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Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Posted on Dec 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Akademik Shokalskiy

SMH Photo: Andrew Peacock/www.footloosefoto

Ice-cave-antartica-herbert-ponting-main

 Herbert Ponting – the Terra Nova

Antarctic rescue musings by David McGonigal

No I’m not stuck in the ice

Thanks for all the queries but fortunately I’m not stuck near Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay on board the Akademik Shokalskiy, awaiting rescue or evacuation. Rather I’m sweltering in Sydney on New Year’s Eve. In my 100+ voyages to the Antarctic I’ve yet to be on a ship beset in ice (touching wood as I type). However, I’ve assisted in rescues and experienced much that the Southern Ocean can throw at you. So, since the Shokalskiy became stuck, I’ve been following the saga with great interest and here are a few observations. These are based on no more than the news reports everyone else has been seeing, too.

A summer of setbacks for Antarctic Science

Today (the morning of Tuesday 31 December) it looks like the decision has been made to take passengers and staff off the ship (by Chinese helicopter from the ice to the Aurora Australis), leaving just the Russian crew. That will take the drama out of the situation and allow the Chinese and Australian vessels to return to their resupply work for the summer science program  that runs on a very tight timetable during the short polar summer. This year looks set to be a setback for ongoing Antarctic science programs – by far the the biggest being that the US budget dispute was not resolved in time to allow US programs to run this summer and, more relevant for Australian science, my understanding is that the Aurora Australis left for the rescue attempt halfway through resupplying Casey Base.

Once there is just the 20 or so crew left on the Shokalskiy they simply wait until they can get free. That won’t be a problem for the crew – the ship normally carries months of extra provisions and Russian polar ships’ crews have done extended research in the past where they only returned home after more than a year at sea. The ship is their real home and I’ve worked with some who have been on the ship since it was built more than 20 years ago.

“Like an almond in toffee”

The Shokalskiy was built to ice-strengthened Russian specs in Finland in 1982. It’s Shuleykin-class so it’s quite small (1753 GRT) and sturdy. However, it’s getting quite old and several of the others in this class have been withdrawn from working in Antarctica. Ideally, the wind will change and the ice will scatter and the ship can escape. Or it will spend a while “like an almond in toffee” as one of Shackleton’s men put it. From what we hear, I don’t have much fear for its safety. The two main risks are that the ice will push it towards land or shoals or that an iceberg could collide with it. The sea ice that the ship is stuck in is moved mainly by the wind; icebergs, on the other hand, with their deep ‘keels’ are moved by ocean currents and sometime a large iceberg looks like an icebreaker plowing through sea ice.

I hope everyone has been impressed by the way the Chinese, French and Australian vessels rushed to the rescue?  That’s the seafarers’ code – to always aid a stricken vessel when it calls for assistance. However, once the people (and ship) are safe there’s the matter of who pays? This operation will have already directly cost millions of dollars (and many more in curtailed programs) so there will be a hefty bill. I’ve known rescuers to bill at exorbitant full commercial rates. Hopefully, insurance will cover it.

Down the line deeper questions will be asked. How and why did the ship get stuck? I have no idea but I bet there are rumours soon enough – and they will only be dispelled after a lengthy enquiry, if there is one.

Science, safety and tourism

For me, once the passengers, crew and ship are safe, the most worrying ramification will be the impact this has on Antarctic tourism. Antarctica is a continent run by the nations of the Antarctic Treaty “for peace and science”. There is provision for tourism and generally that operates in a safe and responsible way. Even so, many scientists regard tourism as a diversion and an unnecessary risk and some would like to see it limited or stopped. This incident will add to that pressure. Never mind that tourist ships often help scientific research programs and research bases, just as the science ships are helping a tourist ship right now. Antarctic tourists soon become and Antarctic advocates with an important role to play in promoting its preservation. The outcome of the next Antarctic Treaty meeting may be crucial to those of us who love Antarctica and love the opportunity to show it to travellers with a passion for the last great wilderness.

 

David McGonigal is an expedition leader in Antarctica who has visited it on more than 100 occasions. He heads back at the end of January 2014. He, with co-author Dr Lynn Woodworth, is the author of “Antarctica – the Complete Story”, “The Blue Continent” and “Antarctica – Secrets of the Southern Continent”.

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America’s Antarctic Program in Jeopardy Through US government shutdown

Posted on Oct 9, 2013 | Comments Off on America’s Antarctic Program in Jeopardy Through US government shutdown

Antarctic marine sanctuaries : Adelie and emperor penguins, Bay of Whales, Ross Sea, Antarctica

National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that it is putting its three Antarctic scientific stations in deep freeze.

 The federal government shutdown is reaching all the way down to the South Pole.

The National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that it is putting its three Antarctic scientific stations in deep freeze just as scientists are starting to arrive for the start of a new research season.

The NSF runs three stations in Antarctica spending just under $400m a year there. It often takes weeks for some 1,200 researchers to get to the southern continent by boat or plane.

Scientists say October is when spring and summer research starts in Antarctica. A ship had been scheduled to arrive Wednesday with researchers, including those working on a long term study that has tracked penguins and other creatures since 1990.

A skeleton staff will remain for safety and property protection.

Associated Press in Washington

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Sydney Harbour’s Q Station earns sustainable award

Posted on Oct 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Sydney Harbour’s Q Station earns sustainable award

Q-Station-North-Head-420x0Retreat on Sydney Harbor earns sustainable award

Award collected by Karan Singh, Pres., Skal Intl. Sydney North, on behalf of Mawland Quarantine Stn.

Oct 07, 2013

Adaptive reuse of the old Quarantine Station at North Head Manly has ensured public access to and awareness of the buildings behind the stories of those who came to Australia through the site (from nineteenth century migrants to the orphans of Operation Babylift from Saigon in 1975) and those who have worked to protect them. The Quarantine Station has integrated environmental management and sustainable management practices into operation of a successful hotel.

For twelve consecutive years, the Skal International “Sustainable Development in Tourism” Awards have been presented during the Opening Ceremony of its annual World Congress. Skal recently closed its 74th World Congress aboard the Carnival Glory, the first time this yearly event took place on a cruise ship. This year, Q Station Retreat in Australia won an award in the category of Urban Accommodation.

This award will increase international awareness of this iconic Sydney site and allow the hopes and dreams of those who passed through it to be remembered. Quarantine Station has also recently been named as a finalist in the New South Wales Governmental Green Globe Awards for operation of the site on the principles of conservation, heritage protection and sustainability wherever possible having regard to the heritage nature of the buildings in which we operate. The Quarantine Station, trading as QStation, has come to be known as the “Jewel in the Crown” of Sydney Harbour National Park and has already won many awards and media commendation for our serene setting, stylish reuse of this historic place and our pristine natural environment. Over the last five years we have consistently won awards for best MICE and Upscale boutique hotel properties at the Hotel Management Australia Awards, and have received grants from the state and federal governments to support our conservation programs.

Quarantine Station recognizes the valuable legacy of this harbor-side site and are committed to the conservation and interpretation of the Q Station as a place of national and international significance in the history of health and migration. To date Mawland has committed $17M to development of the site, with $8 million to the conservation of the site, creation of a public museum and curation of the historical collections. Quarantine Station cares for over 15,000 historical items, the most significant of which are on public display. Indeed, the site is sustainable by the very nature of its complete adaptive reuse of the buildings and operational structures of the old quarantine station.

Quarantine Station is listed on the Australian National Heritage Register alongside fellow harbor icons: Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a stunningly beautiful and lovingly restored retreat, home to the story of migration to Australia and custodian of historical artefacts of national significance. Within its 30 hectare estate lie 65 buildings and nearly 200 years of memories from post European arrivals.

Mawland is very proud of our record on this site. We have established a viable commercial operation which is managed by Accor and have received many awards and kudos for our operations on site. Within the limitations of operating on a widely spread area, which involves balancing daily logistics of transport of guests, food and beverage, staff and supplies , arrivals of guests by water and road, compliance with strict State consent conditions and operation within historic premises which were not purpose built for operation of a hospitality business we have achieved public, governmental and media approval for sustainability and investment in the natural and cultural heritage of the site.

Within our code of having minimal impact on the natural environment we are welcoming about 3000 visitors per week to the site. We are a showcase for environmental management and cultural preservation.

Our approach to adaptive reuse has been applauded and as a result we have been invited to prepare a paper for the influential Tourism and Transport Forum on the Adaptive reuse approach to redevelopment of government assets and our Directors Max Player and Suzanne Stanton have been invited to join the Sydney Harbour National Landscape Steering Committee.

Extensive publicity and marketing of the site, highlighting sustainability, conservation, adaptive reuse and the cultural and the fascinating history of the site has led to QStation being seen as one of the emerging icons of Sydney tourism.

For more information, go to www.quarantinestation.com.au

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Italy’s Matera promotes less-known World Heritage Sites

Posted on Oct 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Italy’s Matera promotes less-known World Heritage Sites

matera_-_i_sassi

Matera, one of the most remarkable sights iTravelTree has seen in Southern Italy is endeavouring to promote both itself and other, often overlooked, UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Matera is a world-renowned city for its almost prehistoric-like human shelters entangled on a hillside and named “I Sassi” (the stones). I Sassi shelters were evacuated for many years until UNESCO included it in its list of World Heritage sites. It is the first city in the South Italian region to enjoy said privilege – a bliss for the city that began to revive its “dormant treasure,” owing it to newcomers – artists of various cultures pioneering the Sassi renaissance.

Back in the 70s, I Sassi was an ideal location for a number of movie films. Among these, P.P.Pasolini (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo), King David (starring Richard Gere), and La Passione di Cristo by Mel Gibson. The latest generation of film directors have also contributed to further spread the image of this biblical-age portion of the city of Matera.

The Chamber of Commerce of Matera recently decided to create a network called Mirabilia. It includes UNESCO minor cities, “deliberately” excluding those already universally known, in order to promote them in a coordinated manner to Italian and foreign tourists. “In Italy we have a variety of traditions unique in the world, and every UNESCO World Heritage site, especially the minor ones, have a particular characteristic that distinguishes themselves from others,” said Angelo Tortorelli, President of Mirabilia. “Our project is to unite them all, enhancing the value and importance of each respective territory,” he added.

The Chamber of Commerce’s vision is to create a cooperation synonymous of strength and to break up the competition existing among territories.

“In this case, Union Camere’s idea is to create the force – our idea,” says Vito Signati, Director of the Chamber of Commerce of Matera. He added that it is to propose tourism off the beaten path, tourism with a soul. This year the project has been expanded as compared to last year and incorporates nine cities, namely: Brindisi, La Spezia, Genova, L’Aquila, Matera, Perugia, Salerno, Udine, and Vicenza.

“By connecting areas which have a common historical, cultural, and economic life, we wish to propose them to the attention of the domestic and international tourism consumer, with the objective to decentralize and extend their seasonality,” Signati said.

The final aim is to promote the services offered by each territory for the creation of custom-made package tours connecting the Mirabilia destinations. The new itineraries will be proposed for short and long weekends as well as one-week tours.

The handling of this very new (for Italy) type of tour packages has been assigned to Caldana Tour Operator, selected by Mirabilia for its high reliability and deep experience in the field. However, the mandate is not of exclusivity and is open to new applicants.

“The initiative will be presented in Moscow on October 11 to the local travel trade at the Italian Embassy venue, the Rimini travel mart, “TTG Incontri,” being held from October 17-19 and November 5 at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London. The highlight of the 2013 edition presentation will end in Matera on November 25 to 27 in connection with the “Cultural Tourism Fair.”

For more information, go to www.mirabilianetwork.eu

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The Arctic – Two Sides of the Same Story Pt 1

Posted on Oct 6, 2013 | Comments Off on The Arctic – Two Sides of the Same Story Pt 1

Figure

Fig 1.

Figure 1. A geography of the Arctic. (The International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean, courtesy of Martin Jakobsson.)

The Arctic shifts to a new normal

Martin O. Jeffries, James E. Overland, and Donald K. Perovich

October 2013, page 35

On 5 September 1980, when the Arctic sea-ice cover reached its minimum extent for the year, it blanketed much of the Arctic Ocean and choked the inter-island channels of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. Not only did ice extend over 7.5 million square kilometers, almost equal in area to the contiguous 48 US states, but it was an old, and thus thick, ice cover: 62% was multiyear sea ice—that which survives one or more summer melt seasons—and 38% was first-year sea ice. The age and thickness of the ice made it resilient to atmospheric and oceanic forcing, such as solar radiation, storms, and air and water temperatures. Consequently, the seasonal cycle of winter advance and summer retreat was thought to be in a near steady state.
The extensive, thick ice cover that persisted through the end of the summer was considered normal at the time and for many years afterwards. It was expected of a region generally perceived to be cold, hostile, and isolated from the rest of the world, a zone of Cold War confrontation yet of little immediate consequence to most people. Northern residents would rightly have disagreed with that characterization, and multinational corporations were finding and profitably exploiting large energy and mineral reserves. The Prudhoe Bay oil field in northernmost Alaska had been producing for three years—and continues to do so—and the Polaris mine on Little Cornwallis Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago was to begin 22 years of lead and zinc production in 1981. And scientists continued to visit, almost exclusively in the summer—rather like migratory birds—to conduct fieldwork. (See figure 1 for a map of the region.)
In October 1980 Syukuro Manabe and Ronald Stouffer (both then working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory) reported the results of a numerical experiment on the sensitivity of global climate to a quadrupling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.1 The consequences for the Arctic were profound. Their model projected an asymmetric seasonal surface air-temperature response—greater winter warming than summer warming in the Arctic itself, and greater winter and annual warming in the Arctic than at lower latitudes. It also projected a large decline in sea-ice extent and thickness.
Whereas Manabe and Stouffer’s simulation quadrupled the atmospheric CO2 concentrations in its artificial world, the actual increase to date has been much lower. At Barrow in northernmost Alaska, for example, the mean CO2concentration of 385 ppm in September 2012 was only 15% higher than the 331 ppm of September 1980. And yet profound changes in surface air temperature, sea ice, and numerous other environmental conditions have occurred in the Arctic.

Retreating sea ice

On 16 September 2012, the minimum extent of sea ice was 3.4 million square kilometers, the lowest since satellite observations began in 1979 and 55% less coverage than existed in September 1980, as shown in figure 2. In September 2012 there was little sea ice in the inter-island channels of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago, and in the Arctic basin the summer ice edge was distant from the Alaskan and Eurasian coasts. The 2012 ice cover was also younger and thinner, with 58% of it less than a year old. A thin ice cover is less resilient and more prone to melting and retreat in summer than a thick one. It is also more translucent and thus allows greater light transmission into the underlying ocean. One consequence is a rise in what’s known as primary production—that is, photosynthesis by algae and phytoplankton—in the water below the ice and in previously ice-covered waters.
Figure

Fig 2.

Figure 2. The decline in areal extent of Arctic sea ice has been mapped daily since 1979 by satellites using passive microwave sensors. (a) Between September 1980, when the summer minimum was 7.5 million square kilometers, and September 2012, when there were 3.4 million square kilometers of ice, the end of summer ice extent has shrunk by 55%. (b)Minimum (September) and maximum (March) ice-extent anomalies for each year are plotted beginning in 1979, when satellite observations began. Each data point represents the departure of the measured ice extent in March and September each year from the average of those months over the reference period 1979–2012. (Data are from the Sea Ice Index, National Snow and Ice Data Center; see http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index. Walt Meier provided the plot.)
The minimum extent of sea ice is currently declining by an average of 91 600 km2 per year, roughly equivalent to the area of Maine, or −13.0% per decade relative to the 1979–2000 average. The maximum extent, typically recorded in March, is also declining, though at a slower rate of −2.6% per decade, and in March 2013 sea ice more than a year old made up only 30% of the ice cover. The shift to a younger, thinner ice cover is due to dynamic and thermodynamic processes, but determining the relative contribution of each remains a difficult research problem (see the article by Ron Kwok and Norbert Untersteiner in Physics TodayApril 2011, page 36).
The decline in summer sea-ice extent has attracted growing media attention since 2007, when a precipitous drop shook the scientific community. That drop was followed by yet another to a new low in the summer of 2012. Indeed, the six years from 2007 through 2012 have seen the lowest ice extents in the satellite record (see figure 2b). The marked downward trend experienced in those years suggests a shift to a new normal for sea ice. Profound change is not limited to sea ice, though. A new normal is evident throughout the Arctic environment—in the atmosphere, in the ocean, and on land.

What else is changing

Global warming produces a larger effect in the Arctic than it does in midlatitudes, as shown in figure 3 and as predicted by Manabe and Stouffer.1 (Incidentally, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius was the first, in 1896, to quantify the contribution of CO2 to the greenhouse effect and to suggest greater warming in the Arctic than at lower latitudes.) Arctic air temperature increased in all seasons during the period 2000–09, with the greatest warming in autumn and winter.2Mean annual temperature in the Arctic is now 1.5 °C higher than the 1971–2000 average; that’s more than double the warming at lower latitudes during the same period.3
Figure

Fig 3.

Figure 3. Annual near-surface air temperature changes in the Northern Hemisphere are mapped as the average temperature measured between 2001 and 2012 relative to the average temperature for the 30-year baseline period 1971–2000. Arctic temperature changes of +2–3 °C, compared with the more modest rise of +0.5–1 °C in midlatitude regions, exemplify Arctic amplification of global climate change. Higher temperatures in all parts of the Arctic indicate a response to global change rather than to natural regional variability. (Data are from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado:http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd.)
As the sea ice has retreated, it has exposed an ever-growing area of open water to solar radiation, and ocean heating each summer has increased due to the large difference in albedo—the fraction of solar irradiance reflected by the surface—between ice and water.4 Consequently, August sea-surface temperatures are now as much as 3 °C higher than their 1982–2006 average, and the upper-ocean heat content has increased by as much as 25% in the Canada Basin’s Beaufort Gyre, compared with its content in the 1970s. The Beaufort Gyre is also the region of the greatest freshwater accumulation in the Arctic Ocean, up about 25% since the 1970s, a rise that has strengthened the stratification of the upper ocean and deepened the halocline.3
The halocline is the upper-ocean layer in which a strong salinity gradient and near-freezing temperatures maintain the water column’s stability, which keeps apart the cold surface waters and sea ice above from the warmer Pacific and Atlantic waters below. In the Canada Basin, the halocline lies at depths of 50–150 m, just above Pacific water that enters the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait,3 where oceanic fluxes of heat and freshwater have increased by some 50% since 2001.
Sea ice is integral to the marine ecosystem, and its decline has biological consequences. Satellite measurements, shown in figure 4, reveal a roughly 20% overall increase in ocean primary production between 1998 and 2009, mostly on the Eurasian side of the Arctic Ocean due to increases in the extent and duration of open water.5 Unexpectedly massive under-ice phytoplankton blooms, found in July 2011 to extend at least 150 km into consolidated pack ice in the Chukchi Sea, suggest that previous estimates of annual primary production might be 10 times too low in waters where such under-ice blooms occur.6 The blooms might benefit from sea-ice melt ponds acting as skylights that channel solar radiation to the water below the ice.
Figure

Fig 4.

Figure 4. The maximum Normalized Difference Vegetation Index(MaxNDVI) is a measure of vegetation greenness observed from space. It is also a proxy for aboveground biomass at the peak of the growing season. Shown here is the change it underwent from 1982 to 2011 and, with the same color bar, the change in total annual primary production—a measure of photosynthesis by algae and phytoplankton in units of grams of carbon per square meter per year—over the period 1998–2009 in the Arctic Ocean and adjacent waters. (Adapted from ref. 3, prepared by Karen Frey and Uma Bhatt.)
In the Canada Basin, by contrast, the strengthening of upper-ocean stratification and deepening of the halocline may be limiting primary production. Coupled with the uptake of atmospheric CO2, the reduced primary production probably accounts for the acidification of surface waters in the Canada Basin.7
Researchers looking at the other end of the biota size scale find that the loss of sea-ice habitat is negatively affecting certain marine mammals. Walruses, for instance, have increasingly limited access to summer sea-ice cover where they normally rest while feeding in shallow continental-shelf waters near the coasts of Russia and Alaska; instead, they are going ashore in large numbers along the Chukchi coasts of Russia and Alaska, farther from the feeding grounds. There is also evidence for the migration of mollusk, crab, and fish species northward through the Bering Strait. A shift to an ecosystem whose food web is spread throughout the water column rather than localized on the sea bottom of the Chukchi Sea8 would favor species such as bowhead, fin, humpback, minke, and blue whales, while bottom feeders, such as walruses, bearded seals, and diving ducks, would be disadvantaged.
On land, snow-cover duration is declining in North America and Eurasia, primarily due to earlier spring melt, which reduces the land surface albedo.9,10 As terrestrial snow cover and sea ice have retreated and the sea surface has warmed, tundra greenness and aboveground biomass (see figure 4), particularly shrubs, have increased.
Change is also occurring belowground. A steady increase in permafrost temperature on the North Slope of Alaska exemplifies a circumpolar trend that has been evident since the mid-20th century.3 What’s more, the warming has coincided with observations of large fluxes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere from terrestrial and offshore sources. Reassuringly, though, evidence to date indicates that natural methane emissions in the Arctic have not risen significantly in the past decade.11
Glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland ice sheet are rapidly losing mass (see figure 5), a worrisome trend given their potential role in sea-level rise. On the Greenland ice sheet, the area and duration of melting have been increasing, and the surface albedo has been decreasing7 since satellite observations of the two effects began in 1979 and 2000, respectively. Strong advection of warm air from the south in recent summers has contributed to the extensive surface melting and mass losses from the Greenland ice sheet and Canadian Arctic glaciers and ice caps.3
Figure

Fig 5.

Figure 5. The Greenland ice sheet and glaciers and ice caps in the Gulf of Alaska region and the high Canadian Arctic have been losing mass, by melting and iceberg calving, since GRACE satellite observations began more than 10 years ago. Mass loss, in gigatons, from the Greenland ice sheet is accelerating and is currently almost three times the combined total loss from the Alaskan and Canadian sources. The seasonal cycle of winter snow accumulation and summer melting is evident in the oscillations recorded from each region. (Adapted from ref. 7, prepared by Marco Tedesco and Gabe Wolken.)

Sources of Arctic amplification

Manabe and Stouffer did not use the term, but the strong, all-season temperature response in the Arctic to CO2-induced global warming is now commonly referred to as Arctic amplification. As mentioned earlier, the actual increase in Earth’s atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gas levels since 1980 is a small fraction of that used in the Manabe–Stouffer model. The disparity raises the question of what drives the amplification. The short answer is modest external forcing from midlatitudes combined with multiple positive feedbacks within the Arctic system itself; for more details, see the accounts by Mark Serreze and Roger Barry2 and by Julienne Stroeve and her coauthors.4
The spatial synthesis of atmospheric data, known as reanalysis fields, offers evidence that the poleward transport of energy in the troposphere leads to higher Arctic air temperatures at the surface, particularly in winter. Satellite measurements indicate that the heat flux into the Arctic is accompanied by an increase in cloud cover and water vapor. Clouds amplify the effects of surface warming by augmenting the net downward long-wave radiation flux and the greenhouse effect of water vapor (see the article by Bjorn Stevens and Sandrine Bony in Physics TodayJune 2013, page 29), particularly in winter and spring. Model studies indicate that the warming might be further enhanced by the rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon aerosols, known as black carbon or soot, which also absorb solar radiation. Black carbon deposition might be reducing the albedo and thus accelerating the melting of sea ice and of snow and ice on land.
The poleward transport of atmospheric heat and moisture causes local changes in the sea-ice cover and other Arctic-specific variables. Higher air temperatures at the surface reduce winter sea-ice growth rates; the thinner cover is then more vulnerable to melting in spring. Areas of dark (low-albedo), radiation-absorbing open water, in turn, lead to further melting. The increase in the ocean’s heat content inevitably delays the autumn freeze.
Ponds of meltwater that accumulate on the sea ice absorb an increasing amount of solar radiation as they grow larger, which leads to further melting over the course of a summer. The albedo effect also applies to glaciers and snow on land. On the Greenland ice sheet, for example, the decreasing albedo of the ice surface promotes further melting and runoff, an effect enhanced by a decline in summer snowfall. On land, atmospheric warming leads to earlier snow melt in late spring and exposure of the darker land surface. That exposure, in turn, further warms the surface and the atmosphere above it.
The transport of Atlantic and Pacific waters also provides heat to the Arctic. However, those water masses flow many tens of meters below the surface, and the processes by which the heat would reach the surface of the highly stratified upper-ocean water column remain to be determined. A new upper-ocean feature is the so-called near-surface temperature maximum. Originating from solar warming in summer, the NSTM is residual heat that has survived autumn cooling and has the potential to melt ice in the subsequent winter and reduce the maximum ice thickness.
The combination of external forces and regional feedbacks doesn’t alter only the Arctic environment. Interestingly, growing evidence suggests that changes in the Arctic have their own effects at lower latitudes, as outlined in the box onpage 37.

Socioeconomic consequences

The Arctic Ocean and adjacent subarctic seas supply food for indigenous peoples whose culture and traditional way of life are affected by the prevalence of open water. They now must travel farther offshore—over more unstable ice or through increasingly rough seas—to hunt mammals that live in icy habitats. The wave action on thawing and vulnerable shorelines accelerates the coastal erosion and is affecting village, archaeological, and sacred sites. In Alaska, the estimated cost of relocating a single village farther inland is on the order of $100 million.
Roads, railways, runways, pipelines, harbors, and homes are all vulnerable to effects of warming in permafrost-rich regions. Yet the demand for new construction and its impact on residents and the environment will only rise with the predicted increase in oil, gas, and mineral extraction efforts. Recognizing a growing interest in an Arctic Ocean fishery, the US declared a moratorium on commercial fishing in its Arctic waters in 2009, citing the need to learn more about fish stocks and the ecosystem.
Maritime transportation, including cruise-ship traffic and summertime trans-Arctic shipping that takes advantage of the shorter distance between Europe and Asia, is also expected to rise. The prospect of increased vessel traffic and natural resource extraction indicates the need for other types of supporting infrastructure and capabilities—for instance, maritime domain awareness, oil-spill prevention and response, search and rescue, and communications—in a region where they are severely limited. Some people predict that global competition for natural resources will lead to confrontation, instability, and militarization. Others doubt such consequences in a region where governance is considered to be strong.

Whither the Arctic?

The Arctic environment is highly sensitive to increases in global mean temperatures and ultimately to the continuing increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration. That sensitivity is manifest as large and persistent physical and biological shifts relative to previous observations and suggests a new normal for the Arctic environmental system.
For all the evidence of system-wide environmental change, the Arctic remains a data-sparse region. Observations are far from comprehensive; the infrastructure required to make them—for instance, weather stations, stream gauges, and snow courses—is often threatened with diminishment or outright shutdown, and open data access has yet to be universally adopted. As a result, opportunities to detect change will remain limited, as will our understanding of the processes behind it and our ability to forecast the future. Those are all problems that frustrate public and private planners, managers, and policymakers who must make decisions based on the Arctic’s new normal environmental state.
For example, it’s been known for years that the observed rate of sea-ice retreat exceeds the rate simulated using climate models. And despite a great deal of effort that has gone into improving the models in preparation for the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the spread among the current generation of models remains large,12 as shown in figure 6.
Figure

Fig 6.

Figure 6. Sea-ice extent is declining faster than models predict.The large spread of ±1 standard deviation (SD; gray) in 84 predictions of ice extent from 36 different current models underscores the uncertainty about the future state of the ice cover and the need to improve our understanding of air-ice-ocean processes and their representation in the models. These and similar results form the basis for the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The black curve plots observational data dating back to 1953 from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The yellow and blue curves are the mean and median of the model results, respectively. (Adapted from ref. 13.)
Indeed, an extrapolation of the trend in sea-ice volume estimates suggests that nearly ice-free Arctic summers could become the norm as soon as a decade or so.13 By contrast, models that form the basis for AR5 predict that won’t happen until mid century (roughly 2060, according to the median line in figure 6). The gap is relevant for policymakers: The observation-based estimate lends an urgency to the issue of responding to climate change; the model-projected estimates do not. Many Arctic scientists consider that although the models provide qualitative support for Arctic amplification and future sea-ice loss, they have limited value for quantitative projections. Model deficiencies in ocean circulation, cloud physics, atmospheric dynamics, and albedo parameterization—details that go beyond sea-ice physics per se—all contribute to the spread among model predictions.
Therefore, improving observations, understanding, and models of sea-ice, ocean and atmospheric processes, interactions, and feedbacks are among the numerous goals identified for immediate action in the US Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) research plan.14 Released in February 2013, the five-year plan focuses on seven broad research themes most likely to benefit from better communication and coordination among federal agencies and from partnerships with the State of Alaska, local communities, indigenous organizations, nongovernmental groups, and the academic community. The IARPC plan has grown in significance with the release by the Obama administration in May 2013 of its National Strategy for the Arctic Region, which stresses the need to increase understanding of the Arctic through research that will support decision making informed by the best available scientific information.
The IARPC plan and the National Strategy also emphasize the need for the US to work with international partners. Such cooperation is exemplified by the Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO), which consists of six biological “hot spots” that extend from the northern Bering Sea through the Chukchi Sea to the western Beaufort Sea. The DBO sites are maintained by the Pacific Arctic Group of six countries—Canada, China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and the US—all of which have agreed to make and share a standard set of biophysical measurements whenever one of their research vessels enters a hot spot. Another consortium, International Arctic Systems for Observing the Atmosphere (IASOA), which promotes data access and coordinated atmospheric observations of, among other things, greenhouse gases, clouds, energy fluxes, pollutants, and aerosols, also exemplifies good observing practice and data policy.
The DBO and IASOA contribute to Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON), a joint activity of the Arctic Council (the representatives of eight Arctic countries and indigenous peoples) and the nongovernmental International Arctic Science Committee of 21 national member organizations. The goal of SAON is to encourage partnerships and synergies among observation and data networks and to promote the sharing and synthesis of data and information.
In 1980 much Arctic science was motivated by Cold War confrontation as the US and the Soviet Union faced each other across the Arctic Ocean. Then, even at the end of the summer, the Arctic Ocean remained a largely ice-covered barrier. Today the motivation for Arctic science and the geopolitical situation have changed. The retreat of the sea ice and opening of the Arctic Ocean, their role in Arctic amplification of global warming and its impact on lower latitudes, and the socioeconomic and geopolitical ramifications of the new normal in the Arctic are feeding the need for international collaboration in policy as much as in science.

Box. Arctic amplification and lower-latitude weather

Due to positive feedback, a modest rise in temperature at Earth’s midlatitudes leads to a greater temperature rise in the Arctic. But such amplification in the Arctic can, in turn, affect the weather at lower latitudes. For instance, record winter snowfalls and low temperatures recently experienced in Earth’s midlatitudes are thought to arise in part from the heating in autumn and early winter of the Arctic troposphere—the lower roughly 10 km of its atmosphere. The weather extremes are driven by changes in wind patterns caused by the warming temperatures over areas of the Arctic Ocean free of sea ice. The winds enhance the southerly transfer of relatively colder Arctic air masses.15 Some researchers argue that such Arctic forcing, while controversial, increases the north–south amplitude of the polar jet stream and reduces its wind speed.16
The result is slower-moving weather systems in midlatitude regions and a higher probability of extreme events, such as cold spells and heat waves, flooding and drought, and Greenland ice-sheet melting.16 The eastern US, northern Europe, and far-eastern Asia seem particularly prone to such Arctic influences. Although the increased forcing from the Arctic is well documented, the processes that link Arctic forcing to the more chaotic atmospheric flow in midlatitudes are more speculative. Mechanisms for Arctic amplification and potential weather effects in lower latitudes have been documented in recent scientific articles, and they remain a major area of Arctic climate research.
Martin Jeffries is an Arctic science advisor at the US Arctic Research Commission in Arlington, Virginia, and a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. James Overland is a research oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, and an adjunct professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. Don Perovich is a geophysicist at the US Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and an adjunct professor of engineering at Dartmouth College, both in Hanover, New Hampshire.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Office of Naval Research, NASA, and NSF for their continuing support. Jim Maslanik and Mark Tschudi provided the sea-ice age data. Lori Bruhwiler provided the September 2012 atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration value for Barrow, Alaska.
This article first appeared in:
http://www.physicstoday.org/resource/1/phtoad/v66/i10/p35_s1?bypassSSO=1&goback=%2Egde_2878181_member_278003718

References

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  2. M. C. Serreze, R. G. Barry, Global Planet. Change 77, 85 (2011).
  3. M. O. Jeffries, J. Richter-Menge, J. E. Overland, eds., Arctic Report Card: Update for 2012, http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/report12.
  4. J. C. Stroeve et al., Climatic Change 110, 1005 (2012).
  5. K. R. Arrigo, G. van Dijken, J. Geophys. Res. [Oceans] 116, C09011 (2011).
  6. K. R. Arrigo et al., Science 336, 1408 (2012).
  7. M. O. Jeffries, J. Richter-Menge, eds., Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, S111 (2013).
  8. J. Grebmeier et al., Science 311, 1461 (2006).
  9. M. G. Flanner et al., Nat. Geosci. 4, 151 (2011).
  10. C. Derksen, R. Brown, Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L19504 (2012).
  11. E. Dlugokencky, L. Bruhwiler, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, S130 (2012).
  12. R. Knutti, J. Sedláček, Nat. Climate Change 3, 369 (2012).
  13. J. Overland, M. Wang, Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 2097 (2013).
  14. National Science and Technology Council, Arctic Research Plan FY2013–2017, NSTC, Washington, DC (2013).
  15. J. E. Overland, K. R. Wood, M. Wang, Polar Res. 30, 15787 (2011).
  16. J. A. Francis, S. J. Vavrus, Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L06801 (2012).
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The Burden of Fake Reviews

Posted on Oct 2, 2013 | Comments Off on The Burden of Fake Reviews

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One of the quiet plagues of online commerce has been the shadowy firms that some businesses pay to write glowing reviews on sites like Yelp, Citysearch, Google and Yahoo. On Monday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced agreements with 19 of the bogus review companies to stop the practice and pay $350,000 in fines.

The issue is not unique to New York, however. Paid reviews manipulate shopping behavior across the Web. The question is whether any amount of fines and cease-and-desist agreements can put a dent in the problem.

“It’s a classic false advertising case. People who read online reviews reasonably assume that the reviews were written by actual customers,” says Jeff Rabkin, California’s special assistant attorney general for law and technology. “It’s an old-time fraud emerging in a new marketplace.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office is looking into the problem of fraudulent reviews, but a spokesman would not provide specifics.

The rise of customer reviews on sites like San Francisco-based Yelp has also given rise to a cottage industry of bogus reviewers, paid to write glowing copy about a product or service they may know next to nothing about. Some of the bogus review writers are located overseas in Asia or elsewhere. Some are single-person operations pounding away on a home computer.

Trusted advertising

Surveys paint a disconcerting picture of their impact. An April 2012 study from Nielsen found online reviews were the second most trusted form of advertising after word-of-mouth by family and friends. Yet the technology research firmGartner estimates that by 2014, some 15 percent of online reviews will be fake.And a 2011 study from Harvard Business School found that a one-star increase in a Yelp rating increased a restaurant’s revenue up to 9 percent.

Being tricked into buying a lousy sandwich is not the end of the world. But reviews of doctors, lawyers, mechanics and construction companies influence important transactions. Can the fake reviews be stopped?

The Federal Trade Commission released new guidelines in March trying to address all the new ways consumers get information about purchases. Under the guidelines, if someone is compensated for writing a review of a business, they must disclose the relationship.

Finding the fakes

Yelp tries to snuff out the phonies with clever algorithms that detect suspect testimonials by combing the language and the users’ habits as they submit reviews. Over 42 million reviews across tens of millions of businesses exist on Yelp, yet the company’s algorithms detect about 25 percent of them as bogus and don’t display them to consumers, according to Vince Sollitto, Yelp’s vice president of communications.

Sollitto says there’s a give and take, however. Sometimes Yelp’s algorithms will accidentally flag real reviews as fake and upset business owners.

“Ironically, we get some flak for that,” he says. “That’s the price we have to pay.”

Fraud detection is competitive and, accordingly, Yelp doesn’t share information about fraudulent users with other websites and services. That makes business sense. At the same time, if firms shared more data about fake reviewers, it might help everyone sniff them out.

Anonymity a problem

Indeed, the anonymity of the Web compounds the problem. While traditional reviewers like Zagat’s and Fodor’s may only consult on a few opinions when judging a business, they are brands people feel they can trust. Crowdsourced opinions employ thousands of reviews, most by unknown reviewers, leaving consumers struggling to weed out the phony ones.

Perhaps the easiest way to validate reviewers would be through social-network sign-ons. Fakers wanting to create false reviews would have to create real-looking profiles on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, complete with many friends, messages and photos — an arduous task.

Facebook has dabbled in these waters, offering a service that requires a Facebook log-in to comment on articles so people think twice about what they say.

But that isn’t a perfect solution. Not everyone is comfortable on Facebook, and others may still feel fine writing glowing phony reviews under their social network IDs.

For now, consumers can try taking the average sentiment of a dozen reviews, if not more. The fakers might still get through. But there are enough real voices out there to drown out the phonies if digital shoppers take the time to listen to them.

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Kruger NP Goes Flat Screen

Posted on Oct 2, 2013 | Comments Off on Kruger NP Goes Flat Screen

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The Kruger National Park has installed flat screen television screens to enhance information dissemination to tourists in the park.

The screens have been installed and are already in use at the gate and camp receptions. Making use of text, images, audio and video, the screens will present visitors with content such as updates on the developments of the park, park rules and regulations, emergencies like road closures, park events and campaigns, scientific research and other projects, rare animal sightings and more.

“The expectations from the public are changing, they want the speed on access to information; they want prompt delivery of the answer, rather than guidance or instruction. We were looking at introducing the kind of communication and marketing tool which would afford us a chance to communicate in an interactive way with our tourists, when Anglo American responded positively,” indicated Mabasa.

The screens were donated by Anglo American and Phillip Fourie, Head of Safety and Sustainable Development, for Anglo American’s thermal coal business at Paul Kruger Gate, presented them to the park.

“Anglo American believes that the impact of mining should be positive and to the benefit of South Africa, its people and the environment. We look forward to a successful partnership with Kruger National Park,” he said.

“Like broadcast media, these TV screens will allow us to disseminate information on time; allowing tourists to respond by either making follow-ups with our front office staff or contacting the relevant park officials for more information,” concluded Mabasa.

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Africa’s size in perspective

Posted on Sep 27, 2013 | Comments Off on Africa’s size in perspective

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Travellers to Africa are often surprised that many friends regard the Dark Continent as an homogenous destination, whereas you’ll be grilled for specifics if travelling to the US, or even Italy. This graphic by Kai Krause, a computer-graphics guru shows just how much of the world would fit into the huge African continent.

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What’s the Main Cause of Airline Deaths?

Posted on Sep 9, 2013 | Comments Off on What’s the Main Cause of Airline Deaths?

From Bloomberg, By Alan Levin – Sep 6, 2013 2:00 PM ET

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Pilots on an Asiana Airlines Inc. Boeing 777 that hit a seawall short of a San Francisco runway on July 6 said they had indications once they reached 500 feet altitude that they weren’t properly set up to land.

An Asian airline’s wide-body slams into a sea wall. A 737 with 150 people aboard hits the runway so hard its nose gear buckles. A cargo plane barely misses houses before plowing into a hillside short of the runway.

These recent accidents, marking the deadliest period for airlines in the U.S. since 2009, have something in common: had the pilots aborted their landings at the first sign of trouble – – a move known as a go-around — they might have avoided tragedy.

“They’d all be walking, talking and alive if they went around,” Patrick Veillette, a pilot who teaches and writes about aviation safety, said in an interview.

The three U.S. air crashes since July 6, which killed five people, spotlight the difficulty in getting pilots to abort touchdowns if they haven’t made safe approaches to the runway. It’s “the largest, lowest hanging piece of safety fruit” to make flying less hazardous, according to research sponsored by the Alexandria, Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.

Crashes that occur during approach or touchdown are the world’s leading category of aviation mishaps and deaths, according to data compiled by Chicago-based manufacturer Boeing Co. (BA) The biggest risk factor for such accidents is failing to approach a runway at the proper speed, altitude and heading, known as an unstabilized approach.

If safety regulators can persuade pilots to conduct more go-arounds, lives may be saved and costs to airlines in damaged equipment and liability may be lowered.

Non-Compliant Pilots

Computerized flight-track records and a survey of 2,340 pilots sponsored by the safety foundation found that crews have a long way to go to comply with airline requirements to abort landings if their approaches were unstable. Almost all pilots, or 97 percent, continued to land in spite of the rules that they climb away from the runway and circle around to try again, according to the research.

“That’s a risk factor that we really need to work on,” Rudy Quevedo, director of global programs at the foundation, said in an interview.

The issue isn’t simple or new, Quevedo and Veillette said.

“There isn’t a commercial pilot who can say, ‘Shame on you. You should have gone around,’” Veillette said. “We’ve all been in situations where in retrospect, we should have gone around and didn’t.”

In some cases, rules may be overly rigid, akin to imposing a highway speed limit that is so low drivers routinely exceed it, Quevedo said. Violating the rules has become so ingrained that airlines don’t enforce them and pilots don’t recognize when they are taking unnecessary risks, he said.

Safety Critical

Setting up a proper approach to a landing is critical to safety, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates the aviation industry, and the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization.

“It’s really all physics,” Quevedo said. “You want to be centered on the runway on the correct trajectory, the correct descent rate and the right speed.”

If that happens, a plane will almost always cross the start of the runway at a height of about 50 feet (15 meters), which is optimal for a safe landing, he said.

Airlines typically require that a plane be stabilized at 1,000 feet above the runway in poor visibility and at 500 feet in clear weather. Pilots must also have performed required checklists, extended landing gear and configured the plane for landing, according to the foundation.

“If not — GO AROUND!” an FAA advisory to pilots and airlines says.

Low, Slow

While the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board hasn’t said what caused the three recent crashes, information it has released shows evidence of the aircraft being unstable at points within a mile (1.6 kilometers) or two from the runway or of pilots perceiving they were off course.

Pilots on an Asiana Airlines Inc. (020560) Boeing 777 that hit a seawall short of a San Francisco runway on July 6 said they had indications once they reached 500 feet altitude that they weren’t properly set up to land, according to NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. The crash killed three passengers and injured dozens as the plane broke apart and slid to a stop.

One pilot told investigators the Asiana plane was below its optimal glide path at 500 feet, Hersman said July 9. Shortly after, the plane veered off the runway centerline, Hersman said.

The pilots told investigators they failed to notice other warning signs, including that their speed had slowed so much that the wings were in danger of losing lift. When they recognized what was happening, they attempted a go-around, adding power too late to avoid the accident, Hersman said.

Crash Landing

Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) plane landed nose-first at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on July 22, breaking the landing gear and skidding across the runway.

The NTSB hasn’t said whether the Boeing 737-700 was on a stable approach. The captain took control of the plane from the first officer below 400 feet altitude, according to the NTSB. In previous NTSB cases, such shifts in control occurred after an emergency or because the captain thought the approach needed correcting.

Nine people suffered minor injuries, according to the NTSB.

The pilots of a United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) freighter that crashed in Birmingham, Alabama, on Aug. 14 received a cockpit warning that they were descending too rapidly 7 seconds before they hit trees, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said last month.

Whether the pilots also knew they were too low for their approach, which should have triggered a go-around, hasn’t been released. The Airbus SAS A300-600F hit a dark hillside before dawn and broke apart, killing both pilots.

Dulled Sense

The NTSB has investigated at least 21 cases since 1999 in which pilots could have prevented accidents or incidents if they had aborted landings that ran afoul of airline rules, according to the agency’s case files.

In an attempt to discover why such accidents continue to occur, the Flight Safety Foundation hired Martin Smith, a former pilot and psychologist who operates Presage Group Inc. in Mississauga, Canada. Smith oversaw the survey of pilots that found many weren’t following airline rules.

The pilots who didn’t go-around after an unstable approach tended to have a dulled sense of the risks and didn’t communicate as much with fellow crew members, Smith said the survey showed. They also believed they wouldn’t be reprimanded for attempting to land in those cases. A similar survey of airline managers is under way to determine why the rule is so widely overlooked, he said.

Unrealistic Criteria

At the same time, some pilots said the criteria for a stabilized approach weren’t realistic, Smith said in an interview.

Researchers are attempting to design new standards that require aborting landings only in dangerous situations, improving safety without unnecessarily boosting go-arounds, which can create their own dangers, Quevedo said.

“We should expect that if we have a policy, the people should follow the policy,” he said. “But that being said, we need to make sure that the policy is good before we make people follow it. I don’t think we’re there yet.”

 

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Flight by Flight Upgrade Auctions

Posted on Sep 9, 2013 | Comments Off on Flight by Flight Upgrade Auctions

How much would you pay for the lie-flat bed and quilted duvet?

The good news is that getting bumped up to Business Class just got more affordable. Last month, Iberia became the latest carrier to roll out an online auction scheme that allows customers to bid for seating upgrades.

“Everyone knows that if no one is sitting in seat 2a when the plane takes off from London to New York, it’s a loss for the airline. But everyone in economy wants that seat,” explains Ken Harris, the founder and CEO of Plusgrade, the software company that developed the system. “The idea was to help correct that, and do it intelligently.”

The setup works differently for each airline, depending on their specifications. Some carriers offer upgrades to First Class as well.

Who is allowed to participate in the bidding process also varies. Often, the selection process is determined by the route and the number of leftover premium seats. On occasion, a customer’s frequent flyer status might also come into play.

Auctioning off flight upgrades

Furthermore, bidding is blind; customers enter how much they’re willing to pay, and if that number exceeds other bids (and the airlines keep that information top secret), they win. The cost of an upgrade is extremely variable, depending on the airline, season and route.

Carriers are shy to reveal how much is necessary in securing a winning bid, though it’s fair to say the price is less than a full-fare, Business Class ticket.

The idea that you can simply smile at a ticket agent and get gifted a free upgrade is a romantic notion that simply doesn’t happen.
Ken Harris, Plusgrade

The concept has gained traction with the airline community. A dozen carriers have already introduced upgrade auctions to their websites with the help of Plusgrade and he expects to double that number before the year is out.

Still, one can’t help but wonder if the airlines risk eating into their premium revenues.

Jamie Baker, an airline analyst at JP Morgan, says it’s a possibility.

 

“If airlines make it too easy to pay for an upgrade, it might dilute what the traveler would initially be willing to pay for that ticket,” he notes. “As a result, airlines tend to control the capacity of award seats. There’s a certain amount of experimentation in the process that is required.”

Harris, however, seems confident the bidding system will not impact premium-seating sales.

“There’s no guarantee that simply because you’ve requested an upgrade, you’ll receive it,” he says.

“If you want to sit in Business Class and your budget allows you to do so, you should buy that seat. It’s the only guarantee you won’t be sitting in the back of the plane on your next trip across the ocean.”

This service is for the passenger that just wants to treat himself for a little extra, and can live with the uncertainty.
Stephanie Kunath, Austrian Airlines

Austrian Airlines has one of the more democratic approaches to the process. Everyone, regardless of frequent flyer status, can bid on an upgrade, assuming any are available on the flight in question.

The airline isn’t worried about hurting their profits, because they view the full-fare seats and auction upgrades as two different products, even though passengers who win an upgrade receive the exact same benefits as someone who paid up front, including access to premium lounges and extra baggage allowances.

 

“This product is for a completely different type of group,” explains Stephanie Kunath, Austrian’s director of revenue management and business development.

“It’s not for the business traveler who really wants to fly Business Class and needs a 100% guarantee that he can. It’s for the passenger that just wants to treat himself for a little extra, and can live with the uncertainty.”

While bidding for seats might not hurt an airline’s bottom line, the advent of these auctions will likely eat away at the number of free upgrades awarded passengers.

“It probably will erode the complimentary upgrade process to a certain degree, and airlines do run the risk of offending their elite traveler, who has become accustomed to complimentary upgrades,” says Baker.

Harris, however, argues that free bump-ups are the stuff of fantasy.

“Free upgrades are really only given by necessity in operational situations or given to frequent flyers,” he says. “The idea that you can simply smile at a ticket agent and get gifted a free upgrade is a romantic notion. It simply doesn’t happen.”

From CNN

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