Nuclear Tests and the Van Allen Belts

explosion-beltsIn 1963, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, agreeing to not test nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space.  France continued atmospheric testing until 1974, and the last atmospheric test was done by China on October 16, 1980. Over 500 atmospheric nuclear tests have been performed before then, but none since.

That could soon change.  North Korea has threatened to do an atmospheric nuclear test.  Even if that test doesn’t lead to a chain of more dangerous events, and considering the potential health impacts of the dispersed radiation, it turns out that simply testing a missile in the atmosphere could lead to highly charged electrons that would tend to fry the electronics of Earth-orbiting satellites.

It’s a complex issue, and one that ties in with the huge magnetic fields that protect the Earth and the satellites orbiting around it.  Those magnetic fields include some areas that attract highly charged particles, called the Van Allen belts.  Earlier this year, we reported on a discovery from the Laboratory of Atmospheric Space Physics in Boulder, about how very low frequency radio transmissions sent to military submarines deep under that water, accidentally help satellites high above the Earth by reducing the impact of the Van Allen belts’ highly charged particles.  So, could those very low frequency waves also protect us from the satellite-frying effects of an atmospheric nuclear weapons test?  If things get too crazy here on Earth, could a spacecraft with a well-designed magnetic field help people escape?  Those are questions that come to mind for How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender.  Now here’s Shelley’s investigation about the Van Allen belts, whether cell phones would work after a nuclear explosion, and escaping to outer space.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Chip Grandits
Producer, Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett, Alejandro Soto
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

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Antibiotics & Your Microbiome

microbiomeThis week on How on Earth, Beth interviews Dr Martin Blaser of New York University who challenges the assumption that antibiotics are harmless drugs targeting only harmful pathogens. In his recent book, Missing Microbes, Blaser presents the evidence that antibiotics are causing the extinction of important bacteria in our microbiome. These microbes have co-evolved with us, so losing them puts us at risk of many of the rising diseases of our society: asthma, allergies, eczema and obesity. Check out his book: https://books.google.com/books/about/Missing_Microbes.html?id=RJucAwAAQBAJ

Host: Beth Bennett
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

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Committed Warming

Committed warming as a function of transient climate response, courtesy of Nature Climate Change.

Committed warming as a function of transient climate response, courtesy of Nature Climate Change.

Much of current climate science research focuses on understanding how the climate is changing and what type of climate we will have in the near future. But to understand where the climate is going, we need to understand where the climate has been. It is especially important to understand how the climate has responded to the rise of the modern, industrial world, which has emitted greenhouse gases that warm the climate. Because many of these gases will last for a long time in the atmosphere, some of this warming has already been set in motion and will happen regardless of future greenhouse gas emissions. This change is known as “committed warming”.

Determining how much committed warming has occurred in the climate is important to understand the future path of our climate. How on Earth speaks with Dr. Robert Pincus, a co-author of a new study published in Nature Climate Change that provides an estimate of committed warming using a global database of surface temperatures. Dr. Pincus is a Research Scientist at the Earth System Research Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hosts: Alejandro Soto
Engineer: Alejandro Soto, Shelley Schlender
Producer: Shelley Schlender
Additional Contributions:  Beth Bennett, Joel Parker
Executive Producer:  Alejandro Soto

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The Cassini Mission to Saturn

pia03883-nohuygensThe Cassini mission to Saturn launched 20 years ago, on October 15, 1997.  It took seven years to reach Saturn, and has been orbiting and intensely studying Saturn ever since…until last week when the mission ended in a final dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.  The mission studied Saturn, its famous rings, and its many moons using a suite of instruments that observed a broad range of wavelengths from ultraviolet, to visible, infrared, and radio as well as examining dust, charged particles, and magnetic fields.  It also delivered the Huygens probe that descended through the atmosphere of Saturn’s giant moon, Titan.

In this edition of How on earth, we have two scientists from the Cassini mission team.  Dr. Larry Esposito is a Professor at the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and member of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU.  Dr. Carly Howett is a planetary scientist and manager at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder.  They share with us some of the science from Cassini-Huygens and experiences working on such a long-term and successful space mission.

Host / Producer / Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett, Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto

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Aging Research Part 2

Aging SkinThis week on How on Earth we speak with Simon Melov, a biochemist at the Buck Institute for Aging. Dr Melov studies various aspects of aging in worms, mice and humans. The aging field is replete with new and exciting discoveries and Simon’s work epitomizes that.

