Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happening in Antarctica: Coming Attraction-Deltas of Animal House

Lessons on Inductive Reasoning:

Deltas of Animal House


Happening in Antarctica : Is it a bird?

Prestige brings in grants and support for Harvard. There are people, places, and things, that have very little to do with that. Where world class grantsmanship is more ancestral, traditional, and less competitive, prestige in the opposite of what you desire. Can Antarctic research be done in an Hawaiian library? Is there an hereditary line of Greenland mestizo-eskimos supported at NSF, perhaps connected with Admiral Peary?


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happening in Antarctica : Antarctica Melting?

A postdoc publishes a paper based on his doctoral thesis, but ... in his defense presentation consisting of only 35mm slides flipped by someone else, it was indicated that his snow pit samples had melted in transit from Antarctica. He was given his degree regardless. In his paper he claims to be making analyses of ice cores on the Siple Coast. What gives? Here we look a little at his paper, which is included here.

For many, their dissertation is a pinnacle of their careers, an unparalleled achievement, and a compilation of hard, dedicated work over a considerable stretch of time, and an advance in knowledge. The defense is an opportunity to present these ideas to an audience familiar with the work, both as an acknowledgment and approval. Why then, did Richard Alley not have a defense? Instead he told us his thesis melted, and so he had someone show 35mm slides he had made from the day he spent in Antarctica (in total) down in his snow pit. He was not available for comment, questions, or anything. So it appeared that whatever he had done in his pit had melted and so he was going to attempt to acquire his PhD, regardless.

So it was a surprise to me to see that Richard had written a paper on ice core analyses. I wondered, "Where did he get the cores from? What sort of analysis did he perform? Here is his title :


It is somewhat nondescript but it give the impression that he did a big study, and also his unpublished dissertation title is : TRANSFORMATIONS IN POLAR FIRN. Whatever transformations he observed, they must have been on these Siple Coast ice cores. Now, why didn't Richard give a talk on these transformations rather than tell us his samples melted? And, why did the faculty let him get away with essentially saying he was going to do nothing for his degree?

Now, I admit I never read his thesis, and it was because of the talk he gave, and the lack of any field work that he did. Admittedly, some transformations are observable in melted ice. The density, I would guess would increase to about 0.92 g/cc.

The thesis is unavailable, so I looked up his paper. Does anyone actually read these? Possibly they just copy bibliographic elements from one paper to another if the title seems appropriate if the author is familiar and positioned at the top of the bibliographic list. This gives the individual a good representation in the science citation index, for example.

One striking fact that emerged : Richard actually did have firn samples from two sites cored by PICO, with density measurements made by D. Susman. Now, Richard himself did measure the snow pit densities at UPB camp (upper 2 meters). So it was not really ICE CORES, but firn cores. Ice gives the impression of drilling into the deeper part of the ice mass, which no doubt was the impression Richard hoped to make. But there were no ice cores, just firn cores that in part possibly melted into icy firn cores.

SO what sort of an analysis did Richard perform? I looked at his conclusions. Restricted to density measurements, any analysis would have to be about that. He says strata in firn record an annual signal. Is that his analysis? That is common knowledge, isn't it? I suppose Richard is telling us he actually saw that in his pit. The one novel statement, not taken directly out of a textbook, is that strong longitudinal deviatoric stresses may affect densification. Now that might require an analysis worthy of consideration. Measured longitudinal stresses will correlate with higher rates of densification. Nope, actually there are no measured longitudinal strains, nor any stress analysis, and so for all we know, the measurements might be erroneous and possibly caused by the simple melting of samples. This, and Ian Whillans, his former graduate advisor, the one who promised Alley a faculty position as an undergraduate, had spent years measuring strains on the Siple Coast including the very locations of the firn cores, and this did not impress Richard at all. Was Ian faking these measurements? Do not ask me. He had a reflector and a EDM device, and some aluminum poles. Richard also did not have any analysis of the ice stream motion to guide him. Was it because there was no realistic model?

This paper is a complete misdirect, giving the impression Alley had ice core analysis experience, when in fact there were no ice cores and no analyses. If he is involved in other analyses, hopefully they will not be as superfluous as this one.

One analysis I would like to see is: if these two cores, the one on ridge BC and UPB, are nepotistic cores, i.e. if they are related, somehow generically, or whether they are dissimilar because of their strain history and provenance. I guess we will just have to wait and see what further analyses Richard Alley will perform for us (or have someone else perform for us).

Another analysis, similar to those in geology(a place where Richard often lifts his ideas and applies them to ice), is to examine the metamorphic changes induced by destressing samples, and thermal cycling of samples. Clearly this places a limit on the information that can be retrieved from cores. This is especially important because Alley's later ice core results in Greenland were observationally difficult and never made by anyone previously, this despite he had only this prior experience with Siple Coast cores.

Since Alley was in the field 1 day, and within earshot of the main Jamesway always, is it possible he was unaware of either surface melting or rain on Whillans Ice Stream? He had only one core. Percolation of surface melt could both explain the UpB camp core, and also irregularities within the temperature profile. If this was an in situ condition, Alley would not know because he was not there when the drilling occurred. It is altogether possible that Alley never saw the firn cores himself, which is fortunate because he chills easily!

Not only did he miss detecting possible melting, but ... he leaves the impression without saying so, that maybe the melting at UPB was natural. He included the lower part of the core in his analysis, even though his study was based on density and the density is anomalously high. So what would an uninformed person think, "Is Antarctica melting?"

I include a copy of his paper to demonstrate the aptness of this commentary.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Happening in Antarctica : Cui bono?

There have been a couple of mysterious deaths in Antarctica. In one case a USARP fellow just wandered away from a remote camp and was never seen again. I have never understood this, and perhaps someday I will. I would like to tell you about the other case : the death of Dr. Edward Thiel.

Ed grew up in small town America, as an all American boy. He pledged allegiance to the flag, believed in God, tried hard in school, probably was a boy scout, enjoyed playing in the snow, and ice skating. In high school he had won an award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for his patriotism. He attended and became a junior faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He worked with George Woollard and had done exploratory work in Antarctica using seismological, gravity and magnetics measurements. His position working alongside military people in Antarctica was a comfortable one. He often worked with them in aircraft flights used to measure the earth's magnetic field to search for anomalies : possible ore bodies, volcanoes and other crustal signatures. His wife worked in the department as a staff member. Altogether a success story for Wisconsin.

Then, things changed. As often happens, new people enter a department for various reasons, often waiting for a more permanent position. Albert Crary and Charles Bentley, both from Columbia, were looking for permanent positions after their earlier explora
tions in the Arctic and Antarctic. Crary, the senior of the two obtained a permanent postion in Washington as Chief Scientist of USARP, while Bentley, was hanging out at Wisconsin, joining the geophysical group doing Antarctic research there already. There was a gap of ten years between the time he acquired his PhD in 1950, and when he popped up at Wisconsin. Whatever Bentley's background, which included traverses in Antarctica and spending extended periods way down in Antarctica, he did not acquire faculty membership at Columbia. Two other Antarctic groups existed, one at OSU that focused on the geology/glaciology, and the Wisconsin group that did geology/ geophysics. So it was natural for Bentley, who was educated as a Everett Darrow pre-law/geophysicist, to join the Wisconsin group as an extended post-doc. Besides being a polar explorer, Bert Crary was also connected with Soviets. He was responsible for teaching them how to monitor nuclear explosions using geophysical equipment similar to that used for geophysical exploration work. Crary was also involved in spying on SAC flights, at a time when the Soviets were curious about the US putting nuclear weapons on longrange aircraft (1947). After this nuclear work, Crary turned his attention to polar work as the US Army engaged in a cold region project at Camp Century in Greenland. Later his interest became Antarctica, as it did for the Soviets also.

With his comrade Crary in Washington influencing funding and the orientation of the glaciology program, Bentley decided he could get rid of the former participants in the Wisconsin program. Bentley brought his own interest in seismology to the program, and proceeded to discourage participation by others who were in the program. He became aggressive in defense talks, and soon Ed Thiel found himself in trouble. With his mentor and former advisor, George Woollard having decided to leave the department, Ed decided to move to Minnesota.

The forte of Bentley being his participation in traverses along which he detonated seismic shots every 1 km to establish ice thicknesses; Thiel had done similar work. Some of this early work was suspect because of wind noise, deep ice, and substantial amounts of water at the glacial bed. Then in 1959 Professor Evans of Cambridge University initiated the use of radar for this purpose, making seismic sounding for glacial depth obsolete.

Ed was going to set a new record for an airborne traverse, covering the distance of 3,500 miles from McMurdo Station(US) to Mirny Station(USSR), in a modified P2V Neptune Bluebird, a twin engine jet aircraft with a bombay specially modified with an extra fuel tank for the long distance flight. The use of an extra tank like this is common practice. After a night over at Mirny Station, the Neptune was to fly a short hop to Wilkes station, and then after a full refuelling at Wilkes fly
the long return trip to McMurdo.

What was uncommon about the flight besides the distance, was that a military aircraft was being flown in and around a major Soviet Station at the height of the Cold War. in this craft, Ed was measuring the magnetic field with recorders in the cabin of the craft. This was routinely done as a means of exploring the subglacial geology, but the Soviets may have thought it was being used as a surveillance tool - spying on their base and its activities. Why the flight went like this to Mirny is unclear. Would it not have been as scientifically meaningful to fly directly to Wilkes and back instead? Who suggested the flight to Mirny? Was it Crary back in Washington at NSF?

Without fear, Ed and the crew of his VX-6 aircraft flew to Mirny, and stayed the night. They left for Wilkes the next morning and fully fueled up for the return trip to McMurdo. On takeoff with JATO assist the aicraft climbed into the air and "an intense, uncontrollable inflight fire developed in the landing gear-bomb bay fuel tank area. Within a minute the aircraft banked to the left, dipped, and crashed; On November 9, 1961 five of the nine crew members burned to death including Dr. Thiel. He was just 33 years old.

Although the official explanation was that the Neptune suffered damage from sustrugi on takeoff, who could not have wondered if the tank had been sabotaged at Mirny Station? An Aussie at Wilkes reported that the tank was loose prior to the takeoff. If so, how did it get that way? Sustrugi at Mirny? When they bolt these tanks in and attach hoses with clamps to the fuel system, no doubt that installation would have been firm, and checked prior to takeoff at McMurdo. The only other reasonable explanation was the disruption of the aircraft structure itself due to sastrugi, at Mirny. Would someone have noticed this at Wilkes?

Whatever the explanation, two years later Bentley became a UW-Madison faculty member and sole geophysicist at NSF in the Antarctic Program. His specialty besides purging other people from the program, was to use his fluency in Russian to improve relations with the Russians. So with Russian journals in hand, he prepared for his first season in Antarctica as a professor. His glacial expertise: sounding ice thickness with seismic shots, even though that was obsolete since 1959.

Did Ed inadvertently collect magnetics data that showed Russian noncompliance with the Antarctic Treaty just two years earlier? If he had, it would have been the only time anyone has collected any data verifying compliance or noncompliance with the 59 International Treaty. Despite the US program being held to high standards by people like Bentley, the Russians probably have never honored the Treaty in the least, except accidentally, giving the commercial use of Antarctica solely to the Russians for 50 years.

If people had known Charles Bentley was the son of Elizabeth Bentley, the Red Spy Queen, would that have changed anything? Did anyone care about Bentley's trips to the Soviet Union? Was he given special consideration by the state department in trade for his mother's testimony? Did anyone care about Crary being a spy? Was the organization of NSF's science program, an error in judgment? Did a faction in the US throw Ed under the bus, just like James V. Forrestal?

Today you can go to Walmart and purchase as a dietary source of Omega-3 fatty acids, encapsulated Antarctic krill. Presumably it is the Chinese doing this currently, a signatory of the Antarctic Treaty. Two quadrants of Antarctic waters have ben reported to be sterile or nearly so because of the harvesting of these creatures low in the food chain. The US has had no commercial development in Antarctica of any kind, while other countries are placing the eco-system in peril and nothing is being done about it. All these years satellites could have been used to monitor activities there, and nothing has been done.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Happening in Antarctica : Another Joke?

Milton Berle, a notorious joke collector, was busy stealing yet another joke when a comedian, he said, made him laugh so hard, "I nearly dropped my pencil." Today, though, standards are different : Jokes are a serious matter. It places food on the table for a fledgling comedian. To steal a vintage joke, actually demonstrates your own lack of understanding the humour crowd.

So what of people engaged in polar work, that do not actually do any polar work? Do they get so cold thinking of going to cold regions that they have to get up and tweak the thermostat, whilst contemplating the climate? Are these guys real researchers? Let me present a case in point.

That's Willi Dansgaard on the left, smoking his ubiquitous pipe, while not merely posing for a photo. Look at his clothing. Here is a man that not only came up with isotopic ideas that changed what people were able to do with ice cores, he also was excited enough to "be there". He did not doff those clothes for a photo. You can tell they are used. He does not just show up for a day to say he had been in a cold place to have his picture taken and then just leave - promoting the polar work in that manner (synthetically). Hmm, maybe Willi was onto something.

When a person borrows from one source they call it plagiarism, when they borrow from several sources they call it research.

This was once thought to be an apt idea. Today, though, in some circles, borrowing from one source is also called research (actually more like just a little reading), and published refereed articles are seldom reviewed properly, etc, etc. One person asked me, "If you paraphrase, is it really plagiarism?" How about if the person you borrow from doesn't care, or is dead? I responded by saying that someone who is so into publishing articles to pump up his count that he frequently plagiarizes should write for a scientist, not be the scientist. When familiar ideas appear in a slightly different guise, with a different name attached, I begin to wonder about these things. Do some people have a free license?

