There is a lot happening at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet as summer progresses, and the MODIS sensor on the TERRA and AQUA satellites is a wonderful way to observe it.

I noticed the other day (8 July 2015) this beautiful image of fast ice breaking out of a Fjord on the east coast at 76N

Fast ice breaking out of an East Greenland fjord
Fast ice breaking out of an East Greenland fjord

The full image can get down to 250 m per pixel and it is amazing stuff. The image below (from Google Earth) shows the location.

Location of the enlargment
Location of the enlargement

And now in the 9 July MODIS image you can see very many large pools of water on the edge of the Greenland Ice sheet. Again, remember each pixel of this image is 250 m across - they look small but that are large pools.

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The MODIS sensor satellite imagery is showing a beautiful and evolving large plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea at the moment.

Plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea, as seen in the MODIS sensor on 23 June 2015.
Plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea, as seen in the MODIS sensor on 23 June 2015. Alaska is on the LEFT and Russia the RIGHT. The image is looking SOUTH.

The plankton are the lighter green bands I've labelled and the full image is available at an astonishing 250m resolution.

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I was enjoying my polar books the other night and came across a quote attributed to everyone's  favourite humanitarian polar explorer and scientist, Fridtjof Nansen.

Fridtjof Nansen
Fridtjof Nansen, 1915, from the George Grantham Bain Collection

If I were not a Norwegian, I would be an Englishman rather than belong to any other nation

Nansen is quoted in Fridtjof Nansen, his life and explorations, by James Arthur Bain, 1897.

Fridtjof Nansen quoted by James Bain, 1897. Page 45

Fridtjof Nansen quoted by James Bain, 1897. Page 45

It's hard not to be in awe of Nansen.

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Mark Brandon, The Open University

You never forget the first time you see an iceberg. The horizon of a ship at sea is a two dimensional space and to see a three dimensional piece of ice appear in the ocean is quite something. But, in truth, the first iceberg you see is likely to be small. Most icebergs that make it far enough north from Antarctica to where they are danger to shipping are sometimes many years old and at the end of their lives. They are small fragments of what once left the continent.

Once in a while, however, a monster breaks free from the edge of Antarctica and drifts away. Tens of kilometres long these bergs can tower perhaps 100 metres above the sea and reach several hundred more below the surface. These are called tabular icebergs – and while it is rare for humans to see something on such a scale they are part of the normal cycle of glacial ice in Antarctica.

A tabular iceberg gets stuck in thin, seasonal sea ice.
Mark Brandon, CC BY-NC-SA

Everyone knows Antarctica is an ice-covered continent, but the ice is not static. To a scientist it is a dynamic environment – it’s just a question of the timescale you are looking at. Snow falls on the continent and over time it has built up layers of ice which flow in glaciers towards the coast.

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Last week I enjoyed an Inaugural lecture by Professor Martin Siegert of Imperial College. Inaugural Lectures are a big deal:

Imperial's Inaugural Lecture series provides a platform to showcase and celebrate the College's new professors. The inaugural lecture provides official recognition and celebration of the academic’s promotion to professor. A number of guests are invited to attend and students, other staff, and the general public may also attend the lecture. Inaugural lectures are preceded by tea and cakes for invited guests and often followed by a drinks reception, buffet or dinner again for invited guests.

Tea and cakes... I love being English.

Martin spoke brilliantly on how Antarctica is changing to an audience of about 150 people. For a crash course in "where we are now" I would say it is a must watch.

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I very much like looking at the AQUA and TERRA MODIS sensor images every now and then. Today I saw this beautiful image off the southern tip of Greenland which was captured on 23rd February 2015.

Sea ice off Cape Farewell
Sea ice off Cape Farewell, Greenland

What you are looking at are three different white things: snow on Greenland, clouds and my favorite of course, the sea ice. You may find it hard to pick out the different white features. This is because it is a true colour image.

But as the MODIS web site says:

[the] detectors measure 36 spectral bands between 0.405 and 14.385 µm, and it acquires data at three spatial resolutions -- 250m, 500m, and 1,000m.

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The South West Atlantic is a very productive part of the global ocean. This MODIS image from the Terra satellite shows the east coast of Argentina and the Falkland Islands. The ocean between is filled with swirls of lighter colour which are a plankton bloom along the continental shelf of South America.

