23 October 2013

Alaska LEOS and rare Mourning Doves

I finally participated in my first LEO Webinar and had a great time.  I'll be calling in for more of them as they come up monthly.

LEO is the Local Environmental Observers program/project in Alaska.  The principle being, the people actually living in an area are the prime observers for what is going on.  This includes keeping an eye on birds, among many other things.  The title comes from the September 13, 2013 observation by Richard Kuzuguk of a Mourning Dove in Shishmaref, AK.  Very unusual up there.  I don't have that species down here, but in general, they're very common here.  (Common as in 'wake up light sleepers'.)

For an idea of the rarity of Mourning Doves in Western Alaska, take a look at the distribution map at Wikipedia.

21 October 2013

Question place!

Been a while since I hung out the shingle for questions.  Have at it.

Also, a couple astronomical things have come up in my 3d life, so remember that's an area to think/ask about too.

16 October 2013

Civil Service Pride

Reading much of the commentary about civil servants during the current government shutdown has reminded me just how much so very much of the country loathes us.  Yes, us.  I do work for the US government (as always, I speak only for myself!).  It also occurred to me that I seldom see anybody writing about civil servants working hard and taking pride in their work.  The converse is common, that civil servants are lazy, should all be fired, that they're lying when they say they're there to help.  Such things are even more common in political speeches.  I'll redress that balance some.

A few years ago my workplace had an outside group review how we were doing..  The outside group not including civil servants.  As usual, some things they thought we did well, some they didn't think so.  But one point they criticized us on was that we work too hard!  50 hour weeks being routine.

At the meetings to tell us what was allowed or required, of whom, during the furlough, we had something of a 'Green Eggs and Ham' in reverse.  The people who were furloughed asking the questions, laws duly passed by congress and signed by president providing the answers:
Q: May I work upon the mainframe?
A: No, you may not work upon the mainframe.
Q: May I do it on my desk?
A: No you may not do it on your desk.
Q: May I do it at my home?
A: No you may not do it at your home.
Q: May I at least answer my mail?
A: No you may not even answer your mail.
Q: May I, can I, please, read my mail?
A: You may not, can not, any way, any how, even read your mail.

The 50 hour weeks and having to be told repeatedly that it is a violation of federal law to work while furloughed don't point to lazy people.  (I know there are other groups that also do routine 50+ hour weeks.  They're not lazy either.)  As insurance against people sneaking in to do work in spite of being furloughed, the guards were given a list of who is allowed to be working.  If your name isn't on the list, you don't get in to the building.  Don't know how many times people have been turned away, but I expect it has happened.

A little farther afield, it isn't lazy people with no commitment who walk to work through a blizzard to issue National Weather Service forecasts. I know of other NWS weather forecasters who, when severe weather was coming, simply slept at work -- because they weren't sure they could get in to work the next day.

I also live near a national park, which, of course, is shut down.  Like many, I saw the video of a congressman -- who had helped bring about the shutdown -- berating a National Park Service employee for doing what she is supposed to during a shutdown.  But, beyond the fact of his grandstanding (more of which followed at the WW II memorial by others), I happen to have talked to some park rangers over the years.  Also at some other national parks that I've visited.  They all love their parks, and the national system.  They're all (the ones I've talked to) committed to their parks and want to be able to share them, show them, explain them, whathaveyou, with as many people as possible.  Shutting down is very much against their nature.  But congress is who authorizes federal expenditures.  And they authorized none for national parks -- no budget.

Emergency employees (constantly mis-labelled 'essential' in the media) are able to work during shutdown only on the principle that congress is expected (not such a reliable expectation these days) to honor its debts and the emergency people are protecting life (NWS weather forecasters) and property (Park Service people protecting vs. vandalism, for instance) -- in the very near term.  Research for curing cancer might do such things later on, but isn't a near term guarantee.

But, speaking of dedication to their work, and concern for it, read How the Shutdown Is Devastating Biomedical Scientists and Killing Their Research for its profile of a scientist trying to keep experiments going -- which includes keeping animals alive -- in spite of everyone else having been sent home.

As I write, there's talk of an agreement having been reached.  But neither the Senate nor House has voted on it yet.  Until the votes are counted, it is not a done deal.  That fact is part of why we're currently in the shutdown.

Regardless of the inaction and insane action from Capitol Hill, a couple million civil servants have kept working -- without pay -- through this.  Walked to work through blizzards.  Didn't counterattack when a person who created the problem was berating her on national TV her doing what she's required to by laws that he passed.  And have been trying to prevent months and years of research from being wasted.  These are not lazy, uncommitted people.

15 October 2013

Diversity in Science

"First rate minds try to surround themselves with first rate minds.  Second rate minds try to surround themselves with third rate minds."  That is a pragmatic point for today's topic.  Whether I'm a first rate mind myself, I enjoy being around them.  And it's obvious that science does best when we have the best people involved.  My actual starting point is the morality that it is wrong to discriminate against people for who they are.

What brings this up, and out of my usual range of posting, is events over the weekend that happened to Danielle Lee, @dnlee5, a biologist and blogger at Scientific American.  Early in the process, she gave an interview and said: “If that many people were going to come out in support of me, I’d rather it be in support of one of the missions that’s going to make me redundant. I am trying to make myself redundant, truth be told. It is a lonely place to constantly be the only one like you in science,” "  One such mission being increasing diversity in science.

Very normal for my posting is the message 'you can do science'.  But that doesn't touch preconceptions people might have about who 'you' can be (quick answer: anyone).  I've heard that the common image of a scientist is a middle-aged white man with bad hair, wearing a lab coat.  Fortunately I'm nothing like that -- I've never worn a lab coat.  I've also heard that it's better to talk about living people than people like George Washington Carver and Marie Curie (still ... go read their biographies).

I'll limit myself even further, just to people that I've met personally.  The fact that I know these people does not mean (I'm looking at the nitwits* who might have snuck in to the room) that there's no discrimination in science any more.  It does underscore the fact that it's unconscionable.  If you don't accept the moral argument, then because of the pragmatic -- these are first rate people you would be refusing to let do good work.  I won't be listing names for all, which is something of a question.  On one hand, taking away someone's name is more than a little depersonalizing and can be offensive in its own right.  On the other, I've heard more than once from people that they don't like to be trotted out to be 'the woman' or the like -- that they just want to go do good science, a privilege accorded the pale males who just want to go do good science. 
  • Warren Washington is an African-American man who has won many awards, and been a leader in climate modelling.  He was also the doctoral advisor to Claire Parkinson.
  • Claire Parkinson a woman who has been studying sea ice for decades now, and wrote a book (now in second edition) on climate modeling with Warren Washington.  Also wrote a very good book solo on the history of science and math.
  • Margaret Davidson   A woman who has been director of both NOAA's Coastal Services Center and its National Ocean Service.  She lead (we met about the time she started so I know it was her idea and plan) the CSC towards and in its approach of working with communities as opposed to issuing edicts.  (NOAA being furloughed, her bio is offline).
  • Jamese Sims An African-American woman who did her thesis on modeling hurricane intensity and now works in NOAA/NWS on relating weather information to health and safety.
  • A blind PhD cognitive psychologist.  As much as I read, I boggle at someone who takes in entire textbooks by listening.  We played cards once, which I think is hard if you can't see them.  (Braille doesn't cover the fact that you can't 'see' them all at once.)  Much better card player than me, too.
  • A gay, disabled, African-American man.  There's an article about straight white male being the lowest difficulty setting for life, by John Scalzi.  This guy has been playing on the grandmaster setting.  And has remained amazingly not-bitter.  I'd last maybe a few weeks in his place.
  • James West  an African American man, inventor of the microphone that's used in several billion devices (you probably have several yourself), member of the National Inventor's Hall of Fame.
  • Jeanette Epps is an African-American woman, astronaut, inventor, engineer.
  • A female Muslim scientist from India -- we talked, well before 9/11, about the concept of jihad and what it meant.  She talked; I asked questions and listened to answers.  She said that the jihad was an internal matter -- the struggle with yourself to live a virtuous life.  I've since heard this from a number of other Muslims.
  • A Hispanic male mathematician/oceanographer
  • A Hispanic female observational oceanographer
  • A Hispanic female numerical hurricane modeller (was also a summer student of mine)
  • A transgendered, gay, man -- another for playing life on the grandmaster setting.  Incredibly broadly talented across math/science/engineering/technology _and_ languages. (Human ones as well as computer ones.)
And many more.  This list is biased towards African-Americans and women because it was prompted by an African-American woman's experiences.  It has long been obvious to me that first rate minds come in all packages, from all backgrounds.

Second rate minds try to surround themselves with third rate minds.  They can't cope with people who are as or more talented and hard working than they are.  If they must encounter a first rater, they're the ones fastest to reach for the bigotry encountered by @dnlee5.

* I'd be using stronger language except for this blog's language standards.

07 October 2013

Journalists' desires

I've seen several articles one telling scientists what journalists want, and why, and some going in to how.  Most recently http://www.scidev.net/global/communication/practical-guide/what-journalists-want-from-scientists-and-why.html It's all useful advice, and the one time I was allowed to speak to a journalist, I had a very good experience.

But, one thing very lacking in these articles is discussion of what it is that scientists may expect in return, why it is worth the scientist's time, and why it is worth the potential risk to professional standing and employment.

Advice: Journalists are on deadline -- so drop everything you're doing in order to answer their questions.
Q: Ok.  It's obvious why journalists want (us) scientists to drop what we're doing in order to answer their questions.  But what is the journalist promising in return?  Accurate quoting?  Many scientists have experienced the contrary.  Being quoted at all?  Not necessarily, we might not say anything quoteworthy in the journalist's opinion.  Chance to review the article prior to publication for accuracy?  Often refused on grounds of journalistic independence.

Advice: Answer all the journalist's questions, to ensure their understanding.
Q: Makes sense if we're going to talk to a journalist at all that we do what is needed for them to understand what we're saying.  But now it is a matter of not only dropping everything we're doing, but doing so for indefinitely long period.

Advice: Speak their language.  (Not English vs. Swahili so much, but glaciologist vs. ordinary citizen.)
Q: So not only do we drop everything we we're doing, for indefinite period, but even though we were interrupted in the middle of thinking hard about some obscure part of our field, we're to immediately shift mental gears from our frame for professional thinking to speaking to random citizens?  If I'm in the midst of writing a paper or proposal -- where I have to saturate in professional language -- it's going to be a while before I come down to being able to talk understandably to my wife (a bright person, but not a professional in my field so my reference for journalists; my wife understands this, journalists don't seem to.).

Even just in the context of speaking to a journalist, there are some costs and challenges to the scientist.  But let's go a little farther in what is happening for the scientist

16 September 2013

Where is south?

You, too, can be a space alien!  All you'll need are a stick, some sun, string, and a way of making marks.  At the end of this, you'll be able to perform feats that have caused many over the decades to say that the ancient Egyptians and others 'must' have been visited by space aliens.

What you'll do is construct a very accurate definition for north+south.  From there, you can build your own pyramid aligned accurately to north/south.  Technologies involved are all 6000+ years old.

So, first step is to get a long, straight stick.  You can verify that it's straight by checking against the string in your which way is up apparatus.  (Notice that it, too, only uses 6000+ year old technology.)

Next, put the stick in to an area of flat ground.  It's best if you plant it straight up and down.  You can use your terribly advanced up-down apparatus for guidance on which way is up.

Now for the hard part.  Tie the string around the stick and your marker.  Pull the string taut and mark a circle around your stick.  Retie the string to marker and shorten or lengthen the distance from stick, to make another circle.  Repeat a few times so that you have a variety of circle sizes.

Back to easy.  A little patience is required.  Each time the sun's shadow from your stick hits one of the circles, mark the location.  If you're in a cloudy place, you really want a bunch of circles.  What we're looking for is the shadow to hit the same circle twice -- once earlier in the day and once later.

Next to last: after you have a nice pair of marks on one of your circles, find the mid-point between the pair.

Finally: Draw a straight line from your stick to this mid-point mark.  This line is the north-south line for your location.

There are some elaborations you can do here, for accuracy and for large scale construction.  But you're now done with the basics.  And can construct your own objects aligned accurately to north-south, just like the 'space aliens'.  Well, more seriously, just like our ancestors from several thousand years ago.

09 September 2013

Which way is up?

Simple questions sometimes have subtle answers.  Of course, some answers are also pretty simple.  Which way is up starts out simple and then gets pretty subtle. (Note on scientist-speak: subtle = complicated and/or difficult).  This winds up being related to What is a day? as we get a little more complex.  But, while we can, let's go with simple.  Up is the opposite of down.  Slightly less simple, down is the direction a ball falls.

Even less simple: hang a weight on a string.  Hold it still.  This is difficult, so maybe hang it from a nail or off a board.  There's probably still a little swinging back and forth.  So either wait (it'll come to a halt eventually, but who says scientists are always patient?!) or get a large (larger than your weight) cup or bucket of water and bring that up underneath the weight.  Make sure the weight is made of something that doesn't float if you use this approach!  Once the weight comes to a halt, the string gives you a line which points up and down.  The weight is the 'down' side of the line.

By the way -- not only do you not have to be good at math to be good at science, you also don't have to be good at drawing. For me, this is pretty good artwork. Some people are great at drawing, same as some are great at math. Some of us, well, you see my caliber of artwork.

 Now for getting subtle ... which also explains why the earth isn't exactly a sphere.

06 September 2013

Conservative and religious responses to climate change

Yes, there are such responses!
Kathryn Hayhoe and Tom Ackerman are both evangelical Christians.  Read their article for why the comedian is wrong to say that they don't exist.  I also happen to know both (not well, but email with Kathryn and Tom in person for a couple years when we were both at Penn State).

