Science! Round-up

Been busy – but not too busy to read the Google News Science! feed. Starting with something light:

1. Thousands Of Blue Sea Creatures Called Velella Velellas Wash Ashore In California

I was amused to read:

Also known as “by-the-wind sailor,” velellas float on the surface of warm waters, subsisting on small fish like plankton.

Plankton are fish? I didn’t know that.  But then again, I’m not an editor at the Huffington Post.  We’ll skip past…

So when thousands of the tiny blue sea creatures recently turned up, en masse, on beaches in central California, many were surprised to see such a large amount of the beached marine life.

… except to point out that the editor evidently knows neither science nor editing. Unless maybe the creatures are counted by the gallon.

To give credit where credit is due, the story did mention that this washing ashore of V. velellas is nothing to be alarmed at. So, it is possible for a science article in the Green section of the HP to print an article about some unusual natural event without blaming global warming.

2. Over at the Boston Globe, not so much:

I don’t know, but doesn’t it look like material has been thrown out of the pit? If it were merely the remnants of the raised edge of an ice dome (and a pic for comparison would have been helpful) would it not be covered in whatever green stuff is growing everywhere else? Inquiring minds want to know.

Newly Discovered Siberian Craters Signify End Times (or Maybe Just Global Warming)

Science-based hypotheses (as opposed to the alien invasion variety) about the origins of the craters abound, including meteorite collisions, sinkholes, drilling-related methane explosions, stray missiles, and global warming.

The latter is the most likely explanation, according to scientists who have visited the site.

So, I read the rest of the article waiting to hear who, what, where and when of these scientists who have visited the site. Because, you know, that’s kinda what reporting is all about. I’d even hoped against experience for a scientific explanation of how these holes might form as the result of warmer temperatures. But who visited the site and what they found that inclines them to the global warming theory are nowhere laid out.  Oh, well.

What I gather is that liquid water below the permafrost may force its way up, and freeze into ice domes. When the domes melt, you would be left with a hole in the ground. OK, sounds good, but what’s mysterious about these holes, apart from their seemingly sudden appearance, is that materials seem to have been ejected from the holes, creating a ridge around them. Seems not what one would expect from melting ice. So, yea, mysterious.

Here’s the killer line, for me at least:

Some geologists are speculating that if the Siberian permafrost melted rapidly over the past two summers, the craters could be evidence of these melted ice lakes. As Plekhanov puts it:

The theory was that the number of Yamal lakes formed because of exactly such natural process happening in the permafrost. Such kind of processes were taking place about 8,000 years ago. Perhaps they are repeating nowadays. If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal peninsula.

Does no one else catch that Dr. Plekhanov is saying that the same processes happened 8,000 years ago – a wee bit before the Industrial Revolution and any human contribution to CO2 in the atmosphere? When, in  fact, it is asserted that CO2 levels were much lower than they are now? So, whatever caused this phenomenon in the past, it wasn’t CO2. Therefore: we’d need to know that that process from 8,000 years ago is not going on now BEFORE we cook up another explanation. Because, otherwise, we’d be multiplying theories for no valid reason, making the baby Ockham cry.

3. Finally, here’s another range of data issue:

No Record, But Arctic Sea Ice Will be Among 10 Lowest

Question: the 10 lowest what? Answer: annual arctic sea ice minimum extent during the summer. Here’s the blurb:

The extent of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean at the end of the summer season likely won’t surpass the record low of 2012, but 2014 will still likely rank as one of the lowest minimum extents (or areas) in the record books.

That’s according to Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at theNational Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. “It’s likely that it will be among the top 10 lowest,” Stroeve told Climate Central in an email.

Next question: so, how big are those record books? Turns out, the only records you’d hang your hat on are from about 1979, when the first satellites that use microwaves to determine sea ice extent were launched, to now. Anything before then is pretty iffy – there weren’t thousands of trained observers fanning out over the ice each month and taking measurements according to consistent, established protocols. So, there’s a lot of room for errors in the educated guesses and backfilling used to estimate sea ice back to 1800 – the earliest I’ve seen it estimated on an annual basis – let alone any further back than that.

35 years worth of good data. Data covering 0.2% of the time since the end of the last glacial period. As to what kind of arctic sea ice existed over the other 99.8% of the time since the glaciers melted, we don’t know. Sure would be nice to know that, to know if the extent of the sea ice today really is something to be alarmed about, or if its just one of those things, like continental ice sheets and local annual rainfall, that tend to vary over time. I imagine it might have been even greater back at the end of the 18th century, when the Thames froze over every winter, and might have been much less when the Vikings settled Greenland. But we just don’t know.

So, looking over the last 35 years, this summer’s minimum arctic sea ice area will likely fall in the lower 30% of those years for which accurate measurements are available. That doesn’t sound too bad, which is why I suspect they don’t put it that way.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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