NASA Modis Image of the South West Atlantic
Terra/MODIS Image captured 21 January 2015 14:00 UTC. FULL IMAGE LINK

The high plankton productivity means that there is food for the higher predators - and this region is famed as an extraordinarily rich squid fishing ground. In 2014 the fishery apparently took over 1/4 million tons of the squid Illex argentinus.

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Captain Robert Falcon Scott
Captain Robert Falcon Scott

"England knows Scott as a hero; she has little idea of him as a man. He was certainly the most dominating character in our not uninteresting community: indeed, there is no doubt that he would carry weight in any gathering of human beings. But few who knew him realized how shy and reserved the man was, and it was partly for this reason that he so often laid himself open to misunderstanding.

Add to this that he was sensitive, femininely sensitive, to a degree which might be considered a fault, and it will be clear that leadership to such a man may be almost a martyrdom, and that the confidence so necessary between leader and followers, which must of necessity be based upon mutual knowledge and trust, becomes in itself more difficult. It wanted an understanding man to appreciate Scott quickly; to others knowledge came with experience.

He was not a very strong man physically, and was in his youth a weakly child, at one time not expected to live. But he was well proportioned, with broad shoulders and a good chest, a stronger man than Wilson, weaker than Bowers or Seaman Evans. He suffered from indigestion, and told me at the top of the Beardmore that he never expected to go on during the first stage of the ascent.

Temperamentally he was a weak man, and might very easily have been an irritable autocrat. As it was he had moods and depressions which might last for weeks, and of these there is ample evidence in his diary. The man with the nerves gets things done, but sometimes he has a terrible time in doing them. He cried more easily than any man I have ever known.

What pulled Scott through was character, sheer good grain, which ran over and under and through his weaker self and clamped it together. It would be stupid to say he had all the virtues: he had, for instance, little sense of humour, and he was a bad judge of men. But you have only to read one page of what he wrote towards the end to see something of his sense of justice. For him justice was God. Indeed I think you must read all those pages; and if you have read them once, you will probably read them again. You will not need much imagination to see what manner of man he was.

And notwithstanding the immense fits of depression which attacked him, Scott was the strongest combination of a strong mind in a strong body that I have ever known. And this because he was so weak! Naturally so peevish, highly strung, irritable, depressed and moody. Practically such a conquest of himself, such vitality, such push and determination, and withal in himself such personal and magnetic charm. He was naturally an idle man, he has told us so;[134] he had been a poor man, and he had a horror of leaving those dependent upon him in difficulties. You may read it over and over again in his last letters and messages.[135]

He will go down to history as the Englishman who conquered the South Pole and who died as fine a death as any man has had the honour to die. His triumphs are many—but the Pole was not by any means the greatest of them. Surely the greatest was that by which he conquered his weaker self, and became the strong leader whom we went to follow and came to love."

Apsley Cherry Garrard wrote that in the Worst Journey in the World.

Captain Scott was a complex man.

I do like Google streetview and often use it if I am going somewhere new to see where I am supposed to be heading. So it's really nice to see it at South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

The landing page has links to various locations, but I particularly like this one of the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

It is a bit clunky as the poor person doing it had to cope with poor weather and moving tourists.

So the gravestone?

Shackletons Gravestone

From the street view you can see that it is quite close to white fence and behind that there is a rocky grass bank. The interesting thing is what is on the back of the gravestone and not in plain view...

The reverse of Shackletons graveA beautiful quote from the poet Robert Browning.

You can see how hard it is to see the quote in this picture.

Shackleton's grave

The cemetery also has a grave from the Falklands War: Petty Officer Felix Artuso. The submarine Sante Fe was attacked and damaged at South Georgia, and it ended up along side at the Whaling Station. Unfortunately PO Artuso was killed after the submarine had been captured. His grave is being photographed in this picture.

Artuso grave

If you look on my photos you will find lots of South Georgia pictures.

It is a truly beautiful and special place.


A recent interaction with a scientist left me both bemused, and if I am honest a little bruised. He described twitter as "that rather infantile social network system."

Co-incidently Peter Gibbs, an ex-Antarctican, BBC broadcaster and weather forecaster asked me about media work as a scientist - but given my recent interactions I flunked the exam by not answering his question. Sorry Peter. What I did do was write something quickly on why I like twitter.

Here it is for posterity.

The TL; DR answer is personally I think twitter is good for science, scientists, and for most people really.

Why do I like twitter?


I cannot sit on the fence. I like twitter and what it offers. I have learned things I never would, built genuine relationships with international people who I would have perhaps have only met over a quick coffee at a conference. And I have changed the way I speak about science.

It is interesting, and often funny.

It can of course be a harsh and challenging space. I am genuinely horrified at what I have seen some colleagues endure online - particularly the women: but it is here to stay. I wish my female colleagues and women in general were always treated well, and as people, but the only thing I can personally do is contribute to a positive space. I believe twitter is a strong positive for science, and it is a worthwhile investment of your time.

This short document has a few ill-considered ideas about what I like about it.


1) Connecting

Twitter enables you to connect with other scientists and researchers across disciplines and fields. This is becoming more and more important. We can all easily be experts in our own specialism – in fact it is expected. But whenever we talk to our family, the public, other researchers or the media they want and need to know what our work means in a wider sense. Twitter quickly enables you to build a wide network of people with related interests, and if you do not know something you can ask easily.

Trivial example? Want to know the best palaeoclimate record of an area you are interested in? Ask the paleo scientists directly on twitter and if time zones match you will get an answer pretty quickly.

You can also build relationships with colleagues from other departments, universities and countries. Imagine it as being like working in an open plan office but without the draw backs. Have colleagues in a different university? Just casually keep a conversation going through twitter. In 3 years I have built excellent relationships with many people who I professionally respect, and would love to work with - but without twitter I doubt I would have "met" them.


2) Many eyes make light work

If you are interested in a particular area of science and you have built a network whether to listen or to participate in, instead of one set of eyes trying to pick out things of interest and relevance to your work, you have many. You will find more research, more related media and more <stuff> that is of interest and relevance to you and your work.


3) You can visit conferences virtually

There are a lot of science meetings going on. In fact it is impossible to attend a tenth of the things you would like to. But with twitter and a hash tag you can listen to a conference virtually. For example, in September 2014 I was the co-organiser of a 4 day meeting at the Royal Society. Over the 4 days of the meeting with the hash tag #RSArctic14, there were ~2600 tweets, and it reached over 340k people online. The hash tag and tweets were contributed to all over the world (the metrics are easily traceable), and we can even break it down it 69% of the contributors to the hash tag were male, and 31% women. Twitter turned what could have been nationally important science meeting into an internationally relevant one.


4) You can crowd source individual conference talks or news events

There are tools like storify which enable you to build stories about conference talks and news events using twitter. If you use these easy tools you can build science stories about key news issues. I offer you three examples:

The first is a talk that was at the Royal Society. It has had ~600 views, and tells the story of a view of the potential for Arctic methane clathrate affecting our climate.

A storyify of a research talk.
A storify of a research talk.

The second is about melting on the Greenland ice sheet and has over 3000 views. This latter one led to me being invited on Radio 4 and news interviews as I clearly (in someone’s view!) knew what was going on.

A storify of a news story
A storify of a news story

And finally a storify of a House of commons Science and Technology committee I - and others - listened to online about the possible merger of the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre.

Storify of the possible merger of BAS and NOC
Storify of the possible merger of BAS and NOC

You can tell complex stories with twitter, and change the ephemeral nature.


5) On the whole twitter is a positive space

We all hear horror stories of how terrible online space can be and how negative it is, but in my experience that is a small component. If you tweet something like “I am giving an interview to XXXX” then I would bet virtually all of the responses you would get would be along the line of “you will be brilliant and enjoy it”. OK so some people may think you will be terrible – but even if they do think that, then they very rarely say it.

That means it feels a positive space and our online colleagues are in my experience very supportive. If you are a climate scientist you could get something along the lines of “are you going to talk about the co2 scam?” or the “pause”, or “global warming isn’t happening”, but those can sometimes be worthy questions, and part of a scientist’s role is talking to people who ask questions. I have to say l have had many questions that initially I thought were just people attacking me, but with a bit of thought I have learned a lot from the answers to them, and perhaps more importantly why they were asking them.

It is worth noting that if you behave horribly online, then you will get that back. If you behave politely and fairly then it is, in my experience, a good space.


6) You have to be prepared to stand by what you say

I have had an experience very recently when a scientist at a UK university complained to my management and just about everyone senior in science he could list through registered post that I had likely “defamed” him online. He issued me and my university with clear and specific legal threats. This was personally a bad experience as I have never encountered such bizarre legal threats before. You can find the story online if you are interested and see if you feel it warranted a pseudo legal attack, but the complaint was found to be without merit.

Now I think the reason the person attacked me and some colleagues with the threats is because we passed comments on what he was saying in public. And when we did using our professional expertise and fair comment he called “foul”. In my experience some people think that science communication is a one way broadcast action with no communication. You do see this behaviour on twitter as well.

But this is not how it works.

For example if I say “Antarctica is melting”, I should expect clever people on twitter to point out to me at a minimum that 1) Antarctic sea ice has been at a record maximum this year so what on earth do I mean, 2) to ask questions about which bits are melting? and, 3) to ask if there is an anthropogenic cause.

So you need to think about what you are saying as you are leaving digital footprints. Expect to be asked what you could perceive as critical questions. But in fact that is good – because it demonstrates people are interested in what you say, and you can sharpen both your ideas, and how you communicate them.


7) Introvert / extravert?

I would say I am an introvert. I could go as far as saying I am not a very sociable person. In my experience twitter is the perfect way for an introvert to connect with people. It is basically trivial, you have such short messages – so you cannot give much away, and you get to choose when to interact. It is, in my view, the perfect social space for anti-social people.


8) Contribute to web space and give something back

Have you ever used Google or Wikipedia to find out something work related? Of course! So give something back and be a net contributor the space. So you find something such as a journal article you are interested in, then tweet it with some context for your followers (I personally prefer “listeners” rather than "followers" because the latter implies a dynamic which does not exist). If you, and some of your network do that then there will be a lot of useful links and information for the lay person and colleagues in your subject area. You should also contribute to a Wikipedia article. Then at least you will know it is right!

All these things give you the status of someone who people may think actually knows something. (But remember my point 6 above).

Journalists and the public will ask you questions and you will get requests to be interviewed.

Overall my top tip is make it your mission to add something of value, whether it’s a link to an article you like with comment, or something you have just written. Make the space something you enjoy.


9) You can have fun

Twitter can be funny. You can come across many things that make you laugh, and you can always find things you are interested in but are off your radar. In addition you can interact with people you never would or indeed could.

I have had tweets of mine read out on Radio 5 about what logs are used for in mathematics, I have talked to women’s hour about statistics(!), And as another example: saw a television program last night on Pompey hosted by Professor Mary Beard and you have a burning question about it? Ask her on twitter. In my experience it’s very likely you will get an answer both from the Prof, and from others. Just yesterday I had a great interaction with the makers of the Wonders of the Monsoon about how they made their series. The producers and film makers were wonderfully generous and only too delighted to share their expertise. Most people are. We don't want to work in silence do we?



You should be able to tell, by and by, I like twitter. Happy to talk science if your interested - particularly if it's something polar. You should get online and contribute, enjoy and exploit the space too.



From the American Geophysical Union we have Building an Effective Social Media Strategy for Science Programs by Wendy Bohon et al and published in EOS.

From Holly Bik and Miriam Goldstein we have An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists published in PLOS Biology

From Darling et al we have The role of Twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication published in the Peerj.

From Letierce et al Understanding how Twitter is used to spread scientific messages.

From the LSE and Mollett et al Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities.

And finally from Vitae Innovate a Handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors.

If you get this far please feel free to post additional useful resources in the comments. Thanks.



I asked about additional resources.

So from Prof John Butterworth (author of this magnificent book Smashing Physics) we have a really excellent 10 minute video


From Prof Simon Leather we have a great article via Barnaby Smith: Why I Joined the Twitterati: Blogs, Tweets & Talks – Making Entomology Visible.


And from Alex Brown a great article Twitter is the conference pub.