November 24, 2014

The Shirt

Okay, I'm going to weigh in on this #shirtstorm thing. I've been fortunate enough to miss much of the coverage and complaints, but wanted to put in my two cents on a few things that I haven't seen directly commented on yet.

1) Extremists.
No, the shirt-wearer shouldn't get fired, and no, people who spoke out about the shirt shouldn't die over it. Extremist views in this case are, as with most things, just that—extreme. And they probably only represent a small (vocal) minority of the population. I think we should mainly be concerned with the broad grey area between the extremes. In this area lies people who think maybe this shirt isn't a big deal, and don't understand the big fuss, but maybe only because they haven't seen the subtleties in this case and will probably be open to them when presented with a different perspective. So, here's mine.

2) It's just a shirt.
I've seen a few good pieces talking about how this didn't happen in a vacuum, so I don't need to go into the "right, maybe it's just a shirt, but it does send a message and these things add up." Check out Phil Plait's Slate piece about Casual Sexism.

But there are still few points I wanted to make here:
- If you're a man, you may not be able to imagine how this imagery would affect you in the workplace as a woman. Ask a few female friends how they feel about it. Have a conversation. Make sure you and they see the shirt up close enough to see what's actually on it.
- Try picturing the shirt as being worn by a woman, or a shirt of sexualized, scantily clad men being worn by a woman, or by this same man, and see if you feel differently about it. Try picturing the man wearing a shirt patterned with dogs humping. Professional? Why not? In the workplace, would it make you uncomfortable? What if your daughter was working with him (or whomever)?
- I really think this kind of imagery and message affects us subconsciously, so even if you think it's no big deal, it may be sending messages that you're unaware of. Not that it's hocus-pocus, but it sends messages that you just may not be aware that you or other people seeing the imagery are processing. So on the surface, even if the shirt (or similar imagery in the workplace or, for that matter, in public) seems benign, it may be affecting us in ways we're not measuring. And yes, this stuff does add up.

3) Equal does not mean the same.
We're all different. I mentioned a few posts back when talking about the *lack* of imagery of women in science that I was particularly attracted to geology because it was male dominated. There are a few reasons for this. Ego has something to do with it, but, tied to that, so does breaking stereotypes. I saw myself as kind of a stereotype superhero, chinking away at these societally held beliefs that women weren't strong or capable or rugged—bam! bam! bam! But.... not everyone is like me. And that's not to glorify myself, it's to say that if we want to get women of all types into STEM fields, and into leadership positions across the workplace world, we can't just assume that these jabs are going to make women more adamant about taking this guy's job, as a friend of mine suggested. Some, they will. But we'll also lose some to this stuff. Maybe even most.

4) It's not about the shirt.
#shirtstorm is not really about whether this guy in this one circumstance was appropriate in doing so. It's not about whether he should be fired or not, or whether ESA is a bad place to work, or overshadowing the fact that they landed on a comet (there's still plenty of press about that and still plenty of reasons to be excited. In my view, these are two different stories). This is about this kind of imagery in general and the effect it has on the people it portrays (or doesn't). It's about how we view this as a society. Do we think this *type* of thing is okay? What bothers me is not that this guy wore this shirt, but that we can't across the board recognize that it was inappropriate, and why. But hopefully this is spurring conversations within that grey area—the segment of our population, like myself, not at the extremes. Hopefully we can get to the point where we start to teach and learn that we need to do better, for everyone's sake.

* * *

I've mostly read moderate, well thought out pieces about #shirtstorm/#shirtgate. Here are some of my favorite excerpts.

From Infactorium, a word on losing "freedoms":
"When people (near-universally young men) start complaining about these losses of freedom I have to sigh and shake my head. We all give up things to make society better. We give up our right to take things by force. We give up our right to drive on the wrong side of the road."

Right, and ultimately these trade-offs make for a better living environment.

From the American Astronomical Society's statement on this whole thing:
"The AAS has a clear anti-harassment policy, which prohibits “verbal comments or physical actions of a sexual nature” and “a display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures.” Had the offending images appeared and comments been made under the auspices of the AAS, they would be in clear violation of our policy."

Why? (Me asking.) Because:

"As a professional society, the AAS must provide an environment that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas. In pursuit of that environment, the AAS is committed to the philosophy of equality of opportunity and treatment for all members, regardless of [list here...] or any other reason not related to scientific merit." [My emphasis.]

I love that last part. I mean, of course! So don't wear a shirt or use imagery that disrespectfully targets part of the population. On the flip side, *do* be proactive in utilizing positive and relevant imagery of a diverse population. Show role models. Be a role model. This issue isn't limited to women, it's about workplace dynamics and diversity in general. What shirt would you wear?

Posted by beth at 12:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 12, 2014

Mini Book Review: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Since I wrote a mini book review for "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," I figured I should write one for "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" too. In the first book review, I revealed my fear of the Great Unknown. The universe, infinity. What I LOVED about "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" is that it acknowledges exactly that issue. My favorite part was the bit about the Total Perspective Vortex, which reveals the complete scope of the universe and completely ruins a man.

So there's my gripe by the end of the book, which I've already harped on in another entry today to another end. "Ruins a man." Maybe Douglas Adams didn't have many women in his life? Because while the one female main character is super smart and more "evolved" than the male human, she's still along because she was picked up by Zaphod Beeblebrox. Other than that... there are a few women in non-speaking roles and a few women who are in peripheral roles mainly having to do with being annoying or being potential sexual partners, but no women in any sort of leadership positions. Captains, rulers of the universe, psychologists, executives, etc. All dudes.


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Science is for White Men

Apparently, women don't do science. Apparently, minorities don't either. At least according to a couple things that have prickled my annoyed-bone lately.

Here's one: an article from the BBC about why English has become the language of science. Which is very interesting. It has to do with World War I and did you even know that German was outlawed in 23 states in the U.S.?? I had no idea. So I read this article thinking wow, interesting. (You know, me and communication...) But then I got to the end of the article thinking, really? Not one photo of a non-white-male scientist? I give it to them that the archival photos they were looking for would have mostly if not all white men. But that last photo got me. They could have chosen any stock photo, and they chose one with three white dudes.

Nobel Prize: How English beat German as language of science

Also, no mention of non-Western scientists, and how the rest of the world played into the scientific landscape at the time and since. Event to say that the Western world dominated scientific discourse, and why. (Maybe I'm being a tad harsh on this one—the title of the article I read, on my phone, was just How English became language of science.)

To note, the article is spurred by the winning of the Nobel Prize by May-Britt and Edvard Moser (May-Britt is a woman and, also to note, was mentioned first). Clearly not all science is done by white men. But images are important...

The other thing that got me was a poster is a kit for Earth Science Week, which starts today. When I first pulled it out, I thought, GREAT POSTER! They don't try to cram too much into one space, it's cartoony and colorful and fun, and I thought, I'm totally hanging this up in my office!

[SO cool! So.... male, and white.]

My excitement waned when I looked at the back of the poster, and then the front again. Four people depicted on the poster, and all were clearly men. Again, white men. One of them is going bald, which I thought was funny and realistic, but still.

And you could make a "well, it's mostly men in science, so these images are just being true to the demographic" argument, but 1) half of geology students at the university level are women (true that the workforce is not even close to that, but there are a lot of women in geoscience), and 2) some people are encouraged to do things by seeing someone that looks more like them doing those things. Role models. (I say some because I was allured into going into a male-dominated field because it was male dominated, but that's a whole other entry and can of worms.)

Also, full disclosure, I am completely guilty of this same thing. I made a poster for an event in May that has only white dudes on it. I am completely embarrassed by that. I picked the best pictures, wanting it to look visually sharp and professional, and I just wasn't wowed by any of the pics that I could find of women working. And it seemed contrived. But sometimes we need to be contrived. As instant karma, or something, one of the pictures I chose was too low res for print, and subsequently looks like crap. Serves me right.

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August 31, 2014

Mini Book Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Started out thinking it was brilliant, then it kind of lost steam for me, and all in all I liked it but it wasn't as fast or breezy or even fun a read as I thought it would be partly because of the use of words--lots of comma splices that threw me off--and partly because I wanted to get my mind at least a little bit around the concepts (playful though they may be) and I'm not much of a time-and-space gal. I remembered while reading it why I never liked science fiction: It terrifies me. I have to think about the things that make me most uncomfortable, which in a nutshell is only one thing--infinity--and more specifically are time, space, death, and things I don't understand. (Which I guess may trump infinity as the most basic thing, and why I'm uncomfortable with infinity. Any level of contemplation will not get me closer to understanding any of these things, whereas I *can* understand many things on this planet that I don't, yet.) And I know any scifi friends reading this will feel completely smug and self-righteous, thinking yes, that's the whole point. Well, bully for you. I'd love to discuss it... but not with you. (Unless you're *not* smug about it. In which case, we can talk.)

Holy cow, I can't comprehend this universe, let alone another one...

It was interesting to find how many things I remembered from high school, like the Babel fish, which I want. And I love how outdated the actual guide is. "It's a sort of electronic book..." It still has buttons on it! How quaint. And a small screen.

The future is now, people.


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July 14, 2014

Glendo 2014

Ahhhh, camping. My friend Nancy organizes an annual trip to Glendo State Park, a recreation area around a big ol' reservoir in the middle of Wyoming just about three hours north of here. I feel like I should dig into the geology of the region, but I also feel that I'm dehydrated and underfed and sunned and road-tripped and tired. So some pictures of grasses, instead.

I kept feeling like I should stop on the side of the road to take pictures of the grasses, gentle hills, and more grasses on the way up. I'm wondering if that Microsoft background is from Wyoming. There were some GREAT rock formations, but I couldn't be bothered to stop for them. I finally bothered here, for some hills and grasses.

[This is how I roll. Cracked windshield, tarantula mascot (thanks, Mom). (For the tarantula, not the cracked windshield.)]

[This is how a bunch of other people roll.]


[Grasses, sky, clouds. That's about probably 60 percent of Wyoming. 75?]

Like I said, the drive should take just a hair over three hours.

I was going to leave on Friday but my weeks are often (always?) hectic and I didn't have time to pack on Thursday night and the person who was going to ride up with me bailed besides. And on Friday afternoon burnt out from the week I didn't feel like being in a hurry so I had a beer after work with coworkers. And then I needed to pack and then it was 9 p.m. and then I realized / was convinced by a friend that it would be a pain to get up to Glendo that late, because it's a state park and I'd be that person driving around shining lights into tents at 1 a.m. trying to figure out where to set up, which would have likely resulted in sleeping in my car. (Not the first time.)

So I went to sleep early, so I could get up early and on the road. But then when I woke up, not exactly early, I realized there was really no pressing reason for me to rush up there. I went back to sleep, woke back up, made myself breakfast, grabbed my stuff, and went for an oil change. Oh, right, and my dashboard lights weren't working, which was another reason to not drive up at night. The main guy helping me at Grease Monkey came into the tiny waiting area with his fists on his hips. I have to come in in a Superman stance, he said, because I got your dash lights working. Turns out there's a dimmer switch. So he fixed the problem by, yes, turning the knob.

Got gas. Got out of town.

On the way, a few signs tempted me. There's an old west museum in Cheyenne, and that sounded like it could be cool. But I passed it up. (Maybe I'm in a hurry? Maybe I'm not? Do I feel like a museum? Not really...) Then another set of signs for exit 92. Historical this, historical that, and a site where you can see wagon wheel tracks from the Oregon Trail.

What?? Now *that* sounds cool, and it sounds like a site a friend who had done a massive road trip last year had told me about. (Thanks Seth.) So I exited. 15 miles. That's not a big deal, right? Okay, half and hour out of my way, at least, just for driving, but whatever. I'm here, and so are those tracks.

[The groove right by the interpretive trail.]

[People were here...]

[Another view.]

[How many wagons?]

[This rugged terrain is nothing compared to what was to come for these folks.]

[The people traveling the Oregon Trail had to navigate this land in wagons. Now, highways and golf courses. Oh, and look—geology.]

[Grasses. And more grasses.]

[Wyoming's not just about the Tetons.]

Somehow, I didn't arrive at our campground at Glendo until about 4 p.m. I'd left Boulder at 10:47 a.m. So much for three hours. What took me so long? Well, there was that stop alongside the road to take pictures, there was a stop for tonic (I had some limes hanging out at my place so the only logical thing to do was to buy a huge bottle of gin to go with them), there was the detour to the tracks, and there was a stop at the gas station right before the state park for ice and a hot dog. And an ice cream. Yes, you heard me. Ice cream and a gas-station hot dog.

I guess it all adds up.

[To the lake.]

And then.... Glendo. I've always been skeptical of Glendo. Somehow it seemed far away and not very much fun. But, I mean, look at it. A campground in the shade of trees on a big body of water to play in.

And as far as I can tell, this is mainly what happens at Glendo:

[Relaxation Station.]

That, and some reading, and eating. Drinking. Paddle boarding. Relaxing. Playing. More eating. (I was very excited about the Saturday-night potluck.) Dog-petting. Hanging out around a fire. Storytelling. Hammocking. Sleeping.

[Lumin's sunwear.]

There were three babies in the camp, and no one got a picture of them. I felt like I should have. I felt a little guilty. But I didn't feel like getting up to get my camera. I'm trying to get better with this phrase: Not my job. So, getting a picture of the babies wasn't my job, but there's little Lumin's hat, above, to represent the baby contingent.

[Tent envy? Patrick's setup on the left, mine on the right. Mine was waaaaaaay faster to take down. So there.]

I kind of wish there was another Glendo next weekend.

[Heading back out of the park.]

Sign me up for next year.

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July 7, 2014

Colorado's Yosemite

I'm writing from the future! Sort of. I went through the trouble of uploading all these photos a while back and never actually wrote up an entry about them. It's long enough ago that I don't feel like I have much to say—lucky you—so here are some pics for you of a beautiful spot in Colorado that friends Marianne, Jane, and I stumbled upon because all the tiny river-side designated camp spots were taken along the South Platte river. We ended up driving up Deckers Road toward Little Scraggy Peak, I think, which is where we found this gem. Thank you, public lands.

[Marianne enjoying the view from camp. Tough life.]

I think I put off writing this entry because I was going to try to give some actual value added by talking about the geology of the area. Which I really know nothing about. I can tell that these are granite, which is why I called the area Colorado's Yosemite. But beyond that, I can't tell you much.

[Marianne and Jane working on dinner.]

From what I remember, we had a very nice and relaxing evening and talked a lot about apologies and how women in particular (in general) are prone to say sorry for things that they don't really need to apologize for. My view: I defended the value of an apology, or the use of "sorry," regardless of gender, even if whatever happened is not really my fault. As in, I said something that offended you because I meant it one way and you interpreted another, regardless of who's to blame for the mix-up. I say, Oh! Sorry! I meant blah blah blah (*not* "I'm sorry you interpreted it that way, but..."). Of course, I could also just say, "Oh! No! That's not what I meant!" in that circumstance, but throwing a sorry in doesn't hurt. I am, however, adamant about not apologizing for something that someone else thinks I'm at fault for where I see no wrongdoing.

We tried not to apologize to each other for things after that and it was hard.

Anyway. Camping conversations.

In the morning, thanks to Sonora, I was the first one up (not counting Sonora). We went for a lovely walk before things heated up.

According to an entry on, the granite in this area is part of the Pikes Peak batholith, which is the youngest granite in all of the Rockies. For what that's worth.

From what I can tell, the rocks are about 1 billion years old. Everything in Colorado is, yes, older, but looks like the granite in Yosemite is only 210 to 80 million years old.

The Pikes Peak batholith is a large magmatic intrusion that cooled deep within the Earth and then was exposed by years (like, maybe a billion) of erosion. It covers 1,300 square miles. The next biggest in Colorado, responsible for all the beautiful granite outcrops in Rocky Mountain National Park and around Estes Park, covers a mere 600 square miles. (To be characterized as a batholith, it has to be at least 40 square miles, so yes, still pretty darn big.) This from the great—though very basic—book "Messages in Stone: Colorado's Colorful Geology" by the Colorado Geological Survey.

What I *want* to know is what was going on tectonically at the time to cause this to happen. Maybe nobody knows.

After a leisurely breakfast, we all went for the same walk.

[My new chair. Throne, rather.]

[The area was ravaged by the Buffalo Creek Fire of 1996, which destroyed forest but yielded wonderfully open views.]

We turned back sooner than we would have because of one little black-furred problem. An overheated dog. It wasn't super hot out there, but apparently it was hot enough by that time. Back at the car, we got rolling quickly to get some air conditioning on but Sonora would not stop panting and trying to get up to the front seat to get closer to the air (it just wasn't making it back to us). So we detoured to the Cheeseman Reservoir. Dogs and people aren't supposed to take dips, but it seemed like a desperate enough situation. Except that Sonora refused to go in. So Marianne and I took the water to her, holding her in the shade and dumping Nalgenes of lake water over her.

It worked.

[Posted Nov. 23, 2014]

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May 30, 2014

GPS in the Eastern Sierra, Year Six (and Counting)

At the end of May, I made my annual pilgrimage to SNARL, the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab, at the base of Mount Morrison in the Eastern Sierra. Big heart. The purpose: teaching Indiana University undergrads about GPS. The bonuses, starting with the drive down: mountain views.

[Stormy weather all the way from Reno to the field station, four hours' drive south.]

[A dry winter for California, but unseasonal snow in the spring this year.]

[Maybe the stormy weather didn't last quite the whole way. I had to detour up to check out this valley. How could I not, with that lighting?]

[The Eastern Sierra: Mountains and moraines.]

This is my sixth year helping out with the class, which has been going for I think 12. I get grandmothered in as GPS instructor/engineer, which actually fits my current job quite well. The class is taught by my Indiana University master's advisor, Michael Hamburger, and John Rupp, from the Indiana Geological Survey. They are helped out by an Associate Instructor and together hold court over 15 students for a California mountain adventure.

[The view from SNARL: Mount Morrison and its moraines, on a stormy day.]

What I love about this class (other than the amazing scenery): Unlike most geology field courses, it is an *intro* course, open to non-majors. This year, there were three geology majors, a history and political science major, a few biology majors, an environmental management major, and a speech pathology major, among others. And because it's Indiana University, in the heart of the midwest, many of these students have never seen these mountains before. Some have never really seen *any* mountains before. So every day is a wonderful new discovery. They get to ride a gondola for the first time, up Mammoth Mountain. They glissade for the first time, they see Death Valley for the first time, they soak in hot springs for the first time. And, they eat Linda's cooking for the first time. (Linda's been doing the catering since the beginning or almost the beginning of the course some twelve years ago, and it's an amazing thing. Don't come with any expectation of losing weight. The hiking is more than balanced out by Linda's desserts. Sigh.)

[Walking to our lunch spot at the top of Mammoth Mountain.]

[Every last person in the group did the optional glissade this year. So proud.]

[This is generally their new favorite lunch spot... until their next favorite lunch spot. It changes almost daily.]

[Happy students. A really, really good crew.]

Oh, and they do GPS for the first time! (The most important thing, right?) One day of the course is surveying day, and we measure a line of survey markers up and across a fault using leveling (old school) and GPS (new school), so they can compare the techniques. The fault is the Hilton Creek fault, but we measure its displacement across McGee Creek, just a hair south of the field station where we stay. (Turns out faults don't care about their namesakes when they rupture).

[Interpreting the geology of McGee Creek before heading over to survey.]

[Not just for geo majors. Getting down and into it here: Becky, English/History/Contemporary Lit, and Amelia, Chem/Geo.]

This is how the day is supposed to go:
"Wow, we spent a lot of time trying to located these (small, hidden) survey markers amidst the sage brush and scrubby trees, and even though the written directions from years past seem pretty good it took forever. But that GPS stuff—WOW! It got us right to the point!"

[And they're off!]

[I love watching the students struggle—and prevail—with this particular setup. Is that bad?]

To explain: We use what's called real-time kinematic methods, or RTK, which means we have a base station (GPS) that communicates with our rover (also GPS) via radios. We tell the base station where it is. No, base station, even if you think you're over there, you're not! You're right here! And so it can actually calculate the errors in its position. Because our rover and base are close together (a few km at most), they share the same error sources. Mainly, the satellite signals are going to travel through the same slice of atmosphere to reach our instruments, which means they're going to be delayed by the same amount to our base and rover, and that error essentially cancels out. It's convenient. And I program in the locations of the survey points beforehand, so *theoretically* we can navigate right to the points. And by "right to," I mean we should get within 2-3 centimeters, or about an inch. It's cool when it works.

[We break the students up into groups of 3-5 and cycle them through the different activities so everyone gets their hands on the equipment.]

And it *would* have worked this time if I had just chosen good coordinates. I happened to use coordinates from a year where the survey was bad for some reason. I had maybe eight years to choose from, and two were bad, and I used one of them. So in the field we were off by one meter, then two, then five. Not very impressive. But that was only a side goal of the survey. The main goal was to re-measure the positions of the markers to see if they'd changed.

[GPS is funny.]

[I like to teach one student in each group how to run the controller, and then they teach the next person, and so on, until everyone has used it to measure a marker. When possible, I have the old group teach the new group when we switch off. They always do great.]

And, the students seemed to like it. Some of them were totally grooving on it. The first group I had helped me set up the base station, and they were waaaaaay into it. A couple of the students even matched the equipment.

[Morgan, polisci/history with a geo minor, and Max, geo.]

The idea of the survey is that we'll see motion on the fault, if there is any between surveys. So far, no luck. But I feel like we did a good job of surveying this year, so if there had been any motions, we'd have seen it. Michael and I manage to almost-but-not-quite work our way out of the tangle of data every year to make some sense of it, but with one or two days and an Excel spreadsheet and undoubtedly small motions, if any at all, we've never really had a "wow" product to show the students. By the next day they're on to the next thing, anyway, so I don't think they mind. But it would be really nice to show some real, meaningful results from the survey.

As it is, I attempt to entertain them with a few lectures—one to show how GPS works and what makes our fancy high-precision stuff different from the GPS in their smartphones, and another to show applications of GPS. Earthquakes! Volcanoes! Even hurricanes, snow depth, soil moisture, drought, and glaciers! And I show off about the Plate Boundary Observatory, which includes several sites within almost spitting distance of the field station where we stay.

[Leveling. More precise in the vertical, but it *only* gives the vertical. Plus, we cruise right past them once we're set up. Plus, we can navigate right to the markers...usually. Still, if there are changes, but the changes are very small, leveling might be the way to go.]

And then, at the end of the exhausting days, we eat Linda's food and soak in those hot springs and giggle in the "executive suite" dorm room like we're in... well, college. Or maybe junior high.

And maybe, just maybe (it's not uncommon), one or two of the students who weren't geology majors decide to study geology, or a student ends up in something else with an Earth science or environmental focus. One went on to study environmental law. The 2008 group started a Facebook page, and posts still show up periodically about the ecology or geology of the Eastern Sierra. We have yet to rope in a geodesist. But I like to think that the students at least have a better idea of what technology can do for us when it comes to understanding and mitigating hazards.

[Are these the folks you want doing your future hazards assessments?]
[Answer: Yes!]


A major bonus for ME is getting to hang out with my dear friend Anne Hereford, who helped teach the class for six years and still comes out to visit. Here, we're taking Sunday afternoon off to hike up Convict Creek after lunch on the lake with the class. AMAZING geology. Just plain beautiful, whether you understand the folds or not. And the company was pretty darn okay, too.

[The wonderful Ms. Anne Hereford.]

[Wow. The Eastern Sierra.]

[It was hard to turn back, presented with a valley like this. Hard enough that we were late for dinner. Okay, we might have missed it...]

[Sooo many options for a caption here...]


Epilogue Part 2:

The drive back north is almost as nice as the drive back south, except the destination is not quite as nice. Hope to see you next year, Sierra class.

[Another geological wonder, Mono Lake, on the drive back up to Reno.]

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May 10, 2014


So I am eating soup—the same soup I've been eating the past few days—and as I'm eating it I realize I don't really want to use a spoon, because it's a a blended soup, and so I thoroughly lick off the spoon and reach out from the couch to drop the spoon onto my satchel beside me. Where there's.... another spoon. Because I did the exact same thing yesterday, and didn't remember until I saw the spoon.

The same thing happened yesterday. Where *did* I put that fork? I washed it, and then where did it end up? So I washed another one. And didn't want to put it in the drying rack for some reason. So I put it on top of an upturned clean bowl. Right next to another clean fork.

The best, though, was earlier this week when I got myself some tea. I drink a lot of tea. When I drink tea, if I use a tea bag, and if that tea bag has a tag, I tear off the tag. I tear off the tag because I don't like when it gets accidentally tugged into the tea when I'm pouring in the water, and then I have to fish the tag out with my fingers from the tea I'm about to drink. So I get up from my desk, pick up my mug, go to the sink down the hall, pull out yesterday's dry tea bag and toss it in the compost bin, get a new tea bag, pull off the tag, and read the tag while I fill my mug with water. Sometimes I like the quote or phrase on the tag. If I do, I feel like I should keep it with me somehow and read it again sometime, so I put it in my back pocket. I liked this one. I put it in. But I realized as I was putting it in that it was silly to do so because the last I remembered putting my hand in my pocket I found a mass of not-so-legible tea-tag fuzz. There was one other very intact tea tag in there, so I pulled it out.

At least I'm consistent.

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October 20, 2013

Sea Level, on the Rise

Every once in a while, I do something that’s serious. Okay, often, I do something that’s serious. This is one of them. I played journalist a few weeks ago and interviewed Tad Pfeffer, a glaciologist at CU-Boulder, about the recently released IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. They’re somewhat few and far between, and this is the year. What do they tell us? The state of climate science and what we understand about climate past, present, and future—as best as we know at this time. I loved the process of doing the interview in the way that I first thought I would love doing journalism—I loved the learning. I learned as much as I could in the time I had allotted so I could actually conduct a somewhat intelligent interview with Pfeffer. That was the goal. Whether I accomplished it or not doesn’t really matter so much at this point, because I loved feeling like a journalist. And I learned about the IPCC report, knowledge that I can now build on moving forward.

Guyot glacier in Icy Bay, Alaska
[A once-flat, hundreds-of-meters thick Guyot glacier in Icy Bay, Alaska, now cracked as bedrock emerges in Guyot's rapid retreat. Had to use this image after I saw it was taken by a former co-worker, who was a PhD student of Pfeffer's. (Photo: Shad O'Neel, USGS)]

But enough about my process. Curious about sea level changes? Wondering when Miami is going to be gulping for air? We didn’t talk about the latter, but we did talk about some very interesting dynamics. Here are the most salient tidbits, and then you can read on if you want more:


  • The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovenmental body open to all members of the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. 195 countries are currently members. It doesn’t conduct research or collect new data, but rather “reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change.” (Straight from their website.)

  • The IPCC has released reports in 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007, and the full current report will be released in 2014. The reports consist of three parts from three working groups: physical science (climate past, present, and future), societal effects, and mitigation (both preventing and addressing the effects of human-induced climate change). At the end of September, the summary of the sciency part was released. The other two bits will (theoretically) build off that science.

  • The recent IPCC Working Group I report consists of 14 chapters. Each chapter represents a major topic in climate science, with the exception of the introduction, and is authored by many scientists. This is not new research, but a summary of what’s out there.

  • Tad Pfeffer was one of 14 lead authors on the chapter about sea level change.

  • Sea level rise is accelerating. Global sea level increased an average of about 1.5 mm per year from 1901 through 1990, more or less. Then, from about 1993 to 2010, that rate went up to 3.2 millimeters per year.

  • Current estimate have sea level rising between 26 to 98 centimeters by the end of the century (2100). The range is broad because what sea level does depends on what the climate does, which depends in part on what we do. Various scenarios are accounted for.

  • Looking at the global mean sea level neglects local and regional effects. The sea surface is not uniform! It actually has topography that varies by up to two meters, or six feet.

  • Small glaciers are the major contributors right now to sea level rise as far as water goes, even though the vast majority of ice on the planet is hoarded by the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The contributions of these giants are catching up to the little guys. Total potential contribution breakdown: Antarctic ice sheet wins at about 70 meters of sea level rise (that's more than 210 feet), then Greenland with 7 meters, and then all the rest of the glaciers of the world with a whopping... half a meter.  But half a meter matters, if you live in southern Florida. Or Bangladesh.

  • The biggest contributor to sea level rise is not melting ice at all, but ocean expansion. As the ocean warms, it expands, like just about any other medium would.

  • Did you know that the gravitational pull of ice sheets pulls sea level up locally? I didn't. So, when a big body of ice melts, there are two effects to consider: Sea level rise from the addition of water, and sea level drop from the loss of the mass of the ice on land.

Interest piqued? Read on (and see some cool graphics). Or, take a listen, if you’d rather, to the original interview, with full “um-ness” on KGNU’s How On Earth archives.

Continue reading "Sea Level, on the Rise"

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October 15, 2013

What's Up Down South

This is the iceblog, after all.

The effect of the government shutdown on research in Antarctica has made it to the news, but of course can't get to the full extent of what's happening. I can't, either, but at least I can maybe offer up a little extra insight, since I'm still in touch with lots of ice friends. And regardless, I feel like I need to comment on it here.

Continue reading "What's Up Down South"

Posted by beth at 6:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)