Month: January 2013

Watching ice melt

In 2012 there were several news items about extreme large-scale melting events, the most memorable among which the Greenland ice sheet surface melt and the Arctic sea ice summer minimum. Observing ice melting on a smaller scale can be impressive, too, not to mention instructive. This thought was prompted by seeing multiple blog posts refering to the thawing-out of a large multi-level cold storage facility in Chicago, which was decommissioned and sold for future use as an office building. The process resembles the defrosting of a giant neglected freezer and at the same time melt pools are perfectly visible:

(Before the big thaw, a photographer had the opportunity to capture the ice formations and has published some pictures online.)

It may be shallow, but I love time lapse as a visualization tool. Back to nature, here is more. For example, we can look at only a small piece of Greenland such as a fjord and watch the spring melt of Kobbefjord, about 25 km from Nuuk.

In the north, the defining event of spring is called break-up: the moment when the ice goes out. Break-up transforms unpaved roads and tails into mud puddles for a week, but for rivers, it is over in a day. Some places run annual lotteries based on bets of the exact moment, down to the minute. Lately, the site yukonbreakup.com has done a great job posting images of the Yukon River at Dawson City, where the Klondike River enters. Particularly impressive this 2011 time lapse of the day the river went out. My heart does a skip right in the middle:

It is easy to understand how dangerous break-up is every year for the communities that border the great rivers. The destruction of Eagle Village in May 2009 by a moving ice jam and flooding of the Yukon River remains as a stark reminder.

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What I do using the ten hundred most common English words

What better way to start a geoscience blog than to jump on a memetic bandwagon, right? Inspired by an XKCD cartoon — what else — a creative person called Theo Sanderson coded the Up-Goer Five text editor to incide people to write about a hard idea using only the most common 1000 (ten hundred, as “thousand” is forbidden) words of the English language. I’m not going to quibble about his selection at the lower edge of the 1000 number: it’s a charming idea and it became a geo-blogger meme. So here’s my attempt:

In the colder parts of the world a lot of the land is covered by trees. Every summer, some of the trees catch on fire. The fires can grow very large and burn a lot of the wood and other ground cover. Many of the fires happen far away from people because not many people live up here, but the smoke from the fires moves with the wind so in the towns and other places where people live they often can smell it. The smoke and little black bits from the fires are bad for people, especially children and sick people.

I work with a group that uses computers to find out where the smoke from the fires will move. We run the computers for hours and then make pictures of the land and put them where people can see them. There are the cities on the pictures and red and green and blue and so on, so people can see if there is going to be smoke where they live. To make the pictures we need to find out very fast when there is a new fire, and how big it is. For this I use other pictures — very large pictures that are taken from space. I get those pictures on my computer and have written something that makes the computer take a very close look at the pictures and tell me where the fires are and how big they are.

Another way to use the computer is to make it figure out where a fire is going. This is very hard for the computer, because it needs to know what grows on the ground, if there is water on the ground or rain falling, where the ground goes up and down, and so on. So I use a computer made from over one hundred smaller computers to make a picture of where the fire will be the next two or three days.

We also know that the cold parts of the world are getting warmer, and it is important to know if there are going to be more fires or maybe larger fires or the same place burns more often. This is a very interesting job to do.

More here.