The National Hurricane Center worked around the clock to get the best forecasts out and they did it with incredible accuracy.
Looking back at the forecast, the landfall location, Cayo Costa, was in the forecast cone for all the forecasts given, according to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.
Miller also noted that the forecast pegged Ian’s landfall (as a major hurricane also) within 5 miles of its eventual landfall location a full 120 hours in advance – that’s pretty remarkable given how unreliable forecasts can be at the five-day mark and beyond.
So folks on the barrier islands in Lee County, e.g., Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers Beach, had five days of warning regarding precisely where the hurricane would hit? They must be even dumber than we thought.
Thanks to Amygator, we can see that the forecast on Friday at 11 am did show the hurricane hitting Lee County at 8 am on Wednesday (somewhat sooner than it actually did hit).
What CNN leaves out is that on Saturday the NHC forecast that Tampa would hit. On Sunday, the forecast was that Hurricane Ian would strike Ron DeSantis in Tallahassee:
By Monday, it was back to Tampa (and officials there reasonably ordered an evacuation of low-lying houses). By Tuesday, the predicted track was closer to Fort Myers and its barrier islands (and the Lee County officials reasonably ordered an evacuation of those barrier islands).
So, CNN tells us that Science predicted Ian’s landfall five days in advance, but omits to mention that Science also predicted landfall in a variety of other locations, some of the hundreds of miles away.
To evaluate past changes in frequency, we have here developed a homogenization method for Atlantic hurricane and major hurricane frequency over 1851–2019. We find that recorded century-scale increases in Atlantic hurricane and major hurricane frequency, and associated decrease in USA hurricanes strike fraction, are consistent with changes in observing practices and not likely a true climate trend. After homogenization, increases in basin-wide hurricane and major hurricane activity since the 1970s are not part of a century-scale increase, but a recovery from a deep minimum in the 1960s–1980s.
One of the most consistent expectations from projected future global warming is that there should be an increase in TC intensity, such that the fraction of [major hurricanes] MH to [Atlantic hurricanes] HU increases … there are no significant increases in either basin-wide HU or MH frequency, or in the MH/HU ratio for the Atlantic basin between 1878 and 2019 (when the U.S. Signal Corps started tracking NA HUs … The homogenized basin-wide HU and MH record does not show strong evidence of a century-scale increase in either MH frequency or MH/HU ratio associated with the century-scale, greenhouse-gas-induced warming of the planet. …Caution should be taken in connecting recent changes in Atlantic hurricane activity to the century-scale warming of our planet.
The Science is settled, according to nytimes.com: “strong storms are becoming more common in the Atlantic Ocean, as its surface water has warmed. … Climate change has already contributed to a rise in destructive hurricanes like Ian, and its effects are still growing.” This is a Scientific true fact that has been established beyond any doubt. The nature.com article, on the other hand, says that this is not true and that the data do not show major hurricanes becoming more common.
Let’s look at the crackpots behind the nature.com article:
It is possible that nytimes.com is correct and nature.com is wrong, of course. But the nature.com folks, with their file cabinet full of PhDs (… in Science), don’t say that they are presenting facts that cannot be and will not be falsified.
“Tropical Cyclone Frequency” (Vecchi and others in Earth’s Future; Wiley 2021): “There is no accepted theory that explains the average number of TCs that occur each year on the Earth, nor how that number will change with global warming.” (full text)
Today is my birthday and also the day that Hurricane Ian arrives on Florida’s west coast. Now that we’re quasi-coastal Floridians, what I want as a present is a machine that can stop hurricanes.
An Ivy League graduate recently suggested this idea. She consumes the New York Times and Washington Post, which assure her that humans are causing hurricanes by burning fossil fuels, failing to vote for Democrats 100 percent of the time, not growing the government to a sufficient size, etc. The natural inference from this media diet is that humans can easily stop hurricanes and, this Ivy League graduate made that inference, pointing out that “we really have to stop these hurricanes.”
Well… why not? Should we be discouraged by the fact that “during its life cycle a hurricane can expend as much energy as 10,000 nuclear bombs” (NASA)? I think not!
