Arctic sea ice II: thousands of walruses beached off the Chukchi sea (updated)

[Update September 26: See this video from the ever-excellent greenman3610 which gives a good overview of the topic]

The Associated Press reported on Monday that thousands of walrus cows have beached in North West Alaska because of the rapid loss of ice this summer in the Chukchi Sea. This is a very rare event but it has been recorded twice before, in 2007 and 2009. Beaching has also been reported on the Siberian side of the sea.

Joseph Romm has a more in-depth posting about this in which he discusses the implications for the regional walrus populations.  Of particular concern is the fate of walrus pups, which rely on their mothers’ milk for the first two years of life and cannot fend for themselves.  There are reliable reports of pups being stranded in open water where they could not possibly survive, after being separated from their mothers during the rapid thaw.

The walrus populations are also potentially endangered by oil exploration in the area, and the US government is considering adding the walrus to the endangered species list. The USGS maintains a web page where you can find out about the Alaska Science Center’s work on tracking the walrus populations.


Arctic sea ice I

I’m on a sea ice binge, and here’s what I’ve found.  I’ll probably follow this up at least once as the melt season closes and the figures are added up, so I’ve named it “Arctic sea ice I”.

Joe Romm is crowing over the collapse of yet more Watts/Goddard nonsense about the “rebound” of arctic sea ice and even says

My big $1000 bet with James Annan, William Connolley, and Brian Schmidt still looks pretty good, which is to say I would definitely not switch sides.

Bold, considering what he’s betting against:

“At no time between now and the end of the year 2020 will the minimum total Arctic Sea ice extent be less than 10% of the 1979-2000 average minimum annual Arctic Sea ice extent, as measured by NSIDC data or any other measurement mutually agreed-upon; provided, however, that if two or more volcanic eruptions with the energy level equal to or greater than the 1991 Mount Pinatubo shall occur between now and the end of 2020, then all bets are voided.”

As Joe Romm is quick to admit, William M. Connolley and James Annan are published climate scientists (Connolley was, I should say.  He now works in software engineering.)  Joe is betting against some pretty clever money.

Joe Romm in a December, 2007 posting makes it plain that he’s betting on accelerating sea ice summer melt rates. Intuitively I’d say that seems reasonable, though Joe’s timescale still seems implausibly ambitious. Of course, unlike William Connolley, I haven’t done any modeling, and I certainly don’t have a sophisticated understanding of arctic sea ice dynamics. At best my hunches (and that’s all they are) are simplistic extrapolations of what happens when I defrost my freezer. When the surface area to volume ratio increases the ice melts faster. This is true whether the overall volume decreases or the volume remains the same and I smash the ice up into smaller pieces. A lot more is going on in the arctic during the melt season, of course.

By way of data, NSIDC gives the following figures for September average sea ice extent in millions of square kilometres. Links are to the standard NSIDC sea ice minimum press release for each year.

Or you can see them all collected together in a table where they are also conveniently expressed as sea ice anomaly (baseline 1979-2000). The table also shows the quite noticeable apparent acceleration in the annual and decadal trend that has taken place in the past seven or eight years.  At  -7.3 million square kilometres per decade in 2002, it has risen year on year and after the 2009 season it stood at -11.2.  I’ll be interested to see if the trend drops back in the next few years; that’s to be expected if 2007 was simply an outlier on a linear trend.

How not to sell a television set

So I’m watching television.  We used, oh twenty years ago now, to have a nice little Sony Trinitron 21″. it was a cute as pie, but it started to get a bit elderly. Then we had a big old horrible second hand thing my American boss sold me before he was shipped back home.  Then it died and we now have a cheap crappy television somebody bought new about three years ago.  It’s a CRT telly, but it works and we have a gadget that kills all power when we put it on standby.  Whch is most of the time.

It’s that weird bit between television programs, where they sometimes try to sell you stuff.  The sound level goes up so I reflexively hit the mute button on the remote control. There ought to be a gadget that does that automatically, don’t you think?  As I understand it the advertising companies use compression techniques to make more noise while staying technically within the noise limits set for broadcast television audio by the regulator.  Well whatever that means, when there is a program break on commercial television in the UK the noise level goes through the roof until you hit the mute button.

