Greenland Glacier Ocean Warming

The Swedish icebreaker Oden will visit Petermann Fjord in northern Greenland in 6 months time. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a large geophysical and geological experiment after excruciating peer-review over a 4-year period. The experiment shall reveal climate histories from sediment cores, geomagnetics, and both bottom and sub-bottom sonar profiling. Besides this main mission Oden also supports several smaller auxiliary projects some of which are funded by NSF while others are not. It will be a fine collaboration between Swedish and American scientists working together in perhaps one of the most difficult to reach and beautiful places on earth.

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

I will aboard the ship to deploy sensors some of which exist and are funded while others are neither. Let me outline first the funded part and then part where you the reader and I can perhaps join forces. First, we will test first elements of an underwater acoustic communication system. Think cell-phones, except the phone towers are under water where they are called modes. The modems talk to each other by sending sound back and forth the same way that whales do talk to each other.

Here is a narwhals sound

that you can use as a ringtone, credit goes to Voices of the Sea web-site at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. These whales visit Petermann Fjord in summer and we saw many of them frolicking in August of 2012 when I visited the area with the Canadian Coast Guard whom I credit for these photos:

Our man-made sound is very quiet, but because it is quiet, it only moves 3-10 km through the water. To increase our range, we plan to install several quiet sound sources that whisper from one water-phone (=hydrophone) to the next. The goal is to get data from ocean sensors moved along this whispering system of underwater “cell phones” to reach a listening station that we plan to install at the edge of Petermann Gletscher’s floating ice shelf. The ice is 200 meters or 600 feet thick and it is not trivial to drill through that much ice, but it can be done, and the British Antarctic Survey is aboard with a team of experts to do so to get sediment cores from the bottom below the ice:


Today I ordered a first cable that will connect the underwater modem hanging under the 200-m thick ice to the surface where a fancy computer connects it to the internet via to a satellite phone. All data calls that the underwater listening station receives will move up the cable to the glacier surface and on to us all via the internet. This challenging engineering project is funded, but I like to use the same hole, computer, and satellite link to get additional ocean and air data.

Additional stations will be drilled through the ice-shelf farther inland to reach the ocean also. Here we also need cables and instruments that tells us how the glacier is melted by the ocean at different location along its 50 km long floating ice shelf. The incremental costs are small relative to the cost of getting a ship and helicopters there, but NSF cannot easily fund small projects rapidly. It takes a long time to pass scientific peer review. This is where you, my dear reader come in: I need your help to raise $10,000 to add science and observations to an engineering feasibility study that is the underwater whispering sound system.

The motivation and details are described with videos, pictures, laboratory notes, plots, ideas, as well as some short, quirky, yet technically correct descriptions at the crowd-funding site

I created and launched it today, it will be up for 30 more days. If you can and if you like the science, work, and fun that I describe on these pages, please consider making a small donation. You have the power to make this happen and I will share all data both from below and above the ocean and glacier surface with you.

As a physicist, gardener, teacher, writer, traveler, ping-pong player, and geocacher I am naturally curious about both our natural and social world. I love experiments and to me the crowd-funding at is a most enjoying experiment to connect to people in a new way. Full disclosure, however, this company takes 8% of all funds generated to supports its wonderful software and staff. Perhaps you like to join this experiment by spreading the word and, if you can afford it, help pay for some of the technology needed to bring Greenland and its mysteries to everyone who wants to connect to it.

Glaciers, Geocaching, and Greenland Goals

I thought it silly when my wife suggested to go geocaching with her. She told me it was to hunt for treasures and as a professor of physical ocean science and engineering this was not for me. But my wife is persistent, I am curious, and when she explained that a GPS, hiking, and computer mapping was involved, I gave it a try and have been hooked ever since. My first geocaching hiking trip took place on Anacortes Island, Washington in 2013 where our youngest son then lived. Here we are walking past rock carved 10,000 years ago by a tiny glacier at N 48° 29.498 W 122° 41.799 N that discharged ice into Puget Sound:

Glacier carved outcrop in Washington Park, Anacortes Island, WA.

Glacier carved outcrop in Washington Park, Anacortes Island, WA.

