pay for, possibly a new postdoc position to work on snow and ice processes?
*as an aside: I haven’t read Ars Technica in ages. And it’s funny because I remember that when I first started on twitter way back in 2010 there were *a lot* of good articles shared from there on the bird site. Somehow they either were not shared or got suppressed and I stopped seeing them. I’m not sure if that was due to the algorithm or different people I was following. One of the nice things about mastodon is that without an algorithm (and crucially, by following *a lot* of people!) there is a chance to see a much greater diversity of different media. It feels a bit like seeing a different internet, outside the standard walled garden.
Currently, I’m very busy getting ready with colleagues to travel to Greenland next week. We have an extremely full programme of fieldwork activities covering oceanography, biology, sea ice, snow and glacier processes as part of our NCKF work. More on these no doubt in a future post…
Yesterday, one of my ace DMI colleagues (without whom most of the work we plan would definitely not happen) shared the first optical satellite image of the area this year – taken by ESA’s Sentinel 2 (a truly astonishing source of free imagery and everone should know about it). Because the area is very far north, it has been in the Polar night until now so we have been reliant on the ESA Sentinel 1 imagery based on radar.
Non-exhaustive list of (occasionally erroneous) reasons why climbing makes me science better (and explaining inter alia why I interview awfully). Prompted by this stupid tweet1: How can being a rock climber (or a baker, or a stand-up comedian, or…) make you a better researcher? Scientists share their thoughts (and their hobbies) in this #NextGenSci: https://t.co/v8JoesyzJ2 […]
I’ve often been contacted by various journalists to comment on different science stories, usually related to Greenland, the ice sheet or more generally glaciers and climate change. This makes sense, I’ve spent the last 20 years studying the interactions between the climate system and the cryosphere.
Last week, I was asked to comment on the record minimum Antarctic sea ice extent (scroll to the bottom to see what I had to say). While sea ice is not exactly my area, it’s pretty close, and I have looked into it in some detail given that I am also part of the ESA Climate change initiative for sea ice.
Update: I just became aware that the ever entertaining and informative Dr Ella Gilbert has a superb video over on youtube which discusses all of this in some detail. She’s far more engaging than I am so I’m just going to drop the link here. You can probably skip the rest of this post..
Last year, whilst working on the sea ice, I had to acknowledge to my sea ice colleagues – it is an awful lot more interesting than I’d originally thought. Probably the moment when I really got it though, was when my colleague Andrea urged me to taste the frost flowers we had just spotted growing next to a sea ice lead, as in this this picture on the left.
They are delicate, soft, and almost fizzy with salt. How can you not wonder about their formation and wonder about the role of sea ice in the fjord system?
Back to Antarctic sea ice: The current wave of media stories has been about the new record low sea ice area. The annual minimum, reached in February was about 1.7 million km2, or about 1 million km2 less than the average sea ice extent at the annual minimum. As the figure below shows, there is a really clear annual cycle with sea ice growing from February to September, when it reaches it’s maximum, and then declining again to February the following year when it reaches a minimum extent.
This pattern is pretty similar to the Arctic where the sea ice has a maximum area in Feb/March and a minimum area in September.
If you sum this whole area around Antarctica up to one number per year, there is no clear trend – in fact until 2016, Antarctic sea ice appeared to be increasing, in direct opposition to the Arctic area which has crashed over the last 30 years. Then things have changed.
The figure below, plotted by my colleague Gorm Dybkjær and presented at the Danish Antarctic science seminar clearly shows this. Blue colours indicate above average sea ice area, red colours below average.
However, as many others have also pointed out, although the overall trend was increasing up to 2016, that increase largely came from one basin, the Weddell Sea, which in contrast to the Ross Sea, Bellingshausen Sea and Amundsen Sea sectors*, was increasing it’s area covered by sea ice. Now all sectors have seen a decrease.
I’ve been on holiday this last week and I’m combining the trip to the UK with a visit to colleagues and collaborators at the University of Leeds. I’ve also been nabbed while I’m in Leeds to give a wider interest talk at the Royal Meteorological Society Yorkshire branch in Leeds.