I like to watch the pretty pictures.  So I stare vacantly, smiling pleasantly as silent cats, silent cars, silent washing machines, silent pretty girls, silent hunky men, and silent insane cartoon characters gambol on the screen trying to make me want to buy stuff.  I know how this part of the game is played.  “No”, my brain says, while I smile in guileful concupiscence at the gorgeous, seducative maidens who, by the magic of television, seem to say “yes.”  And my body says “yes”, of course, which is nice because at my age “yes” is no longer a word your body says five or six times a night.  The motor is still throbbing away under the bonnet, but I miss the constant purr of my younger years. So I get a bit of a buzz from the insanely pretty girls who are paid to try to sell me stuff on the television.

Sometimes a really funny advert appears.  These are ads that could have been deliberately calculated to make me laugh like a drain for weeks.  This bloke jumps out of an aeroplane, the ground whizzes up and you can see every blade of grass.  The grass stalks turn into a forest and a male mandrill, baring his frightening teeth, stands princely on the forest floor while the camera dives over his shoulder to a stream, down the stream at huge speed until it opens into rapids, where human maniacs in brightly colored lifejackets shoot the white water.  Suddenly the camera zooms to the river bank, where a praying mantis stares in that fixated manner peculiar to their type.  The camera somehow catches a glint in one of the optics of the mantis’ eye and expands it to a sumptuous cloudscape.  An aeroplane can be seen laboring through the clouds, and the camera again zooms, this time getting into the cockpit, barging past a pretty flight attendant who accidentally scalds the pilot with tea, shouldering through the cabin door to the back of the plane where, equipped with the latest Stupefikon 90 digital camera, a skydiver is waiting to jump.

Now about five seconds into that ad I’m already sure that this absolutely gorgeous  sequence is intended to persuade me to buy a new television.  The rest of the ad, of course, is wasted, because the visuals are so good that they convince me that my crappy cheap television is really incredibly good, thank you.

There’s a variant on this, involving George Takei.  Incidentally George is looking amazing for his age.  I recently went on a long bus journey with my daughter and we giggled like schoolgirls when a young Japanese man got on the bus.  He bore a certain familiar resemblance, and was drop-dead gorgeous so I said “don’t look now, but that young Japanese bloke looks exactly like a young Sulu.”   Of course I manages to turn my whisper into a hoarse shout which I was convinced Sulu heard all the way from the back of the bus, but he maintained his legendary helmsman cool and piloted the bus all the way back home without doing much more than sitting there at the front and blushing a bit.

Ah, okay, well this one involves George, the real one, not the lovely cutie on our London bus, showing us all kinds of television pictures that look wrong, and saying “aha, if only you had four types of LCD in your television this sea wouldn’t look green, it would be blue.”  But of course, I haven’t got any type of LCD in my television set and I have never had a problem seeing blue things before.  Could it possibly be a doctored picture designed to look green?  Well, it’s an idea.

In my earliest childhood years I had no television.  When we visited my grandmother’s house I would see her television and being a child I would go back behind the television where I would see the wonderful mysterious controls marked “Horiz. hold”, “Vert. hold”, “Grid pot.” and the like.   It was amazing in those days because I was a child I could really perceive that Cliff Michelmore, the round-faced bald news presenter, was squatting inside the massive box that enclosed the tiny cathode ray tube.  When we finally got a television set, of course it was 405 lines and monochrome, as were all sets of the time until the introduction of the PAL system and color TV in the late 1960s. By 1971 or so my family had a color television which could render Mister Sulu’s face in a way that made him look reasonably human.

The Sony trinitron is still up there in my son’s room and he never uses it.  Perhaps I ought to get it going again.

Doctor Who, BBC One, 15 May, 2010: Amy’s Choice

Does Toby Jones (the Dream Lord) now count as one of those who have played The Doctor (albeit only the dark side)?