Since this first geocaching trip, I have found more than 200 geocaches in places small and remote and places large and urban. The treasure is in the walking and trying to find a path towards a destination, but the destination is secondary as many discoveries are made along the way.

This often happens in science also. One needs to know a destination, have a goal, formulate a hypothesis, but much science, learning, and discovering happens along the path towards that goal. With a GPS the destination is easy, it is a fixed point on earth, but it is harder in science. It can be useful to roam widely, but a set of intermediate goals can help to stay focused. For example, I want to understand how Greenland will change as we warm the earth. That’s a big question with impacts on floods in Europe, storms in the Americas, and rising sea level everywhere. This is a 100-year problem that many people work on; so my personal goal is to focus on how the oceans melt glaciers from below. This is a 10-year problem. It is a step towards the larger goal, but 10 years is still long even though I work with people in Germany, Canada, Denmark, England, Sweden, and Norway:

View to the south on the climb down from Tromsdalstinen.

View to the south on the decent from Tromsdalstinen on a geocaching trip in 2014 out of Tromso, Norway.

The photo above was made during one of my geocaching trip in northern Norway. Three physical oceanographers had gotten off the ship after they deployed ocean current measuring devices off eastern Greenland near a larger ice sheet. The experiment was designed to measure the ocean heat and its movement towards two large outlet glaciers. One has a wide and stable floating ice shelf, Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden (79N Glacier) while Zachariae Isstrom a few miles south lost its wide, long, and apparently unstable ice shelf that still shows in this 2002 image:

North-east Greenland: 79N Glacier and Zachariae Isstrom in 2002.

North-East Greenland in 2002 when both 79N Glacier (near 79 30′) and Zachariae Isstrom (near 79 00′) had extensive ice shelves (black areas are open ocean).

It puzzles me how two adjacent glaciers can and do behave so differently. If we understand how Greenland is melting, then we should explain the difference convincingly, but I am still looking for people who can. Lots of theories, lots of ideas, and lots of modeling, but there are not many observations to make the skimpy and often contradictory evidence convincing. And this finally leads me to my last point and the goal that I set for myself for the next 5-10 years:

I like to measure the ocean, the ice, and the air above and below floating glaciers via a small network of sensors. Now that two large ice islands spawned at Petermann Gletscher in 2010 and 2012, I believe that the remaining ice shelf will stay largely put for the next few years, that is, move at 1 km per year towards Nares Strait:

Petermann Gletscher through calving events. White lines show ICESat tracks; red (ambient ice shelf) and blue (central channel) show repeat-track airborne surveys.

Petermann Gletscher through calving events. White lines show ICESat tracks; red (ambient ice shelf) and blue (central channel) show repeat-track airborne surveys.

The hardest part in reaching this goal is to get measurements from under the 200-600 meter thick ice. This requires holes drilled through the glacier, it requires ocean sensors to be lowered into the water below the glacier, and it requires connections to relay data back to the surface at all hours for many year. I  perhaps have a first chance towards this goal when the Swedish icebreaker Oden will work for a month in Petermann Fjord this year. People from the British Antarctic Survey will be aboard and they plan to drill holes for other scientific purposes. When they are done, the holes freeze over, unless someone (me, me, me, please, pretty, pretty please) has instruments to put in there. I just word that I will be aboard the ship as well and I am feverishly working towards this goal with much help from others. More on this in later posts. All science is a group effort.

I close with a photo to show how the ice-covered ocean of Petermann Gletscher looks during the polar day. Would it not be great to know the temperature of the water below and the air above this more than 200 meter thick glacier ice at all times posted for everyone to use with an internet connection?

March-24, 2010 view of Petermann Glacier from NASA's DC-8 aircraft. Photo credit goes to Michael Studinger of NASA's IceBridge program.

March-24, 2010 view of Petermann Glacier from NASA’s DC-8 aircraft. Photo credit goes to Michael Studinger of NASA’s IceBridge program.

Freedom of Expression and Islam

The bullets and hatred that today killed 10 journalists of the French publication Charlie-Hedbo and two police men were directed at all of us:

Charlie-Hedbo Jan.-7, 2015.

Charlie-Hedbo Jan.-7, 2015.