A hurricane has low pressure air in the middle. What about a big air hose pumping in air so as to create high pressure? Science v.1980 says that I’m right (Florida Today):
Not so long ago, the idea of bending a hurricane to our will wasn’t so far fetched or fringe science. It was the mainstream. Starting in the 1940s, Nobel Prize winning scientists such as Irving Langmuir, and even famed American writer Kurt Vonnegut’s older brother, Bernard Vonnegut, an atmospheric scientist, got in the mix of weather modification.
Believing man could stop or move hurricanes was mainstream science from the 1940s until a military program looking into matter went bust in the early 1980s.
If Bill Gates hadn’t made the mistake of getting married, he might have enough money to execute on his vision:
Even Microsoft founder Bill Gates weighed in on hurricane suppression a decade ago. He proposed using hundreds of huge ocean-going tubs to drain warm water from the surface to deeper water, through a long tube, weakening storms as they form.
What about robot barges that make ice and dump the ice into the ocean just ahead of the hurricane, thus robbing the hurricane of the warm water that it needs to thrive? If Elon Musk has a robot barge on which a rocket booster can land, why not ice-making barges?
“These are not acts of God,” says meteorologist Alan Gadian, senior scientist at the U.K.’s National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, “but a direct consequence of making the atmosphere more unstable due to seawater being warmer than average. They will occur again.”
One possible approach is “marine cloud brightening,” first proposed in 1990 by cloud physicist John Latham at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. The idea is to infuse clouds with particles of sea salt, around which water vapor would condense to form droplets. The more droplets in a cloud, the whiter it is and the more sunlight it reflects, cooling the sea below it.
Physicist Russell Seitz conceived “Bright Water” to cool the seas or reduce evaporation from freshwater reservoirs. In the case of hurricanes, he theorizes that ships pumping microscopic bubbles into their wake along tropical storm tracks could cool the water at lower cost than ships spraying the sky—and with less risk of affecting the weather elsewhere.
Readers: What is your best idea for keeping these pernicious human-caused weather systems away from the Caribbean and Florida?
What if we can’t stop a hurricane, how do we prepare? What’s actually more powerful than 10,000 nuclear bombs? As with meeting new friends at the bathhouse (“We have been aggressive in educating our clients through social media and in-house,” said a representative for The Cock, located in NYC’s East Village. “We continue to require COVID vax proof…”), the CDC says the best protection against a hurricane is to get a COVID-19 vaccination: “Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines. COVID-19 vaccines help protect you from getting sick or severely ill with COVID-19. Staying up to date on vaccines makes it less likely that you will be sick with COVID-19 while sheltering or evacuating from a hurricane, and less likely to need medical services while hospitals are under strain from the natural disaster.”
Charge any device that provides light. Laptops, tablets, cameras, video cameras, and old phones. Old cell phones can still used for dialing 911. Charge external battery back ups. ( Glow sticks also provide light for a few hours. Stand them upright in a glass or jar to make a lantern.)
Wash all trash cans, big and small, and fill with water for flushing toilets. Line outdoor trash cans with trash bags, fill with water and store in the garage. Add bleach to sterilize. [But what if you have a pool? Plenty of chlorine-sterilized water!]
Fill every tub and sink with water. Cover sinks with Saran Wrap to keep it from collecting dust. Fill washing machine and leave lid up to store water.
Fill old empty water bottles and other containers with water and keep near sinks for washing hands.
Fill every Tupperware with water and store in freezer. These will help keep food cold longer and serve as a back up water supply.
Fill drinking cups with water and cover with Saran Wrap. Store as many as possible in fridge. The rest you can store on the counter and use first before any water bottles are opened. Ice is impossible to find after the storm.
Reserve fridge space for storing tap water and keep the sealed water bottles on the counter.
Cook any meats in advance and other perishable foods. You can freeze cooked food. Hard boil eggs for snacks for first day without power.
Be well hydrated before the storm hits and avoid salty foods that make you dehydrated.
Wash all dirty clothes and bed sheets. Anything dirty will smell without the A/C, you may need the items, and with no A/C, you’ll be sweating a lot. You’re going to want clean sheets.
