Some things are better left unseen — research shows that watching yourself in a video meeting is not a good thing

I’m a big fan of virtual meetings: For planning outreach activities taking place in France with a team in Norway while sitting in my office in Germany (see here, and definitely check out the product of that planning meeting, Elin Darelius’ & Team’s blog from a 13-m-diameter rotating tank!), when giving a lecture in Iceland from my office in Norway (see here), or even when taking examinations via Skype when sitting in Nadine’s apartment in Norway and the panel was sitting in Germany (see here).

BUT I’ve known it all along: It makes me less focussed on the discussions in a Skype meeting when I can see myself. Because I start thinking about how people on the other end perceive me, if they are wondering about what’s in the shelves behind me, whether the angle of the camera is as bad as it feels. Or, as Hassell & Cotton (2017) write, objective self-awareness increases, as does cognitive load. In a laboratory study, they find that “seeing one’s own feed during video mediated communication does make a difference, and it can be detrimental to task performance”.

Interesting! So next time I’m in a video conference, I’ll just put a post-it note on my screen to cover my face. Problem solved! Or maybe then I’ll only wonder about what the other side is seeing… But it’s worth a try!

planning

Response of the ACC to climate change #scipoem

The response of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to recent climate change*

Around and around the southern pole
The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, inspiring
Around and around the southern pole
Seemingly without a goal
Going east, east, east, untiring
East, east, east, admiring!
Around and around the southern pole

Around and around the southern pole
To “the mightiest of all ocean currents” people bowed
Around and around the southern pole
In the Southern Ocean playing the most important role
Despite going slowly, it has never slowed
Enormous amounts of water have flowed
Around and around the southern pole

Around and around the southern pole
Up to 2 kilometres wide
Around and around the southern pole
2 to 4 km deep the flow, no shoal
putting Atlantic, Indic, Pacific, side by side,
connecting them with an enormous tide
Around and around the southern pole

Around and around the southern pole
No continents are in it’s way, by winds the whole is driven
Around and around the southern pole
Blending the world’s oceans’ waters in its endless stroll
Oceans that otherwise are riven
Its importance for climate is given
Around and around the southern pole

Around and around the southern pole
As climate changes, so does the driving wind field
Around and around the southern pole
But studies show that on the whole
Despite the ocean being exposed to winds without shield
In total no changes to the current are yield’d
Around and around the southern pole

*Inspired by an article by Böning, Dispert, Visbeck, Rintoul & Schwarzkopf (2008). This poem’s form is called “rondelet”.

#scipoem on an Darelius et al. article about ice shelves

“Observed vulnerability of Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf to wind-driven inflow of warm deep water”*

Let’s talk ab’t a favourite paper
“Observed vulnerability of Filchner-
Ronne Ice Shelf to
wind-driven inflow
of wa(-a-a-a-a)rm deep water”

An ice shelf is ice that is floating
on top of the sea as it’s flowing
down from a continent
this one is prominent
more ar’onl’ the Ross Shelf is coating.

In oc’nographers’ jargon, “deep water”
(as we learned by heart at my alma mater)
are defined by their propertie’
and live in the deep, deep sea
and currently they are getting hotter.

But “warm” is a relative measure
bathing in it would be no pleasure
it’s temperature typically
less than just one degree!
Go measure yourself at your leisure!

As winds weaken now during summer
warm water, like led by a plumber,
climbs up the continent
and can now circumvent
sills and reach ice from under.

If temperatures rise as projected
a lot of the ice will be ‘ffected.
Raising the lev’l o’ sea,
changing hydrography,
which needs to be further dissected.

Because of its climatic impact
which Elin has now shown to be fact
we need close observation
of deep water formation
so all changes can carefully be tracked.

*that’s the title of an article by (Elin) Darelius et al. (2016) which served as inspiration for this poem.

Tale of arctic melting and deep water formation #scipoem

Tale of arctic melting and deep water formation

Freshwater freezes long before saltwater does,
and it also floats on top of saltwater.
In the Nordic Seas, deep waters are formed.
If there is a lot of freshwater,
less deep water can be formed.
The sea freezes over.
Ice then insulates,
prevents heat flux,
shutting down
ocean’s
pump.

