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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?

Summary

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?

 

Summary

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.

 

Resources

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.

Everyone likes a wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans), but to see them swoop around icebergs is a special experience. At South Georgia you can watch this sort of thing for hours.

A wandering albatross in front of Icebergs off the coast of South Georgia.
A wandering albatross in front of Icebergs off the coast of South Georgia.

You can download the full resolution image at my flickr page.

But Ruth Mottram reminded me of Coleridge and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

tweet

In that poem they did not feel the same way about the albatross. This is memorably captured by the wonderful art of Gustave Doré.

The Albatross by Gustave Doré
The Albatross by Gustave Doré

I like albatross.

British Pathé News was a British institution that produced news reels and documentaries from 1910 to 1970. Their website is full of news clips of polar interest such as Shackleton’s death in 1922.

But here is something wonderful and obscure. Gambling with the Gulf Stream made in 1936!

Gambling with the Gulf Stream
© British Pathe screengrab from online preview.

In just 2 and a half minutes the voice-over explains what the Gulf Stream is, how much heat it carries (“every day it gives more heat than the world’s coal supply in 2 years“), and what would be the impact on some regional climates if its pathway was deliberately moved by geoengineering.

...continue reading

In the old days Antarctica wasn’t mapped and measured by satellites like it is now. In the past it was all about exploration. Scientists were dropped at bases by ship, and then left for at least a year - sometimes two. Very occasionally more.

When winter comes the sea ice freezes up and the area of sea ice is vast. But after the winter, spring brings long days of light, and that meant travel by dog sled was possible over the ice!

To make the sled journeys more efficient food caches were left along the coast the previous summer perhaps by the same ship that left them. Then the scientists could journey easily over the frozen sea ice to the food cache, and then work inland in their area of operations.

Which brings me to these pictures. This is a food cache left by a ship (I think) in 1962 for a science team setting out from Hope Bay.

A pile of wooden sledge boxes that contain all human needs: chocolate, biscuits, marmite, meat and soup. What more could you want?

...continue reading

The ice fish rediscovered by Doll
Mangé par le chat de l'équipage de la Terror

The cod icefish re-discovered and published in 1904 by Louis Dollo. The original caption says “Mangé par le chat de l'équipage de la Terror” or “Eaten by the Terror’s cat"!

The famous polar ships HMS Erebus and HMS terror had been in the ice long before Franklin took them to their doom in the Northwest Passage. James Clark Ross took them to the Antarctic from 1839-43 on a hugely successful voyage to find the South Magnetic Pole. Ross filled in many blanks on the map and discovered and named many places including Ross Island and Mount Erebus - one of the most spectacular volcanoes yet discovered.

Ross also took civilian experts to describe and write about their discoveries. These civilians produced vast scientific volumes to record their results.

...continue reading

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-- UPDATED 11 June 2014 --

This post got the dreaded TL; DR on Reddit - but at least "they" acknowledged it was useful. Since it takes someone else to pick out the value in your work I offer this tweet from Jason Major.

@JPMajor tweet

- ORIGINAL POST

A significant area of Antarctic glaciological interest is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and where it discharges into the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

Amundsen Sea Embayment
Amundsen Sea Embayment: Source Wikipedia

It is a research focus (e.g. iSTAR) because it is the region where the glacier ice is melting very rapidly.

A great research article by Dustin Schroeder (The University of Texas at Austin) has just been published in PNAS which presents evidence for the geothermal heat flux beneath the Thwaites Glacier.

Title page of Schroeder et al 2014

...continue reading

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This plot shows the Antarctic sea ice extent, the Arctic sea ice extent, and the total sea ice extent plotted against time.

Arctic, Antarctic and total sea ice extent 2012

Like in previous post I chose 2012 only because it is the most recent complete year in this data set.

Take a look at the minimum, the maximum and the range of the sea ice extent.

Antarctic: Minimum Antarctic sea ice extent 3.11 x 106 km2
Maximum Antarctic sea ice extent 19.48 x 106 km2
Range of the Antarctic sea ice extent 16.37 x 106 km2
Arctic: Minimum Arctic sea ice extent 3.37 x 106 km2
Maximum Arctic sea ice extent 15.25 x 106 km2
Range of the Arctic sea ice extent 11.88 x 106 km2

The range of Antarctic sea ice extent is 16.37 x 106 km2, and the range of the Arctic sea ice extent is 11.88 x 106 km2.

The Antarctic and the Arctic do not "balance" in sea ice extent - the Antarctic variations are much larger.

Look at the shape of the annual cycle. I said previously that in the Antarctic the seasonal cycle of sea ice extent is not symmetrical. Sea ice grows slowly and steadily before decaying relatively rapidly: the melt period is shorter than the growth period.

In the Arctic the time sea ice grows is roughly similar to the time sea ice melts.

So they do not "balance". The seasonal cycles, ranges, minimums and maximums are  different,

The annual cycle of the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent is very different.

