Space Dust – Extended Version

800px-Helkivad_ööpilved_Kuresoo_kohalFor the patient and interested listener, here’s more of How On Earth host Beth Bartel’s conversation about space dust with University of Colorado’s Mihaly Horanyi. We talk about why we should colonize the moon, how Dr. Horanyi got into studying dust in the first place—which is a very interesting Cold-War-era story—how space dust may give us hints about climate change ( via the phenomenon of “night-shining” or noctilucent clouds), and what zodiacal light is.


1964 Alaska Earthquake – Extended Version

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake. To commemorate the quake, we’re posting this extended version of the interview we broadcast on March 25, 2014, with Dr. Mike West, the Alaska State Seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Center. How On Earth host Beth Bartel talked with Dr. West about his recent paper, “Why the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake Matters 50 Years Later,” published in Seismological Research Letters.

To whet your appetite, here are some of the topics we covered:

  • How this earthquake fit in to the still-young idea of plate tectonics.
  • How geodesy–the study of the shape of the Earth and how it changes–helped nail this event down as a subduction earthquake.  (Also: How the simplest explanation is not always the right one.)
  • Monitoring: Where we were then, where we are now.
  • Why we should look to Alaska to test out earthquake early monitoring systems.
  • How this quake led us to see that the same thing could–and has–happened off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Local tsunamis, and what we should do about them.

Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You

Riskin_bookWelcome to the Spring Pledge Drive edition of How On Earth. I’m this quarter’s Executive Producer, Jim Pullen.

We, the How On Earth team, encourage you to take a different take on the world, to examine assumptions, ideas and evidence critically. The great philosopher of science Karl Popper, a champion of the essential role of refutation in science, wrote in The Poverty of Historicism,

For if we are uncritical, we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find confirmations, and we shall look away from and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories.

Consider our relationship with the rest of the natural world… Do we humans have a special vitality that sets us apart or can we be best understood as just another smart ape? It’s an essential question. In our feature interview, our guest scientist, bat biologist and Animal Planet host Dan Riskin, challenges us to reconsider–humorously, disgustingly, creepily, scarily–our perceptions of nature. Dan fields questions like, what’s wrong with ‘natural’ marketing? Are killer whales cuddly? Should we feel sympathy for bed bugs? Is a father’s love the same for humans as for water buffaloes? How we can acknowledge nature in its rich complexity and have a just and loving world beyond the grip of natural selection? All this and botfly on the brain.

Dan got me thinking–a good thing–and I think he’ll get you thinking too!

Your support during KGNU’s pledge drives is critical to keeping us on the air, so a huge thanks to our listener-members who pledged during the drive! If you haven’t yet joined the team, now(!) is the right time to fortify The Show That Makes You Smarter and community radio, KGNU! Pledge securely online at or call 303-449-4885. Pick up one of our great science book thank-you gifts, too.

Many thanks to Beth Bartel, Maeve Conran, and Joel Parker for hosting the pledge drive show! (Go here for the pledge show with the rich banter.)

Thanks again!

Jim and the How On Earth team

Listen to my interview with Dan Riskin:


Stories from the Flood

AFTER the flood – How to Stay Safe

Kathleen TierneyNatural Hazards Center, Boulder

LISTEN (10 MINUTES)  “Many of the injuries that happen in disasters happen because people are trying to take care of disaster related problems themselves, and and they get injured.  If you’ve never handled a chain saw before in your life, this is probably not a good time to start.” – Kathleen Tierney
Boulder is a world renowned center for research into Natural Disasters.  One of the leaders in this field is Kathleen Tierney who directs CU Boulder’s Natural Hazards Center.  She speaks with KGNU’s Shelley Schlender about how to stay safe AFTER a disaster,  how to document your needs for insurance, how Boulder planners have reduced the impacts of this huge flood event, and what it’s like, personally, here in Boulder, to be a disaster victim.

Climate Change and Future Flooding

Kelley MahoneyCIRES, Boulder

(LISTEN 15 Minutes)  As for WHY this storm happened, KGNU’s Jim Pullen talks with Kelly Mahoney, a research scientist at CU Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences – also known as CIRES.  Mahoney says the Rocky Mountains are the most challenging part of the country for making climate predictions.  But the Rocky Mountains might indeed have more dry periods punctuated by more intense and very wet superstorms.

We have a pretty good handle on the trends that we might expect along the eastern two thirds of the country and also in the southwest.  So in the eastern part of the country, we do expect things to get a little more moist.  And the complete opposite in the desert Southwest.  Regarding average precipitation, we expect to see it drying.  So that places the Colorado Front Range in the unique position of being right between the two climate signals.  For the Colorado Front range, I think most folks say we feel like the region will see a mean drying, meaning longer longer stretches of dry punctuated by an increase in extremes.  But it’s still definitely an area of study.  Lots of people are continuing to look into this.”

Planning for more superstorms

Marcus Moench, Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Boulder

LISTEN (20 Minutes)  The Institute for Social and Environmental Transition does a lot of work globally regarding flooding and climate and environment protection.    Speaking with Jim Pullen, their president, Marcus Moench, says Boulder has fared pretty well, though it faces challenges.

