Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Bogd Khan Winter Palace in Ulaanbaatar

Okay, I'd better get the ball rolling on the trip earlier this month to Mongolia.

For this trip we were based in Ulaanbaatar, from where we made episodic forays into the countryside. Ulaanbaatar is the capital, and is surrounded by hills (the locals refer to them as mountains, but that seems a stretch. 

When we went, it was still warm (above freezing), but considering we were dropped into Mongolia from central China, where the temperature was still in the high-20's, it seemed cool. But it was good weather for hiking.

The air quality while there was excellent, but noticing that the city was completely ringed by hills made me wonder how susceptible the place was for atmospheric inversions. My vision was borne out when, on our last full day in Mongolia, the temperature dropped, we had snow, and the smoke from the coal plants was unable to breach the hills around the city. Yikes!

The Bogd Khan was the spiritual leader of Mongolia's Buddhists. When Mongolia, which had been under control of China, declared independence as the Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911, he was elevated to leader of the country. One of his palaces is tourist attraction in the southern part of the city.

It is modest, as far as palaces go, but keep in mind he was first and foremost a priest. There are a lot of artifacts inside, but as you can't take photographs inside, there aren't any. In fact, they were a mite testy about taking photos outside on the temple grounds.

The main takeaway from the contents of the palace is that I learned where George Lucas got the design ideas for Queen Amidala. In fact, Amidala was the name of a historical figure mentioned in documents in the palace.

Classic door, by Chinese standards.

Refurbished gate near the entrance.

Part of the temple complex.

Temple library.

Admittedly, some of the buildings look a little tired, but this gives it a much more authentic look. It's also a little off the beaten path as far as tourism goes.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Landslide in Alaska - aerial views

In the past two years there have been some spectacular avalanches in Alaska.

The first happened in Icy Bay, and caused a tsunami estimated to have been nearly 200 m high.

The second happened earlier this year in Glacier Bay, a little farther south, and seems to have missed the water, but left a large deposit on top of the ice.

Here are a couple of pictures of the second landslide, taken about two months ago as I flew over Alaska.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Arctic sea ice still hanging around

Another autumn, another sea ice minimum to add to the chart I have been posting yearly for awhile now. This year's minimum was about 4.1 million square km, among the lowest measurements on record.

Nevertheless, there still is not enough information for us to distinguish among several competing hypotheses.

1) The variation in sea ice is part of a dynamic natural cycle, which is currently in a lower area of Lyapunov stability, but which will at some point return to the higher area of stability (as it was prior to about 2003). There are alternatives to this hypothesis, such as the sea-ice system may naturally oscillate between two or more states, but this oscillation is being modified by anthropogenic effects.

If we are observing a natural cycle, and its duration is related to the time observed within the higher area of Lyapunov stability, then at some point the system will return to the area of stability occupied prior to 2003. The typical duration of natural climatic cycles is from a few years to decades. Given the length of time that the system occupied the higher Lyapunov-stable area, I would assume we are looking at a fairly long cycle length--meaning even in the best-case scenario (no anthropogenic effects) we would expect to remain in this state of lower sea-ice extent for at least another decade. A breakout, if it occurs will be towards the right first, before curving up toward the higher area of Lyapunov stability.

If anthropogenic effects are modifying the trajectory of the system, then we may still get an upward breakout, but it may be a short-lived one where the state does not reach the higher area of Lyapunov stability before falling back, either to the current Lyapunov-stable area, or possibly to a new, lower one. Even if, during the breakout, the system reaches the higher area of Lyapunov stability, it may remain there only a short time before returning to the present one or perhaps a lower one.

2) The variation in sea ice extent is in secular decline, likely driven by greenhouse gas emissions, but the dynamics of the natural system have temporarily arrested the decline in the current area of Lyapunov stability. In this case, we may expect the system to remain within this area of Lyapunov stability, before breaking out to the left and arcing downward.

Distinguishing between these differing hypotheses needs more time, but unfortunately we run the risk of an irreversible change occurring as we wait. Better would be to extend the record backwards by several decades, which can probably only be done by collecting near-surface sediment cores, and looking at their microfossils.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Green features at Scarborough Campus

I visited a friend of mine who works at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, where I taught episodically from the early 1990s until about ten years ago. A whole lot of new buildings have gone up since I left.

For most of the time I was there, the entire place consisted of an elongated concrete bunker, with a glass front overlooking a playing field and student residences; whereas the back, which overlooked the valley, was a solid mass of concrete punctuated by a few portholes.

Starting about ten years ago, several new buildings went up, including a new sciences building on the north side of Ellesmere Avenue. This building has a number of green features, which is appropriate, as the building is largely used for environmental and earth sciences.

Starting at ground level, the building is surrounded by numerous "earth tubes". They draw in air, and pass it through underground pipes, which act as heat exchangers, warming the air in winter, and cooling it in summer, before circulating it through the building.

A good portion of the roof is covered with white gravel, which reflects away solar energy, helping keep the building cool in summer.

A good portion of the roof is green--covered with plants, which both help keep the building cool, and which also retain rain water, keeping it from being released through runoff too quickly. The plants selected require very little care, as they are native to the area.

I believe there is some kind of drainage system under the gravel that directs some rainwater into cisterns for storage, where it can be used to water the lawns during the drier parts of the year (according to this site).

On a connected roof, we can see lots of solar panels.

A fairly sizable part of the roof is accessible easily to staff and students, and is used as a garden and meeting area. Although when I visited, the meeting area was overgrown by pumpkins.

From this roof we overlook the nearby sports facility built for last year's successful Panem--sorry, Pan-Am Games. It's roof also appears to have green features.