Toss out any expiring food, clean cat litter boxes, empty all trash cans in the house, including bathrooms. Remove anything that will cause an odor when the A/C is off. If you don’t have a trash day pickup before the storm, find a dumpster.
Bring in any yard decor, secure anything that will fly around, secure gates, bring in hoses, potted plants, etc. Bring in patio furniture and grills.
Clean your environment so you have clear, easy escape routes. Even if that means temporarily moving furniture to one area.
Scrub all bathrooms so you are starting with a clean odor free environment. Store water filled trash cans next to each toilet for flushing.
Place everything you own that is important and necessary in a backpack or small file box that is easy to grab. Include your wallet with ID, phone, hand sanitizer, snacks, etc. Get plastic sleeves for important documents.
Make sure you have cash on hand.
Stock up on pet food and fill up bowls of water for pets.
Refill any medications. Most insurance companies allow for 2 emergency refills per year.
Fill your propane tanks. You can heat soup cans, boil water, make coffee, and other stuff besides just grilling meat. Get an extra, if possible.
Drop your A/C in advance and lower temperatures in your fridges.
Gather all candles, flashlights, lighters, matches, batteries, and other items and keep them accessible.
Clean all counters in advance. Start with a clean surface. Buy Clorox Wipes for cleaning when there is no power. Mop your floors and vacuum. If power is out for 10 days, you’ll have to live in the mess you started with.
Pick your emergency safe place such as a closet under the stairs. Store the items you’ll need in that location for the brunt of the storm. Make a hand fan for when the power is out.
Shower just before the storm is scheduled to hit.
Keep baby wipes next to each toilet. Don’t flush them. It’s not the time to risk clogging your toilet!
Run your dishwasher, don’t risk having dirty smelly dishes and you need every container for water! Remember you’ll need clean water for brushing your teeth, washing yourself, and cleaning your hands.
Put a small suitcase in your car in case you decide to evacuate. Also put at least one jug of water in your car. It will still be there if you don’t evacuate! You don’t need to store all water in the house. Remember to pack for pets as well.
Check on all family members, set up emergency back up plans, and check on elderly neighbors.
Remember, pets are family too. Take them with you!
Before the storm, unplug all electronics. There will be power surges during and after the storm.
Gas up your car and have a spare gas container for your generator or your car when you run out. 32 . Use plastic cups and paper plates. 👍 You need water to wash dishes….👎 33 . Also if you run out of water tap your hot water heater it can have up to 30 gallons stored in there. 34 . Put water in balloons and store in freezer.
After reviewing the above, my conclusion is that it is best to drive to Orlando and stay there!
Our neighbors have been working hard to prep. Here are some examples:
Everyone hates engineering and loves science. So let’s talk about the James Webb Space Telescope, which cost us about $10 billion (enough to fund the U.S. and Ukrainian militaries for 3 days?) so far. What are your favorite videos explaining the Science? Here’s one that I like:
It contains some explanation of the instruments on board, but I’m still a little confused as to the rationale for looking at nearby objects in the infrared. Light from objects within our own galaxy, such as the Carina Nebula, shouldn’t be dramatically red-shifted. What will we learn about these objects via the JWST that we couldn’t have learned from Hubble?
NASA has released some beautiful images obtained with the fancy new space telescope. Here’s an example:
Since all of the images are captured in infrared and then presented in false color within the visible-to-humans spectrum (#FakeNews), it should be possible to find a corner of the universe that, with proper adjustments to the (inherently arbitrary) false color algorithm, would include symbology from the Rainbow Flag religion. This would help NASA atone for its past sins against the true faith (see “James Webb image reignites calls to rename telescope amid links to LGBT abuses” (Guardian)) and prove to the skeptics that God is a member of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community.
Maybe we could find part of the universe that resembles the pregnant man emoji as well? That would help us push back against the current tide of hate in which “women” are falsely identified as the only victims of the latest Supreme Junta’s ruling regarding abortion care.
