Wildfire Science

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey collect samples of ash and burned soil after the Fourmile Canyon fire. Photo credit: Gregg Swayze, USGS

 

October is Wildfire Awareness Month, so on today’s show we look back at the Fourmile Canyon wildfire and hear from local researchers about some of the scientific opportunities that the fire afforded over the last year. Jim Roberts, an atmospheric chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tells us about some of the unexpected compounds that have recently been found in the smoke of wildfires. And Deborah Martin, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, describes how post-fire runoff from rainstorms affects the forest landscape.

Hosts: Ted Burnham & Breanna Draxler
Producer: Ted Burnham
Engineeer: Shellely Schlender

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We Breathe Microbes with Noah Fierer

Noah Fierer

We explore the world microbes, and how they’re everywhere, and how the University of Colorado at Boulder has scientists such as Noah Fierer who are trying to track all those microbes down and figure out which ones help us and which ones don’t, and how they interact.  These scientists have studied the microbes on a human hand, the microbes in the air from dog feces, and they’re lastest project is known as Miasma.  That stands for Mapping and Integrated Analysis of Microbes in the Atmosphere.

Hosts: Ted Burnham and Breanna Draxler

Producer: Shelley Schlender
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Headlines: Tom Yulsman
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Pine Beetle Kill // Plight of Sharks

"Empire of the Beetle" by Andrew Nikiforuk

Feature #1: If you live on the Front Range, or just about anywhere else in Colorado, you don’t have to go far to notice huge swaths of rusty brown that have replaced green conifer forests. By now, many people are familiar at least with the devastating effects of the mountain pine beetle. But far fewer may understand just how these voracious insects actually make their living, or that this epidemic — and its causes and triggers — are far more nuanced, and controversial, than meets the eye.  How On Earth co-host Susan Moran talks with Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk about the beetles that have been gorging with impunity on lodgepole pine, spruce and other forests from British Columbia down nearly to Mexico. His new book is called The Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America’s Great Forests.Previously, he wrote a best-selling book called Tar Sands.

"Demon Fish" by Juliet Eilperin

Feature #2:  Sharks have a special place in the human psyche.  Perhaps it is a combination of the mystery of the depths of the ocean and natural fear and awe of powerful beasts that can kill humans with a single bite.  But these predators also are key players in the ocean’s ecosystem. The science and legends of sharks are the subject of a new book called “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks” by Juliet Eilperin, the environmental science and policy reporter for The Washington Post.  How On Earth’s Joel Parker talks with Juliet about her book. Listen to the extended interview here.

Hosts: Susan Moran and Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker

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Wind Energy

In today’s show take a look at the future of wind energy. We have with us in the studio Sandy Butterfield. Sandy is the CEO and co-founder of Boulder Wind Power. Prior to his starting this venture, Sandy spent over 24 years at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Test Center.

Co-hosts: Tom McKinnon and Joel Parker
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Show Producer: Joel Parker

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GMOs & Health: The Loss of Small Farms and the Rise of Immune Disorders

We look at the strange rise in autoimmune diseases, allergies and asthma, with experts from the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center and with National Jewish Health Immunlogist Andy Liu  in Denver.  And, we explore whether genetically modified crops might be increasing our chance of getting ill, with Agricultural Scientist, Charles Benbrook of The Organic Center.

In this report, Shelley Schlender takes a look at genetically modified crops and other modern farming techniques, and how they might, or might not be, connected to the dramatic rise in immune disorders.  As part of this report, she’ll look into the strange case of a bacteria in GM corn that was NOT supposed to get into human bloodstream.  Recent research indicates that it does.  And she’ll discuss the hygiene hypothesis with  health experts who suggest that our society has become so “clean” that, in some ways, it makes us sick.

Go here for extended interviews with Charles Benbrook, Andy Liu, Carol Shilson, Stefano Guandalini.

Co-hosts: Susan Moran and Joel Parker
Engineer: Tom McKinnon
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Show Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Nitrogen pollution // Electric vehicles

On today’s show we offer two interview features.
Feature #1:

Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, caused by excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen from fertilizer

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency published a seminal report about nitrogen, which is an enormous environmental and public health problem that some scientists put on par with the carbon imbalance. Nitrogen is essential for all life, including ours, but excess nitrogen in the environment is turning out to be a predicament of crisis proportions. It kills fish, creates “dead zones” in places like the Gulf of Mexico, contaminates drinking water, and causes human illnesses.
Co-host Susan Moran interviews Dr. Hans Paerl, who has served on the EPA science advisory board and co-authored the report.   He’s a professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences, at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences.

Tesla Roadster

Feature #2:
Our reliance on petroleum-fueled vehicles can be blamed, at least in part for a wide range of problems we face today, from local air pollution to global warming, the balance of payments deficit to political instability on a global scale.  One possible solution is to shift from a reliance on gasoline to the use of electricity for transportation.  Co-host Tom McKinnon interviews John Gartner, a senior analyst at Pike Research in Boulder, to discuss the electric vehicle outlook in the U.S.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Tom McKinnon
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Ted Burnham

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Pluto’s Moons // Wildlife Preservation

(credit: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter, Z. Levay)”]Pluto and its moons [click to enlarge] (credit: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter, Z. Levay)Feature #1:
Last month, astronomers working on the Hubble Space Telescope announced the discovery of another, fourth moon around Pluto; this moon is so small that it could fit easily inside Boulder County (a pretty tricky thing to find at a distance of three and a half billion miles). The researchers who found the new moon were making observations in support of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which is en route to fly by and study Pluto in 2015, and continue onward to explore the mysterious region beyond Pluto’s orbit known as the Kuiper Belt. How On Earth’s Ted Burnham recently met with Alan Stern, principal investigator on New Horizons, to talk about what the discovery means for that mission. [An extended version of the interview also is available.]

Harvey Locke  in Jasper National Park, Canada.  Jasper is part of the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor (Photo credit: Marie-eve Marchand)

Harvey Locke in Jasper National Park, Canada. Jasper is part of the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor (Photo credit: Marie-eve Marchand)

Feature #2:
The significant loss of species on Earth is primarily due to human destruction of habitats, forests and other wild nature, to make room for new development and agriculture. Climate change is also accelerating the rate of species extinction. Among the efforts worldwide to protect wilderness and nature so wild animals can survive is a Boulder-based nonprofit called The WILD Foundation. Harvey Locke is the organization’s vice president for conservation strategy and he helped launch the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) several years ago and oversees a global campaign called Nature Needs Half. Y2Y’s goal is to create a continuous 2,000-mile corridor for wildlife from Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. to the Yukon in Northern Canada. Harvey joins us in the studio to talk about that campaign and the science behind wildlife preservation targets.

Co-hosts: Susan Moran and Joel Parker
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Show Producer: Joel Parker

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Lean Deli Meat vs A Big Fat Steak . . . and Water in Outer Space

We talk with one of the nation’s leading nutrition scientists  . . . whose opinions about food and health might not be popular with the American Salt Institute . . . OR with the USDA.  Dariush Mozaffarian is with the Harvard School of Public Health, in the department of epidemiology.  Current projects include leadership of the Nutrition in Chronic Diseases Expert Group of the Gates Foundation.   He’ll explain data that indicates processed lean turkey meat and processed lean ham are a greater risk factor for diabetes and heart disease than eating an equal size serving of fresh, fat, juicy steak.  Mozaffarian talks with Shelley Schlender.  (and for an extended version of the interview, click here)

And we talk with CU astronomer Jason Glenn.   He’s one of the principal investigators on the Z-Spec telescope, operated out of Hawaii.  Recently, Glenn’s team has discovered an enormous cloud of water hanging in space—12 billion light-years away.  Astronomers have never before found water from that far back into the early universe. Glenn talks about the finding with Ted Burnham.

Also in this week’s show, we talk with Janos Perczel about a new design for an invisibility cloak. (and for an extended version of the interview, click here)

Co-hosts:  Joel Parker and Ted Burnham
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Tech aspects of Boulder utility municipalization

In November Boulder will be asking the voters to approve the conversion of the electrical utility from one run by Xcel Energy to one run by the city.  While there are many, many political issues associated with this vote, there are technical ones as well.  We have on our show today Ken Regelson.  Ken is a sustainable energy consultant and member of the steering and tech modeling committees of RenewablesYes.org.  He holds a masters degree in electrical engineering.  And he tells us he’s available to speak on Boulder’s clean energy future at your neighborhood group, business, or at your next dinner party.

Link to the Trojan Asteroid animation.

Co-hosts:  Chip Grandits and Tom McKinnon
Engineer: Ted Burnham
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Producer: Tom McKinnon

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Music producer Tom Wasinger comments on HOE theme song entries

 

Tom Wasinger in his Boulder studio

Grammy Award-winning music producer Tom Wasinger comments on the entries to the How on Earth theme song contest.  Give us comments on your favorite theme song here.  The winner will be announced on August 12, 2011.

Co-hosts:  Ted Burnham and Tom McKinnon
Engineer: Tom McKinnon
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Producer: Tom McKinnon

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