But
this is
too simple.
Influencing
fresh water layers
are also the currents.
East of Greenland, to name one,
flows fast the East Greenland Current,
taking away all the freshwater
through the Denmark Strait south, and further south,
where the freshwater mixes with saltwater
until anomalies return decades later,
starting the circle again. Now what if Greenland melts?*

*I don’t actually have an answer to the question what will happen if there is a large input of freshwater into the Nordic Seas (which seems unavoidable under global warming when both Arctic sea ice and Greenland glaciers melt). My own research, interpreting measurements taken in the region between 1950 and 2000, shows that during that period the fresh meltwater got transported south, out of the Nordic Seas, as suggested in the poem (Glessmer, Eldevik, Våge, Nilsen, & Behrens, 2014). However, even the newest of those measurements are almost a decade old now, and the debate among experts about what will happen is wide open. Exciting times!

A #scipoem on upwelling of tropical OMZ waters in a warmer climate

“Simulated reduction in upwelling of tropical oxygen minimum waters in a warmer climate”*

Let’s pick apart this article’s title,
inaccessible to most people out there.
Even though we know it as vital
to communicate clearly, be able to share,
what goes on in iv’ry towers detrital,
to whom it is relevant, as well as where.
Since taxpayers pay for us, science and all,
we need to inform them without any brawl.

“Sim’lated” just means a model predicts.
“Warmer climate”, then, is scientists’ code
for “some time in the future”, but nothing fix.
Which means if we continue down this road
of putting more CO2 in the mix
“upwelling”, whatever that is, will be slowed.
“Upwelling” means that waters from the deep
up to the surface of the ocean creep.

“Tropical” means “going on in the tropic’”.
“Oxygen minimum waters” contain
low levels of oxygen, which are a topic
of discussion in the science domain,
because if levels sink down to “hypoxic”,
almost no life in the sea can remain.
Fate of dead animals and plants, in the end,
does on the oxygen levels depend.

Dependent on oxygen, chemicals form,
that can change climate as does CO2,
if they reach the atmosphere in a storm
or just by “upwelling”, out of the blue,
they make that further the climate will warm.
Therefore, it’s nice to know that the brew
of “oxygen minimum waters” will leach
more slowly to continents’ western beach’.

screen-shot-2017-08-28-at-11-38-36

*This poem is in the “Ottava Rima” form and it explains the title of an article by Glessmer, Park & Oschlies (2011). The title of this article was also chosen as title to this poem.

Double the trouble — a poem about double-diffusive mixing in the ocean

On my blog’s fourth Birthday (!!!), it’s time to try something new. How about some celebratory oceanographic poetry? Obviously the topic has to be my oceanic pet process, double-diffusive mixing

 

Double the trouble

Heat mixes by molecules bumping
into each other and clunking
momentum transfers
so fast it all blurs
the warmer the faster they’r’all jumping

A different story for salts
where ions — through not their own faults!
must change their location
which leads to palpation
resembling a fairly slow waltz

Now heat and salt mix simultaneous
-ly without ‘ny extra extraneous
stirring or shaking
fish swimming, waves breaking,
which leads to effects miscellaneous

The ones I like best are salt finger:
structures that form and then linger,
tricking unsuspicious
oc’nographers vicious
-ly into assuming not threat to the thinker

This process includ’d in simulations
leads to much better foundations
of climate prediction
that is my conviction
you can read here* about the causations

Not only the currents o’the ocean
that consequently change their motion
but also biology
chemistry, geology
and last, not least, atmospheric transpos’tion

To sum up, this double diffusion,
those fingers that are no illusion
when climate has changed
the ocean’s been deranged
def’nitly deserve an inclusion :-)

 

 

Happy Birthday, my little blog! :-)

IMG_9084

*Glessmer, M. S., Oschlies, A., & Yool, A. (2008). Simulated impact of double‐diffusive mixing on physical and biogeochemical upper ocean properties. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans113(C8).

I am missing institute seminars! Or: Why we should talk to people who use different methods

You probably know that I have recently changed my research focus quite dramatically, from physical oceanography to science communication research. What that means is that I am a total newbie (well, not total any more, but still on a very steep learning curve), and that I really appreciate listening to talks from a broad range of topics in my new field to get a feel for the lay of the land, so to speak. We do have institute seminars at my current work place, but they only take place like once a month, and I just realized how much I miss getting input on many different things on at least a weekly basis without having to explicitly seek them out. To be fair, it’s also summer vacation time and nobody seems to be around right now…

But anyway, I want to talk about why it is important that people not only of different disciplines talk, but also people from within the same discipline that use different approaches. I’ll use my first article (Simulated impact of double-diffusive mixing on physical and biogeochemical upper ocean properties by Glessmer, Oschlies, and Yool (2008)) to illustrate my point.

