Jon Steward on Climate Change

I missed this episode when it aired last year, but it is one of the very best Daily Shows and it is on Climate Change to boot (3 minutes into the video the good stuff starts):

Partial credit to Nick Clark who included it a rich and wonderful Al Jazeera essay entitled Global doom and gloom? Here’s some sunshine.

First sensors for future Petermann Gletscher Observatory, Greenland

Two ocean sensors arrived from Germany where I used them last in an experiment off the coast of Greenland last year. I bought them in 2002 and they have been in Arctic waters most of the time where they measure ocean temperature and conductivity very accurately a few times every second. Conductivity of seawater is what oceanographers measure when they want to talk about salinity and Arctic oceanographers must know salinity if they want to talk about ocean density. Water from cold melting ice and glaciers is less dense (because it is fresh) than the warm and salty water from the Atlantic Ocean that does the melting. You need heat to melt ice, but the heat that melts Greenland from below by the ocean comes from the Atlantic. The heat is at depth 200-400 meters deep, because of salt in the water that makes it dense and sink.

Oceanography and physics are fun, but here are the photos of what I work with over the weekend at home … maybe in my garden, too, to practice for the Arctic deployment, you may even watch me do it on the web-cam in my garden pointing towards the heated bird-bath. Geeks at play, science is fun:

Two SBE37sm with one set of 12 lithium batteries.

Two SBE37sm with one set of 12 lithium batteries.

The housing of these two instruments are rated for 7,000-m depth, I will have to install the lithium batteries ($4.80 for a single AA battery); each instrument needs 12 of those. Since 2003 we deployed a number of these in the Arctic where they collected data for over 3 years every 15 minutes. One of my students, Berit Rabe now works in Scotland and her dissertation and peer-reviewed publication was based on data from a single 2003-06 deployment of about 20 such instruments.

SBE37sm connect via RS-232 cable to the serial port of an old Dell computer.

SBE37sm connect via RS-232 cable to the serial port of an old Dell computer.

The instruments connect via a serial cable to the computers. In the past I had problems with instruments bought 12 years ago, because computers develop faster than oceanographic instrumentation. So, new is not always better, so I bought an old Dell Windows XP machine on e-Bay for $200 (actually I bought 2) to make sure that my sensors match software, CPU, and operating systems of the time that the instruments were bought. In order to “talk” to the sensors, I will need to put the lithium batteries into them. I am very much looking forward to do this over the weekend.

To be continued …

Note: This is a lab-note from my crowd-funding experiment at

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: