Search Results for Tag: glaciers
Scientists and the Media
The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) in Longyearbyen is the world’s northernmost higher education institution. Unsurprisingly, Arctic biology, geology, geophysics and technology are the specialities here.
(Glaciology Prof. Doug Benn with colleagues heading for field trip to Longyearbyen glaciers – and me at the start of the trip with them.)
I was glad to have the chance to meet up with some of the experts. As well as Gunnar Sand, mentioned in a previous post as Director of the Longyearbyen CO2 Lab, I had the chance to talk to Professor Hanne Christiansen
an expert on permafrost and head of Arctic Geology at UNIS,
(on the staircase outside her office at UNIS)
and Professor Doug Benn pictured in the last entry heading up to the glaciers with two junior colleages.
As well as Arctic permafrost and glaciers (more on both later)I was interested to hear their views on climate change in general and the role of the media in particular. I was not surprised to encounter some wariness from scientists working out on the field towards journalists in view of the huge dimensions the controversy over climate has taken on in the media. Let me just share a statement from Doug Benn, who runs a field project in the Himalayas as well as his work in the Arctic, on the debate – and fuss – over the wrong figure in the IPCC report and the ensuing lack of confidence in the IPCC and even climate science in general. Doug stresses the procedure by which the error got into the report shows up serious deficits, but he also sees a lot of responsibility for what followed with the media.
“The whole impact of that whole debate was amplified both in terms of the disaster scenarios and the credibility of the IPCC by the way that media covered that particular issue. And in fact what happens is that science carries on on a much more level keel. Science is not undergoing the same mood swings that the media went through on that. The majority of scientists are plugging away, gathering good data on environmental changes that are going on, quietly publishing their results in journals, and slowly a view emerges. And so I do think it would be good if the media could correct its tendencies to go for the sensation, and of course there’s a long tradition in the media that anything that’s new and exciting is going to get prominence. But actually that does not serve science well. Mostly science proceeds by slow, careful steps and gradually pictures emerge and it takes us a long time to make up our minds about what’s happening in particular systems. Now over the whole issue of climate change and the global impact of climate change both governments and the media and indeed environmental organisations have been rather impatient, and they want definitive statements about what’s happening, we want action, we want decisions made now. And the way science works is not really compatible with that. I think the headlong rush into declaring global warming as a global disaster has been rash. This is not to say we don’t face environmental challenges, but simply that the rush has been unfortunate and actually we still need to do good science, to think critically about things. And as soon as you replace critical investigation with belief and dogma, you’re no longer doing science. Science needs the media, but it does have rather an uneasy relation with it because of these things I’ve been talking about. “
Thanks for taking the time to share those thoughts, Doug.
DateJune 7, 2010 | 9:27 am
Faulty figures but glaciers still melting fast
(Aerial view, Greenland 2009)
The latest report by the World Glacier Monitoring Service says glaciers around the world are melting so fast that many will disappear by the middle of this century.
The organisation’s results come from monitoring in nine mountain ranges on four continents.
Unfortunately, quite a few people will probably be sceptical about the news after the revelation that a figure in the 2007 IPCC report warning of a “very high” risk that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 was false. This mistake has done a huge amount of damage. It has shaken people’s trust in the reliability of the scientific monitoring and peer reviewing process and provided more ammunition for the “climate sceptics”.
I had the chance to talk to one of the IPCC lead authors, Professor Adil Najam, born in Pakistan, now Professor at Boston University. He was taken by surprise when the mistake was revealed while he was on a lecture tour in Germany.
I’d like to quote him on this issue here:
It’s a bad mistake and a matter of serious concern, he says, because it questions climate and shakes people’s confidence in science. Coming from South Asia, Pakistan, which depend on the glaciers of the Himalaysa for their existence, the Professor says, “I am happy they were wrong… But science and the IPCC need to be much more careful, because climate science is happening in the public view.” He says allowing scientific details to dominate the headlines is detracting attention from the necessary process of accepting climate change is happening and pushing political action to help countries adapt.
There was apparently a kind of “Chinese whispers” game approach to the communication of the worrying Himalayan figure. It was quoted by a journalist, who had interviewed an expert (who says he was misquoted), and WWF, an organisation I normally respect for their thoroughness and professionality, took it over from there, and then it found its way into the report.
Let me quote Prof. Najam again: “The IPCC needs to be more rigorous. But one mistake should not sully all the very clear data”. This is the crux of the matter. Mistakes happen. This was not a deliberate exaggeration but an “honest mistake”, the Professor says. And he is convinced the data we have is worrying enough without anyone having to exaggerate anything.