Boehlert, I think, said it best for the political side (forget about party) about a decade ago.  As I remember the quote, what he wanted from scientists was "Tell us what's happening, what's liable to happen, and what, if anything, we can do about it."  Actually deciding what to do, that's the job of politicians, such as himself.  As a scientist, I'm comfortable with that.  (Well, give or take my concerns about the political process; but we all have to live with that.)

There are quite a few more religious people and conservative politicians, and fans of free market economics, who also are willing to discuss what -- if anything -- to do in response to climate change.  See also my 2008 post Keep your vehicles how you choose for a couple of my thoughts.

Actually getting to the point of having that discussion publicly is ... different, somehow.  But a question I was asked recently points to a direction.  Q: "Have you talked to any of your neighbors about this?"  A: "Doh"  How to go from meeting a neighbor walking her dog to chatting about climate change ... I'm not sure how to do it non-awkwardly.  Then again, graceful has seldom been a hallmark of mine.  Maybe readers have an idea or two they'll share?

An encounter a while back gives me some hope that on the face to face level there might well be some hope.  I ran in to a former weather forecaster and modeller I've known for many years.  He commented about liking my blog (I didn't know he even knew it existed) even though we (probably) disagree politically.  We probably do disagree about what to do, as far as I've heard of his politics.  But, we could have the discussion about whats and hows and whethers.

My main line here is the science rather than politics of course, but ignoring politics entirely doesn't seem much more sensible than politics ignoring science.

05 September 2013

Do scientists have special obligations to society?

The subject line comes from Janet Stemwedel, who asks the question.  There are two spots to answer, one if you are a scientist, and one if you're not.  'scientist' is defined in the articles.
If you're a scientist

Nonscientists' comments

I think it's a worthwhile and interesting question, and encourage you all to go answer.  Feel free to leave a copy of your answer here.  Or do some free-range commenting on the question here if there's a reason not to post it over on Janet's blogs.

Something which hasn't been brought up (yet) at Janet's blogs is this:
It is illegal to practice law without a license, to pretend to be a medical doctor, or in many states to claim to be an engineer if you don't have appropriate certification.  There's no such licensing or certification process for 'scientist'. 

Does that mean scientists have more, or fewer, or different, obligations to society than doctors, lawyers, or engineers?

14 August 2013

Bits and pieces

Somehow, even though I no longer am in school, or have kids of my own who are, I'm still pretty distracted from the net around back to school time.  Maybe it's my nieces and their back to school time?

Anyhow, many things going on, though you couldn't tell from the blog here.  And some even have school connections.  One part is, I've been talking to a middle school science teacher, J, about ideas, J's and mine, for grades 6-8.  Of course I mentioned my water surface temperature project.  Also some more specific ones.

I've also been thinking of blogging some experiments that people and classes could do about the earth and eventually climate.  Start with determining the size of the earth following Eratosthenes method, earth's rotation rate (which is not 24 hours per day), and the sun's motion (which also isn't 24 hours per day). What ideas do you have?

Thursday and Friday, I'll be at ScienceOnline Climate, in Washington DC.  It's also on twitter #ScioClimate and I've been more on twitter myself lately (@rgrumbine).  A post relating to that is Liz Neely's What the Science Tells us about Trust in Science.  (Problems there with comment section, so my brilliant comment vanished in to the ether.)  Via twitter, @dougmcneal started collecting observations on why people might distrust a climate scientist.  I've added in a few I've encountered first hand.  I'll suggest you add yours -- that you feel yourself, or that someone has said directly to you.

05 August 2013

Sea ice prediction updates

I'm a little behind on our updated estimates for the September average sea ice extent for the ARCUS outlooks.

The original outlooks (end of May) were:
3.9 million km^2 -- Grumbine, Wu, Wang statistical
4.1 million km^2 -- Wu, Grumbine, Wang model-based
4.4 million km^2 -- Wang, Grumbine, Wu model-based statistical

The end-June Wu et al. estimate was 4.7 million km^2.
The end-July Wu et al. estimate is 4.57 million km^2.

In other words, it looks like the model has picked up on the relatively (compared to last year) slow decline in ice cover and is keeping more ice around.

What will actually happen, well, keep an eye on reality.  But, in the likely event (it seems to me now) that the purely statistical model is very wrong, time for a new statistical prediction method.  I'm starting to get ideas on how to go about the update.

01 August 2013

How to ask good questions

"Never ask a question you don't want the answer to." is one of my mother's better pieces of advice.  Not always one of the easiest to follow.  It comes to mind because I've been thinking off and on about Carl Zimmer's article An open letter to science students and science teachers.  See the article for some examples of how not to ask questions, and the comments for how common it is to receive bad questions.  Here, I'll take up the matter of how to ask good questions, at least as far as I've figured this out myself.

One step is to follow my mother's advice -- if you don't want the answer, don't ask the question.  Another flavor of this mistake is to ask a question when you only want a particular answer -- say to ask whether something is true, and then being angry when the answer comes back the 'wrong' way.  Not common in Zimmer's illustrations, but extremely common on blogs.

Since science is about learning more about how the universe works, a good question is one that helps you do that.  "What about frogs?", for instance, is not a good question.  Frogs are part of the universe, so learning more about frogs is a good thing.  But that question doesn't take you anywhere.  What about them?  Are you interested in them as food?  What they eat?  Where they live?  Whether they're poisonous?  How to tell whether they're poisonous?

Those alternate questions of mine are narrower, but that's the point.  The narrower focus lets the person you're answering know whether they've answered you -- which is a good thing.  After the one question, you're ready to ask another and they're ready to answer it.

A second aspect which is violated often in the examples at Zimmer's is a failure to 'do your homework'.  You don't have to know everything, getting towards that point is why you're asking questions.  Where people go wrong is, for instance, to not read the article they say they're asking about.  If the title is "How we know the moon is not made of green cheese", the question "Why do you think the moon is made of green cheese?" is a bad one.

Better is to ask why the moon looks like it's made of green cheese.  The article answers how we know it isn't, but it didn't answer this question.  (There is a greenish cast to the moon, at least to my eyes at certain times of the month.)

Even better is to follow up something that interested you from the article, like when the author mentions that the moon is made of a very dark rock (it is -- anorthosite, which is like what Hawaii and Iceland are made of).  If the moon is made of a dark rock, why is a full moon so bright?

There are two good aspects to this question.  First, it shows that you read deeper than just the title of the article.  Second, it shows that you are trying to fit this piece of knowledge in with other things you know.  Since scientists are constantly doing this themselves, they're happy to see you doing it too.

My son's 5th grade science class did a related good thing.  Namely, after I had chatted about the kind of science I studied and asked the class for questions, first, they had questions, which was good.  And second, they followed up each others' questions.  It showed they were listening (always good) and the very good thing that they were bringing the earlier answers in to their minds and this was leading them to more questions.

It isn't for nothing that a common comment about a scientific result is that it raises more questions than it answers.  Once you've gotten the hang of asking good questions, each answer breeds more questions.

Another thing I've seen in my visits to classes, including or especially middle school (grades 4-6, ages 9-12) is that if students do follow up questions, it's often only four or so questions before they get to something I can't answer, in fact that I know the answer is not currently known.  Maybe they're the ones who will finally learn the answer.  And, of course, open up a raft of new questions.

