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Earth Toys Science

Rubber Duckies For Global Warming Research 167

Posted by kdawson
from the next-time-try-penguins dept.
The Wall Street Journal has a look at global warming research using rubber duckies. The toys have been employed in tracking ocean currents since 1992; but recently NASA robotics expert Alberto Behar released 90 yellow rubber ducks into the melt water flowing down a chasm in a Greenland glacier. "Each duck was imprinted with an email address and, in three languages, the offer of a reward. If all goes well, Dr. Behar hopes that one day they will emerge 30 miles or so away at the glacier's edge in the open water of Disko Bay near Ilulissat, bobbing brightly amid the icebergs north of the Arctic Circle, each one a significant clue to just how warming temperatures may speed the glacier's slide to the sea."
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Rubber Duckies For Global Warming Research

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  • Dupe (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 16, 2008 @08:55PM (#25781211)
    This is a dupe [slashdot.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mrmeval (662166)

      Yea I posted on the other one that if they'd just throw more ducks and plastic and crap in there'd be no evaporation and no glowbull worming.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by nmg196 (184961)

      I think the dupe is intentional. They're actually going to post this story another 88 times and see if any of the other versions end up being read by a different demographic.

  • Pollution Anyone? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by tempestdata (457317)

    What are the chances that these rubber duckies end up inside the tummy of some sea creature? In which case, that is just more pollution floating around in our oceans.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by LockeOnLogic (723968)
      Oh come off it! The amount of possible environmental damage of such a small release is easily offset by the potential gain in knowledge. I really hope that my humor detector is broken or something because if you are serious this kind of nonsense gives environmentalism a bad name.
    • by RuBLed (995686)
      I don't think [florentijnhofman.nl] so. Now where did they put the email address again?
    • by mcvos (645701)

      What are the chances that these rubber duckies end up inside the tummy of some sea creature? In which case, that is just more pollution floating around in our oceans.

      But floating oil slicks don't provide quite as much information as these rubber duckies. They're also less funny.

  • Irony. (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @08:58PM (#25781229)

    Raise your hand if the prospect of an environmentalist dumping plastic into the ocean for research purposes is deeply amusing.

    • I'm still waiting for one of them to propose creating the biggest CO2 emitting burner on earth to prove global warming.

      In the meantime, yeah I'm amused.

    • You can't see it, but I'm kind of half raising my hand, because they're "RUBBER duckies" but I'm not sure if they're actually made out of plastic these days. Also I wouldn't say DEEPLY amused. So count that as a 1/4 hand raise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 16, 2008 @08:58PM (#25781233)

    Rubber duckie, you're so fun.

  • Dr. Behar happily illustrated the idea in his baththub, using a bar of soap along with one of the ducks in question.
  • disko bay dux (Score:1, Flamebait)

    disko ducks. so 70's. Quack.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:10PM (#25781309)

    I'm sure this is where he got the idea.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-464768/Thousands-rubber-ducks-land-British-shores-15-year-journey.html

  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:10PM (#25781311) Homepage
    From what I could tell when I RTFA, they already suspect that the melt water from the glacier reaches the ocean and I doubt that anybody would have any reason to dispute this. If and when somebody reports finding one, they'll have proved this. TFA talks about learning about conditions under the glacier, but makes no mention of how. There are no instruments inside the duckies or any way to record what they go through, so how can the scientists learn anything from them, other than the (as I pointed out above) obvious fact that the melt water reaches the sea?
    • by John Hasler (414242) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:19PM (#25781359) Homepage

      How long it takes is rather important.

      • Thanks; I'd not thought of that. I'd imagine that how long it took to find one near the exit would be important, because it would show how fast the current was. But what if none of them turn up for several years, hundreds if not thousands of miles away? Could they still learn something from that? (Not a challenge; I'm trying to find out just how much they can get out of this.)
    • by ductonius (705942) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:27PM (#25781405) Homepage

      They're not only wondering where the water goes, but how long it takes to get there and where it goes after that.

      If they all come out at once then we know the routes they all took about the same route, or the routes they took were all more or less direct. If they emerge over years or even decades then we know some are becoming trapped, only to be released later. What if a duck washes up in India, twelve years after it was released in Greenland?

