Of cupcakes and ice cores

For a popular science presentation on climate change, I needed a simple illustration for how ice cores can be used as archives of past climates. Luckily, my sister and family were excited to do some early Christmas baking for climate science!

And playing with food colors is always fun…

I think I had too much fun playing, actually, the “ice core data” would have been a lot easier to interpret if the different layers were just laying flat!

I should probably noticed here already that the color pattern wasn’t as regular as it should have been for easy interpretation of the core data later…

But it was fun! And they rose beautifully even though we were a little afraid that the time between mixing in the baking powder and actually baking the muffins was kinda long (because we had to mix in all the different dyes…)

The really difficult part, it turns out, was the coring itself. I had wider-than-usual straws, but instead of just cutting out the core, it was really difficult to have them pierce through the crust, and they compressed the core much more than I had hoped.

You can kind of see where the core goes in the cross section, and how the different colors correspond to their old locations inside the cupcake. But somehow this worked much better in my imagination than it did for real!

And I have a new-found appreciation for food bloggers. It’s really difficult to take good pictures of food!

But in case you were wondering: They taste just like boring, non-rainbow muffins. And my niece liked them! :-)

How not to communicate climate change: Lessons learned from the movie “Frozen” #scipoem


As this poem’s hero was chosen
Olaf, the snowman in Frozen
who dislikes the cold
(or so we’ve been told)
despite d’pending on it to stay frozen

He’s telling the world how excited
he is and how super delighted
of temperatures warming
but without informing
himself ‘bout whether he’ll be blighted

His friends, knowing better, don’t tell him
Which I actually find to be quite grim
Like when sci’ntists hush
Beat about the bush
That conditions for life are about to dim

Exactly what we see performing
In the movie with the warming
We experience daily
That people gaily
Neither communicate – nor hear! – a warning

“Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle
But put me in summer and I’ll be a —
Happy snowman!”*
Are you really sure, man?
No, Olaf, you’ll just be a puddle!

*Lyrics from the song “in summer” from the Disney movie “Frozen” (2013)


Observing the “melting ice cubes” experiment with a thermal imaging camera

Remember the melting ice cube experiment? Great!

Experiment: Ice cubes melting in fresh water and salt water. By Mirjam S. Glessmer

If I had the chance to teach an intro to oceanography or some other class where I have time with students over a longer period (these days I am mostly giving one-off workshops), I would actually use the thermal imaging camera to make a different point with this experiment than the one I have usually recommended it for.
I would first do the classical experiment to talk about density-driven circulation. This could be done either using dye (levels of difficulty would be something like 1) easy: freeze dye into the ice cube. 2) medium: let them observe what happens with clear ice cubes and only add dye once they’ve realized that the fresh water ice cube is melting much faster, but have a hard time figuring out why. In this case, drop dye onto the melting ice cubes. 3) no dye at all, but let people focus on condensation pattern on the cups as well as shapes of the ice cubes. I tried that for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it worked really really well. I think that’s my favourite way of doing the experiment now!
After students have done that experiment and we have moved on to properties of seawater etc weeks later, I would bring the same experiment back when talking about how water is transparent to visible light, but not to all other wavelengths. Because students will likely assume that they will see the same kind of pattern that they saw with dye (or that they sketched when they drew the mechanism), but actually, unless the plume of dense water is flowing right along the edge of the cup, they won’t be able to see it because they really only see the temperature of the cup itself and can’t “look inside” the way they can with their eyes. So at first, I would assume, they’d be a bit bored and annoyed to be presented with the same experiment again, until they realize that now the point is a very different one. (Since I haven’t tried to use that experiment in that way, I am not quite sure how it will work, I think it would be important to either hold the melting ice cubes in the middle of the beaker. That way, there is no cold plume along the edge of the cup, and students see cold water appearing at the bottom of the cup “out of nowhere”. Alternatively, one could ask them to look at the cup from the side opposite to where the ice cube is (they always float to the edge somehow), but maybe that would be giving too much away already?). So now the point would be to explain why we can’t see the sinking plume on the thermal imaging camera, and dependency of transparency of sea water on wavelengths of light. This can lead to ocean color, remote sensing, camouflage colors of animals, all kinds of other stuff. I think that could actually be exciting! What do you think?

