Category Archives: Uncategorized

Election Work during a Pandemic

Elections are messy, but patterns emerge. Elections have consequences, but people learn. Elections make news, but do we all know how they work? I did not and thus decided to learn. I served as a sworn-in Election Clerk in the State of Delaware this week to collect first-hand experiences. I wanted to decide for myself rather than just “believe” or “dismiss” abundant disinformation propagated by Russian and American troll farms on social media. I wanted to answer for myself, if the American election system is safe, fair, and secure. My answer is a resounding yes for New Castle County, Delaware.

My badge for the Sept,-15, 2020 Closed Primary Election in New Castle County, DE, USA.

Any registered voter can apply to serve at a polling station as an Election Clerk, Judge, or Inspector:

The State of Delaware needs more than 4,500 registered voters to work in polling places for the General Election. This is a unique opportunity to serve your community by participating in the electoral process!

Pay comes to about $10 per hour for a 19 hour commitment. Students enrolled at a university in Delaware and local High School students older than 16 can apply as well. Within a week of mailing my application I was assigned a date and location for both a 4-hour training session and an election. I worried about the many, usually elderly election workers during our current Covid-19 pandemic. I took a calculated risk, but our democratic system by the People for the People requires the People to actually run the elections. Random citizens working the polls on Election Day are one check on State Governments who organize the elections.

Election Day started at 6 am to set-up computers, machines, and voter information in the gym of a local Elementary School. The first voter appeared at 7 am sharp while the last voter left shortly after 8pm. I left the school at 9 pm after votes were tallied, results were signed by each of poll workers and posted at the school. Multiple signed copies of votes and results were delivered by different people to different officials and offices. This includes both electronic and paper copies of each vote. I was home at 9:15 pm, exhausted, sore, and tired. A Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout helped me to end the day happy, proud, content, and with many stories to share.

The best part was a wonderful, random, fun, and most diverse group of 11 poll workers. We ranged in age from 21 to 75 (or so), almost evenly split male/female, black/white, college/non-college, etc. and all with a refreshing sense of humor and purpose. One of us was a pastor, a postal worker, a home-maker, two professors, a school psychologist, a teacher, and we had at least three grand-parents. About 540 people came in to vote, only one person tried (and failed) to cheat by voting twice. He tried to vote in-person after he had mailed-in his absentee ballot which the State received already. He was politely told to leave which he did quietly. Perhaps he just tried to test the system, or he just forgot that he mailed his ballot, or he just listened to a paranoid and ignorant politician who told people to vote early by mail and then try to vote again in person. Either way, nobody voted twice.

Example of a mask violating Delaware’s Electioneering Laws, if worn inside a polling place.

We only had 3-4 people who tried to violate State Electioneering Laws (Del. Code Ann. tit. 15, ¬ß4942(a); (d)) by displaying partisan buttons, masks, hats, or t-shirts inside the polling place. This is illegal in Delaware and elsewhere; so please do not bring Biden/Harris or Trump/Pence buttons or similar partisan apparel or clothing to the the polling place. The “Electioneering” link is from the bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State. Interestingly, all three “electioneers” were angry, white, male, 45-60 years old, and affiliated with the same party. They represented less than 2% of that party, but the three men succeeded in causing drama, emotional turmoil, and disruptions both inside the polling place and afterwards. I will fight for them to express their views as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but their freedom of speech is limited inside the 50 feet diameter of the polling place during the 13 hours that people vote there. Several U.S. Supreme Court decisions back this view.

Only one person did not wear a mask, but this was my fault. He entered with a mask that carried in large letters a partisan political statement not allowed inside the polling place. When called on this by an Election Clerk he got angry and started to argue, but he was happy when I told him that he did not have to wear as mask that he promptly took off. [It was my mistake to tell him that not wearing a mask does not disqualify him from voting.] I asked to handle this person and borrowed the crutches of our oldest poll worker (with her permission) to use as a “teaching prop” of the 6 feet distance that I needed. He co-operated nicely and I thanked him for his important participation in an important process.

A more positive experience for me was to see how diverse my local community is. People of all colors, genders, ages, handicaps (both physical and mental) gave me a new perspective on who lives in the same town with me. I noticed an especially happy and celebratory atmosphere of the many black women of all ages who often came with their teenage sons and daughters to vote also. Many couples had different party affiliations and got along just fine. Kids came, too, as their parents voted and show them how its done. There is Hope and Strength in Diversity.

Stained glass window by Dragonfly Leathrum

As a skilled physical scientist and computer geek, I conclude that it is almost impossible to “cheat” on the actual vote both for absentee (often called mail-in) or in-person ballots. I also conclude that Russian and American trolls and politicians try to suppress, manipulate, and disrupt the vote by spreading lies and disinformation to create doubt and confusion. The threat becomes real, if we the People believe and spread such lies. Our voting system has evolved over more than 200 years. It is secure as (a) both electronic and paper copies of each ballot exist; (b) all containers, machines, and access points are sealed, documented, and traced; (c) custody of all materials is transparent with multiple checks; and (d) it is random People like you and me who run the nitty-gritty of elections. The process is transparent and open to anyone willing to spent 4 hours of training and 14-15 hours on Election Day.

P.S.: I had myself tested for Covid-19 this morning. The sore throat and cough probably resulted from talking to more people than I have seen the last 7 months and breathing through a mask for 15 hours straight.

Rotations, Spin, and People

I hate to rotate. It makes me sick. And yet, every day I spin at 800 miles per hour, because living on a spinning earth does this to me. Why does the earth spin at all? [CalTech answer.] Did it always spin the way it does now? [No.] Could it spin in the other direction that would make the sun rise above the horizon in the West rather than the East? [No.] If not, why not? [Not sure yet.] I am pondering these questions as I will teach my first undergraduate class in ten days:

I plan to introduce how oceans and atmospheres circulate to distribute heat, water, and “stuff” like food and plastics across the globe. There is lots of rotation, lots of angular momentum, lots of torque and I am unsure, if a text book and lecture via Zoom will make much sense. So, today I discovered several fun and smart and insightful videos that I may even pose to my students as Homework or Exam questions ūüėČ

The first set of videos I discovered today is Derek Muller’s Veritasium channel on YouTube. He covers a range of physics, math, and even biology topics, but I here focus on his wing nut problem. He entertains by explaining a strange and even bizarre observation made in space some 30 years ago. A Russian engineering astronaut noticed a rotating wing nut change its rotational axis repeatedly. Russia kept the observation top secret for over 10 years for reasons not entirely clear, but here is a modern attempt to explain what happened. It also applies to how tennis rackets rotate:

Now this reminded me of a problem that I encountered during my third year studying physics in Germany. I never solved or understood this so-called spinning-hard-boiled-egg problem that the Physics Girl describes so well. Her real name is Dianne Cowern and I use her videos in my graduate statistics class where her voice and physics shatters wine glasses via resonance. Today I discovered many more of her PBS Digital videos that all are filled with fun, beauty, and smart explanations. She plays with vortices in air and water and in between.

Now how does this relate to oceanography and meteorology? Well, we all live somewhere on the spinning top or egg or peanut that we call earth. Gravity keeps us grounded, but rotating objects can do strange things as the above two videos show. And when rotation becomes important we are not just dealing with linear momentum, but also angular momentum. When rotation becomes important, we must consider torques that generate angular momentum in ways similar to how forces generate linear momentum.

Rotation adds a strong and often counter-intuitive element because unlike a force that accelerates a car in the same direction that the force is applied, a force applied to a rotating system generates a torque perpendicular to both the force and the direction to the rotational axis. This can be confusing and one has to either watch the movies or go through advanced vector calculus. Furthermore, a rotating sphere acts differently than a rotating spheroid which acts differently from a rotating triaxial spheriod. Our peanut earth is the latter and thus has at least three axes of orientation (a and b and c) that all have different kinetic energy and angular momentum states. This makes for wobbly rotations which are sensitive to changes in both force balances and the distribution of masses like ice and water that can move to different locations at different times and stay there for a while.

For a perfect sphere three perpendicular lines from the center to the surface all have the same distance a (top) while for a spheriod only two of the three perpendicular lines have the same distance from the center (bottom right). If all three perpendiculars are different then we have something called a triaxial spheroid [Adapted from WikiPedia].

And how does this relate to climate science and my beloved glaciers in Greenland? Well, there is the “global wobbling” that caused ice ages and warm periods as the earth’s principal axis or rotation changes or wobbles. The “global wobble” was discussed in hilarious way a few years ago by the United States House of Representative’s “Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.” Closing this essay, I let Jon Steward of the Comedy Channel speak and hope you find his commentary and live experiment as funny as I do:

How big is Greenland?

Maps of Greenland were sketched with broken bones, frozen limbs, and starved bodies of men and dogs alike. On April 10, 1912 four men and 53 sled dogs crossed North Greenland from a small Inuit settlement on the West Coast where today the US Air Force maintains Thule Air Base. In 1912 Knud Rassmussen, Peter Freuchen, Uvidloriaq, and Inukitsoq searched for two explorers lost somewhere on Greenland’s East Coast 1200 km (760 miles) away. They returned 5 months later with 8 dogs without finding Einar Mikkelsen or Iver Iversen. These two arrived in North-East Greenland to find diaries, maps, and photos of three earlier explorers who had starved to death in the fall of 1908. Mikkelsen and Iverson found the records, but struggled to survive the winters of 1910/11 and 1911/12 alone stranded before a passing ship found them. I ordered their 1913 Expedition Report yesterday.

Dog sled teams drive across Greenland’s Inland ice in April 1912 from Clemens Markham’s Glacier in the west to Denmark Fjord in the east. All 4 explorers returned, but only 8 dogs did.
Map of Greenland as included in the Report of the First Thule Expedition 1912 by Knud Rasmussen.

I worked along these coasts in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 on German research vessels, Swedish icebreakers, Greenland Air helicopters, and American snowmobiles. We explored the oceans below ice and glaciers with digital sensors but without hunger, cold, or lack of comfort. I feel that I know these coasts well, read what others have written and suffered. I make my own maps, too, to reveal patterns of oceans, ice, and glaciers that change in space and time. And yet, I am often lost by distances and areas. I do not know how big Greenland is.

Clockwise from top left: Ocean observatory on sea ice off Thule Air Base (Apr.-2017); refuelling helicopter in transit to ocean observatory on Petermann Gletscher (Aug.-2016); Swedish icebreaker in Baffin Bay (Aug.-2015); and deployment of University of Delaware ocean moorings from Germany’s R/V Polarstern off North-East Greenland at 77 N latitude (Jun.-2014).

At home I know distances that I walk, bicycle, or drive as part of my daily routine. I know areas where I live from weather and google maps, weekend strolls, and where family and friends live. Once we travel in unfamiliar lands, however, we are lost. Americans rarely know how small most European countries are while Europeans rarely know how far the Americas stretch from Pacific to Atlantic Oceans. Nobody knows the size of Greenland or Africa. On World Atlases Greenland appears as large as Africa, but this is false. Just look at this map:

The size of Africa on the same scale as the USA (green), Greenland (orange), and Germany (blue). Germany is about the same size as Botswana while Greenland is a tad larger than Kongo and the USA is about as big as the Sahara.

Thus North Greenland’s explorers walked distances similar to walking across Texas, Mississippi, and Florida (and back) or distances similar to walking Germany from its North Sea to the Alps (and back) or distances similar to walking across Kenya (and back). Making these maps, I found the tool at These playful maps compare Greenland’s size by placing its shape onto North-America, Europe, and Asia:

Three explorers starved and froze to death November 1907 because they underestimated their walking area. Their shoes wore thin and they walked barefoot. Daylight disappeared and was replaced by polar night. Food vanished with no game to hunt. Jorgen Bronland, Niels Hoeg Hagen, and Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen were 29, 30, and 35 years young when they died mapping Greenland. I sailed the ice-covered coastal ocean. I was helped by maps they made walking.

A roller coaster ride in the Arctic

Posted by Pat Ryan, Graduate Student (Thursday, August 13, 2015)

It’s been a busy week. ¬†The¬†events that transpired during and since the initial installation of the weather station on Petermann Glacier gave us some ups and some downs (therein the roller coaster). ¬†I’ve shared below (in italics) some of the emails that document the saga as it unfolded.

On Monday morning, we heard from Andreas:

I just got back after 12 hours working on Petermann Gletscher where I was given a helicopter for the day to accomplish the following:

1. Deploy very fancy sub-centimeter GPS receivers we got from UNAVCO (Peter of UDel);
2. Find a suitable site to place the Udel weather station with their 5 ocean sensors attached (Keith Nicholls of BAS);
3. Deploy the Udel weather station prior to the ice shelf drilling (I did this).

Less glamorous, I spent most of the day in packing and moving boxes while two helicopters were buzzing overhead coming and going as the first drill site was moved to a second drill site. At the end of the day, however, our weather station went up. It was not a pretty job as we had only an hour left before we had to be back on the ship, but the weather station is now sited and returns data on a regular schedule. It does work. 

Helicopter transport of instruments via sling load.

Helicopter transport of instruments via sling load.

Here is a picture that shows the station’s¬†current installation at site-3 ¬†which is temporary as Andreas¬†will modify the mounting design after 5 ocean sensors are attached to it early next week. The shown design would not survive strong winter winds and excessive surface melting in the summer.

University of Delaware automated weather station on Petermann Gletscher (view to north-east).

University of Delaware automated weather station on Petermann Gletscher (view to north-east).

On Tuesday, our spirits were somewhat crushed when Andreas informed us that he had heard nothing from the station for 5 hours. As it was scheduled to automatically send data on an hourly basis, this was somewhat disappointing. Both Andreas (from the ship) and I (at home) attempted to manually connect to the station.  Neither of us was successful.  We all waited somewhat impatiently to hear from the station. Andreas was hopeful that he could get back to the site in order to diagnose and repair any problems that had arisen.

This morning (Thursday) I woke up to the following delightful email from Andreas. The subject line is Greeland Weather Station Working!!!

Hi all:

I am ecstatic to report that our weather station on Petermann Gletscher is alive collecting and reporting data. The earlier shut-down, 8-hours after deployment on Aug.-10, was caused by Iridium satellite transmissions, not the set-up of hardware or software of the weather station itself. I attach a plot of the data collected so far that is being used by¬†the ship’s operators to prepare and plan for flight operations over the glacier. There will be a massive increase in helicopter flying, because¬†on Saturday¬†the CBS 60-Minute team will arrive via helicopter from Qaanaaq, Greenland about 250 miles to the south.

The five ocean sensors are NOT yet plugged into the UDel observing system, because ice-drilling operations at that site will not start until Monday or Tuesday. Our graduate student Peter Washam is on the glacier right now. The so-called Ice-Shelf team just completed a second drill hole near the grounding line of Petermann Gletscher where ice and water are expected to be as thick as the Empire State Building is tall. The picture shows Peter at that (second) drill site shortly after the camp there was established there Monday. The weather station was set-up about 13 km seaward  at what will become the third drill site. Hopefully he did not forget to re-program the ocean sensors to move bits and bytes along the 600 m long serial cable (4800 baud) at a slower rate than we used them in an calibration test lowering them from the ship to the 600 m deep bottom of the ocean near Petermann Fjord.


The 2 1/2 day long time series (link above) shows air temperature about 0.5 and 2.0 m above the ice as well as wind speed and direction as well as atmospheric pressure. A GPS unit shows that the station is drifting about 3 m per day towards the ocean as is expected for this fast moving glacier moving about 1.2 km per year.

My spirits are high after several days of anxious anticipation and waiting for a call from the weather station. Wish us luck.

Andreas (aboard I/B Oden at 81 32.28′ N 062 04.0′ W on¬†09:49 UTC)

Since the iridium system is designed to gather data until it can be successfully transmitted, short periods of communication black-outs are not expected to be a problem.  The data storage is limited, so we are hopeful that the communication failure was temporary and any future lapses will be equally short-lived.

We soon should have have ocean data of salinity and temperature conditions under the glacier when the additional instruments have been lowered through the ice next week.  That will be the story of our next post.

Preparations and Installations

Guest Blogger:  Pat Ryan, graduate student

Field research can be described as exciting, challenging and demanding. The work, especially when undertaken in the Arctic, has proven to be all of these to me. Planning ahead is an important part of the task. Since we are so far removed from things like high speed internet connections and hardware stores, we try to be as prepared as possible with redundant equipment, any computer data file and programs we  anticipate that we might need, a set of backup plans for foreseeable contingencies and a toolbox full of gizmos and gadgets which might come in handy to solve the inevitable complications that will arise. It seems to me that the most important skills for an Arctic researcher are perseverance, an inclination to be very creative and a good sense of humor.  The scenery, however, can be breathtaking.

Belgrave Glacier

Belgrave Glacier

This summer, I’m the stay-at-home scientist. Whilst my advisor Andreas and my fellow graduate student Peter are working in Petermann Fjord, I’m home and am attempting to help as much as I can from here. This assistance has included installing a satellite communication system here and testing these systems that we’ll be using to transmit data about ocean conditions under a glacier and atmospheric conditions above it to us in Delaware for as long as we can.

In accomplishing this project, the phrase, ‚Äúit takes a village‚ÄĚ comes to mind. Weeks ago, David Huntley of the Delaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS) at the University of Delaware configured the meteorologic station that will be the communications hub for all our data. He also trained us on installation. ¬†This hardware was packed up and transported to a ship, the Oden, in Sweden to be carried aboard for this summer‚Äôs research cruise to Petermann Fjord.¬†¬† Last week, on the Oden in the Arctic, Andreas configured the data gathering and transmission equipment, utilizing creative wiring techniques to allow regular transmission of data via satellite communications systems. ¬†Unfortunately there are no cell towers here either so satellite phones are being used to send the data. ¬†At home, I installed hardware to receive the data. ¬†Throughout this process, ¬†Kevin Brinson, Director¬†of DEOS,¬†used¬†his experience to provide consultation and guidance on all of this, including acting as a liaison with high-tech equipment manufacturers. After several days of work to implement this near-real-time monitoring system to measure conditions and transmit those measurements within hours of their capture, we have a working system!

The exhilaration we all felt upon the first successful connection and seeing information¬†like the ambient temperature and barometric pressure at Petermann Fjord (measured less than an hour before I got it) made all that work worthwhile. Upon installation of the monitoring station on the surface of the glacier and drilling through the ice to place ocean measurement instruments, we should have a system that can give us this and much more information for an extended deployment ‚Äď perhaps several years ‚Äď and return that data every day. ¬†The last time we installed this kind of ocean monitoring instruments, they measured for 3 years and required us to¬†to return via ship to recover the instruments before we got any data.

How long these instruments will collect data is dependent on a number of factors. Conditions in the Arctic can be rather rough on electronics. Temperatures dip below -40 degrees (either Celsius or Fahrenheit) and polar bears are very inquisitive creatures Рwires seem to attract their curiosity.   The ice upon which our equipment will rest has been melting. Eventually, this glacier will calve and the location of our monitoring station is likely to be impacted by melting and/or calving (or breaking off) of the glacier.   Our equipment is battery powered with solar charging supplements when there is sunlight. We hope that our batteries will be able to give us data throughout the long Arctic night that will last for months until sunrise (when solar charging begins again) in the spring.

Meterologic station aboard the Oden.

Meterologic station aboard the Oden.

Meterologic station aboard the ship.  The ice of Greenland in the background.

Meterologic station aboard the ship. The ice of Greenland in the background.

Tomorrow, Andreas and Peter will be venturing out to the ice in the first steps of installing all this hardware. We are very excited about the prospect of seeing the results of many months worth of planning and work.  As the project continues Andreas and Peter will keep us up to date on their progress.