Tag Archives: Sochi

Arctic Ice and the Polar Vortex, #SochiSlush (Updated)

Everything is about ice these days, what with the Winter Olympics in full swing. Concerns that the temperatures at the mountain venue of Sochi would be problematically high have panned out; the lower parts of the downhill slopes are slushy and the bottom of the half-pipe is all bumbly wumply. Injuries and lost medal opportunities are mounting up every day, in part caused by the unusual “Spring” conditions.

We all know the Arctic Vortex has been sitting on the middle of North America, and this has caused near zero F temperatures, often as low as -20F, here in central Minnesota. The same weather pattern has been bringing interesting storms across the American South, including, apparently, a nasty ice storm for Georgia (the state, not the Republic) tonight. Meanwhile we hear of very warm weather in Alaska and Eurasia.

So, if the Polar Vortex is here in the Twin Cities (plus or minus some 1,500 miles or so), what is going on in the Arctic? Is the sea ice at a relatively low level at this time of year when it should be reaching a maximum? How have the temperatures been, say, in Greenland?

Before I show you, I have to warn you of two important things. First, this time of year, early February, is a bad time to predict the next summer’s sea ice melt. Likely, there will be plenty of melting, and we can say that simply because for the last decade that has been the new norm. But looking at the current and recent data on sea ice extent does not accurately predict the minimum sea ice extent in September, when it will likely be at its lowest. (Well, to be honest, I don’t actually know this prediction can’t be made but I’m pretty sure that’s right). The second, countervailing issue is this: Climate scientists who look at these things seem to be about evenly divided between those who think we may have some sort of El Nino late this year, vs. not. This would determine in part warmer vs. cooler conditions generally. So, this post has to be regarded as highly speculative.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center has a nice “Interactive Sea Ice Graph” that you can play with to look at past years’ march of ice melting and re-freezing on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. Here, I’ve selected the base graph which has the average from 1981-2010 plus or minus 2 standard deviations (in gray) and the data so far for 2014. As you can see, we are at the lower end of the 2SD range.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 8.39.15 PM

Meanwhile, the Dark Snow Project blog has a post by Jason Box with this interesting graph:


Those are temperature anomalies in the Arctic region over the first 30-something days of this year. This shows unusual warmth. Now, compare that to a different graph from the same site:


That is “…the US for the region bounded by 70 to 105 longitude west and 38 to 55 latitude north.” In other words, that’s where the Arctic Vortex has been hanging out. So, yes, as I’ve mentioned before, the Arctic cold is here, not up in the Arctic. Up in the Arctic it is relatively warm. Jason also has this map showing the pattern using a different graphical technique. Remember, these are anomalies, departures from a 1981-2010 baseline, not absolute temperatures.

Temperature_2014_33-37_anom-1024x951 (1)

Go to the original post to get huge giant versions of these graphics.

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog has a lot more on the current situation. Also, Jason Box has this video released a few days ago and written up at Climate Denial Crock of the Week:

I repeat, it is too early to say what is going to happen during this year’s melt in the Arctic. But, this is a good time to start observing, as we will be passing typical peak sea ice in just under a month.

Killing Street Dogs in Sochi: Why is this a concern now?

It should have been a concern the day after Sochi won its bid for the Winter Olympic Games several years ago.

It is reported that authorities or private contractors are taking the street dogs off the streets in Sochi, in preparation for the Olympics, which start tonight. A friend of mine was living in Athens for the weeks before the Summer Olympics there, and she told me that authorities did the same, and that included summary executions, of the dogs, where they were found.

This has sparked outrage, of course.

I do have to wonder why the decision is made to remove these dogs, and in thinking about this, an obvious question emerges: Why are these dogs there to begin with? That, of course, raises another question: Why are there almost no street dogs in the United States?

When I was a kid dogs that needed to do their business were let out the front door as often as the back. Your dog would run around on the streets for a while and then return. It was not uncommon for a dog to hang out on the front porch, if it was shady (in the summer) or a warm spot (in the winter). If you saw a dog on a leash it was usually a puppy being trained to heel. Also, puppies did not know how to not run in front of cars or, for that matter, find their way home. So, unless you had an older dog in the household that could teach the little yelpers how to be a dog, human owners would take on this task.

