Low Antarctic sea ice

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 graphic, made by MetNo scientists based on the OSI SAF dataset that my colleagues at DMI also work on, shows the annual cycle in sea ice extent, that is for each individual year, how much sea ice is there around the whole of Antarctica.

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.

Figure posted by Lars Kaleschke on mastodon (#FF) showing how the Antarctic sea ice trend looks when broken down into basins

There are good reasons to be cautious interpreting these changes. Antarctica is a big place. There is a lot of climate variability and some of the patterns we know are pushing will affect different parts of the continent in opposite directions.

I tried to get this across in the clip below. Let me know if you think I succeeded…

*Yes I know it’s confusing. Maybe this National Geographic Map helps?

Out and about in Leeds..

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.

The Inughuit cliffs near Qaanaaq in Northern Greenland rising up above the sea ice. In the far distance a dog-sled is a small black speck.

A door closes, another opens…

It’s time to say goodbye to Twitter..

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.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism