Ocean Sciences Meeting 2014

This post is mostly for people who are also at the Ocean Sciences Meeting, but if you’ve stumbled across this from somewhere else, welcome!

There were lots of details about my work that I wanted to share, but I couldn’t squeeze everything onto my poster. Even though the following details didn’t make the cut, I think that they’re really interesting and worth sharing. The rest of this post will make a lot more sense if you’ve read the poster first.

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Ignoring science in politics

Nearly two years ago the Australian government passed a law banning the “super trawler” FV Abel Tasman from fishing in Australian waters. The ban will expire later this year. The campaign against the FV Abel Tasman was mounted by a coalition of fishing and conservation lobbies, strange bedfellows, but surprisingly effective.

Opposition focused on the size of the vessel, rather than the size of the quota. Politicians and activists ignored work by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority when it didn’t support their argument; the debate was not based on scientific evidence.

Casual disregard for the scientific method was widespread.

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The difference between climate and weather

The distinction has often been made intuitively. For example this quote from Robert Heinlein “Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get”. This makes sense; we know that winter is colder than summer, and that the UK has a terrible climate.

From this we can draw the following relatively simple definition for weather.

Weather is the here and now; it is the current state of the atmosphere. Is it raining? Is it windy? Weather varies on timescales of minutes to days. Storms, rainbows and sunny days are all examples of weather.

Climate is a bit harder to nail down. We speak of one summer being particularly warm. This suggests that our notion of climate is based on more than a single year’s weather. The exact length of time for climate is unhelpfully fuzzy, but a working definition would be:

Climate is the long-term average of the weather for a particular location and time of year.

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Ekman transport: icebergs and algae

Imagine it’s the late 19th century. You’re a famous Norwegian Arctic explorer, and you want to be the first person to make it to the North Pole. Fridtjof Nansen was in just this position when he proposed his second voyage; freezing a ship in the sea-ice to spend three years slowly drifting across the pole. It’s an interesting tale, but I’ll leave it to others to tell.
His relevance to this post comes from his observation that icebergs don’t drift downwind; rather they move at an angle to the wind. Nansen presented this riddle to Vagn Walfrid Ekman, who in turn presented his answer to the world in 1905.