The World Glacier Monitoring figures would seem to confirm that. The most vulnerable glaciers are not in the Himalayas but lower mountain ranges like the Alps or the Pyrenees in Europe, in Africa, parts of the Andes in South and Central America, and the Rockies in North America.
The WGMS figures show glacier melting is less extreme than in the last couple of years, but that the important 10-year trend show an unbroken acceleration in melting.
Somehow this has not made as many headlines as the IPCC mistake.
DateJanuary 26, 2010 | 1:30 pm
Who needs the Arctic Coal Mine?
How’s this for a bizarre story to end the week:
Greenpeace has been protesting on Svalbard, Spitsbergen, which belongs to Norway, drawing attention to the fact that coal is still being mined there and fired – amongst other places – in German power stations!
60% of the island is still covered with glaciers – and they’re melting at a record rate. The whole Arctic, as we know, is being affected much worse and faster than the rest of the planet by climate change.
The Greenpeace protesters are targeting the German government and public in particular, given that a big German company is one of the ones using the coal. Their poltical point is also that Germany is still planning to build new coal-fired plants, in spite of the impact they will have on the climate. Greenpeace is calling on Chancellor Angela Merkel – re-elected just last weekend – to re-think the coal policy and put more of an effort into combatting climate change.
There are probably very few people who know there’s still coal being mined on Spitsbergen. Well, let’s see whether this gets onto German tv news this evening. “A hae’ ma doots”, as they say in Scotland (Translation: I have my doubts). Top marks for trying, though, it takes considerable effort to get up to Spitzbergen to mount a protest.
Greenpeace blogger from the Svalbard protest
World leaders block Arctic coal shipment??
DateOctober 2, 2009 | 2:19 pm
Satellite Arctic and Antarctic images alarm scientists
(Greenland coastal glacier I photographed this summer)
More worrying news on the ice front. A study based on the analysis of millions of NASA satellite laser images has indicated that coastal ice in Greenland and Antarctica is thinning more extensively than expected. The biggest loss of ice is caused by glaciers speeding up when they flow into the sea, according to scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and Bristol University. There is a clear pattern of glaciers thinning across large areas of coastline, sometimes extending hundreds of kilometres inland. The scientists think the cause is probably warm ocean currents reaching the coast and melting the glacier fronts.
Worryingly, the scientific community still does not have enough information to understand this fully and predict what impact it will have on sea level rise.
According to the study, 81 of 111 fast-moving glaciers in Greenland are thinning at twice the rate of slow-flowing ice at the same altitude. This is called “dynamic thinning”, which means loss of ice caused by a faster flow. Apparently, it is much more significant than people thought before. This fits with what scientists I talked to in Greenland a few weeks ago were saying.
Melting from below
DateSeptember 24, 2009 | 3:58 pm
Calving Glaciers and Arctic Wildlife
It’s not possible to get close up to the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier by boat because of all the icebergs in the ice fjord.
It is possible to have a good look at one of the others though, Eqip (pronounced Eh-ri, I’m not sure how the transcription gets to Equip), if you’re prepared to spend five hours each way on a boat, which I did. That reminds you once again you’re definitely up in the polar circle. On a bright summer’s day, the wind is literally icy, as you travel out through the ice cover on the water, between the icebergs.
Boats have to keep a safety distance of 400m from the wall of ice. All around the ice on the water crackles and pops as the oxygen it contains escapes.
This glacier calves around every half-hour. There’s a rumble like thunder, a crack like a gun and a lump of ice falling down into the sound in an explosion of what looks like powdery snow. This glacier, too, is on the retreat.
The oxygen-rich waters are full of fish. Attractive for seabirds:
I saw little seals popping up between the icebergs. Some humpback whales also put in an appearance, although they were playing hard to get for the camera:
But the species of wildlife I had most contact with was undoubtedly the hardy Arctic mosquito. Yes, even in Ilulissat, surrounded by icebergs, there are mosquitos. Elke Meissner, the German honorary consul, told me you could set your calendar by them, mid-June to mid-August. No doubt that too, is changing. A climate-change induced extension of the “grozzie” season is definitely not something I’d welcome. In Zackenberg, I was told they’re only around for one month – unfortunately I picked it. The wind keeps them away, so the boat trip with the icy wind was a treat. But when we got close to land to pick up some people camping in the area of the Eqip glacier, they were all wearing mosquito nets and desperate to come on board. They brought clouds with them, but they didn’t survive long (for one reason or another).
Meanwhile, the captain chopped up some of the ice he’d taken on board at the glacier – the ship’s drinking water.
12 hours later, we headed into the harbour of Ilulissat.
DateAugust 3, 2009 | 4:21 pm