Hosts:Beth Bennett and Chip Grandis
Producer:Beth Bennett
Engineer:Maeve Conran
Additional Contributions:Joel Parker
Executive Producer:Alejandro Soto

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Biofuels Tradeoffs

corn-field-farm-vertical-PA
Biofuels Tradeoffs (start time: 8:27): In this week’s show David DeGennaro, an agriculture policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation and author of a report called “Fueling Destruction,”  talks with host Susan Moran about the environmental consequences of biofuels, and about possible solutions. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed maintaining record support for biofuels, namely corn. Last week the EPA ended an open public comment period leading up to a decision to maintain, increase or scale back its current support of biofuels as part of the Renewable Fuels Standard, a federal mandate to blend corn-based ethanol and other renewable fuels into conventional gasoline. NWF and some other environmental organizations, along with former California Congressman Henry Waxman, have been urging the EPA and Congress to reduce biofuels mandates. Increased demand for corn has led to the conversion of millions of acres of habitat-rich grasslands and into croplands — all without significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto
Additional contributions: Alejandro Soto

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Climate Change and Extinctions Following an Asteroid Impact

asteroid_impactClimate Change and Extinctions Following an Asteroid Impact (starts at 8:45) It has been hypothesized that the dinosaurs were killed off by a large asteroid that struck the Earth. The details of how the impact of a 10 kilometer diameter asteroid led to global scale extinction have remained elusive. Recently, climate researchers from the Boulder area published new climate model results that show how the asteroid impact ultimately leads to widespread cooling in the atmosphere and increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation. These drastic and rapid changes to the climate due to the asteroid impact may explain the global scale extinction.

Two of the authors join us today to talk about this new research. Dr. Charles Bardeen works as a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and is the lead author of the new paper. Joining Dr. Bardeen is Professor Brian Toon, a co-author of the new research and a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Hosts: Alejandro Soto & Joel Parker
Producer and Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Susan Moran, Beth Bennett, Chip Grandits
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto

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Boulder Firestone Monorail // Regeneration & Eclipse photo-bombing

MagLev PRT car. Image courtesy of www.skytran.com

MagLev PRT car.
Image courtesy of www.skytran.com

Sustainable Transportation is a major issue for the front range.  In that field a hot topic is PRT, which stands for Personal Rapid Transit system, a radical vision for creating a sustainable infrastructure to get us from point A to point B.  How on Earth interviews Dr. R. Paul Williamson about his proposal for an Elevated High-Speed MagLev PRT system from Boulder to Longmont to Firestone.  How practical is it?

Headlines on Tissue Nanotransfection or TNT from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center seem more like science fiction than science, they are looking to try it on humans next year.

If you were up in Wyoming filming the eclipse did your picture get photo-bombed by the International Space Station like this?

Host: Chip Grandits
Producer: Chip Grandits
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto

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Stay Young – If You’re a Worm

Age

Age

This week on How on Earth, Beth spoke with Dr Gordon Lithgow, a researcher at the Buck Institute for Aging in California who studies aging in nematode worms. Stress actually keeps us young by activating systems that repair and maintain cells. These stresses can be things like caloric restriction and exercise. Eventually the molecular bases of these stresses will be identified and may lead to interventions to slow aging.

Hosts: Beth Bennett & Joel Parker
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto

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Mortality Trends in America // Life Expectancy in America

This week on How on Earth we look at the scientific research into the lifespans of Americans.

Andrea Tilstra

Andrea Tilstra

Mortality trends in America (start time 4:05): We speak with Andrea Tilstra, who co-authored a recent paper on mortality trends in America. Tilstra is a co-author of a recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.  Her team’s paper is titled “Explaining recent mortality trends among younger and middle-aged White Americans.” 

 

 

S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D., of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D.

Life expectancy in America (start time 12:40): Next, we speak with Jay Olshansky, who ten years ago first predicted the recently observed drop in life expectancy in America. Olshansky is a world renowned expert in the Science of Aging.  As for his crystal ball – well, it has little to do with magic, and more to do with his understanding about how our cells work, and how they age.  It also helps that he understands statistics.

 

Hosts: Alejandro Soto, Joel Parker, Shelley Schlender
Additional Contributions: Beth Bennett
Producer: Alejandro Soto
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Alejandro Soto

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