      They're interested in knowing *everything* that could happen to these ducks after they're released. Furthermore, data from this experiment could confirm or falsify other oceanographic theories, all for $200 worth of rubber ducks.

      • I'm not saying that the experiment shouldn't be done, I was just looking for more information about what they can expect to learn. Thank you.
        • by Reziac (43301) *

          Should also be useful to climatologists, since the ocean currents and their temperature gradients have a profound impact on climate, notably precipitation (frex, El Niño/La Niña).

          This isn't the first time such an experiment has been done by any means, but AFAIK it's the first time on this scale. I do find it interesting that rubber ducks seem to have a much better survival rate than more-expensive gadgets (apparently they are both durable and so obviously inedible or tasteless that random critters

      • by sorak (246725)

        Maybe they should put GPS systems on the ducks and make a deal with Google Maps. Then we could all go to tracktheduckie.com (not sure if it's a real domain, probably a porn site if it is), and get regular updates on their locations, which one is winning, etc. Who knows, place a banner ad or two on the site, get slashdotted, they could actually make money off of it.

    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:36PM (#25781463)
      The melt waters flowing under the glacier and through small streams will flow through gravels and other obstructions that the rubber duckies can't flow through. Thus, any data coming back will have a huge caveat hanging over it and will be rather useless from a scientific point of view. Radioactive tracers etc can give far better information.
      • The melt waters flowing under the glacier and through small streams will flow through gravels and other obstructions that the rubber duckies can't flow through. Thus, any data coming back will have a huge caveat hanging over it and will be rather useless from a scientific point of view.

        Huh? If data comes back, it's because the ducks made it through the obstructions, which is scientifically interesting; people may see where the ducks emerge into the ocean, which is scientifically interesting; and if anyone finds the ducks later, they will indicate where the ocean currents from the glacier goes, which is scientifically interesting.

        Radioactive tracers etc can give far better information.

        I don't know about radioactive tracers, but the article says that another scientist tried dye and it didn't work — they couldn't find any trace of it. I d

        • A vast % of water flowing from glaciers etc flows under the gravels and underground. If people could not follow the tracers (dyes etc) then how will they follow ducks? That they could not follow tracers indicates that the water travels via some non-obvious (ie. non-surface) path. Sure some ducks might turn up at point A, but likely a lot of water is traveling underground and the ducks won't go there.

          I live in a place which is the result of glacial deposits and only a small % of the water here travels on the

          • by hey! (33014)

            Tracers can be diluted. Ducks cannot. The fact that tracers can flow through obstructions and ducks cannot make the ducks a useful complement to tracers. Rubber ducks also attract attention from beachcombers, allowing them to be of service for years.

          • A vast % of water flowing from glaciers etc flows under the gravels and underground. If people could not follow the tracers (dyes etc) then how will they follow ducks?

            They're more visible and they can count on more people looking for them.

            That they could not follow tracers indicates that the water travels via some non-obvious (ie. non-surface) path.

            I don't see how that implies anything. Tracers can travel below the surface too.

            Sure, the ducks might provide a bit of curiosity, but it would be misleading to take them as being representative of water flow as a whole.

            If they do make it out, there's probably some fairly big channel outlet.

    • Hmm, sounds like a job for the alternate scientific method at Mythbusters.

    • ... that good PR achieves better results in maintaining and increasing funding than providing scientific value does.

      NASA's brief is not science -- science is a rare but happy side-effect which they use to justify their budget.*

      The reason they exist is to funnel taxdollars to favored companies, largely defense contractors, and congressional districts.

      * No intellectually serious person could suggest that the shuttle program is an effective use of R&D dollars. NASA *loves* the shuttle. In terms of press

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is all fun and games until the Italians get a hold of the ducks and hold them for ransom. Then our world will have no defense against global warming. What will these "scientists" be saying when the Italians control our weather with their nefarious ices?????

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fractoid (1076465)
      See, if I found one of these I don't think I could restrain myself from doing one of either (a) sending the duckie to Switzerland and claiming it had washed up at the beach, or (b) giving it to my kids and telling them to keep it until THEY get old at which time they should report it found.
      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Your sig works out great for this post.
      • "Um, yeah hi, I want to collect the reward for finding your duckie...
        "oh, well I found it in the stomach of this endangered peregrine falcon...
        "hello?"