I don’t really know how it happened, but by my fourth year at university, I was absolutely determined to work on how this teeny tiny process, double-diffusive mixing (that I had seen in tank experiments in a class), would influence the results of an ocean model (as I was working as student research assistant in the modelling group). And luckily I found a supervisor who would not only let me do it, but excitedly supported me in doing it.

Double-diffusive mixing, for those of you who don’t recall, looks something like this when done in a tank experiment:

IMG_9084

And yep, that’s me in the reflection right there :-)

Why should anyone care about something so tiny?

Obviously, there is a lot of value in doing research to satisfy curiosity. But for a lot of climate sciences, one important motivation for the research is that ultimately, we want to be able to predict climate, and that means that we need good climate models. Climate models are used as basis for policy decisions and therefore should represent the past as well as the present and future (under given forcing scenarios) as accurately as possible.

Why do we need to know about double-diffusive mixing if we want to model climate?

Many processes are not actually resolved in the model, but rather “parameterized”, i.e. represented by functions that estimate the influence of the process. And one process that is parameterized is double-diffusive mixing, because its scale (even though in the ocean the scale is typically larger than in the picture above) is too small to be represented.

Mixing, both in ocean models and in the real world, influences many things:

  • By mixing temperature and salinity (not with each other, obviously, but warmer waters with colder, and at the same time more salty waters with less salty), we change density of the water, which is a function of both temperature and salinity. By changing density, we are possibly changing ocean currents.
  • At the same, other tracers are influenced: Waters with more nutrients mix with waters with less, for example. Also changed currents might now supply nutrient-rich waters to other regions than they did before. This has an impact on biogeochemistry — stuff (yes, I am a physical oceanographer) grows in other regions than before, or gets remineralized in different places and at different rates, etc.
  • A change in biogeochemistry combined with a changed circulation can lead to changed air-sea fluxes of, for example, oxygen, CO2, nitrous oxide, or other trace gases, and then you have your influence on the atmosphere right there.

What are the benefits of including tiny processes in climate models?

Obviously, studying the influence of individual processes leads to a better understanding of ocean physics, which is a great goal in itself. But that can also ultimately lead to better models, better predictions, better foundation for policies. But my main point here isn’t even what exactly we need to include or not, it is that we need a better flow of information, and a better culture of exchange.

Talk to each other!

And this is where this tale connects to me missing institute seminars: I feel like there are too few opportunities for exchange of ideas across research groups, for learning about stuff that doesn’t seem to have a direct relevance to my own research (so I wouldn’t know that I should be reading up on it) but that I should still be aware of in case it suddenly becomes relevant.

What we need is that, staying in the example of my double-diffusive mixing article, is that modellers keep exploring the impact of seemingly irrelevant changes to parameterizations or even the way things are coded. And if you aren’t doing it yourself, still keep it in the back of your head that really small changes might have a big influence, and listen to people working on all kinds of stuff that doesn’t seem to have a direct impact on your own research. In case of including the parameterization of double-diffusive mixing, oceanic CO2 uptake is enhanced by approximately 7% of the anthropogenic CO2 signal compared to a control run! And then there might be a climate sensitivity of processes, i.e. double-diffusive mixing happening in many ore places under a climate that has lead to a different oceanic stratification. If we aren’t even aware of this process, how can we possibly hope that our model will produce at least semi-sensible results? And what we also need are that the sea going and/or experimental oceanographers keep pushing their research to the attention of modellers. Or, if we want less pushing: more opportunities for and interest in exchanging with people from slightly different niches than our own!

One opportunity just like that is coming up soon, when I and others will be writing from Grenoble about Elin Darelius and her team’s research on Antarctic stuff in a 12-m-diameter rotating tank. Imagine that. A water tank of that size, rotating! To simulate the influence of Earth’s rotation on ocean current. And we’ll be putting topography in that! Stay tuned, it will get really exciting for all of us, and all of you! :-)

P.S.: My #COMPASSMessageBox for this blogpost below. I really like working with this tool! Read more about the #COMPASSMessageBox.

message_box_dd

And here is the full citation: Glessmer, M. S., Oschlies, A., & Yool, A. (2008). Simulated impact of double‐diffusive mixing on physical and biogeochemical upper ocean properties. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 113(C8).

