Archive for the ‘Twitter’ Category

Health risks on the Antarctic Peninsula – what’s happening with the ozone hole, UV exposure, environmental change and funding for Antarctic science?

April 3, 2015

I recently had a paper published in Antarctic Science – I don’t think that it’ll set the world on fire but it was quite interesting in how it came about so I thought I’d write a blogpost about it.

The study

The measurements for the study were taken by a team who sailed across the Drake Passage and then then spent some time on and around the Antarctic Peninsula. They deployed a small “badge” each day that responds to sunlight in a way that allows you to subsequently work out how much UV radiation they were exposed to. From these measurements we concluded that the UV exposure experienced was comparable to temperate, mid-latitude locations in the spring/late summer. Obviously the team was very well covered as it’s cold down there but this can nonetheless have impacts on the eyes and exposed skin.

This is quite important as the ozone “hole” over Antarctica is likely to be about as bad as it will get before recovering over the next few decades and exposure risk might increase in this region if there are significant environmental changes (e.g. further warming, ice sheet retreat). This paper represents something of a pilot study so I’d love to get a more rigorous experiment up-and-running one day.

The BSAE team on the Antarctic Peninsula. The badges were mounted on one of the sledges. Photo taken by Martin Densham.

The BSAE team on the Antarctic Peninsula. The badges were mounted on one of the sledges. Photo taken by Martin Densham.

The study’s origins: networking on social media

The idea for the experiment and the paper first came about on twitter. Someone I’d never previously worked with (or met) invited me along to a planning meeting for the 2012 British Services Antarctic Expedition (BSAE) simply because I had a twitter account where I posted interesting stories about Antarctica.

I then cobbled together a tiny bit of money from the Royal Meteorological Society and the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) to get the badges produced and analysed at the University of Manchester.

I was quite impressed that we managed to get a relatively interesting bit of work done with so little resource. Which brings us on to…

…funding for Antarctic science

Budgets for science have not been increasing recently so perhaps it’s time that we have to start thinking of less traditional ways of getting work done. My example might not be particularly useful as it all happened largely by accident! However, there’s an interesting piece in The Conversation by Adrian McCallum about the role of private funding in Antarctic research that is probably more informed on this topic. Might be worth a read if you’re thinking of this type of thing.


Russell, A., Gohlan, M., Smedley, A., & Densham, M. (2014). The ultraviolet radiation environment during an expedition across the Drake Passage and on the Antarctic Peninsula Antarctic Science DOI: 10.1017/S0954102014000790

How much does Antarctica contribute to sea level rise? (And how should that be communicated?)

October 26, 2012

There’s an interesting new paper in Nature (King et al.) this week that looks at how much the Antarctic continental ice contributes to sea level changes. It initially caught my eye as it uses data from the GRACE satellites, which are very cool! They are twin satellites that can detect tiny changes in the distance between one another. These distance changes are driven by changes in the gravity field so it is then possible to work out how that relates to changes in mass at Earth’s surface.

King et al. aren’t the first to use GRACE to look at Antarctic mass change but they have used a new model of the way ice sheets affect the Earth’s surface. When this new model is used, you get quite a low number for the contribution of Antarctic mass loss to global sea level: 0.19mm ± 0.05mm (this is less than half of previous GRACE estimates of Antarctic mass loss to global sea level).

The first result I found for global average sea level rise for 1993-2009 was: 3.3 ± 0.4 mm per year (thanks wikipedia!) so you can see that it is a small contribution.

Anyway, I tweeted a link to this paper from my @Antarctic_news twitter account and then noticed a story about the paper in the Sydney Morning Herald and tweeted a link to that as well.

Someone quickly pointed out that the headline in the SMH was wrong – it said Antarctica was contributing 1mm to global sea level when it should be less than that (0.19mm ± 0.05mm). It turned out that Ben Cubby, who wrote the SMH article, had already noticed the mistake (and our tweets) and the headline was corrected by the next day. This is why the article has a rather clumsy headline now!

But the chat on twitter didn’t end there. Quite a few tweets were exchanged between myself, Ben and Barry Woods, who felt that Ben should have said ~0.2mm per year in his article rather than “less than a millimetre per year”, which is what he did say (and was probably why the sub-editor made a mistake with the headline).

Personally, I feel that either (~0.2mm or less than 1mm) would have been ok so tried to defend Ben’s choice of words. Both options sound quite small and, without the context of average global sea level change (which I doubt many people hold in their head), the more accurate figure doesn’t really add much. Moreover, the full passage that includes the “less than a millimetre per year” bit gives some important qualitative information that does contextualise the result:

While the continent contains enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by 59 metres should it ever all melt, the findings show it is currently contributing less than a millimetre per year. Professor King said the findings showed that sea levels had already been rising faster than they had for centuries without much extra water from the Antarctic ice sheet.

That last bit, which I’ve emboldened, seems to convey that the Antarctic contribution is small in comparison to global changes without using either of the numbers (i.e. 0.19mm ± 0.05mm and 3.3 ± 0.4 mm per year).

Someone else suggested that is was in the interest of “environmental activists” to maximise the contribution of Antarctica to sea level rise but I’m not sure that even makes sense: the view from King et al. seems even more worrying i.e. sea levels are rising without a large contribution from Antarctica.

So what was the point of this blog post? Maybe it was so that I could articulate my thoughts without twitter’s 140 character limit but I was also wondering what other people thought about how to communicate findings like this. Should journalists always use the figures straight from papers or are phrases like “less than a millimetre” ok if they make the article more accessible?

King MA, Bingham RJ, Moore P, Whitehouse PL, Bentley MJ, & Milne GA (2012). Lower satellite-gravimetry estimates of Antarctic sea-level contribution. Nature PMID: 23086145

Science Blogging Talkfest 2010

July 15, 2010

I was fortunate enough to combine a trip down to London yesterday with the Science Blogging Talkfest organised by Alice Bell and Beck Smith.

It was a nice event with not too much mutual back slapping going on – Jack of Kent was also on hand to keep scientific egos in check.

I thought I’d go over a couple of the points that came up that particularly interested me…

“Climategate” was raised at one point but wasn’t really discussed much. Despite my interest in climate science, I think that not dwelling on the UEA emails was probably for the best. No-one that’s spent much time on that issue has come out of it well (apart from those fantasists that now have a fragment of reality to associate with their conspiracy theories). One point that I should have made was that it’s all very well flinging mud and picking at the science from the edges but until the “sceptic” bloggers face the same scrutiny as those they attack (both in the press and scientific journals) there’s no level playing field here and this, in my view, needs resolving.

Blog comments came up and was an interesting discussion, including the idea that readers could be charged for leaving comments! I’m particularly interested in reader comments as, from the point of view of climate science, I’m always amazed at how many comments climate blogs and newspaper articles generate. With Alok and Mark there, I would’ve loved to hear how trolling patterns have changed at The Times since the paywall went up and whether the Grauniad has any plans to restrict commenting to unidentifiable individuals.

Ed Yong brought up some work by the Pew Research Center that looked at the proportion of stories on science in new (10%) and old media (1%), citing this as a success for science blogging. This research slightly worries me because the Traditional Press column only adds up to 73% where the Blogs one gets to 100% but the bigger point, which Mark Henderson raised, was that the volume of science blogs is not necessarily a good thing as a lot of these blogs are written by, for example, climate change deniers and quacks. Well, nice point but a shame that The Times’ science supplement Eureka put one of the top climate change “sceptic” sites – Watts Up With That? – in its Top 30 Science Blogs earlier this year! Unfortunately, the event ended there and I didn’t get a chance to put this point to Mark (and maybe it would’ve been a bit mean.)

All in all, a great night out which I’m sure will generate many blog posts!

Follow Friday

June 11, 2010

So I’m usually too lazy to tweet a list of all the people I find interesting on Twitter.  I thought I’d steal an idea from my first #FF recomendation – @SmallCasserole – who wrote a blog post listing all his favourite tweeters.

Just so that my list is a little bit original, I’ll split them into catagories.  I’ll update the list over time with new catagories and new tweeters.

Here goes:

Tweeters – i.e. people I met on Twitter and often exchange tweets

@DrEvanHarris – all round good guy for science and the LibDems

@SmallCasserole – interesting blog and tweets about science, particularly physics

@stpkav – regularly comments on the STFC mess


@RealClimate – their tweets are generally slow and dry but their blog is authoritative (and dry!)  That doesn’t sound like much of a recomendation but it is the best place to hear climate scientists on the web.

@jackofkent @davidallengreen – writes about legal things, my initial interest was his involvement with the Simon Singh libel case but he is interesting on many other fronts as well.  [Currently on leave from Twitter.Killed off Jack of Kent.]

@DrPetra – sex educator and fine blogger

@Stephen_Curry – nice blog on science and more

@jonmbutterworth – another LHC person with a nice blog about physics and other stuff

NOISEmakers – a group of early career scientists engaging with the public (I’m one of them)

@NOISEmakers – tweets from the mothership

@lewis_dartnell – astrobiologist

@twhyntie – LHC person

@lisamarieke – particle physicist turned science communicator

Weather and Climate

@TheBarometerPod – the weather and climate podcast from the University of Manchester

@Antarctic_news – this is another twitter account of mine; my PhD was on Antarctic climate.  I tweet links to interesting news stories and blogs about Antarctica

@carbonbrief – interesting blog/resource about climate change and communication.

@RealClimate – see above

Newspaper people

@alokjha – Guardian science and environment correspondent

@markgfh – Times science editor

Greater Manchester Skeptics in the Pub

@GMSkeptics – the main feed

@janisbennion – one of the organisers

@Dr_Aust_PhD – good for a chat about homeopathy

@xtaldave – good for a rant about homeopathy