  • by Valacosa (863657) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:22PM (#25781369)

    Each duck was imprinted with an email address and, in three languages, the offer of a reward.

    "This duck was lost by a Nigerian prince. Email this address to claim your reward."

    • "This duck was lost by a Nigerian prince. Email this address to claim your reward."

      Ha ha! Like anyone would believe that a Nigerian prince could have accidentally lost a rubber duck in Greenland (AND that he could have been so long-headed that he had written a message in advance) and reply...oh, wait a minute...

  • "Each duck was imprinted with an email address and, in three languages, the offer of a reward."
    Congratulations! You found one of our rubber ducks! Now send us an email and we'll let you keep it!

    I do wonder what they are offering though...

  • Okay, yeah, sure. Rubber duckies floating in the middle of the ocean and hoping someone will find it is always a fun idea. I never really thought it should be practiced however. As much as I do love the rubber duckies wouldn't it be a better idea just to use a GPS tracker instead?

    Yes, a GPS. While sending 90 GPS systems might be a little expensive, you wouldn't send off 90 of them. How many of the 90 duckies would they expect to get back? 5, maybe.

    It would be way more efficient for the scientist to th
    • by Ironsides (739422) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:45PM (#25781495) Homepage Journal
      The Greenland Glaciers can be over a mile thick in places. I doubt GPS signals can penetrate 10 meters of ice. Sorry, but there really is no way to track them. Even supplying a power source for that long in that small of a package would be dificult.
      • Nobody's talking about tracking anything under the ice. You can't track rubber ducks under the ice either. It's when they're on the open sea that people want to track them. (Well, they'd like to be able to track things under the glacier, but they can't. They have to wait for whatever it is to emerge in the ocean.)

      • by BluBrick (1924)

        They don't need to know where it is if it's still ice-locked. However, if they included a solar panel and a supercapacitor that could supply power to a little GPS tracker when the rubber ducky is bobbing about on the surface of the ocean, that could possibly supply some very useful data.

      • by narcberry (1328009) on Monday November 17, 2008 @12:25AM (#25782285) Journal

        Embed a hit single from Mariah Carrey in each one. Let the RIAA find them.

    • by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:47PM (#25781501)

      The article says he already tried a GPS tracker, and it failed to report in. I suppose he figured that rather than continuing to toss in expensive devices, he'd try a larger number of cheaper objects. If nobody finds them, at least it wasn't a big waste of money.

      By the way, there are already robot floats in the ocean which can be tracked to show ocean currents (ARGO). Most of them don't use GPS, though, but Doppler radio tracking (here [argos-system.org]).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Let's publish the rubber duckies for Global Warming Research and ignore Goddard Institute for Space Studies of NASA headed by James Hansen which published falsified data [telegraph.co.uk]. James Hansen is a global warming alarmist.

    A surreal scientific blunder last week raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming. On Monday, Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore's chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.

    This was startling. Across the world there were reports of unseasonal snow and plummeting temperatures last month, from the American Great Plains to China, and from the Alps to New Zealand. China's official news agency reported that Tibet had suffered its "worst snowstorm ever". In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration registered 63 local snowfall records and 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month, and ranked it as only the 70th-warmest October in 114 years.

    So what explained the anomaly? GISS's computerised temperature maps seemed to show readings across a large part of Russia had been up to 10 degrees higher than normal. But when expert readers of the two leading warming-sceptic blogs, Watts Up With That and Climate Audit, began detailed analysis of the GISS data they made an astonishing discovery. The reason for the freak figures was that scores of temperature records from Russia and elsewhere were not based on October readings at all. Figures from the previous month had simply been carried over and repeated two months running.

    This is simply another proof that the mainstream media is no longer interested in facts or reporting unbiased news, just like during the election of the Anointed One. Rather, they simply parrot agendas that fit their own opinion.

    • Im just glad to see that California with their wildfires are doing their part to reverse this cooling trend...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fluffy99 (870997)
      I doubt it was intentional, but certainly Al Gore wants Global Warming to be true since fear mongering about it makes him money.
    • by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @10:41PM (#25781775)

      Let's publish the rubber duckies for Global Warming Research and ignore Goddard Institute for Space Studies of NASA headed by James Hansen which published falsified data.