How to make your science meaningful and accessible to any audience

Are you hesitant to do outreach because you don’t really know how to convey your message to an audience that isn’t as fascinated by your field as you are and doesn’t have at least some background knowledge? Then here is a tool that will help you make your science meaningful and accessible to any audience!

First: There is a need for science communication and we all know it. The obvious reason is because these days, pretty much all funding agencies require some form of science outreach or dissemination. Other reasons for wanting to do some form of science communication are that tax payers are funding a lot of the basic research going on and that they therefore have a right to know what they are paying for; and that the knowledge we create mainly gets locked up in scientific journals or presented at scientific conferences, but it doesn’t reach relevant audiences by itself.

And then you have a mountain of information in your head that you have accumulated over years or decades by studying and doing research on your topic. How do you find the message the audience should hear? What is critical? What really matters? And who is your relevant audience? Journalists, policy makers, citizens? School children? Anyone else?

There is a great tool that can help you with all of those questions, developed by COMPASS (and they have successfully trained thousands of scientists!): The #COMPASSMessageBox. It helps you break down your message by giving you step-by-step instructions and guidelines on how to do it:

First by dividing your overall message into different parts:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the overarching topic you are working on?
  • Why should your audience care? “So what?”
  • What is the problem you are addressing?
  • What solutions are you providing?
  • What are the benefits if this problem was addressed?

In addition, you are given a couple of guidelines (and the scientific reasons behind those):

  • “The public” doesn’t have your background knowledge, therefore boil your message down to 5 new facts max!
  • More knowledge doesn’t change attitudes, so don’t just lecture your audience, listen to them and interact!
  • We have all been trained to communicate to a scientific audience, using specific norms. The public, however, is used to and interested in a different kind of communication than scientific community, so adapt the way you structure your information!
  • Last, not least: No jargon! Don’t “waste” one or more of your five facts on introducing jargon!

So here we are, scientists! Make funding agencies happy! Become visible as experts! Gain recognition! Contribute to the democratisation of science! But also: Enjoy interacting with new people who will get excited about your science even though it is something they maybe thought they would never be interested in! Feel a new sense of purpose! And have fun being creative and coming up with new and different opportunities for communication! :-)

P.S.: Below you see one example of the #COMPASSMessageBox, filled with the stuff I wanted to write about in this blog post. Give it a try, it’s a really useful tool!

message_box

What you know about science is not necessarily what you believe about science

I’ve been working in science communication research for a good half a year now, and my views on outreach are constantly evolving. When I applied for this job, I was convinced that if only the public knew what we (the scientists) know, they would take better decisions. So all we need to do is inform the public, preferably using entertaining and engaging methods. However, I soon came to learn that this is known as the “deficit model” and that there is a lot of research saying that life isn’t that easy. Like, at all.

One article I really like makes it very clear that knowledge about what science says is not at all the same as believing in what science says. The article Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem by Kahan (2015) (btw, a really entertaining read!) describes how changing a question on a questionnaire from “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” to “According to the theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” has a big impact: While in the first case, religiosity of the respondents had a huge impact and even highly educated religious people are very likely to answer “no”, in the second case religious and non-religious people answer similarly correctly. So clearly the knowledge of what evolution theory says is there in both cases, but only in the latter case that knowledge becomes relevant in answering the question. In the first case, the respondents cultural identity dictates a different answer than in the second case, where the question is only about science comprehension, not about beliefs and identity. As the author says: a question about ““belief in” evolution measures “who one is” rather than “what one knows””.

The author then moves on to study knowledge and beliefs about climate change and finds the same thing: the relationship between science comprehension and belief in climate change depends on the respondents’ identities. The more concerned someone is about climate change due to their cultural background, the more concerned they become as their level of science comprehension increases. The more sceptical someone is, the more sceptical he becomes with increasing science comprehension: “Far from increasing the likelihood that individuals will agree that human activity is causing climate change, higher science comprehension just makes the response that a person gives to a “global- warming belief” item an even more reliable indicator of who he or she is.”

So knowledge (or lack thereof) clearly isn’t the problem we face in climate change communication — the problem is the entanglement of knowledge and identity. What can we do to disentangle the two? According to the article, it is most important to not reinforce the association of opposing positions with membership in competing groups. The higher-profile the communicators on the front lines, the more they force individuals to construe evidence that supports the claims of those high-profile members of their group in order to feel as part of that group and protect their identity. Which is pretty much the opposite of how climate science has been communicated in the last years. Stay tuned while we work on developing good alternatives, but don’t hold your breath just yet ;-)


Kahan, D. M. (2015). Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem Political Psychology, 36, 1-43

Outreach is about more than about the perfect presentation (or even the perfect hands-on tank experiment!)

