Clean Tech Nation//Feedback in Climate Models

Clean Tech Nation (start time: 4:57): Over the last few years renewable electricity generation has doubled, thanks in part to President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. In fact, many clean technologies and industries have taken off, including solar, biofuels, green building and electric vehicles. But the stimulus money is about to run out, as is the production tax credit for wind development. To make sense of the current status of and future prospects for clean tech, co-host Susan Moran interviews Clint Wilder, co-author (along with Ron Pernick,) Clean Tech Nation: How the U.S. Can Lead in the New Global Economy.

Wilder and Pernick run Clean Edge, a clean-tech research and advisory firm.

Dr. William Hay of the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Feedback in Climate Models (start time: 14:00): We are witnesses to unprecedented changes to the earth. Great storms and melting ice caps. Scientists say these events are related to the carbon we are dumping into the atmosphere. But even the scientists are stunned by the speed and scale of melting sea ice and ice caps and sea-level rise. Dr. Bill Hay, professor emeritus of geology at CU-Boulder, talks with us about why scientists haven’t been able to keep up with mother nature.

Hosts: Susan Moran and Jim Pullen
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Additional Contributions: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Jim Pullen

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Geologic Carbon Sequestration // Clean Technology

Dr. Robert Finley at the ADM injection site

Geologic Carbon Sequestration (Start time 4:53): As carbon dioxide emissions continue to skyrocket, researchers are scrambling to find reliable ways to curb emissions of the most persistent greenhouse gas. One of the experimental approaches is geologic carbon sequestration – trapping CO2 from power plants and other sources and pumping it thousands of feet underground in rock formations. The technology looks promising, but it also had drawn controversy. One of the more unusual research projects is in Decatur, Illinois, where CO2 used in the fermentation process for producing ethanol at Archer Daniel Midland’s corn-processing plant is being injected deep into the Illinois Basin. Co-host Susan Moran talks with Dr. Robert Finley, a geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey and principal investigator of the Decatur project.

Colorado Clean-tech Industry (Start time 16:14): It’s not news that we are in an economic downturn.  Nor is it news that the world is facing monumental environmental problems.  How about a way to kill two birds with one stone? Co-host Tom McKinnon discusses how with Wayne Greenberg, director of the Fellows Institute, which is sponsored by the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association.  Greenberg was the former president of E Source in Boulder, and he was the associate dean of the Tulane Law School.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Bees and Pesticides // Radiometers and Weather

Bees and Pesticides (start at 6:40). Two studies published last week in the journal Science (here and here) make a strong case for beekeepers who worry that a new class of pesticides called “neonicotinoids” hurts honeybees and bumblebees.   In recent years, honeybee populations have rapidly declined, in part due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Bumblebee populations have been suffering as well. Researchers have proposed many causes for these declines, including pesticides, but it’s been unclear exactly how pesticides cause damage. Both of the new studies looked at the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides, which were introduced in the early 1990s and have now become one of the most widely used crop pesticides in the world. One study, from the United Kingdom, shows that the pesticides reduce a bee’s ability to store enough food and to produce new queens.  In a second study, French researchers tied tiny radios to honeybees then exposed them to low levels of the pesticides; a high number of the bees lost their sense of direction and died away from the hive.  These two new studies add to concerns raised in January by a Purdue University study, which indicated that neonicotinoids persist, as poisons, in both plants and soil for much longer than thought, increasing the chance of the pesticide to harm bees and other insects.  Despite the increasing number of studies calling into question the safety of these pesticides, the EPA has done little to restrict their use.  Local beekeeper Tom Theobald talks with How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender that when it comes to honeybees, these are dangerous pesticides.  You can hear the extended version of this interview on this website.

