The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Aug. 22 2014 12:05 PM

The noPhone Doesn’t Do Anything, Is Not Actually a Phone

If you sleep with your smartphone under your pillow or find yourself reaching for it even when you know the battery is dead, you may have smartphone separation anxiety. The first step is admitting you have a problem. The second step might be getting a noPhone.

According to the gadget's website, “The noPhone simulates the exact weight and dimensions of your most beloved gadget in order to alleviate any feelings of inadequacy generated by the absence of a real smartphone.” Like a stuffed animal or security blanket, it giving you something to hold when you feel anxious and disconnected.

Advertisement

And not only is the noPhone not a real phone, it's also not a real product (as far as I can tell). In a presumably fake testimonial section, Whitney R. notes, “With the noPhone, my eye contact skills have 
improved 73%.”  

As the site explains, the noPhone has superior features to a normal smartphone, because it's totally wireless, battery-free, doesn't require software updates, and is shatterproof and waterproof. These are features that real smartphones need.

The best part is the FAQ section:

Q: Does it have a camera? 
A: No 
Q: Is it Bluetooth compatible? 
A: No 
Q: Does it make calls? 
A: No 
Q: Is it toilet bowl resistant? 
A: Yes

The noPhone site design and branding makes it seem like a typical tech product, which is why it's so effective at conveying its message: Put your phones down, people.

Video Advertisement

Aug. 21 2014 5:38 PM

A Dangerous Heat Wave Is Heading for Ferguson, Missouri

What could become the biggest heat wave of the year for much of the eastern part of the country is gaining strength today. Urban parts of the St. Louis metro area, including Ferguson, Missouri, are expected to bear the brunt of it.  

The heat is developing a day after impressive weather bombarded the St. Louis area. Here’s a quick look at what happened Wednesday night as a “ring of fire” round of storms rolled through:

Advertisement

It’s been a relatively mild summer this year for much of the Eastern and Central United States, including the St. Louis area, but that’s about to change. Thursday was the first day in the 90s there in more than two weeks, and the heat index is expected to reach well into the triple digits from Thursday through the end of the weekend.

The National Weather Service in St. Louis has issued an excessive heat warning, the highest tiered heat-related advisory:

...EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 7 PM CDT SUNDAY...

* TIMING...DANGEROUS LEVELS OF HEAT AND HUMIDITY WILL CONTINUE FOR THE REST OF THE WEEK AND INTO THE UPCOMING WEEKEND.

* HEAT INDEX VALUES...UP TO 107 DUE TO TEMPERATURES IN THE 90S AND DEWPOINTS IN THE LOWER 70S.

* IMPACTS...THE COMBINATION OF HOT TEMPERATURES AND HIGH HUMIDITY WILL LEAD TO AN INCREASED RISK OF HEAT-RELATED STRESS AND ILLNESS. THE VERY YOUNG...THE ELDERLY...THOSE WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONING...AND THOSE PARTICIPATING IN STRENUOUS OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES WILL BE THE MOST SUSCEPTIBLE. ALSO...CAR INTERIORS WILL REACH LETHAL TEMPERATURES IN A MATTER OF MINUTES. BEAT THE HEAT...CHECK THE BACKSEAT! NEVER LEAVE CHILDREN OR PETS UNATTENDED IN A VEHICLE...NOT EVEN FOR A MINUTE.

And it’s not just St. Louis: The full-scale heat wave will affect much of the Southeast and push as far north as Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington, and New York City by Saturday.

New research this week by Climate Central shows that St. Louis has one of the worst urban heat islands in the country. In extreme cases, the city can be up to 17 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the surrounding rural areas. On average, the urban heat island—which traps heat in the asphalt and buildings of urban cores that lack dense tree cover—gives the center of the St. Louis metro 19 additional days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit each year than the outskirts.

As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie has been reporting all week from Ferguson, there hasn’t really been a public space for protests there. By default, members of the community have congregated in parking lots, gas stations, and the street itself.

Temperatures of this scale are deadly, especially for those without a good way to cope. I asked a representative of St. Louis County whether Ferguson offers cooling centers during extreme heat days. Their computer system was down, but a search of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services database and another database she directed me to from the United Way shows that not a single cooling center is located in Ferguson.

In 1995, Chicago suffered through a catastrophic heat wave that has drawn comparisons to Hurricane Katrina. During that week in Chicago, 739 people died of heat-related causes. Author Eric Klinenberg blames that shocking toll on a “blend of extreme weather, political mismanagement, and abandonment of vulnerable city residents.”

Mary Hayden, a public health expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research is in the final stages of a project designed to analyze vulnerability to heat stress in Houston. Her biggest finding so far? “Heat risk is exacerbated by poverty.” While that result may not be particularly surprising, Hayden said, “now we have the numbers to prove it.”

Via phone, she described her Houston research: “If you're looking at just a central downtown area, it could be that those are just high-rise buildings where there are no people living. The centerpiece of our study is a 901-household survey on extreme heat vulnerability stratified by socioeconomic status. We wanted to find where residential areas coupled with urban heat islands, who lives there, and how they deal with the heat.”

Their work so far has revealed some shocking statistics. “The odds of not knowing the symptoms of heat stress are almost three times greater for those who make less than $30,000 a year,” she said. “In Houston, although the city reports that 99 percent of residents have air conditioning, not everyone can afford it. African-Americans are significantly more likely to have had trouble paying their electric bill, and 73 percent had no idea that there were special programs designed to help them.”

Her takeaway: “We’re not reaching that vulnerable population at all.”

So what should cities like Houston and St. Louis do to stem the expected increase in heat deaths in the coming decades? The answer, Hayden says, is to use this study to redouble efforts into community education. She proposes a partnership between television meteorologists and local public health departments to serve as a conduit of lifesaving information during heat waves.

Over the longer term, “community centers are absolutely the way to go.” In one building, Hayden says, a community center “provides a focal point. It can act as a cooling shelter, it's crime reduction, it's so many things.”

Aug. 21 2014 2:53 PM

A Virtual-Reality Version of Netflix Would Make Browsing Much Easier

Like a lot of tech companies, Netflix has events a few times a year where developers get the day off from their normal work to create fun new projects. And Netflix’s most recent Hack Day produced some cool results. In a blog post, Netflix writes, “we had over 150 people code from Thursday morning to Friday morning ... [They did] some incredible work in just 24 hours!” One project is a Chrome extension that puts Netflix in a small screen so you can watch while browsing other sites. Another is a design tweak to Netflix’s current interface that uses circular organization to display related or suggested movies around a central recommendation.

And another is Oculix (see video above), an immersive Netflix world for the Oculus Rift with gesture support. You can look all around, see movie titles and television shows floating in front of you, and select what you want to watch with your hand.

Advertisement

Though Netflix is clear that these projects may never become real products, some of them definitely should. Maybe the next step for Oculix is a virtual reality-video rental store where we can all browse around in 3-D space like we used to—no recommendation algorithms needed. That's what I want.

Aug. 21 2014 12:22 PM

Did Twitter and YouTube Make the Right Call in Suppressing Images of James Foley’s Beheading?

Footage of the ISIS murder of journalist James Foley swept social media on Tuesday afternoon, with Twitter as a ready source of screenshots and links to the video, which documents the beginning and immediate aftermath of Foley's beheading. Early Wednesday morning, Twitter CEO Dick Costolotweeted, “We have been and are actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery. Thank you.” 

When big news breaks, Twitter converts from a social forum to a news service, and the company’s decisions have a direct impact on what kind of information users can access. By quashing the images and footage, is Twitter refusing to participate in the spread of violent propaganda that could incentivize future acts and videos like this one? Or is Twitter keeping many people who use the site as a news source from seeing what’s really going on? Or both? And as a technology company, is Twitter equipped to make decisions usually left to trained journalists? (Of course, journalists struggle with these questions at times, too.)

Aug. 21 2014 10:03 AM

The Nasty Rumor About a Hurricane Heading to New Orleans

Aug. 29 is the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. This year, thankfully, it’s almost certain that New Orleans can breathe easy, despite rapidly spreading rumors to the contrary.

The latest chapter in amateur weatherperson crazy talk was posted Tuesday night on Facebook under a banner labeled “SHARE IMMEDIATELY IF YOU SEE THIS.” (Pro tip: “Share immediately” in all caps may be a giveaway that perhaps you shouldn’t take the information thereunder very seriously.) Unfortunately, lots of people did “share immediately.” Since Tuesday, the post has spawned numerous media reports (including one from the local Times-Picayune) and is needlessly freaking out people who deserve a chance to not be freaked out by fake hurricane threats after dealing with so many real ones in recent years.

Aug. 20 2014 2:22 PM

Why Smart People Fall for Fake News

This article originally appeared in Science of Us.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced a plan to start testing a “satire” tag, which you may soon find affixed to headlines like “Tips for Being an Unarmed Black Man” from sites like the Onion and ClickHole. And although on its surface, the move sounds a lot like a headline from the very satirical sites Facebook intends to warn its users of, the social-networking site may be on to something. 

Advertisement

Because, as the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey points out, this isn’t just about satire; it’s also about the problem of purposely false “news” stories. Lesser-known and less obviously joke-y sites like the Daily Currant, Empire News, National Report, and the News Nerd will get the “satire” tag, too. So this could actually be a step toward addressing the problem of hoaxes spreading wildly online, by cutting them off at what has become many people’s main source for news: Facebook.

What Dewey fails to mention, however, is that the Post itself fell for one of these satirical headlines just last year, citing a Daily Currant report that Sarah Palin was joining the news network Al-Jazeera America as a contributor. (She wasn’t.) Palin, for perhaps obvious reasons, is a recurrent figure in fake headlines that tend to trick real news outlets: In 2011, Rachel Maddow fell for a (fake) Christwire column calling for Palin to lead an American invasion in Egypt. About a week later, both Time and US Weekly reported on a fictitious fight Palin was supposedly trying to pick with Christina Aguilera over her botched lyrics to the National Anthem at the Super Bowl that year.

So, why do people—even smart people—fall for fake news? For one, it happens most when we’re not paying close attention, said Dannagal Young, an associate professor of communication at the University of Delaware. (Next month, Young will begin a study on irony comprehension.) “This isn't about ‘shortened attention spans,’” she said in an email to Science of Us. “This is about an overabundance of decontextualized snippets of info.” Facebook headlines and Tweets simply don’t consistently provide the cues one would need to distinguish weird news from fake news, “unless the [source] is consistently ironic,” Young said.

“Think about the drama over Colbert's ‘ching-chong ding-dong’ joke,” she continued. “That joke, in its original context, was ironic satire, juxtaposing the response of the Redskins' owner with an equally offensive and laughably racist gesture made by Colbert.  When Comedy Central tweeted it, without context, people were robbed of their ability to integrate non-verbal and context cues into their processing of the joke ... and they got pissed off. At Colbert. For being racist. Ahhhh, the irony!” 

Hudson Hongo has a bird's-eye view on all this joke-missing as curator of Literally Unbelievable, the Tumblr that catalogues the very sincere Facebook reactions from people who took an Onion headline seriously. He’s noticed that certain “official”-seeming words tend to fool people; for example, one of the Onion articles he saw the most reaction to last year was headlined, “Poll: Majority of Americans Approve of Sending Congress to Syria.” He says, “People just saw ‘poll,’ ‘majority’ and "Syria" and decided it was a story about how Americans wanted to go to war.”

Processing irony requires some complex juggling of new information with old information housed in your memory, all of it filtered through context cues, Young explained. And some people are simply less inclined to want to do that. “For example, people low in need for cognition—folks who tend to dislike thinking too much—would tend to favor simple, likely physical humor over more complex or text-based humor,” she said. “Next, people with a lower tolerance for ambiguity—who are uncomfortable with implicit or unstructured situations—would tend to favor humor that is explicit and unambiguous over that which is more nuanced, like irony.”

On a similar note, another common thread Hongo has noticed is something he calls “political wish fulfillment.” Sometimes, people just kind of want to believe the fake headline. “During the last election, lots of people believed the story ‘Obama: 'Help Us Destroy Jesus And Start A New Age Of Liberal Darkness' because it confirmed the insane things they had suspected all along,” he said. “Same thing with Planned Parenthood's infamous '$8 Billion Abortionplex,' which Literally Unbelievable caught a congressman posting as legitimate.”

Then again, sometimes the fake stories that catch on are unexplainable. “Right now, the story people are falling for is ClickHole's ‘5 Tragedies Weirdly Predicted By Adam Sandler,’” Hongo said. “So who even knows.”

Aug. 20 2014 12:39 PM

Why I’m a Climate Change Alarmist

I’m sick of having to hide it, so here goes: I’m a climate change alarmist.

There, I said it. After years of fighting off Internet trolls and being ridiculed on Fox News for caring about the Earth and its inhabitants enough to make big changes to my life, I’ve had enough. It’s time that we climate change alarmists reclaim this dismissive term and defend ourselves.

Advertisement

Many of us have been lambasted for talking about the fundamental health of the planet. Climate scientist Kerry Emanuel has written “those interested in treating the issue as an objective problem in risk assessment and management are labeled ‘alarmists,’ a particularly infantile smear considering what is at stake.”

Now, I’m also an optimist. I’m convinced that humanity has the ability to tackle the problem and come to international agreement on how to do so in a fair way. It simply must happen. But for something so serious, it seems like there’s a general lack of alarm, a lack of emotion, and—to be blunt—a lack of ambition to act with the scale and urgency the issue requires.

Tragically, there’s a vast mismatch between our actions to date and what’s needed. This isn’t just another big environmental issue. When the ozone hole was discovered decades ago, the world got together and agreed to change the chemical used in making refrigerators cold. In hindsight, that seems incredibly easy compared to this. Climate change cuts to the core of who we are as a civilization and what kind of world we want to create for our kids. Perhaps understandably, that’s meant that a lot of smart people are really pessimistic about our future.

I may be optimistic, but I’m not naive. I know that the vast majority of humans don’t make daily decisions based on analyzing scientific charts and graphs. The climate change alarmism community has made some strategic mistakes by incessantly focusing on the science and expecting grand changes. In my view, to make any sort of real progress, we’ve instead got to embrace our humanity—and yes, that means shedding the occasional tear when the reality of our situation really hits home.

Last year, days after watching his home country, the Philippines, utterly destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan—the strongest tropical cyclone landfall ever recorded worldwide—climate commissioner Yeb Saño broke down in the middle of the United Nations’ international climate change negotiations, saying “we cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action.” His tears motivated an impromptu global movement. At this point, we need fewer lightbulb-changing PSAs and more of this.

As a scientist and journalist, I’m not supposed to have emotions. I’m supposed to calmly report researchers’ findings as if my family and I weren’t also being affected. But looking at the data in as much detail as I have, it’s impossible not to be alarmed. On an average day, I’m also disgusted, terrified, and angry.

So why aren’t more people outraged?

Few things are more important to human life than the environment, but hundreds of generations of experience have baked in a reasonable assurance that the future will be approximately like the past.

For the first time in human history, it won’t.

Save the specter of nuclear war or an Armageddon-style asteroid strike, there’s really not much that could wipe us out as quickly as climate change. Those two things haven’t happened (yet), but global warming is happening, right now.

The biggest problem with responding to climate change is that at the human scale, it’s impossible to fathom what’s happening. The problem isn’t how hot it’s getting (it’s been hotter before for different reasons) but the sheer rate of change. In a sentence, here’s what’s happening: Carbon-storing rocks, gas, and oil that took millions of years to accumulate are being returned to the atmosphere over a period of a few decades—almost instantaneously. That’s producing geologic-timescale changes in the span of a single human lifetime.

If you’re a piece of basalt, maybe you can think on geologic timescales. I can’t.

Within our lifetimes, we’ll almost assuredly enter a climate phase that hasn’t been seen since before humans even existed. And the scarier thing, for me, is what’s needed to get back on track. The scale of the problem demands a revolution in thought and action. Pioneering climate scientist James Hansen, who recently quit his job at NASA so he could protest more effectively, is calling for a “human tipping point.”

A lot of us get a mental short circuit when we think about climate change. It’s so crazy, it can’t possibly be happening, right?

The most visible manifestation of this is the debate between hard-core climate activists and vocal skeptics who deride the scientific consensus. I think this is distracting, so I’ve tried to largely remove myself from it. (Don’t feed the trolls, right?) There’s been a fascinating line of research lately that examines something called “stealth denial.” It’s become clear that vast sections of society—including people who can really make a difference—have largely tuned out climate change. This seems to be happening for three reasons: They believe they don’t contribute to the problem that much, they believe that the problem is so scary that they hope it goes away, or they believe their individual actions to help out won’t matter that much anyway. Here’s what our message should be: You can make a difference. In fact, you’re our best hope.

In last week’s Slate Culture Gabfest podcast, there was a fabulous discussion of talking about the weather. In conversations with friends, it’s clear that there’s a growing realization that something is somehow different. In the Gabfest, Dana Stevens said she thought that weather and climate has recently re-entered public discourse in a way that’s new: “The two things are woven together in ways we can't extricate.” John Swansburg lamented the loss of the traditionally easy conversation starter: “Talking about the weather brings up all these fears and anxieties that maybe it didn’t in the past.” The hard part is turning that fear and anxiety into real change.

It’s clear to me the status quo isn’t working anymore. It’s time to shake things up. Our actions for the next few years and decades will determine if basic things like agriculture and coastal living can continue on for the next hundreds of years in vast stretches of the planet. More importantly, it’s time for us to embrace the range of emotions we feel when confronted with the realization that the planet we’ve known for generations is fundamentally changing. Right now, with calm, clear rationality, big corporations and their friends in Congress continue to claim that they've got everything under control.

And if that isn’t something to be alarmed about, I don’t know what is.

Aug. 19 2014 6:38 PM

Symantec Is Ditching Antivirus for an All-in-One Norton Security Suite

In May, Symantec's senior vice president for information security, Brian Dye, said something kind of amazing. He bluntly stated that antivirus is dead. But he hadn't gone totally rogue, in spite of the fact that he works for an IT security company best-known for its antivirus products. Symantec as a whole was preparing to shift gears. Now Norton Security is here.

If you've always been kind of confused by the difference between Norton Antivirus, Norton Internet Security and Norton 360 (which comes in Multi-Device and Premier Edition versions) you will never have to learn! That's because Norton Security is an effort to merge Norton products into one subscription service. Instead of paying for different components to protect against different things, it'll all be there in one place.

Advertisement

You'll be able to register as many as five devices on your Norton account across desktop and mobile—Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS will all be supported. And if you want cloud storage for backups you can pay more for Norton Security with Backup. That's it.

Norton Security is still in beta, but CNET reports that the ballpark for pricing is around $80 to $100, comparable to current Norton offerings. Hopefully the new product will be a step toward taking cybersecurity out of the dark ages for home users, and providing easier access to new techniques as cyberdefense strategies continue to evolve. It can't be more annoying than the old Norton.

Aug. 19 2014 3:40 PM

Imgur, Reddit Team Up for Web Data Research Platform Aptly Named DERP

Since they have such extensive data access, Internet services experimenting on their users isn't really surprising. But as examples of the practice trickle out, people have felt increasingly uncomfortable. Now Imgur, Reddit, FARK, Stack Exchange, and Twitch are all partnering to create a platform where academic researchers can do transparent and publicly accessible data projects.

And it's aptly named the Digital Ecologies Research Partnership ... or DERP!

Advertisement
It remains difficult to conduct good cross-platform analyses in academic research. By bringing a number of community sites together under a single cooperative effort, we intend to lower the friction of doing so ... DERP will only support research that respects user privacy, responsibly uses data, and meets [institutional review board] approval.

This doesn't preclude companies from keeping a private stash of data if they want to, but DERP is meant as a pipeline for academic inquiries and data requests. A list of DERP fellows includes researchers from Harvard, MIT, Georgia Tech, and other institutions. 

Tim Hwang, Imgur's head of special initiatives, told the Guardian that, “In most cases, the data provided through Derp will already be accessible through public APIs. Our belief is that there are ways of doing research better, and in a way that strongly respects user privacy and responsible use of data.”

Hwang points out that DERP can assist with research into things like social interaction and information sharing on the Web, as in Stanford's altruism study on Random Acts of Pizza (a subreddit) that was published in May.

It doesn't change a company's ability to do what it wants with your data, but at least DERP has a chance of making academic Internet study less, well, derpy.

Aug. 19 2014 11:42 AM

Another Unpronounceable Icelandic Volcano Is Getting Ready to Explode

With a fidgety volcano on their hands, officials in Iceland have begun preparations for what could be a busy week.

An intense earthquake swarm began Saturday deep beneath Bárðarbunga, Iceland’s largest volcano complex. (Here’s how to pronounce it.) As of Tuesday, the Icelandic Met Office cautions there’s no evidence yet of magma moving toward the surface or that an eruption is imminent. Still, Iceland is springing into action, which suggests the threat is real. These people know their volcanoes.

Advertisement

Due to the weekend’s heightened seismicity, on Monday the Icelandic Met Office raised its aviation color code for Bárðarbunga to orange to signify a “heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.” (In response, the stock price of Icelandair fell by 4.35 percent.)

Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson met with civil defense officials on Monday, and roads near the remote volcano have been closed. Iceland Magazine reports that Iceland’s National Commissioner of Police has declared a Civil Protection Uncertainty Phase, increasing surveillance of the volcano and its surroundings. The Icelandic Coast Guard deployed additional seismic monitors by helicopter over the weekend.

[Update, Aug. 20, 2014: Iceland's National Crisis Coordination Center has been activated, and a large uninhabited area surrounding the volcano has been evacuated. The Icelandic Met Office reports that about 1,000 small earthquakes occurred near the volcano on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Iceland's Civil Protection raised the nation's threat level from Uncertainty Phase to Alert Phase.]

The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service has positioned a webcam to keep an eye on the volcano.

How likely is an eruption? And how bad could it be?

Bárðarbunga is a big volcano directly beneath Iceland’s largest glacier. Over the past 10,000 years, it has erupted “more lava than any other volcano on the planet.” Still, not much is known about it, mostly because it sits below so much ice. Plus, the last major eruption here was more than 100 years ago.

In a country so defined by its seismicity, even the politicians are scientists. Geologist Ari Trausti Guðmundsson was a presidential candidate in 2012, and he laid out a broad overview of possible scenarios in a blog post Monday:

It is impossible to predict how the processes will develop. A volcanic eruption could start under the ice east or north of Bardarbunga. In this case it would produce ash and pumice but in unknown quantities and with an unknown force. A large flood (jökulhlaup) is not to be ruled out and the flood path would most likely follow the glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum in the northeast of Iceland.

An eruption could, however, commence outside of the Dyngjujökull outlet glacier as a lava-producing event. In that case, air traffic disturbance is highly unlikely.

The third scenario would be a combination of the other two.

GPS measurements from a station just north of Bárðarbunga in recent days show movement well beyond the bounds of readings taken over the last year.

Via an email conversation, Gísli Pálsson, an anthropologist at the University of Iceland agreed that even in Iceland, an earthquake swarm like this is raising eyebrows. “There is a risk of false alarm, but on the other hand we should try to be objective and say something immediately. The alarm signal is orange and rescue teams are preparing for eruption. This could either be outside the glacier, with floods to the north, or under the glacier, with risks for air travel.”

Before this week, earthquake activity near Bárðarbunga had been increasing for years. It is near the apex of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that separates the North American Plate from the Eurasian Plate.

An Icelandic anthropologist at the University of Oslo, Ásdís Jónsdóttir, said that judging by the region’s history, a large-scale event isn’t out of the question:

It is perhaps interesting to note that the theory is that Iceland is formed because a hot-spot and the mid-Atlantic ridge coincide. This part of Iceland (Bárðarbunga-Grímsvötn) is thought to be at the center of the hot-spot. Bárðarbunga and Grímsvötn have fed some of the largest eruptions in Iceland, such as the catastrophic 1783 eruption in Laki (not situated under the glacier) which is the greatest natural disaster in Iceland's history. There are also signs of huge floods from this area in northern Iceland before the settlement—such as the canyons of Ásbyrgi and Jökulsárgljúfur in northern Iceland.

In a post on his blog late Monday, geologist Carl Rehnberg went a step further, saying an eruption is now probable, and a small one may have in fact already begun somewhere deep below the ice. Until we get official confirmation of this, he’s assembled a comprehensive list of ways to track the volcano.

Rehnberg’s (unofficial and admittedly unlikely) worst-case scenario is frightening: “Forget flying for half a year.” His disclaimer? “What I write are just the musings from someone who has read everything ever published on Icelandic volcanism. A lot of what is happening is in unknown territory.”

His team at Volcano Café made a scouting flight over the area on Monday to see what they could see. The photos are stunning.

screen_shot_20140819_at_12.02.24_am
Projected ash plumes should Bárðarbunga erupt on Tuesday.

Courtesy of NOAA ARL

Should the volcano erupt on Tuesday (and again, there are no official indications an eruption is imminent), upper level winds are aligned such that ash would be transported southwards toward the UK, Ireland, and France. I ran a volcanic ash trajectory model, with results below:

A 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano shut down most of Europe’s air travel for days. In an interview on Monday with The Conversation blog, British volcanologist Dave McGarvie said a similar eruption today wouldn’t cause nearly as much disruption, thanks to changed guidelines and improved ash forecasting.

He’s been the most active scientist on Twitter covering the volcano:

He also shared some stunning photos from his fieldwork:

Thanks to Ben Orlove at Columbia University for arranging the email thread with the Icelandic anthropologists.

READ MORE STORIES