Daily Archives: July 30, 2013

The Lake That Ate Santa Claus (and some bad reporting?)

OK, so supposedly a fresh water lake has appeared at the North Pole and it is ENORMOUS and Santa Claus has been missing since and is presumed dead. OK, not really. The Giant Lake is really just a “pond” of meltwater on top of the polar sea ice, on the North Pole. But wait, actually, it is not really at the North Pole, it was photographed by some scientists who hang around the North Pole but this pond, which is small but was photographed with a wide angle lens, isn’t really exactly at the North Pole anyway, and these ponds form there all the time in the summer.

But really, even though they form all the time in the summer you can bet that fresh water ponding on the surface of the ice in the Arctic is way more common these days on average, than it was in the past because, in fact, arctic ice is melting a lot more than it was in the past. But the fresh water on the surface is not the point; the point is ice free sea surface in the Arctic, which has been at an all time high over the last few years. And this has caused serious concern that gas escape pathways will be opened up in the Arctic sea. This would mean that methane currently trapped in the form of methane hydrates on and beneath the surface of the world’s oceans, where they are near the surface in the Arctic, will be more easily released in abundance. Methane itself is a powerful greenhouse gas and could cause very rapid warming that would in turn increase the release of methane. Also, as methane is “oxidized” (i.e., chemically undergoes a similar process to burning but without the fire part) it turns into CO2 and water. This in turn uses up the area’s oxygen. If enough methane hydrate oxidizes in the Arctic sea that region could become anoxic (the oxygen to make the CO2 and Water from Methane Hydrate is taken out of the water or air where it happens) and lots of species could go extinct instantly. And it could even remove enough Oxygen from the air that …. OMG, that sounds pretty bad.

We can not say that “ponding” on the arctic ice is not related to global warming. Melting ice in the Arctic … every drop of it, or should I say every ice cube of it, melts because of heat and this heat is greater because of global warming. Some of that water in those ponds would not be there were it not for global warming. It is not like “nature” does some things (like, melt stuff) and “global warming” does some things and they are separated. Long gone are the days when we can, or should, say “you can’t attribute a specific weather event to global warming.” Rather, we need to say “you can’t remove global warming as a factor in any weather event.” Seriously. The former is an absolutely out and out lie. The latter is 99% true, something you should bet on if you don’t want to be wrong most of the time.

Still, the water on the surface of the ice is not of any great interest. I’m not sure, though, which is worse: Pointing out that the water is ponding on the surface of the ice and causing people to think this is important because it was mentioned in the Christian Science Monitor or some place, or spending a lot of effort explaining that this one thing some reporters said (but that no scientists have said) is not important and therefore (to some) GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX AIEEEEEEE!!!!1!!

(How likely that is to happen and how bad it would be is currently very much a matter of debate. But trust me, keep an eye on the methane hydrates. Even a low level of conversion into gas could be pretty serious stuff.)

Speaking of the Christian Science Monitor … this is the possible bad reporting part … I have a vague memory of a couple years back when somebody quoted themselves in some sort of science news story or blog or whatever. Is that what this is?


The part circled in red is simply the text of a previously posted item on the CSM web site. This story quotes this.

The photograph above, from the North Pole Observatory web cam, is of the pond, except since this photograph was taken just a few minutes ago it shows it as all frozen over again because these things come and go. Compare the photo to this one posted by Maggie Koerth Baker.

Stem Cells Approved By Vatican May Not Exist

… which would be really funny because … well, you clearly see why this is funny.

Christian groups and sects are often opposed to the use of biological tissue that would otherwise be discarded in research and therapy including “stem cell research.” This is because they think some of that biological tissue could be future parishioners, or because they watched too many Disney movies involving fairies. Or something. Anyway, there is this one kind of stem cell that exists among regular cells that can be extracted from the body of a living, breathing already signed up parishioners and the use of these stem cells to cure horrid diseases and such would not violate anyone’s sensibilities. So The Church has (more or less) said OK to that. The problem is, they, these stem cells, might not actually exist. From a news report in Nature:

Proponents of very small embryonic-like cells (VSELs) extracted from bone marrow say that the cells have the potential to transform regenerative medicine. A trial has begun in Poland, and cell-therapy company Neostem in New York is planning another in Michigan.

But in a major blow to the field, a paper published on 24 July in Stem Cell Reports suggests that the diminutive stem cells are not real1. Led by Irving Weissman, a prominent stem-cell researcher at Stanford University in California, the study is the fourth to refute the cells’ existence — and the most thorough yet.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.