Radiometers and Weather (start at 12:50). Predicting the weather is a tough job, and climate change is bringing unseasonal conditions that make it even more difficult to predict.  But a monitoring device produced here in Boulder may be able to improve local weather forecasts significnatly.  These radiometers work by creating 3-D profiles of the moisture in the air, which is a key element for meteorologists and climate modelers alike.  They are now being put to various weather-related uses all over the planet.  Stick Ware is the founder and lead scientist of the Boulder-based company, Radiometrics, and he’s here in the studio with us today to give us the scoop on these radiometers.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Breanna Draxler
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Headline Contributors: Susan Moran, Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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The Accelerating Expansion of The Universe // Pine Bark Beetles

The Accelerating Expansion of The Universe (start at 5:11).   Have you ever had the feeling that things are moving faster and faster these days?  Well, maybe it’s not your imagination.  Proof that the universe is not just expanding but is accelerating garnered a Nobel Prize last year.   To help explain what’s going on, we talk to Dr. Adam Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University and is a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.   When he was a research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1996 to 1999, Dr. Riess and his colleagues conducted the research that was to win him a share of the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics.  The citation for the prize stated it was: “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.”  In today’s show, Dr. Riess translates what that means and the implications about the ultimate fate of the universe.

Pine Bark Beetle - photo by Jeff Mitton

Pine Bark Beetles (start at 19:22).  The tree-killing pine bark beetles used to breed once a year.  Warming annual temperatures now allow them to breed twice, resulting in 60 times more offspring.  Hungry, tree-eating offspring.  University of Colorado biologists Jeff Mitton and Scott Ferrenberg have just published their findings that the doubled-up breeding season explains why the recent pinebark beetle epidemic has killed so many trees.  And it’s not over yet.  How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender talks with the scientists about which trees are the most vulnerable to pinebark beetles.  You also can hear the extended version of that interview.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Beth Bartel
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Headline Contributor: Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Leaky Natural Gas Wells // Measuring Glaciers and Ice Caps

Leaky Natural Gas Wells (start time 6:22).   We speak with Greg Frost, a scientist from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about a new study, which is being published by the Journal of Geophysical Research.  The study indicates that natural gas drilling creates higher amounts of methane leakage into the atmosphere than previous estimates had indicated.  Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and unless this problem of leakage is solved, there is concern that drilling for natural gas might cause higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than burning coal.  We also offer an extended version of this interview.

Recent Contributions of Glaciers and Ice Caps to Sea Level Rise (start time 14:25).  Scientists at CU’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research now have used eight years worth of satellite data to a clearer picture of how climate change is impacting the cryosphere, or ice-covered parts of the planet. (See animations here.)  Knowing how much ice has been lost during this time can help scientists understand how melting ice might contribute to sea level rise, both now and in the future. But there have been conflicting stories in the press about how the results should be interpreted.  We talk with Tad Pfeffer, one of the study’s coauthors, to discuss what’s really happening to the Earth’s ice.

Hosts: Joel Parker & Breanna Draxler
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineers: Jim Pullen & Shelley Schlender
Additional contributions: Beth Bartel
Executive producer: Shelley Schlender

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Leaky Natural Gas Wells [extended version]

Natural Gas Wells Leak More Methane and Benzene than Expected

 

This is an extended version of the KGNU Science Show, How on Earth.  It features Greg Frost, a scientist with the University of Colorado at Boulder and with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  He’s on the team led by Gabrielle Petron which has been studying leaks from natural gas production.  In this extended interview, Greg tells us about natural gas wells in Colorado that are leaking twice as much methane and benzene into the atmosphere as official estimates have indicated.  Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Benzene is a carcinogen.  Let’s listen in now, as Greg Frost tells How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender what their study of leaking methane from gas wells found.

 

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20th Anniversary Science Show

Bucky Ball 1991 “Molecule of the Year”

We celebrate 20 years of How on Earth, featuring the 1st ever KGNU science show, 20 years ago, including Bucky Balls, Electromagnetic Radiation and Cows, Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble, and along the way, we give updates on current science issues, including Tom McKinnon talking about applications for Bucky Balls (Fullerenes) today, a conversation with CU Electrical Engineer Frank Barnes, who is one of the world’s most sought-after experts on EMFs,  Southwest Research Institute Astrophysicist Joel Parker gives an update on space telescopes, and CU Science Journalism professor Tom Yulsman talks about an issue NOT on the radar 20 years ago — global climate change.  We also share information about tonight’s Denver Cafe Sci, with Brian Hynek, about “Mars:  Are We Alone?”  Special thanks to How on Earth original producers Sam Fuqua and Jeff Orrey for being here as part of the show.