In fact, if you saw an adult dog on a leash, chances are that one was a biter, or in some other way, badly behaved.

Then leash laws started to pop up in various communities, and spread, and now they seem to be everywhere. Dogs still run free-ish in rural areas. There may be enclaves in the United States where town dogs run free. Let me know if you know of any. I imagine such enclaves to be in more remote areas, more common in the South. Or Alaska.

If people’s dogs can run free, then now and then a dog can liberate itself entirely from human bondage and become a street dog, or in rural areas, what is clumsily referred to as a “wild dog.” Also, people let dogs go or dropped them off in remote areas when they were done with them, and free-running dogs would, of course, reproduce. In this way populations of wild dogs, city-dogs, and the in-between junk yard dogs became a thing.

I shall disabuse you now of a notion that may come to mind but that I think is false. This is the idea that in a state of tradition or nature (neither term works well), in pre-Western or pre-First World societies, dogs ran wild like they do in many cities around the world today. In traditional societies, dogs do not necessarily run wild. Well, they run around in the wild, but they are owned and curated by the humans and controlled. The wild city dog is a thing of cities or larger villages, a post-agriculture, post-peasant society thing, generally of recent centuries. Street dogs are not part of our Enviornment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (or we’d probably be immune to rabies!). This is based on ethnographic information and my own personal observation living in various “traditional” societies. It may look like the dogs are running around like Sochian or Athenian street dogs, but they are not.

Neutering and spaying and leash laws, together, have transformed the American dog into a different beast and we don’t really have street dogs any more. This is true for many “First World” places, but I do not assume this to be a qualifying characteristic of First Worldness. There are probably plenty of First Worldy places that have street dogs in the cities. And, of course, in the US there are wild dogs in the woods in may areas.

So why are they taking the dogs off the street in Sochi, and why did they do that in Athens, and why will they presumably do it in Rio?

Perhaps it is this. The Olympics is a First World phenomenon. You clean up your city and the nearby country side to be real nice for all the people to come and participate in the games as athlete or watcher. You remove some ramshackle neighborhoods and route traffic around others. You clean up the downtowns and pretty up the inter-urban routes. You fix the transit system or even install a new one. And you remove the dogs. And cats, much of this applies to cats too.

This means irony happens. The outcry, justified of course, over mass rounding up and extermination of innocent canines is itself a bit of a First World thing. And the rounding up and extermination itself is a product of First World sensibility conflicting with the rest of the world which is, indubitably, mostly not First World.

I think people involved in the outcry should realize this. Even though you would personally not agree to this, the cleanup is being done on your behalf. By no means does this justify the killing. But it does mean that your complains are tainted. There is probably not much you can do about the dogs in Sochi at this point, but Rio is two years away. If you want the officials there to not round up the dogs and put most of them down, this would be a good time to start working on that. Complaining about it after it starts will actually not help the dogs even a little.

But what would you do? I suppose one possibility would be to change the culture in Rio so that dogs are routinely spayed or neutered. I suppose you could agitate to get Rio to leave the dogs alone and let this particular Third World Thing alone during the pre-Olympic cleanup. Perhaps a combination of the two.

When you do that, of course, you will run smack into a different problem. You will be spending valuable first world resourses and demaning others to do the same to save the dogs, right before the wide sad eyes of starving children living in rags on the same streets. Or, at least, it is going to seem that way. Perhaps getting international funding to hire sad-eyed starving children to work with officials to manage the dog problem would be a good way to go. Perhaps something like that would start to change the culture of human-dog interaction in that particular city. Whatever solution is attempted, however, will have to be done at a massive scale. Rio is whopping big. In retrospect, it might have been a good idea to have started something like this in Sochi the day after the decision was made to have the Olympics there. That would be more of a bite size project. Also, it is probably, simply, too late for Rio. Two years is not enough time.

Pyeong Chang 2018?