We know that the extent and thickness of the Arctic sea ice is decreasing. See for example what Tamino wrote in Feb 2014.

But what about the Antarctic? The extent of the sea ice has broken records for the satellite era. (This is a very funny article making some claims about what that means - if you want a clue what is the difference between glacial ice and frozen sea water?).

Some believe the observed reduction in the Arctic sea ice volume is balanced by the increase in the Antarctic sea ice extent. So we should look at the black line in the plot above.

I will get onto why I don't think that is a good idea in a coming post.

Here is the plot animated with 1 second = 10 days

 About the data

The data set is from the National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice Concentrations from Nimbus-7 SMMR and DMSP SSM/I-SSMIS Passive Microwave Data.

 

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This is the 2012 sea ice extent for both the Arctic and the Antarctic. The day of year and the calendar day are at the bottom.

I chose 2012 only because it is the most recent complete year in this data set.

My reason for making this video is because there have been a couple of huge news stories recently about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet:

On 12 May 2014 we heard that for all intents and purposes the West Antarctic Ice sheet is doomed (here is the primary research which is open access).

Then on 19 May 2014 we were told that Cryosat observations had shown that the loss of ice from Antarctica had increased quite a lot (here is the primary research).

For excellent commentary on these stories you can visit Carbon Brief, or Antarctic glaciers.org.

But whenever there is a big story about the decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - which remember is land based glacial ice, some instantly point to this being not important because sea ice in Antarctica has been at record levels.

People who suggest that the observed decrease in glacial ice is somehow balanced by the observed increase in Antarctic sea ice extent are wrong. The sea ice is generally only a couple of metres thick and it is telling us quite a different climate story.

Over the next few posts I will try and explain why the decrease of Arctic sea ice is not balanced by an increase in Antarctic sea ice extent, and why there is no contradiction in glacial ice at the edge of the Antarctic continent decaying whilst simultaneously the sea ice is  at record extent.

 

[If anyone want the clip, also the Arctic and Antarctic as separate files in various large sizes and formats just send me an email at my work address - you will find a link on the "About me" page. And I will send you a dropbox link. I am a big fan of Creative Commons and Open Educational Resources. ]

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The data is from the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), and the data is freely accessible from the National Snow and Ice data Centre.

 

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In 2012 I put together a storify using twitter and weblinks about the  Greenland Surface Melt. In that story a bunch of climate scientists and I talked about whether the extreme melt seen in  2012 was a signature of global warming.

Greenland melt on the BBC
The original BBC Greenland Melting story

An Open Access paper by Sirpa Häkkinen and others Greenland ice sheet melt from MODIS and associated atmospheric variability, published on 10 March 2014, explains how it happened.

Häkkinen et al., 2014 Greenland ice sheet melt from MODIS and associated atmospheric variability
Häkkinen et al., 2014 Greenland ice sheet melt from MODIS and associated atmospheric variability

It is a clear and well written paper that shows using MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) data from satellites that you need two things for a serious surface melt event: atmospheric blocking (which allows warm air from the south to go over Greenland) + warm surface temperatures.

The event in 2012 had both of those conditions whereas 2013 did not. The difference is striking in their Figure 1.

Häkkinen et al., 2014 Fig 1
Figure 1 From Häkkinen et al., 2014. Extent of melt on the Greenland ice sheet for (a) 1 January to 31 December 2012 (days 1–366) and (b) 1 January to 30 August 2013 (days 1–243) as determined from MODIS-derived melt maps. A maximum of ~95% of the ice sheet surface (shaded red) experienced some melt in 2012 and only ~49% of the ice sheet surface experienced some melt in 2013. White represents no melting (according to MODIS), and green represent non-ice covered land areas. The location of Summit, mentioned in the text, is shown. Elevation contours are shown at 1500, 2000, 2500, and 3000 m.

Their data set allows them to go back to 2000 and construct annual time series.

And just like Dr Ruth Mottram said in my original storify,

Ruth Mottram Tweet
Tweet used in original storify.

They find all of the features Ruth pointed out (shown in their Figure 4).

They say,

"that June-July 2007 had the most blocking days but did not have the largest melt, although 2007 has been identified as a large melt year in a seasonal sense"

The reason it did not have as much surface melt as 2012 is because the air temperatures brought over the ice sheet by the atmospheric blocking "barely reached 1.5 SDs [above the summer average temperature]". (SDs means standard deviations - basically a measure of how variable the temperature is about the mean.)

In 2012 the atmospheric blocking brought in "a  long-lasting anomaly of 2–2.5 SDs [above the summer average temperature]". This is a bit bland but 2.5 SD's in this data set corresponds to temperatures ~6°C or greater above the summer average on the surface of Greenland. That is why the melt in 2012 was so large.

Häkkinen et al. (2014) make no comment in the paper about the future, or the impact of anthropogenic climate change on such events over Greenland. Looking at various assessments of the scientific literature (e.g the Arctic Report Card) we may draw our own conclusions about whether to expect more of these melting events.