Mountain Wildfires

With record high temperatures along with record low snowpack, the Colorado Front Range has been ravaged by increasingly expensive wildfires.  For today’s show, How on Earth brings in two fire experts for a panel discussion.  John Daily is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado and the director of the Center for Combustion and Environmental Research.  Michael Kodas is a journalist and principal at Narrative Light.  He has been reporting on fire for over a decade and is currently working on a book on megafires.

Hosts: Beth Bartel and Jim Pullen
Producer: Tom McKinnon
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Shlender
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Potable water//Electric vehicle infrastructure

Dr. Jörg E. Drewes

Potable Water (start time 5:31). Here on the Front Range, the last three months have been the driest on record. Usually, we get about 8 inches of rain through this time period. This year, it’s more like three inches of rain. A dry year raises a question that’s always a worry in Colorado — what can people do to get enough water? The question is even more urgent because more people are moving to Colorado . . . which means, they will demand . . . more water! As for where to get that water when supplies are scarce, Jörg Drewesat the Colorado School of Mines is leading a plan to build city water systems so that we save drinkable water for, well, drinking. And we use less clean water for flushing toilets, washing laundry, and watering lawns.

This way to the juice!

Electric vehicle Infrastructure (start time 14:25). We cover electric vehicle technology a lot on How on Earth, but equally important issues to the vehicles themselves are the infrastructure required to make it work and the government policies. Rocky Mountain Institute, which has an office in Boulder, is an organization that has thought deeply about these issues. With us in the studio is Ben Holland, manager of the Project Get Ready.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon and Susan Moran
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Shelley Schlender and Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Why Calories Count//Boulder Gold Lab Symposium

Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim

Why Calories Count (start time 7:10). More than a billion people in the world suffer from too few of them. About the same number suffer from too many. We’re talking about calories. They’re vital to human health, indeed our very survival. A new book, called “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics,” delves into the many dimensions of calories – personal, scientific, and political. How On Earth co-host Susan Moran interviews the book’s co-author, Marion Nestle, a molecular biologist and professor at New York University. Her co-author is Malden Nesheim of Cornell University.

Gold Lab Symposium (start time: 17:24). This Friday, CU Boulder presents the annual Gold Lab Symposium.  This year’s theme is “Tempus Fugit.”  That means, “Time Flies,” and speakers this year will focus on why scientists and policy makers must remember that real people and real patients need innovations that lead to better healthcare, right now.  For a sneak preview of what “better” might mean, up next, How On Earth’s Shelley Schlender talks with Symposium founder, Larry Gold about one of this year’s speakers, Allen Jacobson.  Jacobson has a cure for some, not all, but some children who have the deadly disease, muscular dystrophy.

Hosts: Susan Moran and Jim Pullen
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Headline contributions: Breanna Draxler and Joel Parker
Feature contribution: Shelley Schlender
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Communicating with dolphins

Dolphins are intelligent and communicative creatures within their own species and with the other animals native to their waters. Still, a hundred million years of evolutionary history and pressures imposed by radically different environments separate dolphins and humans. Can that enormous chasm be crossed? Can we have a conversation with an alien, a different and intelligent species? Twenty-seven years ago, Dr. Denise Herzing first slipped into the warm and clear Bahaman waters in a quest to answer those questions. And every spring since then, she has gathered the crew, the equipment, the money, the courage and the patience to return to work cooperatively with them, unfettered in the wild. Dr. Herzing believes that first we have to understand dolphin society and give them the freedom to choose to communicate with us. This week on How On Earth, Jim Pullen talks with Dr. Herzing about how she communicates with Atlantic Spotted dolphins (start at 6:48).

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

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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 Science of Habit Formation

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit: If you’re like most of us you’ve tried over and over again to break a bad habit —  be it procrastinating, gorging on chocolate chip cookies every night, or watching TV rather than exercising.  And you know how hard it is to “kick” bad habits.  This week on How On Earth we offer one full-length feature (start at 7:57). Co-host Susan Moran interviews New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, author of a new book titled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business. Duhigg sheds light on why our brains form habits, how they serve (or don’t)  individuals, as well as companies and societies, and how we can turn bad habits into positive ones once we understand what scientists call the habit “loop.” You can also hear an extended version of that interview by clicking here.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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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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Fukushima Anniversary: global impacts one year later

Damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, courtesy Air Photo Service

Fukushima’s impacts a year later: In today’s show we offer a full-length feature (start at 4:57) to mark the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster — the worse nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl in 1986. We explore the longer-term impacts on public health, the environment, and the nuclear power industry, both in Japan and in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. Co-host Susan Moran interviews two nuclear experts: Jeff King, the interim director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Program at the Colorado School of Mines; and Len Ackland, co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is also author of “Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West.”  (King and Ackland also joined us on March 22, last year.)

Hosts: Breanna Draxler, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Fukushima Cleanup // Space Debris

Today, Feb. 28, we feature two interviews.

Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant meltdown, Image courtesy of Yomiuri Shimbun

Fukashima Cleanup (start at 7:23).  A daunting and ongoing cleanup task is that of removing radioactively contaminated material from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant suffered a meltdown in the wake of a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011. The tsunami swallowed whole towns and killed more than 20,000 people. How On Earth Executive Producer Shelley Schlender interviews Steve Rima, vice president of Radiological Services and Engineering at AMEC, in Grand Junction, Colorado.  AMEC is assisting with radiation cleanup in the 500-square-mile Fukushima evacuation area. (Scroll down to previous post to hear extended version of the interview.)

Space debris, image courtesy of Wikipedia

Space Debris (start at 14:10). You thought cleaning your room was a chore. Imagine the problem if your room was the size of, say, the space around Earth where real, full-sized rockets and satellites are in orbit.  Who is going to clean all that up?  Or is it even a problem?  How On Earth cohost Joel Parker interviews Dr. Darren McKnight about this issue of “space junk” or “space debris.”  Dr. McKnight is the technical director at Integrity Applications Incorporated. He has served on the National Research Council’s Committee on NASA’s Orbital Debris and Micrometeoroid Program, and is a member of the International Academy of Astronautics. He is coauthor of the book “Artificial Space Debris.”

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