There are two Sochis

The Winter Olympics are just around the corner. They will be held in “Sochi,” Russia. But as is the case with so many things in life, it is not that simple.

When we refer to the venue, we tend to mention Sochi in part because some of the events will be held there and in part because it is on most maps. But the Olympics will be held at more than one location, as is often the case.

The 2014 Winter Olympics, aka the XXII Olympic Winter Games will occur from the 7th to the 23rd of February in Sochi proper, on the Black Sea, and inland at Krasnaya Polyana.

Sochi is a resort city on the Black Sea coast with a subtropical climate, including rather mild winters. In February, the average low is 36.5 F, and the average high is 50.7 F. There will be no snow there. In fact, it may rain for part of the Olympics.

Krasnaya Polyana is inland, in the Caucasus Mountains. The base elevation there, where we find the Rosa Khutor ski resort, is 1,840 feet, with higher elevations along the ski slopes reaching over 7,600 feet.

Indoor events such as hockey will be held in Sochi, outdoor snow events will be held at the resort in Krasnaya Polyana.

This has caused some confusion in the on-line discussion of the games. First, it is true that early snows in the mountains failed to materialize this year, so there was concern there might be a snow-free Olympics. Second, if you look up the forecasts or research the climate of “Sochi” itself, you’ll find that it is expected to be mild there and that snow is just not something you see very often in Sochi. But the snow only has to fall in the mountains. It is perfectly OK if rain falls, mainly, on the plains along the Black Sea.

But, the discussion of snow at this or any other Olympic event, in light of Climate Change, is important. We have seen over the last five or ten years wild swings in snowfall amounts (or, for that matter, rain) in ski resorts all around the world. In reference to American ski resorts,

The roughly 300 small mom and pop ski resorts in the United States are emerging as the first victims of climate change. As snowpacks shrink, glaciers recede, and temperatures inch upward, these operations are merely trying to make payroll, which makes paying for more snowmaking, investing in renewable energy, or other strategies for addressing these problems, untenable. That’s according to three CEOs from the other end of the resort spectrum—Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole and Whistler Blackcomb—and it’s one of a litany of reality checks that punctuated two panel discussions at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club Tuesday evening.

…research over several decades has shown 1.5- to 2-percent declines in snow in spring in North America, per decade. That might not sound like a precipitous change, but … this will translate into real losses for ski resorts at lower elevation and those in the warm ranges of the Pacific Northwest. “No one wants to come to the ski lodge when it’s drizzling out. Today, in the Pacific Northwest, where we have a lot of warm winters, maybe 30 to 50 percent of these ski areas have warm winters now,” [said Anne Nolin, professor of geosciences and hydroclimatology, Oregon State University], noting that a warm winter is one in which the average of one of the core winter months is 0 degrees Celsius or higher. “That will be pushed up to 70, 80 or even 100 percent of these areas having warm winters in 20 years.”

So, Krasnaya Polyana, the Sochi ski venue (and it is technically in the polity of Sochi) is subject to both warming from climate change and the kind of variation in precipitation and temperature that comes with the “new normal.” However, when discussing Sochi, or reading about it, please remember to keep in mind that there are “two Sochis” … a coastal subtropical resort area and a mountain venue with, normally, good snow.

The hosts have been making piles of snow, they stockpiled snow from last year (yeah, that’s a thing, apparently), and snow is in the forecast over the next several days at Krasnaya Polyana. Now, I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna about this, but the chances that there won’t be enough snow to have the games is low.

I’ll also quickly remind everyone that this uncertainty plagued Vancouver as well. Also, it was a problem at Lake Placid, but that is probably because in February Lake Placid tends to get, or so the local mythology says, a period of rain and ice storms.

And, generally, we may just have to live with the newly emerging but soon to be perennial problem that warm weather wrecks winter Olympics and hot weather menaces summer games. Perhaps we should build a Huge Dome and have all our sports in there.

Images and most of the facts courtesy of Wikipedia.

A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
More on climate change HERE.

Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement. It seems to have struck a nerve with a few of the skeptics, while others seem to have enjoyed it. Who knew?