Let us not forget in our grief, rage, and sadness, that many men, women, and children of the Islāmic faith are the main victims of this particular murderous strand of cowardly religious fanaticism that fears reading, writing, and arithmetic as practiced by diverse, tolerant, and educated women and men. And children.

Jyllands-Posten, Sept.-30, 2005.

Jyllands-Posten, Denmark, Sept.-30, 2005.

Children like Malala Yousafzai deserve a brighter future than the darkness that is promised and practiced by the Taliban, Islāmic State, and Al-Qaeda.

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2014.

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2014.

Failed men tried to silence Malala as an unarmed 14-year old girl the same way that today they tried to silence the unarmed French journalist. Their method, bullets to the head, failed then, failed today, and will fail in the future.

The real Islam of scholarship, tolerance, and equality is on display in this interview of Malala Yousafzai with Jon Steward:

Changing Weather, Climate, and Drifting Arctic Ocean Sensors

Three people died in Buffalo, New York yesterday shoveling snow that arrived from the Arctic north. The snow was caused by a southward swing of air from the polar vortex that is all wobbly with large meanders extending far south over eastern North-America where I live. Physics deep below the thinly ice-covered Arctic Ocean hold a key on why we experience the Arctic cold from 2000 km north and not the Atlantic warmth from 100 km east.

A wobbly jet stream that separates cold Arctic air from warmer mid-latitude air. Note the strong gradients over eastern North America. [From]

A wobbly jet stream on Nov.-19, 2014 that separates cold Arctic air from warmer mid-latitude air. Note the strong differences over eastern North America and how balmy Europe, Russia, and Alaska are. [From]

The Arctic Ocean holds so much heat that it can melt all the ice within days. The heat arrives from the Atlantic Ocean that moves warm water along northern Norway and western Spitsbergen where the ocean is ice-free despite freezing air temperatures even during the months of total darkness during the polar night. As this heat moves counter-clockwise around the Arctic Ocean to the north of Siberia and Alaska, it subducts, that is, it is covered by cold water that floats above the warm Atlantic water.

North-Atlantic Drift Current turning into the Norwegian Current that brigs warm Atlantic waters into the Arctic Ocean to the north of Norway and Spitsbergen. [Credits: Ruther Curry of WHOI and Cecilie Mauritzen of Norwegian] Meteorological Institute]

North-Atlantic Drift Current turning into the Norwegian Current that brigs warm Atlantic waters into the Arctic Ocean to the north of Norway and Spitsbergen. [Credits: Ruther Curry of WHOI and Cecilie Mauritzen of Norwegian] Meteorological Institute]

But wait a minute, how can this be? We all learn in school that warm air rises because it is less dense. We all know that oil floats on water, because it is less dense. Well, the warm Atlantic water is also salty, very salty, while the colder waters that cover it up are fresher, because many larger Siberian rivers enter the Arctic Ocean, ice melted the previous summer, and fresher Pacific waters enter also via Bering Strait. So, the saltier and more dense Atlantic water sinks below the surface and a colder fresher layer of water above it acts as a insolation blanket that limits the amount of ocean heat in contact with the ice above. Without this blanket, there would be no ice in the Arctic Ocean and the climate everywhere on earth would change because the ocean circulation would change also in an ice-free Arctic Ocean, but this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

A single profile of temperature and salinity from an ice-tethered profile (ITP-74) off Siberia in July 2014. Note the warm Atlantic water below 150 meter depth.

A single profile of temperature and salinity from an ice-tethered profile (ITP-74) off Siberia in July 2014. Note the warm Atlantic water below 150 meter depth.

Some wonderful and new science and engineering gives us a new instant perspective on how temperature and salinity change over the top 700 meters of the Arctic Ocean every 6 hours. Scientists and engineers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with much support from American tax-payers keep up many buoys that float with the ice, measure the oceans below, and send data back via satellites overhead to be posted for all to see on the internet. Over the last 10 years these buoys provide in stunning detail how the Arctic Ocean has changed at some locations and has been the same at other locations. I used these data in an experimental class for both undergraduate and graduate students to supplement often dry lecture material with more lively and noisy workshops where both I and the students learn in new ways as the data are new … every day.