I’ll be discussing ice sheets, their contribution to sea level rise and how the future is looking. There may also be some nice photos from our fieldwork in Northern Greenland for those who like dogs, icebergs and snow…
If you’re in Leeds and fancy joining you’re most welcome to register and attend at this link.
In general, I’m trying to reduce my travel this year, last year, with all the rolled over meetings from the COVID times was disruptively busy with work travel, it makes it challenging to actually get the work done. So I think combining work and holidays and rolling up meetings into a block is the way forward.
Although I very much appreciate the opportunity to present online at various meetings, I’m less convinced about hybrid meetings where the purpose is mostly scientific discussions, that is something that works much better either all online or all in person in my opinion, but I think they work well when the aim is to present new and ongoing work (like EGU).
For those who are interested but can’t attend I will see if the talk tomorrow will be recorded and can be uploaded somewhere. Here’s the abstract:
Frozen Threats: Understanding the Role of Ice Sheets in Sea Level Rise
In this talk, we will delve into the world’s ice sheets and explore their importance in the climate system. Ice sheets are the largest stores of freshwater on the planet, their size and location means they influence our climate but their interactions with the atmosphere and ocean are complex. As the world warms, they will inevitable have an impact on sea level. Adapting to sea level rise will be one of our civilisations biggest and longest challenges, so understanding ice sheets is now of critical importance. They are also beautiful and fascinating environments in their own right. In this talk I will discuss some of the scientific challenges, but also show how far we have come in understanding ice sheets and glaciers.
I posted towards the end of last year about my early explorations of the fediverse (the federated universe – seriously it’s awesome check it out) of apps and websites that can talk to each other but cover a vast range outside of the walled gardens of the corporate controlled internet. Like many people who were (probably far too) intensely online, the changes at Twitter were forcing me away from that platform, which I had been on for a decade. And on which I had more than 10,000 followers
After a few weeks I was completely enraptured by the community on mastodon, far more independently minded, creative and yes, that awful tech bro cliche, disruptive. It was, as is also now fast becoming a bit of cliche, like going back to 2011 Twitter.
On mastodon, as of February 2023 I now have 3600 followers and follow about 2000 accounts. I get far far more interesting interaction and discussion than on my old twitter account with three times as many followers. I’m not the only one noticing this. To be clear it’s taken some “work” to get there. Finding new accounts, dealing with a less than intuitive UX and working out what is of general interest has taken some time. If htis post makes you curious, I recommend the feditips page as a good starting point.
I’m now a fully signed up active member of the fediverse with a pixelfed account (think instagram before the annoying tiktok immitation and with a lot fewer “influencers”), 2 mastodon accounts (probably soon to be amalgamated to one tbh) and some tentative explorations of friendica (a bit like facebook when it still seemd like a cool way to keep in touch with friends and family abroad, jury is still out on this one tbh, I’m trying to keep it for personal friends and family only).
Blogging also seems to have come back into my purview. And it’s fun, thinking about writing and science in quite a different way to the one imposed by the 280 character limit (some of us remember when it was 140).
A few months down the line and while activity on mastodon has subsided since the first waves in 2022, the hard core who are still here are REALLY cool. I feel refreshed and revitalised after checking the stream in a way I have not experienced for a long time on twitter.
It’s also made me reflect on the way I had used social media in the past (probably far too much time spent there if I’m honest with myself). I had accumulated a lot of followers and could quite happily spend hours browsing the algorithmic feed, but especially recently, a lot of that browsing was like snacking on cookies, it was time that would have been more fufilling going in depth on a project or enjoying my leisure time without thjat SoMe filter. At some point twitter helped to find good stuff too, but even before the Musk takeover and mass departures it wass getting harder and harder to find genuinely interesting stuff amid the flood of witty oneliners and outrage driven algorithmically pushed tweets.
After the takeover there has been poisonous floodtide of misinformation and anti-science drivel, not to mention anti-semitism, racism and general bigotry. The climate denial that has arisen since Elon Musk bought the platform wasn’t even this bad during climategate. I have no idea why it has got this awful again recently. I assume the same state actors and misinformation manipulators and their bot armies. Either way, even though I missed some accounts and friends, I no longer want to be supporting a billionaire’s hobby project. SO in the best social democratic tradition, I’m withdrawing my (free) labour.
