Composting & Carbon Farming

Eco-Cycle truck dumping organic waste at a compost facility. Photo credit: Dan Matsch

Eco-Cycle truck dumping organic waste at a compost facility. Photo credit: Dan Matsch

Why Compost? (start time: 7:01) Many of us may feel a little less guilty letting fruits and vegetables go bad, because we figure that this waste, thanks to curbside compost pickup, will be turned into nutritious food for crops, lawns or grasslands down the road. And landfills will spew less methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. The story of food waste and reuse is a complicated one. Our two guests are working on getting composting right — and ultimately on how to make our food-production and consumption systems more sustainable, starting here on the Front Range.  Dan Matsch directs the compost department for Eco-Cycle, the nonprofit recycler that works with cities along the Front Range. He also directs Eco-Cycle’s Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM). Mark Easter is an ecologist at Colorado State University’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory.  Matsch and Easter discuss with host Susan Moran the journey of a rotten zucchini, how composting is tied to the emerging practice of carbon farming, and how we all do our part.

Calendar advisory: Join KGNU and Eco-Cycle on Thursday, January 31, at the Longmont Museum (6:30 to 8:00 P.M) for a special community conversation on plastic waste–challenges and solutions. The event will include representatives from Eco-Cycle, the Inland Ocean Coalition, and local business and sustainability leaders. For more info, go to this website.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Chip Grandits
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Chip Grandits
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett
Additional contributions: Beth Bennett

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Methane Emissions From Natural Gas

Oil and gas wells in Four Corners region. Credit: NASA

Methane Madness (start time: 2:20)  More than a decade ago, scientists noted that the area where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet, known as Four Corners, appeared to be emitting a curiously large amount of methane. In a new study, a team of scientists have traced the source: more than 250 gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants associated with oil and gas development in the San Juan Basin. The basin is one of many places where new drilling technologies, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have propelled a boom in natural gas extraction. The boom has transformed the U.S. energy mix. Our two guests discuss with hosts Daniel Glick and Susan Moran the science and public health aspects of this study as well as the human side of living near natural gas wells in Colorado. Dr. Colm Sweeney co-authored the recent Four Corners study. He is the lead scientist for NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab Aircraft Program, and he is a research scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, at the University of Colorado Boulder. Our other guest, Dr. Christopher Clack, is a physicist and mathematician with CIRES whose research focuses on renewable electricity. He shares his personal experience with and documentation of natural gas extraction.

Hosts: Daniel Glick, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Contributor: Joel Parker

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Impacts of Fracking

A natural gas rig near Rifle, Colorado. © AP Photo/David Zalubowsk

A natural gas rig near Rifle, Colorado.
© AP Photo/David Zalubowsk

In Colorado, a boom in methane development over the past few years has raised questions about whether the environmental impacts are outpacing scientists’ ability to measure them. Shelley Schlender and Daniel Glick discuss the current state of the science looking into fracking’s impacts.  Here is a compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking.

Hosts: Daniel Glick, Shelley Schlender
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Shelley Schlender
Headlines: Beth Bennett, Natalia Bayona, Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Tracing Methane’s Source in Drinking Water // Safe Place for Captive Wolves

lee-stanish__120by180Methane in Drinking Water (start time 05:36) Flaming water faucets were infamously exposed in the documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2. The water isn’t catching fire–methane in the water is. People are deeply concerned that methane, dredged from kilometers down, is leaking into our drinking water supplies through poorly constructed and maintained oil and gas wells, but methane can be produced by living organisms much closer to the surface too. How can we tell where the methane in the water is coming from? One way is to look at stable isotopes of carbon, but the tests are expensive and require a lot of expertise. But our guest Dr. Lee Stanish explains to host Jim Pullen that she is working on much cheaper ways to trace the source of the methane. Lee is a Research Associate in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She’s trying to raise money for her research through crowd-sourcing–learn more here.

Apollo-KWHaven for Captive Wolves (start time 14:25) Right now in the United States, about a quarter of a million wolves live in captivity and fewer than 10,000 wolves in the wild. Most of the captive wolves born each year do not survive to see their first birthday.  They’re either destroyed or they die of neglect.  Colorado’s Mission Wolf refuge has rescued three dozen of these born-in-a-cage wolves to give them a better life, and to use some of them as ambassadors who educate people around the U-S about the amazing intelligence of wolves, and their plight. How On Earth’s Shelley Schlender and Boulder Naturalist and KGNU volunteer, Steve Jones, bring us the story.

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen
Producer/Engineer/Executive Producer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Schlender and Joel Parker

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Arctic Thaw // Methane Study // Bonobo Conservation

Today’s show offers three features:

Arctic sunset over Tromso, Norway, Photo courtesy Susan Moran

Arctic sunset over Tromso, Norway,
Photo courtesy Susan Moran

Arctic Dispatch: (start time: 1:02) Co-host Susan Moran returns from Tromso, Norway, with a dispatch from the Arctic Frontiers conference, which addressed the human health and environmental impacts of a rapidly thawing Arctic. Lars Otto Reierson, executive secretary of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program within the Arctic Council, discusses the transport and impacts of  contaminants on the Arctic food web and the indigenous people who depend on it. And Michael Tipton, a physiologist at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., speaks about the risks of and physiological responses to extreme cold environments. Read Susan’s article in Popular Science for more about the thawing Arctic.

Globally averaged methane (blue) and its de-seasonalized trend (red) determined from NOAA's global cooperative air sampling network. Source: Ed Dlugokencky, NOAA

Source: Ed Dlugokencky, NOAA

Atmospheric methane spikes: (start time: 9:39) Dr. Ed Dlugokencky, an atmospheric chemist with NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory, speaks with co-host Jim Pullen about a paper he co-authored in Science about a recent spike in atmospheric concentrations of methane, which is 30 times more effective than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The graph to the right shows globally averaged methane (blue) and its de-seasonalized trend (red) determined from NOAA’s global cooperative air sampling network. To learn more about KGNU’s coverage of fracking issues, visit our fracking blog!

book coverBonobo Conservation Success: (start time: 16:11) Author Deni Bechard speaks with Susan Moran about his new book, Empty Hands, Open Arms: The Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make Conservation Go Viral. The book highlights the success that a nonprofit is having in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in sparing the animals from extinction while economically benefiting local communities.

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

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Big Game, Warm World // Hour of Code

Bull_elk_bugling_in_the_gibbon_meadow_in_the_yellowstone_national_parkBig Game and Climate Change (start time 5:00) Last week, the National Resource Council released some serious warnings about climate change, saying its impacts could be abrupt and surprising. But as How on Earth contributor Brian Calvert reports, the National Wildlife Federation says big game is already getting hit. Species from mule deer to antelope to bear are all dealing with climate change in their own ways. Only elk are faring better, at least for now. All of that could mean serious changes for Colorado’s hunters and wildlife watchers, says, Dr. Doug Inkley, the senior wildlife biologist for the organization and the lead author of a recent report, “Nowhere to Hide: Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World.”

Cu_computer_scienceHour of Code (start time 12:30) Coding is not just a magic trick where ones and zeros make Angry Birds. But it can be surprisingly simple to learn. You can do it in an hour. But you might want to use a game built by a team here at CU-Boulder. The tutorial is being offered as part of Computer Science Week. In the studio with How On Earth’s Joel Parker to explain the university’s so-called “Hour of Code” is Alex Repenning, a computer science professor at CU.

Hosts: Brian Calvert, Joel Parker
Producer: Brian Calvert
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Beth Bartel

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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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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 kgnu.org to learn more.

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