In most of my blog posts on outreach I focus on how to run the _perfect_ experiment. And while I still think that’s awesome, I recently read an article by Johanna Varner (“Scientific Outreach: Toward Effective Public Engagement with Biological Science”, 2014) that made a lot of points that I have definitely not stressed enough on my blog, and probably not even considered enough.
Outreach is often modeled on scientific communication and intuition. Of course, since that is what we’ve learned over the years and gotten good at, and what we are most comfortable with. But when we are trying to engage the “general public”, those are mostly people who have a very different background from us. Speaking of backgrounds — there is a problem with the concept of “the general public”, as there is no _one_ general public. The general public is very very diverse, and it is important to consider each audience individually. And there is the next thing: “Audience” then often implies that a scientist talks and “the general public” listens, which is not the best model. One-way communication that we often use in outreach, more often than not using simplified, sensationalized stories, is just not effective. For retention of facts as well as for building enthusiasm and for engaging in deep thinking, the public needs to be actively engaged, not talked to.
To also consider is that the reliability of a source is not judged by how many PhDs a speaker has, but by how well it supports the listener’s preconceptions. Any new information is interpreted in such a way that it supports existing ideas. And even if ideas could be “objectively transferred”: new knowledge does not change attitudes or behaviour. And even the intention to act is a poor predictor of future behaviour!
So what can we do?
The article provides a structure for planning outreach activities which is basically backward design: Start with what you want people to learn, then think about what you would take as evidence that they actually learned it, and then plan the activity. Check out the article if you are not familiar with the concept, it’s a really nice introduction. And it is always important to remember that effectiveness of any activity depends on an explicit definition of the goals.
Then, there are a couple of design elements we can use. All of those come from the article originally, but I give my own interpretation and examples.
  • Use “trusted resources” to help us share our message. Instead of doing our outreach activity as a self-organized event, use local churches, artists, any institution or person whom the community trusts to invite you and set the stage for you, this will make it much more likely that people will not only listen to, but actually consider taking on your message.
  • Know your audience. This is super difficult! But since you will want to create personal relevance for your audience (since personal relevance is essential for engagement), you need to know about what your audience’s knowledge, attitudes, values are. And it goes without saying that every outreach activity needs to be tailored to each audience specifically.
  • Establish common ground with your audience, this makes your message more likely to be accepted. Don’t be the scientist who nobody can relate to, be the person who lives in the same neighbourhood, who supports the same sports team, who likes the same kind of music, whatever is applicable in your case.
  • Use appropriate language! Don’t alienate by speaking to science-y, and also beware that words carry a very different meaning in science than in everyday language sometimes (And if you have never seen those tables that tell you that the term “alcohol”, vor example, means “booze” to the general public, when you use it to mean “solvent”, definitely check out examples of such tables here or here!)
  • Get into dialogue instead of just “preaching” in a one-way manner. Ask for questions and feedback, offer to follow-up by email, engage with the people there!
  • Frame your science in a storyline. It makes it much easier to follow and to digest as well as to remember.

    wasserflaschen copy
    Click to enlarge
  • Use “vivid hooks”, i.e. present your research question as an actual question or puzzle to solve, ask people to brainstorm hypotheses, show them the real data, let them get actively involved! Experiential learning and personal experience influence attitudes and beliefs strongly. This might be easiest if you had animals to show, but even just a good question works. Sometimes it’s actually surprising to see what works: The other day I had a blog post showing an empty bottle and one filled with water and asked whether people knew which one was which. And I got so many private messages with people’s answers, asking me to confirm they were correct! I had never thought that this particular blog post would raise such interest.
  • Emphasize benefits of action rather than risks of inaction. Fear appeals can backfire, since they lead to feelings of helplessness, which then lead to denial, apathy, resignation. And all of those prevent engagement.
  • Provide action resources. Enthusiasm and active engagement don’t stay up for very long after you are done with your outreach experiment if you don’t do something to keep them up. Therefore, provide action resources! Let people know when your next event will be, or the schedule of public events at your institution. Hand out take-home activities. Provide online resources or lists of other people’s online resources. Make sure that those who would like to stay engaged have a very low threshold to do so!

And now, go read the original research where all of these ideas came from:

Varner (2014) “Scientific Outreach: Toward Effective Public Engagement with Biological Science”