I moved over towards the end of last year and while I kept an eye on the birdsite, I didn’t feel the need to engage there anymore. I was cross-posting exclusively from Mastodon to Twitter until the crossposter service was ended at the end of January. The end of the open API this week is probably the final end for me. I may post links to my blog for a little while longer, but probably that’s just prolonging the inevitable.
So now it’s time to take stock. I will hold on to my account, though probably locked to new followers, I may drop in from time to time but I don’t plan to engage over there at all. I have downloaded my archive (while I still could) and started deleting my tweets. As of today there is a year’s worth left. I’ll probably scrap that at some point too.
So, do I miss it? Yes, a bit. More than I missed the swamp of facebook when I left there in 2016. But not as much as I thought I would. Possibly because the discovery of the fediverse is leading me to becoming a far more active netizen again, rather than a passive consumer of snack food. I do miss some accounts and friends who have not moved over, though I hope they will one day.
And the ever wise Danish genre and Grundtvig expert Sune Auken expressed it pretty well in one of his daily reminders: “I know why I left, and I know what I lost, but I’m not going back and I don’t miss the experience of twitter even as I miss excellent friends”
And where from here? Well the cool thing about the fediverse is we are in control, we get to decide (at least to some limited extent) what it should look like in the future. It is not a corporate walled garden, we get to work on and improve it and make it after our own image. The same was once true to some extent of twitter and in fact many of it’s best features were user-driven originally.
More to the point, this whole sorry saga has made me realise two things: I don’t want to build stuff on someone else’s platform anymore.
I need to be much more mindful of the way I use social media and the internet. I have too many responsibilities to family, friends and work to fritter away a mindless hour on social media snack food. But there is nonetheless value and entertainment in creating and sharing:
The bottom line of this general thinking is that a simple, carefully curated, minimalist digital life is not a rejection of technology or a reactionary act of skepticism; it is, by contrast, an embrace of the immense value these new tools can offer…if we’re willing to do the hard work of figuring out how to best leverage them on behalf of the things we truly care about.
War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses.
But most of all I’m reminded of Gary Kasparov’s declaration that the point of modern propaganda is not to make you believe something but it’s to make you believe nothing. (I paraphrase slightly). Much of the piece is about how the Russian propaganda operation as been so successful at engendering doubt about Ukraine and the state of relations between Russia and Ukraine.
I sometimes feel the invasion of Ukraine has really been a wake-up call for many of us because it’s just so undeniable. An actual event happening to real people that we know with a pretty clear narrative. The genius of Russian influence operations has always been to muddy the waters sufficiently that it was a little hard to trust anything that anyone said or wrote.
In this sense I’ve also found Timothy Snyder’s series on the making of modern Ukraine (which I’ve been listening to over the last few weeks) brilliant and helpful and interesting. The subject is fascinating, but it also because it becomes clear listening to a historian that, yes there can be different ways to interpret events, but the events themselves are real and we have a duty to try to learn the facts before judging them.
This is of course exactly how scientists should think, that we have to establish good observational data before trying to interpret it. We also need, inevitably to consider what are the uncertainties and likely range within that data. What is missing? What can’t we know? What is the most likely interpretation based on the things we can observe? How reliable are our measurements?
One of my favourite teachers at school who really helped to develop the way I think was very clear on how to do this. And he was not a scientist, he was a historian.
Ultimately, I was more interested in understanding the physical world and went on to study glaciers, ice sheets and the climate system at the poles. However, as I’ve been focusing more on sea level rise and how on earth we adapt to a changing climate it’s quite clear that going back to the social sciences will be important to understand human behaviour. And the murky way other actors seek to influence us as we adapt to climate change is also going to be important to understand. There has been undue influence from a “Merchants of Doubt” perspective for sure for many years when it comes to the causes of climate change and the effects. This is very clear in the mess of climate denial that the new Lord of Twitter has unleashed, it’s a little bit like returning to 2009.