Not an infographic, not SciArt, yet strangely satisfying: I drew my CV :-)

I’ve recently become interested in making infographics for science communication purposes. As in: I’ve been wanting to learn how to do it, but I’ve never gotten around to actually do it. So when I was asked for a one-slide CV the other day, I thought great! Let’s make it an infographic! Two birds, one stone: I get to try out something new for my #SciCommChallenge, and I end up with a cool CV. So today I will tell you the story of how that CV came to be.

First, I started out brainstorming what I wanted to include in the infographic, and what kinds of icons I could use to visualise my skills and expertise with. I quickly ended up with the idea of using a time line that wasn’t linear, but rather organised around the different cities I had lived in for my studies, my Master thesis, my PhD thesis, my PostDoc, my job post PostDoc, and the PostDoc position I am currently on.

When I started sketching, I realised that it would be very difficult to a) come up with ideas for simple icons that showed “physical oceanography”, “mentoring”, or “goal orientation”, and b) to either find those icons online (in c) a style that I liked and d) freely available). Plus I didn’t have a graphics software available beyond PowerPoint. So the idea of sketching the whole thing seemed attractive.

I quite liked the sketch above in pen because it gave me a lot of flexibility with my less-abstract icons, but I wanted some color. So I settled on the design below, now in pencil:

This design I then filled in in water color. That was the first time since 2003 that I had used water colors (as I could see from the top sheet of my sketch pad, which was dated), and despite being a little apprehensive about it, it went quite well (if I say so myself).

So this is the finished product:

That picture was taken on my couch with really bad lighting, but I like how it turned out with the warm background of the paper. I also scanned the CV the next day, but it came out really weird, so I decided to stick with the photo.

The whole process of drawing this CV was really interesting to me.

For example, I had a drawing of a light house in the CV right from the very first sketch. For a while I didn’t really know what to do with it — I really liked it in the picture, but it didn’t seem to serve any purpose. Yes, I want to live in a light house eventually, but how was that relevant for a CV that was supposed to highlight skills and achievements? Until it occurred to me: The light house does actually reveal a lot about me: That I am really goal-oriented. I didn’t even realise it, but my goal-orientation had been on my CV all along, and that had been important to me without me being able to verbalise why! But now that I consciously included it, it all fell into place.

Or the process of drawing those goblets below the time line, for when I won a scholarship and a fellowship. Is it over the top to draw them like I won the world cup (or the Triwizard Cup)? Maybe. But it’s probably the first time ever that I have acknowledged to myself that both were achievements that I can actually be proud of.

I like how the theme of research ships, sailing ships, light houses dominates the whole CV. When I look at it, I feel like it represents me very well, like it captures my “why”, and creating it felt like things were falling into place. And even though I did not submit that CV in the end, to me, the whole process was definitely worthwhile and empowering.

And it definitely motivated to draw more. Stay tuned for some really cool SciArt to come as soon as I have found a good way to digitalize it! :-)

Melting ice cubes experiment — observing the finer details

If you don’t know my favourite experiment for practically all purposes yet (Introduction to experimenting? Check! Thermohaline circulation? Check! Lab safety? Check! Scientific process? Check! And the list goes on and on…), check it out here. (Seriously, of you don’t recognize the experiment from the picture below, you need to read up on it, it’s awesome! :-))


Susann and I got funding from PerLe (our university’s project to support teaching innovation) to add a couple of cool new features to Susann’s “intro to meteorology” lecture, and doing a hands-on experiment with 50 students in a lecture theatre in their second lecture was only one of the first of many more to come.

We used the experiment to introduce the students to oceanic circulation, and this experiment is, in my experience, very engaging and sparks curiosity, as well as being very nicely suited as a reminder that things are not as easy as they seem to be when you see those nice plots of the great conveyor belt and all the other simplified plots that you typically see in intro-level lectures. Especially understanding that there are many different processes at play simultaneously, and that they have different orders of magnitude and might act in different directions helps counteract the oversimplified views of the climate system that might otherwise be formed.