      I hate to break it to you, but making a clerical mistake is not the same as "falsifying data".

      This is simply another proof that the mainstream media is no longer interested in facts or reporting unbiased news

      Uh, no, it's a sign that quickly-fixed data reporting errors which have no impact on any major climate studies are not front page news.

      I also hate to break it to you, but minor errors are found and fixed in scientific data sets all the time. It's only news when the data error is the basis for some important scientific conclusion. (That has been the case, for instance, with the XBT ocean thermometers and the UAH satellite data.)

      Your post is a prime example of how ridiculously polarized the global warming debate has become. You're grasping at straws, man. A mistake in two month's data reporting, which has nothing to do with James Hansen personally, is not a global scientific conspiracy nor a disproof of global warming.

      just like during the election of the Anointed One

      Anointed One? Yeah, you really sound like an impartial arbiter of scientific accuracy. You might want to tone down the hypocrisy while whinging about "bias".

      • by izomiac (815208) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @11:45PM (#25782069) Homepage
        Clerical mistakes can happen, but in this case it's essentially falsifying data just without the intent. If something unexpected happens then one should look for errors first. Instead, it seems like this researcher just assumed that it was more support for a theory he liked. Little things like this can add up across various studies, leading to a theory being unduly strong (self perpetuating). In any case, it's pretty shoddy work to let an obvious outlier make it into a study.

        how ridiculously polarized the global warming debate has become

        Quite true. Personally I've become nearly apathetic upon the realization that both sides exaggerate to the point of dishonesty. Well, really it's the extremists on either side that do the lying, but since the issue is so polarized there's the illusion (perhaps becoming reality) that they speak for their respective groups.

        • Instead, it seems like this researcher just assumed that it was more support for a theory he liked.

          I don't see any evidence that Hansen even knew there was anything anomalous either way. The article rather exaggerated that NASA "announced that last month was the hottest October on record". It appeared in their database update, but they didn't announce any press releases about it or anything — they only publish analysis of records at the end of the year.

          Little things like this can add up across various studies, leading to a theory being unduly strong (self perpetuating).

          That's true; I mentioned two other cases where mistakes did add up. However, considering the other temperature records out there (both surface an

      • It sounds an awful lot like a case of bad interpolation of missing data. Copy previous month is a heck of a lot lower order than a simple linear function, even. But some interpolation would be necessary to start working with the results. You push out the corrections in the errata when the data comes in if you miss CD press time.

        Now there is definitely some question as to why the gaps would be represented by previous data instead of nulls or flag values, and clerical error is certainly a plausible reason.

        • But.. it's an awfully convenient excuse,

          Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by human error.

          especially if there was some pressure to publish quickly or the cleverly nefarious scheme of announcing "warmest October ever"

          They didn't publish it; it was just a routine data update. And, contrary to the article's implication, they didn't "announce" the warmest October ever, either. The anomalous data showed up in the data base, but they didn't issue a press release or publish a paper or contact the media about it. It looks like they didn't even notice it until someone else pointed it out.

          If one wanted, every year could be the warmest on record, in a big announcement

          But it isn't, which casts doubt both on global conspiracy and "co

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Kohath (38547)

      You don't understand. The glacier is melting at 0.2 ducks per year! Prior to this experiment, the glacier was melting at zero ducks per year. It has increased 2 whole ducks per 10 year period! At this rate of increase, the entire population of ducks will be exhausted by 2142! Don't you care about the ducks?

      The only upside is that, barring any additional interference, the glacier's melting will return to zero ducks per year once all the ducks are gone.

    • by Hellsbells (231588) on Monday November 17, 2008 @12:10AM (#25782213)

      About the author of this opinion article:

      He has claimed that Asbestos is "chemically identical to talcum powder", and the BBC has accused him of basing his reputation on "lies about his credentials, unaccredited tests, and self aggrandisement".

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Booker#Criticism [wikipedia.org]

      He is not a credible person.

    • "James Hansen is a global warming alarmist...[snip]...This is simply another proof that the mainstream media...[snip]...simply parrot agendas that fit their own opinion."