My question place posts are a place to practice.

25 July 2013

Interesting numbers

There's a sort-of theorem in mathematics that all numbers are interesting.*  But I'm thinking first of 1729, which is the subject of a story about how it is an interesting number.  The story is that Ramanujan, a brilliant, self-taught mathematician, was in the hospital (he died at only 32).  G. H. Hardy visited him and commented that his taxi cab was number 1729, which wasn't a very interesting number.  Ramanujan replied that it was indeed interesting -- it was the smallest number that was the sum of two cubes, in two different ways.  That is, 10^3 + 9^3 = 12^3 + 1^3 = 1729.  This number appeared also on a cab in an episode of the Simpsons.

There's a different bit of playing with numbers, one of the longest-unproved theorems in mathematical history.  That is Fermat's Last Theorem.  (Itself misnamed, as he never showed a proof for it, and he worked for years after stating it.)  That is, if we use only integers (1,2,3,...), the equation x^n + y^n = z^n has no solutions for n > 2.  He said this in 1637, and it wasn't proven until 1995.

Let's look specifically at n = 3.  I can rewrite Ramanujan's example as:
x^3 + y^3 = z^3 + 1  (where he had x,y,z = 10, 9, 12)
Fermat's equation is:
x^3 + y^3 = z^3   -- and this has no solutions for integers.

That's interesting -- such a small change, and we go from having no solutions, no matter how large we make x,y,z, to having ... how many?  Well, that's a question.  My version here is a more specialized version of so-called 'taxicab numbers' (named in honor of the above story).  You can see some more about them at Durango Bill's.  But I like mine better because of the connection to Fermat's Last Theorem. 

It seems common that answers in mathematics are either 0, 1, or infinity.  Fermat's equation (for n > 2) has 0 solutions.  We already have 1 for my 'Fermat-Ramanujan' equation.  If there's another, not that this is a proof, probably there are an infinity.  So I set my computer to some brute-force searching, and indeed there are more.  Not many.  It found 92 for z going from 12 (the smallest that has a solution) to 2,000,000 (which was pushing the limit of the computer; z^3 at that point is 8,000,000,000,000,000,000).  That suggests that there are an infinity of solutions to the Fermat-Ramanujan equation (a name I just invented, as far as I know), by that rule of thumb.

Can you find some? 
Can you do it by a more elegant method than having a computer pound away?
Can you prove that there _are_ (or are _not_) an infinity of solutions?

26 June 2013

2013 Sea Ice Estimates

Our June guesses for 2013 are 3.9, 4.1, and 4.4 million km^2 for September monthly average sea ice extent as computed by NSIDC.  See the ARCUS SEARCH Outlook for the full current collection of estimates.

Again, I'll put our estimates in context of some other estimation methods. 

  • Climatology 1979-2000: 7.03 million km^2
  • Climatology 1979-2008: 6.67 million km^2
  • Linear Trend Climatology 1979-2008: 5.15 million km^2
  • Wang, Wu, Grumbine model: 4.4 million km^2
  • Wu, Grumbine, Wang model: 4.1 million km^2
  • Grumbine, Wu, Wang statistical ensemble: 3.9 million km^2
All three of our estimates are well below what they were last year -- 4.9, 4.8, and 4.4 million km^2, respectively.  For the two model-based estimates, this is because the model has continued to thin its ice cover, and that ice cover is less extensive.  Then the model (which is coupled air-sea-ice) is not seeing any reason for the ice to be getting markedly thicker or more extensive.

The statistical ensemble reflects two items.  One is, last year being a new record, well below the estimate (by 0.8 million km^2), pulled down the best curves that can be fit through the data.  The second is, the curve itself shows a zone of steep decline.  This is where the feedback of more open water -> warmer ocean -> thinner ice -> easier to melt ice -> more open water in summer is starting to take off rapidly.  (If the basis for my using this curve is reasonably correct, that is.)

The linear 'climatology' estimate last year was 5.23 million km^2, versus the observed 3.61.  Too high that year, and every year 2007-2012, and very likely many more to come.  Merely points to a straight line not being a good representation of how the ice pack is changing, which is no surprise.  But it is also a reminder that talk of sea ice 'recovery', which will no doubt occur in some corners when (if) 2013's extent is greater than 2012's, is nonsense. 

25 June 2013

2012 Sea Ice Prediction Evaluations

Before launching in to my estimates for this year, I have to evaluate last year's estimates.  Not much point in making estimates if you don't re-examine how well the previous ones were.

Last year's observed (NSIDC) September monthly average sea ice extent was 3.6 million km^2.  That blew away the old record set in 2007.

Our June 2012 Estimates were:
4.9 Wang, Grumbine, Wu -- statistical correction of CFS
4.8 Wu, Grumbine, Wang -- semi-physical correction of CFS
4.4 Grumbine, Wu, Wang -- Purely statistical from prior Septembers

4.9 Wang, Grumbine, Wu -- statistical correction of CFS
4.7 Wu, Grumbine, Wang -- semi-physical correction of CFS

3.9 Wang, Grumbine, Wu -- statistical correction of CFS

No updates in August for the semi-physical CFS correction as it hadn't looked like it was coming out any different than the prior months.

The Wang et al. was the best of all August estimates, and was still too conservative by 300,000 km^2 (the approximate land area of Poland, the Philippines, Norway, or Ecuador).  The observed mean extent, of 3.6 million km^2 was about 20% larger than India.  The 1979-2000 average was 7.0 million km^2 -- almost double what we just saw, and about the 10% smaller than Australia.

24 June 2013

Question place

Have at it -- questions welcome.  Answers probably of higher quality (from me, at least) if they're about ice, sea surface temperature, and related parts of the climate, or about running. 

Also suggestions welcome.

17 June 2013


Last week was hiatus because I was working on things that didn't quite make it to completion.  This includes evaluating last year's sea ice estimates (Alastair won both his bets with me so is now even), and writing up this year's estimates (all our estimates are lower than last year this time, but not as low as last year's observations).

This week, it is that I away from home and had a hard computer failure.  I don' like long typing on a touch screen, which is what I'm doing at the moment, so twitter is about it this week.  @rgrumbine.

See you next Monday, when I'll hang out the 'question place' shingle.

07 June 2013

Science's Spock Problem

XKCD captured perfectly where scientists start from in terms of relating to others about their subject:
What we do, the part of the universe we study, is wonderful, fascinating, and we want to run around sharing our wonderful discoveries with everybody.  Including when it's dog vomit slime molds.  See also my niece's write up from jr. high about knight anoles.

And that's what makes the Spock problem such a problem.  What I mean by this is that there is heavy cultural (in the US at least) expectation that scientists _are_, or at least _should_ be, like Mr. Spock -- emotionless, heartless, 'rational', and fundamentally not human.  Humans, and scientists are human, do generally respond to society's expectations.  One common response being to present a public appearance of conforming to those societal expectations.  In private, it can be a different matter.  But, per yesterday's comment, scientists do tend to play in to this expectation in public and it doesn't, I think, work well in the larger society.  So public gets the wildly wrong idea in that case that scientists don't criticize each other, among other wildly wrong ideas.

06 June 2013

Scientist mutual criticism

I've been active on twitter lately (@rgrumbine).  The 140 character limit poses the problems to me that regular readers would expect.  140 words is pretty short for me.  Still, there are some good things out there (I'll be posting a raft of links from my twitter feeds Real Soon Now).  And sometimes a short comment is sufficient, but reminds me of things worth more than 140 characters.

One short comment, bizarre to me, was that scientists don't criticize each other's work.  On one narrow aspect, there's some truth to this.  That aspect being that, for example, pretty much all the people studying sea ice think that sea ice is something worth studying.  Within any given niche of science, occupants of the niche think it's important.  The thing is, each niche is very, very, small.  Occupants of every other niche are more than happy to tell the sea ice people that sea ice isn't nearly as important as their own niche.  At length and volume.  Of course the sea ice people argue back.  And so it goes.  Every multidisciplinary meeting I'm at, this is routine conversation.  Partly it's just a game.  Partly it can lead to something interesting -- say when the sea ice person (finally :-) persuades the ... let's say boundary layer theorist ... that there really is something interesting -- to a boundary layer theorist -- about sea ice.  It's for this latter prospect that I play the game (sometimes being the persuaded rather than persuader).

Yet, even within a relatively small niche like sea ice, there are sub-niches, and sub-sub-niches.  Each of these divisions, even while agreeing that sea ice is important and important to study, is in disagreement about the how, why, what about studying sea ice.  One has in any natural science a certain amount of division between observation/modeling/theory.  The observers think what's really needed is more and better observations, modellers think you need bigger and better models, theorists think we need better theories.  All are right, to some degree.  All are wrong, to some other degree.  But one thing this guarantees is that the sub-niches are ready to criticize each other.  And do so.

05 June 2013

We're still all related

Carl Zimmer, whose work I've enjoyed for years, recently had an article on how we're all (those of us with any European ancestry at all, which is more than you might think) related to Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, Very great grandpa Chuck) and each other.  I contributed a few comments, and the scientist author of the article 'cousin' Carl was writing about entered the discussion.  I took the chance to grill, er, ask a couple of questions. 

I've read many a book on historical geography -- the activity of trying to construct what the boundaries of the Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Burgundian States, Tang Dynasty, Inca culture, and so forth through many an example through all of time.  One of the few conclusions I can reach (and related to the above research) is that anyone who talks of being 'pure' anything, is ferociously ignorant of history. 

My English ancestors probably include some Vikings, Normans, and others in their history.  The Germanics probably had, well, pretty much anything from Spain through Russia, including the Balkans.  The Romanians probably included anything west to Spain, and east to Mongolia.  The Jewish ancestors probably tie me to anything from the Middle East through to the parts of the Holy Roman Empire that they emigrated to the US from.  And that's all just within the last 1000 years, from the parts I know about.  As I know less than 40% of my ancestry, I lay claim to the rest of the world from the 60% I don't know.

In any case, take a look at the Charlemagne article for some insight to why it is we're probably all related to each other from not more than about 3400 years back, and far less than that if you have some European ancestors.

04 June 2013

Science as a method rather than conclusion

Some of us carry science with us throughout our life.  I'm one, and think we tend to have more fun in our lives.  That's the method aspect.  To my mind, the absolutely central aspect of science is "try to learn more about how the universe works".  All of us can do this, in almost any circumstance.  Some don't choose to do it, but even if you're not doing it at a professional level, you can do it.  Learning things about the world _you_ didn't know before is, still, science.

A side effect of this view is that I 'stray' from my alleged focus.  This includes field glaciology, planetary astronomy, observing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and, well, many topics that show up on my blogroll and points farther afield.

Really, though, my view is described best by one of my students.  I was teaching college physical geology (a story in its own right, but one I'll neglect here) and late in the class, after the field trip, one of my students mentioned that the class had changed how he looked at the world. 

The world is a fascinating place.  Look anywhere and amazing things are happening, or in progress, or about to happen.  To quote a different person, my niece; she went for _adventures_, not merely walks.  Just look at those ants.  What are they doing?!  Why this, and not that?!  In the case of physical geology, you can look at the river meanders that are in process of getting more (or less) extreme, the hillside that is in the process of slumping because the roadcut was too steep, and ... just amazingly many different things we can all see if we look.  The countryside is an _active_ place, always evolving to different conditions.

Related point is that my wife and I went traveling to Alaska with a pair of field biologists.  I know from nothing about biology, especially field biology.  But my wife and I had a lot of fun walking around Denali National Park with the field biologists.  She and I would see "a bunch of mossy-kind-of-stuff", being un-knowledgeable.  Our friends were seeing all kinds of amazing things.  "You don't get moss like _this_ back east!!", "Just _look_ at how thick that moss is!!".

We have tools for doing science, making more things observable, or testing ideas.  But the ground zero of being a scientist and doing science is that we realize that the universe is an incredibly interesting place.  The tools are aids, not requirements.  Figuring out the universe, the fascinating and stranger-than-we-_can_-suppose universe, is the requirement and excitement.

so say I :-)

03 June 2013

Building a climate model

Last Friday I mentioned a model, and will be getting to how it connects to Saturn's hurricane.  But some interesting to you, I hope, byways occurred to me. 

Let's start with the notion of a model.  Sometimes people quote sarcastically George Box's observation "All models are wrong.  Some models are useful."  Often they omit the second half.  And often they ignore the fact, well-known to any observationalist, that the same applies to observations. 

Models are idealizations of the real thing.  As an idealization, they don't represent reality fully.  This is mandatory for my kind of models.  Suppose you want to model ice ages, which span 100,000s of years.  A complete, non-idealized, model would be exactly an entire duplicate Earth, in a duplicate solar system, that we could control for our experiments.  Which might be fine as far as that goes, but would also mean we'd have to wait 100,000 years to see the result of 1 ice age experiment.  'Real time' modeling doesn't cut it for climate.  Or for weather -- if it takes 24 hours to make a 24 hour forecast of the weather, you really can't get much use from the model.

Being able to get an approximate answer much faster than real time is crucial to weather and climate modeling.  I backed in to this by way of some computer sciency experimentation I was doing.  Consider the important element being how much faster that you can get an answer than in real time -- how much 'lead' you can get.  One figure of merit, for instance, is to get a 24 hour model forecast or 'run' in only 1 hour.  This gives you 23 hours to make use of the model before the weather hits.  Obviously the more powerful the computer, the more computing you can do in 1 hour.  But this runs in to some other issues.

01 June 2013

Atlantic Hurricane Season opens in US

Today is the official opening of hurricane season in the US, at least for Atlantic hurricanes.  NOAA's seasonal outlook (note that the term is 'outlook', not 'forecast') is for more hurricanes than usual.  But do read down in to the discussion of the science behind the outlook.

Also, of course be prepared if you live anywhere in the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico (east or west coast), Gulf Coast, or US East Coast.  As folks got reminded last fall with Sandy, this means all the way up the coast, not just southerly places.

Do read through the full information there, and follow up for more information.  If you've got kids, perhaps ready.gov/kids will be helpful.

31 May 2013

Saturn's Hurricane

Many articles and blog posts about Saturn's north polar hurricane.  I'll point you to the NASA press release for some viewing and discussion of the Saturn side of things.

No complete answer here, but I'll raise the flag that one of the movies and set of papers I watched and read in graduate school was under the title "The Range and Unity of Planetary Circulations".  Additional flag: my bachelor's degree was in applied mathematics.  We argued that if you understood the mathematics behind things, you could rapidly move from one area where a certain math applied to any other area where it applied.  Geophysical Fluid Dynamics is one such.  Notwithstanding the name, it applies to any area where you have a fluid on a rotating body -- whether it's Saturn, the earth, the Sun, or Venus.

Coincidentally, I've been playing with a fluid dynamic model, nominally of the earth, but it could be Saturn just as well, and have a movie which I'm still trying to figure out how to share.  This movie has some characteristics which look a lot like the press release.

30 May 2013

The world is very small

We all run in to plenty of situations which make us think or notice that the world is a very small place. Last week gave me yet another example, though in a bit I'll be challenging you to do some examination to see just how surprising it really is.

 The smallness of the world comes from this photo of Genevieve (Jenny to family) Ramsey getting her Master of Fine Arts from Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina last week. I was down for my wife's graduation from the program, but ran in to Genevieve, who's looking (my wife said) a decade younger than she had in January.
Small world aspect: I mentioned my interest in weather/climate, and she mentioned her nephew and his father who also are. Turns out one is Steve Skolnik (I guess this is the father), who is also proprietor of Capital Climate, a blog to which I link over in the blogroll, and whom I've met in 3d.

Do keep an eye out for Genevieve's memoirs when they get published.  The first book includes autobiography, and her fight with cancer (hence looking so much better now).

The challenge aspect:

17 May 2013


Lots going on in the blogosphere, little of which I'll really take up in favor of mentioning that I'll be visiting Charlotte, NC next week.  Any of you in the area are welcome to drop me a note and maybe show me the area some.  If there's a Science Cafe in the area with an opening, I'd be glad to stop in and chat.

In the mean time, I've continued at a slow pace my work on the ESMR sea ice.  See the comment by MMM about the progress that the NSIDC has made on integrating it to the record with other satellites.  That's no reason to stop my effort here, though, because we're always better off if there are more lines of evidence, or more mehtods of analyzing the data, that independently come to the same conclusion.  Or, perhaps, it turns out that they don't support the same conclusions.  Either way, we learn something, which is the key for science.

A major European effort to re-examine prospects on sea level rise has completed and announced figures higher than the IPCC 4th report, but lower than some of those considered possible previously.  See ice2sea for details.

A 'citizen science' effort from Skeptical Science has confirmed the unsurprising, to those of us reading the scientific literature, that the overwhelming majority of the scientific literature either doesn't mention whether climate change is occurring and is human-caused, or that it supports the conclusion.  See 97% consensus for the details on what they did.

Climate change, by way of sea level rise, is starting to get attention of towns in the US, as Newtok, Alaska is now facing exile from its traditional locale since it'll be under water in the next few years.  I'm actually involved in a proposal that'll help provide improved information for the west coast of Alaska.  Doesn't affect this situation, but some towns farther inland, or where sea level isn't as obvious a factor, might be helped in their decision process.

The one-sided political divide continues on climate science.  Barry Bickmore, scientist and former GOP party official in Utah, has replied to a former GOP senator about the science.

Some time in the last week or two, we've reached 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere.  On the one hand, it's a milestone of sorts; the digits ticked over a round number.  On the other hand, there hasn't been a question of whether we would do so for over 30 years.  Purely a question of when.  As many have noted, levels have not been this high in human history.  Now, if you take history to mean the written record of 10,000 years, that's true, but no surprise.  We've been past the highest levels in history ever since the industrial revolution.  Call it the 280 ppm of 'pre-industrial'.  It's more surprising if you consider that it's longer than our species has existed -- the about 200,000 years 'anatomically modern' humans been around.  And, for that matter, we didn't see such levels even in our ancestors' times, for Homo erectus, back to around 1.8 million years.  Last time such levels existed is perhaps 2.5 million years ago, when the nearest thing to us was Homo habilis -- a species with less than half our brain size, and averaging perhaps 1.3 m tall (Wikipedia).

01 May 2013

Assessing forecasts

This is actually part of pursuing whether ESMR was screwy, but I decided that to show that nothing was up my sleeve, it was time to talk some about assessing forecasts.  That, and it's something I've been meaning to talk about for a while.  The thing is, forecast assessment is not nearly as simple as we sometimes think.  Having judged many a science fair project that is comparing weather forecasts, I've seen many of the same issues come up there, too.

For precipitation forecasts, people (science fairs included) often think about either 'probability of detection' -- i.e., what fraction of the time that there's rain did the weather forecast call for rain, and 'false alarm rate' -- what fraction of the time did you get no rain even though the forecast called for rain.  Both are potentially meaningful, and both have serious problems if used alone.

23 April 2013

Was ESMR screwy?

A reader here also asked about the pre-1979 satellite data over at my question place. The thing is, we do have pre-1979 satellite sea ice data -- the ESMR (Electrically Scanning Microwave Radiometer) 1973-1976.  It was a much simpler instrument than the SMMR, SSMI, SSMI-S, and AMSR which started flying in 1978 and since.  The more recent ones have two very important improvements over the ESMR -- they use multiple channels (think of it as colors) and they use both horizontal and vertical polarizations rather than just total power.

Ok, translation to English.  Our eyes look in three channels -- red, green, and blue.  Different creatures use different numbers of channels.  Dogs use only one, black and white (as we do if the lighting is very low).  Mantis shrimp use 10 channels.  Bees use ultraviolet.  And so forth.  The key is that the eyes respond to some number of colors.  Numbers vary, and what color band also varies. 

The other thing about electromagnetic radiation is that it can be polarized -- vibrating in one way versus another.  The two linear polarizations are horizontal and vertical.  ESMR just lumped them together and measured total power.  SMMR and the rest measure horizontal and vertical polarization separately at most of the channels.  Basically, SMMR and all the more recent instruments have high quality color vision versus ESMR being a rather fuzzy black and white.

But ... black and white is still better than not being able to see at all.  The question then arises in retrospect whether we can use the black and white instrument, ESMR, like our more recent color vision instruments.  Now, in part, I know the answer already -- you can't.  More precisely, you can't do it well enough to satisfy my colleagues at NASA-Goddard.  Perhaps, though, it can be done accurately enough to answer some questions of interest, even if not accurately enough to be entirely comparable to the modern instruments.

I have some ideas, naturally, and have been been pursuing them a bit -- enough to know that there's a fair chance of getting useful answers.  Whether it's useful enough to answer questions of interest ... well, I'll also invite questions you all find of interest.

22 April 2013

Forecast Contests

I'll invite your suggestions for forecast contests to hold.  In the mean time, some results from forecast contests at my work. 

The winter contest was to predict the date of the first 2 inch (5 cm) snowfall at our official weather station.  It never happened.  I came close to predicting the date, sort of.  Since we've had some memorable storms on or near President's day (February 18th this year), I went with that.  Nothing noteworthy that day this year.  But the next guesser was for May 1, so when we were getting forecasts of significant snow (4-8 inches, 10-20 cm) in mid-March, I was hopeful.  Only 1.7" at the official station, though, so no luck for me.  (If only we'd used any of the other area stations!  All beat 2".)  This is our second straight year of not having even one day with 2" of snow.  Should probably adjust the standards to 1" (2.5 cm).

The summer contest had a winner before entries had even closed.  One of the contests was to predict the first day that the official station would exceed 90 F (32 C).  Entries open to the 30th of April, it happened the 10th if I remember correctly.  The 7th earliest date ever.  Spring here, apparently was April 8th and 9th.  We're now on summer.  Note to future: have to close entries on the summer forecast contest on April 1st or earlier.  (Our earliest ever 90 F day was apparently late March -- 27th, iirc).

Both contests suggest that traditional weather forecast contests need some updating for changing climate.

For here, a couple of contests that came to mind, in addition to the 'traditional' guessing of the September average Arctic sea ice extent, are to guess when the atmospheric CO2 levels for Mauna Loa monthly average will pass 400 ppm, and when it will pass 150% of pre-industrial (420 ppm).  One that can be done annually, guess the first week when Arctic sea ice extent will fall below the climatological (1979-2000) minimum extent, and guess how many weeks the ice will remain below that minimum.

Other ideas?

11 April 2013

Life isn't simple even for a coral

Heard an interesting talk yesterday about coral, and remote sensing of water temperatures and light levels as a means of tracking how they're doing.  The effort was prompted by the major coral bleaching events in the last decade.  I'm a physical, rather than biological, oceanographer, so my prior knowledge of corals is well-covered by a) coral bleaching events are bad for coral and b) coral are pretty.  A good entry point on the web for the coral monitoring efforts is NOAA Coral Reef Watch, where you can find out much more.

One of the things that is important for coral is water temperatures.  If water gets too hot, it's bad for the coral.  That's old news at this point.  The addition from this presentation was that coral also care about light levels.  If it's too bright, that's also bad for the coral.  They can adapt to some degree, over time, to high light levels. 

As I suggest in the title, the situation is not simply those two things.  High temperatures aren't good.  But if the lighting isn't too strong, it's survivable.  The presentation included observation of a time that had prolonged high temperatures, but the lighting wasn't very strong and the coral survived ok.  A situation that didn't have as high temperatures (though still high) but did have excessive lighting resulted in much more bleaching.

It's also the case for coral, as for people, that it is sustained extreme conditions which matter.  So, again, the concern is for heat waves, not hot individual days.

10 April 2013

Consequences of the abnormal normal climate

In last Monday's note, I concluded that climate was only 'normal' from 1936-1977.  As with any science conclusion, this is not past discussion.  But, as we often do in science, let's take that part as true and see where it leads us.  If it leads us to something silly, then we have (more) reason to question our original conclusion.  On the other hand, if it leads us to things that make sense, it suggests that the original, tentative, conclusion is possibly better than we originally thought.

So, if climate were 'normal' only between that span, give or take, is there anything else that can be concluded?  Two things occurred to me pretty quickly; please do add more that you think of!  One is about psychology and the other is engineering.

01 April 2013

When was climate normal?

It's been a couple years since I took up the question of normal climate, so time for another go.  At that time, I used monthly data from Hadley, and arrived at the observation that if you're younger than 26, you've never seen a month where the global average as as cold as the 1850-2011 average, 317 consecutive months (at that point, now over 330) of warmer than 'normal' temperatures.  I'll cheat and give you some answers first, read on to see how they're established:
  • Climate was 'normal' only between 1936-1977
  • Every year 1987-present has been warmer than any year before that
  • 1976 was warmer than any year before 1926
  • 1978 (next coldest year of the recent run) was warmer than any year before 1940
Do read on to see what 'normal' winds up meaning; it's important!  One part of 'normal', as we intuitively think about it, is that you should some times above it, and sometimes below.  Having many consecutive years above 'normal' says that normal isn't really very good.  To help get quantitative about how to proceed, consider this plot of NCDC's data (warmer/colder than the 1880-2012 average -- the length of the entire record).

25 February 2013

Buy my son's book

My son (step son to be technical) is now published in book form. The first of, I expect, many. _The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right_, Lee Fang. It is available on Amazon. The publisher is www.thenewpress.com

In keeping with my blog, this is a research book. For Lee, that means research on money and messaging in politics. The text is good and readable. And there are plenty of citations to support the points in the text. As always, follow the citations.

Another point for the book is that in several cases, Lee is the one who did the original research. One of the more amusing parts is that some of that research, an interview with one of the Koch brothers, was played as part of an episode the Newsroom.

So yes, buy my sons book. But do so because it is well-researched and will shed much light on how US politics is now run.

11 February 2013

Question Place

Ok, looks like life is moving in a more blog-friendly way.  So I'll hang out the shingle again for your questions, suggestions, comments.

In the mean time, I'll note a few additions and losses.  Among the losses is that the blogger widget for showing the 10 most recent comments is broken.  You can still subscribe to the comments.  My notes about sites which seem to be inactive, but which have material you can still read and is worth reading, are now a 'page' -- one of the tabs near the top of the page, so a loss and an addition. 

Also added to the tabs near the top are "The Simplest Climate Model", and "What is Climate?", which collect in one place, finally, the several posts I've made on each topic.  There'll be more.

07 February 2013

Time to go do some science

NOAA/NWS/NCEP/Environmental Modeling Center has a request for data out, one which gives anyone near water who can read a thermometer a chance to do some science.  There's a science history behind why this is a request and I'll give my own, biased, view of that.

All data have errors and are messy.  Though George Box's comment is often repeated at modelers ("All models are wrong, some models are useful.") it is equally applicable to data and data analysis.  All data are wrong, some data are useful.

In the case of sea surface temperatures (sst), efforts to analyze global ocean sst started with badly distributed data sources -- ships.  They give you a fair idea of what the temperature is along the paths the ships take.  So the ship route between New York and London is pretty well-observed by ship and has been for a long time.  But not many ships go through the south Pacific towards Antarctica.  If you want to know what's happening down there, you need a different data source.  One such is buoys.  Though, again, buoys are distributed in a biased way, being mostly towards shore (so that they can be maintained and repaired).

Then came satellites and all was good, eventually, for a while.  Polar orbiting satellites see the entire globe.  Starting with instruments launched in the early 1980s, it has been possible to make pretty good analyses of global sst, at least on grid cells 50-200 km on a side.  Since that is as good or better than any of the ship+buoy analyses could do, that was a great triumph.  The ship and buoy data, though, remained and remains important.  One of the problems that satellite information faces is that the instruments can 'drift', that is, read progressively too warm, or too cold.  To counter that possibility and other issues, the surface data (in situ data) is used as a reference.  So for a time in, say, the early 2000s, all was good.

But both scientists and users of scientific information are never satisfied for long.  For sst, some of the users are fishermen -- some fish have very particular temperature preferences.  As it became possible to do a pretty good global 50 km analysis, with new data over about 2/3rds of the ocean every day, scientists and users started demanding more frequent updates of information, and on a finer grid.  They also got increasingly annoyed about the parts of the ocean that only got new observations every 5-20 days.  This includes areas like the Gulf Stream, where it is often cloudy for extended periods.  The traditional satellites are great, but don't see through cloud.

Another major user of sst information is numerical weather prediction.  When weather models were using cells 80-200 km on a side, the sst at 100 km (say) was a pretty good match.  But weather models continued to push to higher resolution, so that by the early 2000s, 10 km grids weren't unheard of.  The reason for such small grid spacing in weather prediction models is that weather 'cares' about events at very small scale.  If weather cares about those smaller scales, then it become important to provide information about sst at the smaller scales.  An inadvertent proof of that was made when a model made a bad forecast for a December 2000 storm, and the cause was traced back to an sst analysis that was too coarse.  See Thiebaux and others, 2003 for the full analysis.

Plus, of course, there is interesting oceanography that requires much finer scale observations than 100 km.  So a couple of different efforts developed. One was to use microwave data to derive sea surface temperatures.  AMSR-E was the first microwave instrument used for sst in operations, as far as I know.  (Sea ice isn't the only thing that you can see with microwaves!) That addressed the issue of seeing the Gulf Stream (and other cloudy areas) most days.  The other was to start pushing for higher resolution sst analysis. This lead to an international effort to analyze the global ocean at high (say 25 km and finer, sometimes 10 km and finer) grid spacing.  More is involved in that than just changing a parameter in the program.  (You'll get an answer if you do that, but it won't be as good as you had at the coarser grid spacing).

On the ocean side, this quality of the high resolution analyses is doing relatively well.  But as you go to finer grid spacings, new matters appear.  The Great Lakes are very large, so they can be seen by satellite easily, and they have buoy data through at least part of the year, so that the satellite observations can be corrected at need.  But ... go to a finer grid spacing weather model and you discover that there are a lot of lakes smaller than the Great Lakes.  For a 4 km model, there are some thousands of lakes just in North America.  And none of them have buoys, and almost none even have climatologies.  Also at this grid spacing, you start seeing the wider parts of rivers.

Here's where an opportunity arises for people who live near a shore (whether river, lake, or ocean).  NOAA/NWS/NCEP/Environmental Modeling Center is requesting observations of water surface temperatures to use as a check on their analysis of temperatures in areas close to shore.  (close equals, say, up to 50 km (30 miles), and at least 400m (quarter mile) from shore). Check out the project's web page at Near Shore Lake Project

As always, I don't speak for my employer or any groups I might be a member of. I'm pretty certain that all people who work on sst would disagree with at least parts of my above mini-history.  Be that as it may, it should be a fun project.

31 January 2013

Sea level's climate time scale

My 'reality-based decision making' post prompted a comment asking for my thoughts about sea level rise, which is more than sufficient excuse to turn to that.  An additional excuse is that it provides a chance to look at how to decide climate time scales for something other than temperatures.  For global mean temperature trends, I found that you need 20-30 years to determine a climate trend.  We'll see that it is 40-60 years, 60 for preference, for sea level.

My starting point for data was the University of Colorado sea level group.  They provide satellite data back to late 1992.  High quality data, but only for a short period of time.  If global sea level's time scales are like global mean temperature's, then it's only just gotten long enough to provide a climate number.  Fortunately they list links to other sea level groups, including the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level.  They have three global reconstructions available.  I'll take this one -- published in the scientific literature as: Recent global sea level acceleration started over 200 years ago?", Jevrejeva, S., J. C. Moore, A. Grinsted, and P. L. Woodworth (2008), Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L08715, doi:10.1029/2008GL033611 -- on the grounds that it covers the longest time period and has the most recent literature publication date.  It will be a good project for a reader to see if the conclusions here change, and how, if you use one of the others instead.

11 January 2013

Looking back at blogs 1

Some of these might still be active, at least the author might be.  Please let me know the new locations if I don't have one.  If not, well, they still wrote some articles worth consideration.

Trees for the Forest
Rust Never Sleeps

Old Man in a Cave


Rationally Thinking Out Loud (new location) http://rationallythinkingoutloud.wordpress.com/ -- old location

Respectful Insolence -- The blog certainly has continued, this is the link to the new feed location.  But some good older articles on science, in particular medicine, vs. nonscience.

The Questionable Authority Old location: http://scienceblogs.com/authority/, New location: The Questionable Authority

The Middle Way (low volume, more philosophical, blog, by a friend)

Vickie's Prostitution Blog (my wife)

10 January 2013

Bits from 2012

Some items that interested me in 2012 that I never made full posts from ...

As you've no doubt heard, the 5th review from IPCC is in progress.  I passed up yet another opportunity to be an expert reviewer.

One method of getting science together is a special issue or theme issue of a scientific journal.  One that crossed my desk and I thought might be interesting to blog readers are:
  • Call for Papers – Climate Consensus: Steps Toward a Global Understanding of Climate
And, of course, educational meetings/workshops/'summer school':
  • European Earth System and Climate Modelling School sponsored by ENES
A major method (with much advertising, hence the longer list) is scientific meetings.  It sometimes seems like people think there are only 5-10 scientists in the world, or at least in any given area.  Below are some sessions at meetings from 2012.  Each session probably has something like 100 people present (anywhere from 30-300).

09 January 2013

Happy New Year 2013

Happy near year! 

I see that I have been away from here for quite a while, including past a spectacular (again) new minimum in Arctic sea ice extent this past September.  Certainly lost me at least one of my bets with Alastair, maybe both.  I'll be looking in to it and write up a full evaluation of the predictions I worked with.

One of the reasons for the quiet here is that I've been working on articles for professional journals.  2 now out in Deep Sea Research, 1 to be appearing in Ocean Modeling, 1 already in review at Weather and Forecasting.  And two in pre-submission review, one for Climate Dynamics and another for Weather and Forecasting.  4 more in progress towards the internal review stage -- one a technical note on what I've been doing the last 15 years for sea ice concentration analysis, two for the Journal of Climate, and one for sea ice modeling.  Not sure where/how I'll be publishing that.  Somehow the brain cells for writing get fatigued, so if I'm writing much at work, I don't do so much here.  The exercise is starting to pay off, though, so they seem to feel like they can do both now.

Good news in the background is that I'll be producing better plots when I do start more regular posting here.  Had to bite some bullets to get figured out how to make publishable plots for the journals.  More of an issue than it should have been.  But now resolved well enough, with the side benefit that it also lets me make better plots for blogging.