The main flood areas, the infrastructures through Central Boulder has functioned enormously well.  The underpasses and things like that.  We face, as everyplace does, a huge challenge particularly along minor streams, where it’s impossible to keep the vegetation clear, to keep culverts the size you want.  And where there are contrasting interests.  For example, if you have a grate in front of a school such as Flatirons school that protects kids from falling into the culverts, but at the same time it becomes the first thing that clogs and floods the street, the minute any flow comes down. “

But Moench says that even in usually arid Boulder, we can learn lessons from wetter climates, such as those in Asia:

All the infrastructures, the water heaters, the sewer, things like this, The water supply stuff is located much higher up.  The electricity.  We put a lot of that infrastructure into our basements.  And as people are mucking out here, that’s one of the largest costs a lot of people will face is replacing that water heater, that dryer, the stuff that’s in the basements. “

For a list of resources for people in our communities dealing with these disasters, check KGNU


Court Orders NRC to Decide on Yucca Mountain Permit

(Proposed design of Yucca Mountain (Los Alamos National Lab)

On Tuesday, August 13th, the US Court of Appeals-DC Circuit ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evaluate the application for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. Dr. Bill Alley and Rosemarie Alley talk with us about the significance of the decision. The Alley’s just published Too Hot To Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste with Cambridge University Press. They were also our guests on August 13th’s How On Earth!

Host: Jim Pullen
Producer: Jim Pullen

Listen to the show:


Coming Up: Earthquakes and Fracking

Oil and gas facility in Larimer County, Colorado. (© 2013 Jim Pullen)

Does fracking cause earthquakes? KGNU is hosting a discussion on the correlation between earthquakes, fracking, deep injection wells, and geothermal projects. Join seismologists Dr. Bill Ellsworth, USGS Menlo Park, Dr. Emily Brodsky, UC Santa Cruz, and Dr. Nicholas van der Elst from Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to learn the latest about anthropogenic (human-caused) earthquakes, including the Colorado connection. On KGNU’s The Morning Magazine, Wednesday, July 31, at 8:35AM. And to learn more before the show, listen to this short feature on Free Speech Radio News. To listen to the conversation, go here. Support your community radio, KGNU!


World Listening Day

WWVB Ft. Collins (© 2013 Jim Pullen)

The World Listening Project celebrated its 40 anniversary on Thursday, July 18th. On Thursday, How On Earth’s Jim Pullen was in Ft. Collins recording audio for an upcoming story on the National Institute of Standards and Technology radio station WWVB. To celebrate the World Listening Project, World Listening Day, and the field of acoustic ecology, he took a few minutes to record a thunderstorm that was causing some havoc at the station. Take some time to listen quietly to the sounds in your life!

(Recorded using linear pulse-code modulation at a sample rate of 96 kHz and resolution of 24 bits per sample with a Marantz PMD 661 recorder specially fitted with low-noise preamplifiers by Oade Brothers and an Audio-Technica BP4025 x/y stereo field recording microphone. The audio file posted here is a 192 kbps mp3.)

Producer: Jim Pullen

Listen to the storm:


Everything died under a broiling sky

Extinction at the K-Pg boundary

Illustration courtesy NASA/JPL

CU professor Doug Robertson and a multidisciplinary team  argue afresh that a global firestorm swept the planet in the hours after a mountain-sized asteroid vaporized above the Yucatan, 66 million years ago. When the blown-out rock missiled back to earth, Robertson says the atmosphere became so hot the whole world burned. Almost every organism above ground and in the air perished. We talk to Dr. Robertson about that terrible day and how some species reemerged. His team just published their research in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences.

Host: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

Listen to the show:


Pesticides, Bees and Niwot Honey Farm’s Tom Theobald [extended version]

This is an extended interview with Niwot Beekeeper Tom Theobald about three new studies that have recently been published regarding the ways that neonicotinoids harm bees.  The studies include one from Purdue, and two from Europe, and all three indicate that these new pesticides are causing more harm to bees than previously thought.


How on Earth Wins Colorado Broadcast Association Award

2012 Colorado Broadcasters Award in Excellence to How on Earth

The KGNU Science Show, How on Earth, has won the prestigious 2011 Colorado Broadcast Association Certificate of Merit for Excellence in production in the category,  “Best News Special or Public Affairs Program,” competing against other Denver Metro area noncommercial stations that include KCFR, Colorado Public Radio and KUNC, the college-sponsored radio station at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.   This year, How on Earth was second only to KCFR’s “Colorado Matters,” which is  produced and hosted by staff at KCFR.  The KGNU science show, How on Earth is created, produced and hosted entirely by a volunteer team that currently includes Beth Bartel, Ted Burnham, Breanna Draxler, Tom McKinnon, Susan Moran, Joel Parker, Jim Pullen and Tom Yulsman.  Congratulations, Science Show Team!  Many thanks for a job well-done!  – Shelley Schlender, How on Earth Executive Producer

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How On Earth is produced by a small group of volunteers at the studios of KGNU, an independent community radio station in the Boulder-Denver metro area. KGNU is supported by the generosity and efforts of community members like you. Visit to learn more.


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