Note that I was against the “James Webb” name from the first time that I heard it. Not because of his/her/zir/their alleged animosity toward the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community, but because Mx. Webb was a bureaucrat rather than a scientist or engineer. (Contrast to the Hubble Space Telescope, named after an observational cosmologist.)
Readers: What would be a better name for the telescope? How about naming it after Jim Peebles? There are other NASA experiments named after living scientists. Or pick one of the technicians who built it and name the machine after a person who does honest work?
A review of salary data shows that the universities of Michigan, Maryland, Virginia and Illinois, plus Virginia Tech, boast some of the highest-paid DEI staffers at public universities, a Fox News review found. These institutions’ top diversity employees earn salaries ranging from $329,000 to $430,000 – vastly eclipsing the average pay for the schools’ full-time tenured professors.
Fox implicitly considers Comparative Victimhood to be simpler than Quantum Electrodynamics and, therefore, it is not reasonable for a diversity bureaucrat to get paid 5X what a young Physics professor earns (see AIP salary calculator).
Colleges that have gone “test optional” enroll — and graduate — a higher proportion of low-income and first generation-students, and more students from diverse backgrounds, the researchers found in the study
In short, Science proves that dispensing with the SAT leads to more diversity.
Within our office, we have a dedicated research and analysis team that continuously studies our processes, outcomes, and criteria …. not having SATs/ACT scores to consider tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education, relative to having them, given these other inequalities
There are some helpful hashtags, including #diversity:
When we combine NPR and MIT we find that Science proves that requiring the SAT reduces diversity and also that requiring the SAT increases diversity. It is therefore not unreasonable for someone tasked with applying this Science to earn $430,000 per year at a taxpayer-funded state university.
As light can exist as both a particle and a wave, an abortion provider can honor birth and fight for a person’s right to give birth when it’s right for them
Quantum mechanics, a discipline within physics, has demonstrated that both are true. Sometimes light acts like a particle, sometimes a wave. This duality explains all the characteristics of light that have been observed experimentally, and has allowed scientists to explore the cosmos in previously unimaginable ways. That these two seemingly irreconcilable beliefs could come together gives me hope that similar harmony could be achieved in the discussion of other deeply polarizing topics, including abortion.
Instead of either/or, imagine both/and. We recognize the value placed on a desired and loved pregnancy by families and understand that ending a pregnancy is the right decision for some people some of the time. Individuals may have ethical objections to abortion and recognize that anti-choice laws can harm people. We can value human life and recognize the complexities of reproductive decision making. Attending thousands of births has been a great joy in my career and has cemented my belief that forcing a person to give birth against their will is a fundamental violation of their human rights.
Generally, the article takes the scientifically correct position that those who identify as “men” are just as likely to get pregnant and give birth as those who identify as “women”. But then the author and editors for some reason slip into distinctly unscientific (and hateful) language:
Given that one quarter of women in the U.S. have an abortion, many Americans have benefitted directly or indirectly from abortion care. I implore readers to emulate previous generations of scientists who changed our understanding of the universe by their willingness to consider seemingly opposite empirical truths: Particle and wave, abortion providers and ethical physicians, pro-life and pro-choice.
Scientific American says that correct political and moral decision regarding abortion (legal right through 37 or 39 weeks in Maskachusetts so long as one doctor thinks it will help the birthing person) can be established scientifically, in other words, and therefore anyone who has a different opinion is factually and scientifically incorrect.
The British were not Continental socialists, but still, the danger signs were there. Clearly, the nearly universal sentiment among the intelligentsia in the 1930s that a planned system represented “the middle way” between a failed capitalism and totalitarianisms of the left and right was worrisome. The writings of what Hayek called the “men (and women!) of science” could not be ignored. Look at this message from the weekly magazine Nature, taken from an editorial that carried the title “Science and the National War Effort”:
“The contribution of science to the war effort should be a major one, for which the Scientific Advisory Committee may well be largely responsible. Moreover, the work must not cease with the end of the war. It does not follow that an organization which is satisfactory under the stress of modern warfare will serve equally well in time of peace; but the principle of the immediate concern of science in formulating policy and in other ways exerting a direct and sufficient influence on the course of government is one to which we must hold fast. Science must seize the opportunity to show that it can lead mankind onward to a better form of society.”