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

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Clean Water Struggles // 2011’s Big Sci-Enviro-Tech Stories

Mining retention pond in Colorado. Image courtesy of the EPA.

Clean Water Struggles. Co-host Susan Moran interviews journalist Judith Lewis Mernit about how small rural communities in the West are struggling to afford complying with federal water-quality standards as they relate to water pollutants. Mernit wrote an article on the topic in High Country News’ Dec. 12 issue. She explores the unintended consequences of complex federal  standards, which place a disproportionately heavy burden on small communities.  A big bone of contention, and a source of a flood of lawsuits, is a provision in the Clean Water Act that forces states to assess their impaired waterways and set maximum limits, or loads, for nitrates and other pollutants in them.

Bastrop, Texas fire. Photo courtesy of Michael Kodas.

2011’s Big Sci-Enviro-Tech Stories. In the second feature co-hosts Susan Moran and Tom Yulsman are joined by How On Earth’s Tom McKinnon and Shelley Schlender, as well as photojournalist Michael Kodas (author of a forthcoming book on megafires) to reflect on 2011’s major science, technology and environment stories. The list includes extreme weather events, record-high carbon dioxide levels, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Boulder’s November vote to consider municipalizing its electricity, and advancements in proteomics. Stay tuned for plenty more coverage of these topics on How On Earth in 2012. (Scroll down to download the audio file of the show.)

Hosts: Susan Moran, Tom Yulsman
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineers: Tom McKinnon, Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Tom McKinnon

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Incentives for Renewable Energy//Climate Change and Biodiversity

In last month’s election, Boulder voters gave the go-ahead for the city to move forward on municipalizing the electrical utility.  The chief motivation for that decision was to put more renewable energy on the grid.  There are a large number of policy options to incentivize renewable energy – so many that it’s hard to keep them all straight.  John Farrell, a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, joined us by phone to explain the situation.  (interview begins at 6:25)

Mountainous areas like the Rockies are hotspots for plant and animal biodiversity but as the climate warms many of these species – including Colorado’s iconic pica — are under threat.  Much research has focused on the effects of temperature change, but less has focused on the interactions of temperature and precipitation in a changing climate.  University of Colorado biologist Christy McCain is closely examining those inter-relationships.  She’s been studying patterns of diversity for plants and critters on mountains around the world. She co-authored a paper that was recently published in the journal Ecology Letters about how precipitation changes appear to be far more risky than temperature change. And it doesn’t bode well for many species. (interview begins at 14:58).

Producer: Tom McKinnon
Co-Hosts: Susan Moran and Tom McKinnon
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Tom McKinnon

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Of Math and Wizards

Math for Life: Crucial Ideas You Didn’t Learn in SchoolOne often hears people state “I’m not good at math” or that they don’t like math because it they don’t think it has any relevance to their day-to-day life (other than, maybe, to balance a checkbook). However, both of those myths are addressed head-on in a new book titled “Math for Life: Crucial Ideas You Didn’t Learn in School.” The author of that book is Dr. Jeffrey Bennett, an astrophysicist and educator. He has written several text books and books for the general public including the popular series of children’s books (“Max goes to the Moon” and other places around the solar system) and now another new children’s book called “The Wizard Who Saved the World.” We are happy to have Jeff back on our show in this episode to talk about the importance of math to how we make decisions in our personal lives, in our community, and in Congress…and about being a Wizard.The Wizard Who Saved the World

Hosts: Joel Parker, Breanna Draxler
Headlines: Breanna Draxler, Beth Bartel
Engineer: Joel Parker
Producer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Tom McKinnon

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