Dr. Richard B. Alley, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University and chairman of the committee, compared abrupt climate change to a light switch, while gradual climate -- what most climatologists study -- is like a light dimmer. Press upward on a dimmer, and the light brightens a little. Press more, and the light brightens more. With a switch, press lightly and nothing happens. Press hard enough, and the light abruptly turns on.

''What the research shows is that there are switches as well as dimmers in Earth's system,'' Dr. Alley said.

Alley is often given credit for discovering climate switches from his ice cores and one imagines someone refining cold room techniques to up the quality of observing cores. Actually these "switches" were discovered by Willi Dansgaard, but he called them Dansgaard-Oeschger events. Alley should have called them by the proper name. The credit belongs to them. Frequently Alley is given the credit mistakenly, because of the manner in which he presents information to people.

This is the book Richard threw together, like so many things he does, entitled The Two Mile Time Machine. Has he reached new conclusions in his ice core work about climate? If you are looking for it, do not be surprised if you cannot find anything, except the work of others summarized or reviewed by him. Hence all the work is dated, even at the time of his writing. Even the title rings of Willi, the man whose shoulders Richard stands. In 1971 Willi and Claude Lorius described ice cores as "going deep into the ice is like sticking a thermometer backwards in time." Where is thy grace Richard? He never mentions the Europeans in his book, at all.

If fact, Richard was so devoid of actual research results, he lied, and broadcasted that he worked on ice cores at the University of Wisconsin in his doctoral and post-doctoral program. In fact, he never did. Surely if he had, he would have published at least one paper about it, nes pa?

There is something poohy when there is no credit given and "scientists" act like illiterate animals. As Henry Paulson would say "Boys, lets get the credit rolling again."


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happening in Antarctica : A Real Biology Program?

I have indicated how the VIP's that visit Antarctica are shown the same cod, and told the story of fish-born anti-freeze. I wonder if you could take a cod for a ride on a cold day in the ocean? Now more interesting biological information is emerging from Antarctica. But, is the US NSF program involved?

New giant marine species have been found. In fact, people connected with New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research hope to categorize up to 150 new species of marine life, from these two months of field Antarctic work alone (see StarTribune). The KIWI article says only small scale studies have been performed previously in the Ross Sea area, and so this is a bonanza of new biological information. So, VIP's take note : Years went by and NSF gave you nothing but a fish story in return for the taxpayer's money. All along, there was a bonanza of scientific data available, right where the main US base exists. Ask yourself "Is USAP research being performed honestly?" Meanwhile the Russians have been filling up their boats, probably putting some species out of existence due to over-fishing -- But the USAP program continues on ...


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Happening in Antarctica : Buy a position at Caltech/JPL

Is it possible to buy a position for someone at CALTECH/JPL? Many people have their applications ignored or rejected. Perhaps when people are bribed for some people to get in, this makes it more difficult for others who are without bribes. You can pay the annual tuition yourself (quite expensive). If your faculty advisor is in the NSF Antarctic Program, however, he can buy someone a graduate position with public money! Why use your own?

In Geodynamics/Glaciology, people want to fix the position of points for the sake of mapping and measuring surface deformations. So, say your Ohio State University (OSU) faculty advisor, funded on a Polar Program NSF grant, knows your parents and wants to help you get into the Seismological lab at Caltech. What could he do for you? Well, he cannot just give grant money away to someone. Here's an idea : "How about purchasing a bunch of expensive equipment from the relative of a faculty member at Caltech, with the understanding that the faculty will do a favor for you - like give someone a graduate research assistant position?" Guess how much moola takes to get into Caltech this way?

Well by OSU/Caltech standards in 1985, it required a mere 1.2 million dollars. That is correct! This is what it
cost to get the position. The purchase involved 25 or so MX1502 Magnavox doppler geoceivers from an LA company. The geoceivers were used for glaciological research in Antarctica, and approved by Jane Dionne at NSF.

Well, this is nothing new, is it? After all, people will make purchases and one is free to make purchases w
here one wants. Well, it was known to all investigators that doppler JMR models were available for half the price. Nope, OSU did not want the JMR models. Then people became aware that GPS field units were available or soon to be available. The price for these was approximately the same as the JMR model. Why use doppler geoceivers when you can use the more advanced dual-frequency GPS receivers (available from Trimble in 1985) ? It did not seem to make sense to make this purchase -- of what were actually obsolete satellite receivers -- for twice the price of GPS units. People were wondering : "Why were they purchasing someone's entire inventory of obsolete geoceivers?" The request was made for the MX1502's, and NSF rapidly approved without questioning the purchase, and the deal was done. In two years all the receivers were scrapped and replaced with GPS units.

One OSU undergraduate student got a graduate position at Caltech.

One might wonder if this is the best way to select talent. Well, in a future posting I will examine a typical study done by this person, and you can judge for yourself!