      Pot meets kettle.
    • by kadehje (107385)

      From the Telegraph article linked to by the parent:

      This was startling. Across the world there were reports of unseasonal snow and plummeting temperatures last month, from the American Great Plains to China, and from the Alps to New Zealand. China's official news agency reported that Tibet had suffered its "worst snowstorm ever". In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration registered 63 local snowfall records and 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month, and ranked it as only the 70th-warmest October in 114 years.

      This is effectively using a single data point (the month of October 2008) to argue that the theory of global warming is false. Claims like this are just a red herring on this issue. Episodes like this can be consistent with global warming, provided that averaged across time and space they are the exception rather than the rule.

      The theory of global warming states that on average the world's temperature will rise as a result of increasing concentrations of

  • Reward (Score:5, Funny)

    by renegadesx (977007) on Sunday November 16, 2008 @09:54PM (#25781529)
    Missing: One large yellow rubber duck, answers to the name 'Rubber Duckie'
    Has made apperances on childrens television shows
    Please report any information on the whereabouts on Rubber Duckie to Ernie, Sesame St NY. +123 (456) 789-10-11-12
    Cash reward
  • If the ducks first hit open water at Disko Bay, are these ducks intended to be called the Disko Ducks [wikipedia.org]? [Wikipedia]
  • by Jade E. 2 (313290) <slashdot AT perlstorm DOT net> on Sunday November 16, 2008 @10:19PM (#25781651) Homepage

    Scientists are extremely alarmed over a new phenomenon recently observed in the arctic glaciers. Melt water, which normally flows through micro rivers deep in the glacier until it reaches the sea, has started to flow over the surface instead, accelerating the rate at which the ice melts. "It's like something went and plugged up the flow, and now it's backing up like a giant toilet with a rubber duck stuck in it." remarked one researcher.

    The researchers are currently seeking a $10 million grant to investigate the cause of this disturbing event.

  • Just a stunt to get more publicity to promote more non-science "proof" of global warming. Oh wait, we have to call it "climate change" now. Guess those temperature measurements aren't going the way you hoped, Al?
    • Yeah, it's all a big data cover up so they have to re-brand the theory.

      Sheesh.

      They call it climate change now because it's important to emphasize that temperature isn't the only thing which is changing.

  • Pour a large quantity of fluorescein [wikipedia.org] into the melt water in question. Observe the ocean surrounding the glacier (perhaps from a satellite) for a bright yellow-green patch.

    If you want to trace the flow, introduce a neutrally buoyant, screaming hot but short half-life gamma radiation source into the meltwater. Track it via sensitive correlated gamma detectors in 3 dimensions. Some choices include Sodium-24 with a half-life of 15 hours and gamma energies of 1368 keV and 2754 keV, or Ir-188, or Y-90.

    • The article says another scientist tried (non-radioactive) tracer dyes and didn't see anything. I suppose you eventually would if you used a huge amount.

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        Maybe he didn't use 'large' quantities of dye for sufficiently large values of 'large'. 8-)

        I was going to originally propose radioactive fluorescein so that you could compare the isotopic ratios to determine how long it took the sample to traverse the path, but realized that the appearance of the dye would do the same thing. Duh. I like the radioactive tracking, however. If you make it radioactive enough that it's not only radiologically hot but physically hot, it'll melt it's way through any constrictions.

        • I think if your tracer is radioactive enough to melt through ice, you're going to have some trouble with Homeland Security ...

          • by Muad'Dave (255648)

            There aren't that many glaciers in their territory. 8-)

            Radioactive heating (particularly alpha-induced heating) is very effective. This fascinating article [nanomedicine.com] states:

            "Among all gamma-free alpha-only emitters with t1/2 > 106 sec, the highest volumetric power density is available using Gd148 (gadolinium) which a-decays directly to Sm144 (samarium), a stable rare-earth isotope. A solid sphere of pure Gd148 (~7900 kg/m3) of radius r = 95 microns surrounded by a 5-micron thick platinum shield (total device radiu

  • You can glean a great deal from historic documents, such as ice reports from Lloyd's List, which could help with this; each years reports are different. I collated the reports for one month in April 1912, and have written up my results here [paullee.com]. Theres a Java applet in there showing time evolution of the reports, and I am working on a few bugs in it.

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