It’s a tribute to Simon Nye’s writing and Jones’ extraordinary performance that I can hear the Dream Lord’s scornful laughter in my head: “Of course he doesn’t, fan boy! He plays a hallucination. At least *try* to keep up, or have your ears filled with fluff from hiding behind the sofa?

blogging@thepub with Skypephone S2 on 3

Blogging in the away-from-home comfort of the pub with a nice pint of beer in front of me is something I could definitely get used to.

The Skypephone S2 for £40 from 3, with a very generous pay-as-you-go tariff and Skype calls with no obligation to top up, sounds too good to be true, but it’s even better. This is a really decent phone that easily matches the excellent Sony-Ericsson it replaced.

The economy and ease of this phone and tariff are impressive–my son has already bought one and when my wife follows we will have free, always-on, multi-channel communications. Yes, completely free, as in beer.

That reminds me, I have some beer to drink!

Twitter is a better Facebook than Facebook

I received a message from Facebook today: a close family member wondered why I hadn’t acted on her Friend request.  The truth is I don’t visit my Facebook account any more.

Superficially Facebook would seem to be ideal for families and friends to stay in contact.  You can create a closed profile to which only friends have access.  To be registered as somebody’s friend you have to be confirmed by that person.

The privacy model breaks down in ways that have been widely discussed elsewhere.  See for instance the article Criticism of Facebook on Wikipedia.  But my problems with Facebook go beyond that.  Even if I trusted Facebook to respect my confidentiality, it’s an intrusive environment.

As I’m an aquaintance of several very popular Facebook members, every time I logged in the list of suggested friends would be full of people I didn’t know very well, sometimes didn’t know at all, and certainly didn’t want to be Facebook friends with, simply because those people and I shared a common acquaintance, so there was one potentially useful group-building function very broken from the start.

I’d become resigned to this, and used my status line to keep people up to date on what I was doing.  That worked okay for a while.  Then came the deluge of nonsense in the Facebook history.

I don’t recall exactly when my logins to Facebook started being net wastes of time.  It crept on slowly, but one day I noticed that the majority of stuff on the area of the page which was supposed to update me on what my friends and family were doing no longer contained much useful information.  Instead it was full of inane and meaningless interactions–people giving one another virtual gifts, challenging one another to play online games and so on, none of which are of any conceivable interest to anyone except the participants and (to be cynical, that is to say, to hit the nail on the head) to whoever Facebook had charged with the task of increasing Facebook traffic.

So here I was using a busted tool.  One very valuable method of making links with acquaintances was busted because of an unsophisticated algorithm  that fed me useless leads.  And the main reason I’d joined up–the promise that I would keep in closer touch with friends and family–was spoiled by the fact that my friends and family were all engaged in artificially generated, noise-making activities that drowned out all information about what they were actually up to.

Around that time I experimented with a Twitter account.  The first thing that struck me about it was how lightweight the thing is, in several ways.   Firstly it is just a status line–exactly the thing I like about Facebook: an answer to the question “What are you up to?”  Secondly the site itself has a light feel because it is relatively unencumbered by bloated scripts and needless graphics.  And there are no distracting flash animations.

Twitter accounts can be private but the vast majority are public.  Because of the lightness of the site most Twitter users update their status more often than is the case on Facebook, and you don’t have to get permission to see somebody’s status.  This makes for a far more open and interactive environment.

So to friends and family who wonder why I don’t respond to their requests, this is the explanation.  Facebook doesn’t work for me.  If you want to see what I’m up to, look at my Twitter account or send an email.

Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority

For the full report, see here.


Executive Summary

What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight… is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings
— General David Petraeus
May 10, 2007

  • The collection of timely and accurate intelligence is critical to the safety of U.S. personnel deployed abroad and to the security of the American people here at home. The methods by which we elicit intelligence information from detainees in our custody affect not only the reliability of that information, but our broader efforts to win hearts and minds and attract allies to our side.
  • Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them. They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam. Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies. In fact, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” cited “pervasive anti U.S. sentiment among most Muslims” as an underlying factor fueling the spread of the global jihadistmovement. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”
  • The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate  intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority. This report is a product of the Committee’s inquiry into how those unfortunate results came about.

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