Anyway, this is a bit incoherent maybe. But it’s a great piece for clarifying what we know now and maybe for working out what comes next in terms of Russian interference in democratic institutions. And from a climate scientist perspective it’s also another reason to try to avoid (if we can), becoming just another cultural battleground. This is also key: it’s not always about money, sometimes people really are being manipulated for other reasons:
“When people act in the interest of a foreign power, it is sometimes for money, it is sometimes because the foreign power knows something about them, it is sometimes for ideals, and it is sometimes for no conscious motive at all — what one thinks of as one’s own motives have been curated, manipulated, and directed. It seems quite possible — I raise it as a hypothesis that reasonable people would consider — that some mixture of these factors was at work at FBI New York in 2016.”
Historically Denmark has not done a huge amount of Antarctic science. We are the only Nordic country (apart from Iceland) without an Antarctic station for example, but quite a lot of research has been done in collaboration with other countries. Of course you could argue that with our natural focus on Greenland and the Arctic, we don’t really need one…
The threat of sea level rise, with a large portion coming to Denmark from Antarctica has rather focused our minds on down south though and on this basis I now have several research projects with an Antarctic ice sheet and climate focus, including PolarRES, PROTECT and the just started OCEAN:ICE – I will write more on all of these at some point.
Of course it’s not just my employer DMI who knows that in spite of being far away, the coldest, driest, windiest continent is important in the global system and especially to Denmark in a sea level rise perspective. We have also been monitoring ozone and sea ice for decades and making ice charts for navigation when required also.
The Danish Technical University have also been flying remote sensing missions in Antarctica for decades and the Niels Bohr Institute have been involved in several big ice core projects, including the oldest ice core currently underway. GEUS and Aarhus University have geological interests and there are various biology research programmes underway too, while the IGN have a project using old soviet spy satellite imagery that sounds like a plot from a cold war novel…
All of which is to say, it’s time for a small get together to find out who is doing what, going where and when and who would like to plan and collaborate together on new and exciting projects.
The Danish Antarctic Science seminar, an annual event, will be held on the 2nd February at DMI this year and online. It covers all sciences, not just climate and ice sheet and this year we’d really like to get a broad group representative of the full spectrum of polar science in Denmark, so do feel free to register and listen in and discuss, even if you have no active or inactive projects in the Antarctic.
Let me know if you are a danish – based scientist and would like to come along or if you are otherwise interested and we’ll see what can be arranged. Deadline for registration is the 30th January!
One of the advantages of being part of a research institute are the fascinating conversations that happen over lunch between colleagues working in different areas. Today was a classic with conversation ranging from the stratospheric effects of the Hunga-Tonga eruption to the different types of snow crystals that form in snow packs and their impacts on sea ice. However, the conversation started with a request to me for some rules of thumb on sea level rise, so here they are:
The Greenland ice sheet loses on average around 250 to 280 Gigatonnes of ice each year – that’s from all processes including melt and surface runoff, iceberg calving, basal melting and submarine melting.
The small glaciers and ice caps around the world contribute a bit more to sea level rise in total each year than each of the big ice sheets currently, but they will be quickly exhausted. As there are thousands of small glaciers, most of which are not well monitored, we have to estimate how these are changing using models. It appears that on avergae they add around 0.7 to 1 mm of global sea level rise each year.
The thermal expansion of the oceans is still the largest part of currently observed sea level rise but on an annual basis, the cryosphere now often contributes more.
Since the early 1990s sea level rises about 3mm every year, but over the last 5 years it has been closer to 4.5mm per year. The curve over the last 2 decades has followed a quadratic shape rather than a linear shape – put simply, this means sea level is accelerating. The sea rose 10mm from January 2020 to August 2021.
An El Nino, which some are warning could occur this year, may cause a temporary pause or at least slow down in sea level rise, even as global air temperatures increase, mostly due to the large amounts of rain that are associated with it, but this will only be temporary.
While the rate (3-4 mm per year) doesn’t sound like very much, every mm counts, increasing the risk of coastal flooding and storm surges affecting coastal communities.
Finally, global sea level rise is not distributed evenly, broadly speaking, the further away from an ice mass you are, the more likely it is to affect your local sea level, so Greenland matters less than Antarctica in Northern Europe.
I hope these little rules of thumb help. Feel free to add more (or disagree) in the comments..