The very next week readers of Nature would find similar sentiments echoed in Barbara Wootton’s review of a book on Marxism: “The whole approach to social and political questions is still pre-scientific. Until we have renounced tribal magic in favour of the detached and relentless accuracy characteristic of science the unconquered social environment will continue to make useless and dangerous our astonishing conquest of the material environment.” Progressive opinion was united behind the idea that science was to be enlisted to reconstruct society along more rational lines.
Another theme, evident perhaps more explicitly in this introduction than in specific passages in Hayek’s own text, but nonetheless very much a part of his underlying motivation in writing the book, is Hayek’s warning concerning the dangers that times of war pose for established civil societies—for it is during such times when hard-won civil liberties are most likely to be all-too-easily given up. Even more troubling, politicians instinctively recognize the seductive power of war. Times of national emergency permit the invocation of a common cause and a common purpose. War enables leaders to ask for sacrifices. It presents an enemy against which all segments of society may unite. This is true of real war, but because of its ability to unify disparate groups, savvy politicians from all parties find it effective to invoke war metaphors in a host of contexts. The war on drugs, the war on poverty, and the war on terror are but three examples from recent times. What makes these examples even more worrisome than true wars is that none has a logical endpoint; each may be invoked forever. Hayek’s message was to be wary of such martial invocations. His specific fear was that, for a war to be fought effectively, the power and size of the state must grow. No matter what rhetoric they employ, politicians and the bureaucracies over which they preside love power, and power is never easily surrendered once the danger, if there ever was one, has passed. Though eternal vigilance is sage advice, surely “wartime” (or when politicians would try to convince us that it is such a time) is when those who value the preservation of individual liberty must be most on guard.
“Governor Newsom Signs Legislation to Eliminate Out-of-Pocket Costs for Abortion Services” (gov.ca.gov, 3/22/2022): “In the face of nationwide attacks on reproductive rights, California has taken action to improve access to reproductive care by removing financial barriers to this essential health care,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “In the Golden State, we value women and recognize all they shoulder in their dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners. California will continue to lead by example and ensure all women and pregnant people have autonomy over their bodies and the ability to control their own destinies.” SB 245 prohibits health plans and insurers from imposing a co-pay, deductible, or other cost-sharing requirement for abortion and abortion-related services. The legislation also prohibits health plans and insurers from imposing utilization management practices on covered abortion and abortion-related services. California is one of six states that require health insurance plans to cover abortion services, but out-of-pocket costs for patients can exceed a thousand dollars.
A friend is heading off to Europe right now for a big academic conference. He’s a(n actual) scientist who lives in a Democrat-governed city and has supported mask orders, vaccine paper checks, school closures, and other Science-based interventions to stop the spread of the respiratory virus that causes COVID-19. Let’s call him “Professor Karen”.
Professor Karen’s family agrees with him regarding the merits of Following the Science. Down visiting an older relative, they came to pick me up at a southwest Florida FBO. The ramp looked like the usual “someone robbed a Gulfstream store” and there were about 60 people in the cavernous building. A sign near the front door reminded everyone that President Biden had ordered everyone at the airport to wear masks. Out of 60ish people there, Professor K’s family members were the only ones in masks.
(I can’t claim a total lack of COVID-19 concern. Afraid of the potential to infect my friend’s older relatives, I took the initiative to burn one of my at-home tests before starting up the plane for the 45-minute trip west.)
I was surprised, therefore, to learn that the good professor was heading off to Europe for a conference pulling together more than 1,000 people in his field from all of the SARS-CoV-2-infested countries of the world. In other words, a perfect environment for mutants to spread and/or form.
If he believed in the Science enough that he didn’t complain when his children’s public schools were closed for 1.5 years, why would he be a willing party to this potentially humanity-destroying event? His explanation was the virtual conferences weren’t effective, especially for poster sessions. But when it is a question of saving lives, so what? Professor Karen has tenure. He doesn’t need a conference publication to ensure a continued paycheck. People can work on better virtual conference technology. For a fraction of the cost of plane tickets to Europe, for example, everyone who was going to attend that conference could be supplied with virtual reality goggles for wandering around a poster session.