For well over 50 years the Soviet Union maintained stations on drifting Arctic sea ice that stopped when its empire fell apart in 1991. Russia restarted this program in 2003, but unlike the US-funded automated buoys, the Russian-funded manned stations do not share their data openly. No climate change here …

Shellshock Bugs, Macs, and Unix Powers

I love my Apple to bits. My writing, teaching, coding, graphing, and playing are all done on a MacBookPro with two Intel 2.4 GHz processors running OS X 10.5.8 called “Leopard.” It was the up-to-date operating system from 2006-2009 and I never saw the need to change, as I was too lazy to fix something that is not broken. Until today when I learnt of a vulnerability deep inside the guts of my beloved Unix-machines.

For over 5 years this laptop has been running non-stop doing scientific computing on huge amounts of ice, ocean, and satellite data. It is this Unix environment that I cherish as it is open, transparent, elegant, and concise. It also allows me to use unlimited codes and tools of many open-source communities. My Apple also traveled with me on ships and planes to Arctic Canada, Greenland, Norway, Germany, and anywhere in-between. It travels daily on my bicycle from home to work and back.

Today I was worried when my student Pat told me about shellshock, a bug that potentially can give control to a hostile party smart enough to exploit this vulnerability for which Apple has not yet released a patch. So, did I have a problem? You bet.

STEP-0: From a terminal I entered the command

env x='( ) { : ; }; echo vulnerable’ bash -c “echo this is a test”

If the word “vulnerable” appears, then the bug is present. Also check the second flavor of the bug by entering the command

env X='( ){(a) =>;\’ bash -c “echo date”; cat echo; rm -f echo

If you see the actual date displayed (as opposed to the word “date”), then again you got the buggy code. Here is how I fixed it on my laptop and MacMini that hosts my work web-pages.

Step-1: I took this technical recipe, but not all elements worked for me:

$ mkdir bash-fix
$ cd bash-fix
$ curl | tar zxf –

The above line failed me, but the added option -k worked to download the needed files from with the curl-command; the same was also true for the two other curl commands below that downloaded the patches from It applies the patches to the files uploaded from prior.

$ curl -k | tar zxf –
$ cd bash-92/bash-3.2
$ curl -k | patch -p0
$ curl -k | patch -p0
$ cd ..
$ sudo xcodebuild

STEP-2: The above line “sudo xcodebuild” did not work for me for reasons I do not understand. I realized, however, that it was supposed to compile the patched codes to produce executable new files “bash” and “sh” free of the bug. I searched for and found the code-building application on my computer as /Developer/Application/ and started it by point and click. Then via File > Open File I found the relevant “project file” bash.xcodeproj that was in the directory created previously, that is, bash-fix/bash-92 which I then opened within Hit the button with the hammer called “Build and Go” and you build yourself a new bash.

Screenshot of compiling patched bash.xcodeprof using

Screenshot of compiling patched bash.xcodeprof using

STEP-3: Once the compilation and building of the executables is complete, all that needed to be done was to move the newly created, patched executable shells “bash” and “sh” into their rightful places deep within the guts of the operating systems. First, however, lets just save the buggy old files. From the command line

$ sudo cp /bin/bash /bin/bash.old
$ sudo cp /bin/sh /bin/sh.old

and as the last step move the new, patched “bash” and “sh” to their
root directory /bin:

$ sudo cp build/Release/bash /bin/.
$ sudo cp build/Release/sh /bin/.

I moved the binary files “bash” and “sh” to my web-hosting MacMini after renaming the old buggy ones, oh, and as a good practice (short
of deleting those old system files), I changed the permission settings.

Credit for this way to reduce a vulnerability on my dear machine belongs to this concise blog whose content is also presented in a more chatty voice. Wired Magazine adds a little drama in their story titled “The Internet Braces for the Crazy Shellshock Worm, but it took me longer to write and assemble this essay than it did patching the bug.

Unix is fun to hack.
Eric S. Raymond

Unix is not so much an operating system as an oral history.
— Neal Stephenson

ADDENDUM Sept.-28, 2014: A quick online to test for vulnerable web-sites and cgi scripts.

ADDENDUM Jan.-6, 2015: I apparently missed 3 more vulnerabilities that the above test may not check for, e.g.,