I usually use dye to make it easier to observe what’s going on in the experiment (either by freezing it directly into the ice cubes as shown in the picture on top of this blog post, or by dripping it onto the melting ice cubes when students have started to observe that — counter to their intuition — the ice cube in the fresh water cup is melting faster than the one in the salt water cup).  We had dye at hand, but I decided on the spur of the moment to not use it, because the students were already focussing on other, more subtle, aspects that the dye would only distract from:

The shape of the ice cubes

In many of the student groups, the most prominent observation was that the shape of the melting ice cubes was very different in the fresh water and salt water case. In the fresh water case, the ice cube melted from the sides inwards: as a cylindrical shape with a radius that was decreasing over time, but in any instance more or less constant for all depths. In the salt water case, however, the ice cube melted upwards: The top did not melt very much at all, but the deeper down you looked the more was melting away. Why?

Condensation on the sides of the cup

Another observation that I prompted was in what regions the cups showed condensation. In the fresh water case, there was a little condensation going on everywhere below the water line, and sometimes there were vertical streaks down from where the ice cube was touching the wall. In the salt water case, there was only a small band of intense condensation close to the water level.

This, not surprisingly, looks very similar to what a thermal imaging camera sees when observing the experiment (as described in this post).


Taken together, those two observations are quite powerful in explaining what is going on, and it seemed to be a fun challenge for the students to figure out why there was condensation on the outside of the cups in the first place (does condensation occur in warmer or colder places?), what it meant that different places ended up being warmer or colder, and how all of that is connected to global ocean circulation. Definitely an experiment I would recommend you do! :-)

Seeing is believing — A #scipoem

Seeing is believing

Climate change communication
Needs a good vis’alization
Political protesters and
politicians should best be shunned
to avoid defens’ve reaction’.

Show behaviour in relation:
not one car, but road congestion.
action’ble steps that can confront
Climate change…

Use real people’s real emotion
unfamiliar, thought-provoking.
Not overwhelmed, but rather stunned,
that’s how people best understand
unconscious habits’ implication’.
Climate change…

*This poem is a „rondeau”, and it is based on the findings in the “Climate Visuals – 7 Key Principles for Visual Climate Change Communication” report (

A #SciPoem about sitting on a rotating tank all day long

Are you following our updates from the 13-m-diameter pool on a merry-go-round? If not, you definitely should! Because it is super exciting, but also because this poem will make a lot more sense then…

A Coriolis Rondel
Turning and turning and turning
All day on a merry-go-round
Spinning, free from the solid ground
Isn’t that ev’ry child’s yearning?

Some people’s stomachs start churning
Solid ground, seems so much more sound
Turning and turning and turning
All day on a merry-go-round

Fluid dynamics, exploring
Ocean currents’ driver, be found
Theory developed on that ground
All day, because we love learning
Turning and turning and turning

More about this research: Go check out our blog from the 13-m-diameter rotating tank in Grenoble!

“A brief history of climate in the Nordic Seas” — A #scipoem

A brief history of climate in the Nordic Seas*

Understanding of climate change
explaining a record’s full range
playing the cause-and-effect game
needs a closed, mechanistic frame

data: proxies or direct obs
predicted future poses probs
relationship is not the same:
needs a closed, mechanistic frame

mechanism seems to differ
Gulf Stream currently seems stiffer
than in future or past, we claim,
needs a closed, mechanistic frame

Understanding of climate change
needs a closed, mechanistic frame

*based on an article by Eldevik et al. (2014). Form is a “kyrielle sonett”

Let’s guess tides!

Actually, there is no need to guess. If you tilt your head 45 degrees to the left, you are looking at Hamburg the way it would be shown on a map, North up. The Elbe river, which you see in the foreground, flows east-to-west into the North Sea. And now there are at least two spots in the image below where you can see fronts in the water, more turbid water in the main river bed, clearer water in side arms and bays. Those fronts always start at upstream headlands and go downstream from there, therefore it must be ebb tide, with the water going out into the North Sea. Easy peasy :-)

Funny how “upstream” and “downstream” make so little sense in a tidal river, yet everybody knows what I mean…

Would be interesting to see if you can see fronts when the tide is coming in, too, when the muddy river water is pushed into the more stagnant side arms and bays. I expect so but don’t actually know. Maybe I will be able to observe it on some future flight?