If Science tells us that people shouldn’t gather, why are scientists gathering unnecessarily?
The joint study by Leeds University, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and Manchester University found that the risk of commuters contracting the virus on underground train carriages – previously feared to be a “super spreader” environment – was “likely to be quite low”.
A team of science and engineering researchers built a computer-generated simulator based on a Tube-like carriage to demonstrate how the virus might spread from passenger to passenger.
The Transmission of Virus in Carriages model (TVC) simulated the risk of catching the virus from airborne particles, when standing two metres from other passengers, and after touching contaminated surfaces.
Using the tool to track the journey of the virus, researchers found that there was a “small chance of transmission” from ”touching a contaminated surface” and that this could be mitigated by frequent handwashing and passengers avoiding touching their face – validating the government’s “hands, face, space” messaging from 2020.
The government-funded and government-employed researchers validated the government’s action…
Who has been following the James Webb Space Telescope? It will take a while to travel nearly 1 million miles to get to its working position, but is everything still working as planned? $10 billion sounds like a lot of money, but considering that the federal government spent at least $10 trillion on less than 2 years of coronapanic, the James Webb money wouldn’t have funded coronapanic for even a single day.
It looks like the launch prep was similar to how my friends in Maskachusetts set up their living rooms prior to receiving grocery deliveries, March 2020 through present:
There is no visible light camera on the fancy machine, right? What do readers predict about the American public’s interest level in infrared-derived images? My prediction: it will be reasonably high for a year or so, as long as the pseudo-color images are of exoplanets.
I wonder if the name of the telescope tells us something about American culture. James Webb had no scientific training. From Wikipedia:
He completed his college education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received an Bachelor of Arts in Education in 1928. He was a member of the Acacia fraternity. Webb became a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, and he served as a Marine Corps pilot on active duty from 1930 to 1932. Webb then studied law at The George Washington University Law School, where he received a J.D. degree in 1936. In the same year, he was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia.
He was a high-level government official, however:
After World War II, Webb returned to Washington, DC and served as executive assistant to Gardner, now the Undersecretary of the Treasury, for a short while before he was named as the director of the Bureau of the Budget in the Office of the President of the United States, a position that he held until 1949. Webb was recommended for the appointment to Truman by Gardner and Treasury Secretary John Snyder. … Truman’s objective for the budget was to bring it to balance after the large expenditures of World War II …
President Harry S. Truman next nominated Webb to serve as an undersecretary of state in the U.S. Department of State, which he began in January 1949.
On February 14, 1961, Webb accepted President John F. Kennedy’s appointment as Administrator of NASA,
(Note shocking anachronistic content highlighted in bold!)
The previous big telescope, launched in 1990, was named after Edwin Hubble, a Ph.D. astronomer who figured out that there were other galaxies and that they were moving away from us.
So… when nobody said “I follow the science”, our expensive telescope was named after a scientist. Now that half the country says “I follow the science,” our expensive telescope is named after a politician/bureaucrat.
(We may see a loosely analogous progression in New York governors. Elliot Spitzer paid young women to have sex with him; Andrew Cuomo simply took the bodies of young women without paying.)
As someone who lives in completely flat state that Verizon is nonetheless unable to cover with a mobile data network, I’m curious to see if the design goal of 28 Mbps communication can be achieved.
I think it would be interesting if there were some cameras on the sunshield that could send back visible light images of the telescope itself (but maybe it will be far too dark for that? The telescope will be illuminated only by starlight if the shield works, right?). Or a camera with a sun filter on the back of the sunshield to give us a constant image of the Sun with the Earth and Moon in the foreground? I haven’t worked out the geometry to determine how big the Earth and Moon would be relative to the Sun from that perspective, but maybe it would be hopeless due to the small relative size of the Earth and Moon combined with the brightness of the Sun.
If you were a school boy/girl/other in the Netherlands you would have learned about Willem Barentsz, who made three voyages to the Russian Arctic while Shakespeare was scribbling out The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet and the Merchant of Venice (1594-1597). If you weren’t, there’s a great new book: Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Andrea Pitzer.
What was known?
The Greeks later determined that the farthest places from the equator where the sun is directly overhead at some point during the year sit at predictable distances north and south of the equator. As a result, along with the equator circling the Earth, they had added one line above and one below, both parallel to it. The northernmost extreme of the sun’s travels was christened the Tropic of Cancer, and the southernmost band the Tropic of Capricorn. And the ancients realized that because of the changes in the sun’s position, there should be another line of latitude closer to each pole, beyond which it would be possible to see the sun at midnight during the summer, and for sunlight to vanish entirely during part of the winter. The Greeks named the Arctic Circle for the polar constellation that should always be visible inside it—Ursa Minor, or Little Bear. The “Arctic” in Arctic Circle comes from arktikos kyklos, or “circle of the bear”—not creatures on the ground but the stars in the sky.
What was conjectured? That there would be an open warm-ish sea once you pushed through the initial ring of icebergs. Thus, it made sense to consider going over the top of Russia to trade with China, the world’s manufacturing superpower in the 16th century.
It is unclear how this idea persisted given that this area was moderately active with humans during the summer months, mostly Russians and Sami people engaged in fishing. Kildin Island was a meeting point and trading post and roughly the limit of non-Russian knowledge.
Any time that it is warm enough for a human to be outside trying to do anything, the polar bears are in the region and hungry. One thing that the Dutch guys never do on any of the three expeditions is run out of ammo:
Slaughter emerged as the instinctive Dutch response to the Arctic landscape, a new theater that would see the same performance again and again with every European wave of arrivals. As historical archaeologist P. J. Capelotti observed about the killing of animals in the high Arctic that accompanied modern exploration, “It’s amazing there’s anything left alive.”
I wonder if polar bears have evolved during the intervening centuries to be wary of humans. Modern tourists on pre-coronapanic visits to the Arctic don’t have nearly the same number of interactions with bear. But perhaps it is just because the polar bear population has been so severely reduced. I couldn’t find any estimate for polar bear population in the 16th century. Even today, people are just guessing at what the numbers might be (unlike coronascientists, though, the wildlife biologists admit that they’re guessing!).
Fighting with the ice pack and the bears at the same time near Nova Zembla, which they’d hoped would be the gateway to the open route to China:
The animal rose up and came for them. They had to abandon the work of turning the ship in order to fight the bear. But before they could kill it, they had to chase it into the water and onto the ice then back onto land again to catch it. After dispatching it, they returned to saving the ship. Whenever things looked bad, there was always something worse waiting to happen.
That last sentence describes the attitude of most of my Facebook friends regarding COVID-19!
Popping vitamin pills in hopes of warding off coronaplague? Maybe think twice…
They hadn’t enjoyed eating the meat from the first bear they’d killed on the voyage, almost a year before. But dwindling rations and the passage of time combined to make them look more keenly at this bear and reconsider. After gutting the animal, they dressed and cooked its liver, which had a much better flavor than the meat they’d eaten before. They were pleased with their meal, but the bear had its revenge when the men started to feel ill. Everyone fell sick, and the cause was clear. Barents and his men had poisoned themselves. Polar bear liver contains enough vitamin A to be lethal to humans. Though the crew had no more idea of the effects of too much vitamin A than they did the lack of vitamin C that caused their scurvy, both wreaked havoc on the castaways’ bodies just the same. Symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, liver damage, altered consciousness, and vomiting. The next morning, van Heemskerck picked up the pot of liver still sitting on the fire and threw its contents out in the snow. Three men soon lay near death. … By June 4—four days after they’d eaten the polar bear liver—most of the crew had recovered, but the skin of the three men who had fallen most violently ill peeled off in layers from head to toe.
I don’t want to spoil the story. Suffice it to say that an unplanned overwintering in the high Arctic will test a group’s resourcefulness. Scurvy turned out to be an even worse enemy than the climate.
Should we hoist a Stroopwafel in Barents’s memory?
Even during his life, Barents had lived a larger life than most humans. He’d been the first to publish an atlas of the Mediterranean, a survivor of nearly ten months in some of the most extreme conditions on the planet, a three-time explorer into the unknown, mapping places no European—and in some cases, perhaps no human—had ever seen. In Barents’s day, the Russians called the sea between Scandinavia and Nova Zembla the sea of Murmans, referring to the Norwegians they encountered there. But in 1853, Barents’s name would come to replace the earlier one, and the waters he sailed three times on his way east would come to be known worldwide as the Barents Sea. Four hundred years later its treacherous conditions would lead some to call it the devil’s dance floor.1
Along with making Zembla legendary, Barents and his men would themselves become famous. By 1600, less than four years after their frozen Twelfth Night feast on Nova Zembla, William Shakespeare would write his own play about the same holiday. Twelfth Night likewise tells the story of a world turned upside down on this strangest of holidays, in which the high are brought low and everything spins topsy-turvy. A not-quite-dead dead twin, cross-dressing, and a plot nested around switched identities lead to a comedy of errors with its own holiday feast at the center—and a reference to Barents. When one character earns another’s disdain, he’s told, “[Y]ou are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion; where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard.” In the space of a handful of years, the tale of Dutchmen covered in ice at the northern edge of the world would cross borders to become an international cultural touchstone.
William Barents would become less and less real over time. The gaps left by his biography, and his death, create an emptiness that makes it possible to project or reflect whatever the viewer wants to see. Yet every famous Arctic explorer who endured horrifying ordeals, every adventurer to the North whose story became a bestselling book, every voyager vowing to fill in the map for national glory, every polar adventurer whose exploits were recorded with the newest technologies—from books to telegrams to photos to radio broadcasts to phones to satellite links—has walked in the path first blazed by William Barents. In later centuries, the failure to establish habitable colonies or make successful trade missions wouldn’t count against intrepid explorers. From a monetary perspective in Barents’s era, however, his final voyage was a disaster, so much so that when his wife applied for a widow’s pension from the council of Holland, asking for support for herself and the five children her husband had left behind, she was refused.
Van Heemskerck later sailed to [the East Indies] as commander of the fleet and helped shepherd the new Dutch nation as it supernovaed into a vast empire. In less than a century, the goods shipped by Dutch traders would eclipse the combined total of Spain, France, England, and Portugal, with several other European powers thrown in for good measure. Just as he’d outlasted his time in the Arctic, van Heemskerck would survive his southern voyages and return home to take part in the war against Spain that would continue, at greater or lesser intensity, for another four decades. As admiral, he’d lead the Dutch navies against the Spanish fleet near Gibraltar in 1607, dying in battle after losing a leg to a cannonball.
The author closes with a testable hypothesis:
Yet, strangely enough, he was perfectly correct in his assumption. The world to which he belonged set machinery in motion that can now be slowed but not reversed. With some consistency, snow and ice surveys project that by 2040—perhaps as early as 2030—there will be no ice left at the North Pole in summer. By August 2017, the planet had changed so much that a Russian gas tanker equipped for Arctic voyages could travel for the first time without an icebreaker escort, sailing a northern route from Norway to South Korea in two-thirds the time required for the traditional route through the Suez Canal. The open polar sea Barents had forecast will soon exist every year during the hottest months. And the planet will continue to warm. This stupendous change will be the end result of a process in which Barents and his Arctic expeditions were in some ways the opening salvo. Though they returned with a dramatic tale of uninhabited lands and scientific insights, their ships still rode the wave of a tide that would unleash destruction as powerful and enduring as any force in human history. The sea free of polar ice that the Greeks had deliberated over and Barents’s own mentor had insisted was real wasn’t just a figment of their imaginations. The open polar sea that Barents had imagined, the idea for which he’d risked everything, has finally come to pass. He just sailed four hundred years too soon.
Let’s see if the scientific consensus turns out to be correct! I hope that we haven’t all been killed by variant COVID-19 by 2040 and can see if the experts were right. If the CDC lifts its no-sail order, perhaps we can have a comfortable Royal Caribbean cruise from Miami to the North Pole and back by way of Halifax (so as to qualify as an international trip).