Beringia // Dolphins & Climate Change // The Ogallala Road

Beringia_land_bridge-noaagovBeringia (start time 0:55). We present an excerpt of  Shelly Schlender’s  interview with University of Colorado scientist John Hoffecker, lead author of a recent paper in Science magazine about the Beringia land bridge and the people who lived there 25,000 years ago.  The full interview can be found here.


Dolphins & Climate Change (start time 4:40). Dr. Denise Herzing, the founder of the Wild Dolphin Project, has been building relationships with Atlantic Spotted Dolphins for 28 years. meet-dolphins2 Her quest to learn whether dolphins have language, and to learn that language, is notable for its longevity. But her relationship with them is remarkably respectful, too. We last spoke to Dr. Herzing in the spring of 2012, about her book Dolphin Diaries: My 25 Years With Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas. We’re very glad that she’s with us again, to help us learn about how large marine mammals may be responding in unusual ways to changes in the oceans.

the-ogallala-road-coverThe Ogallala Road (start time 15:15).  We often hear about how the Colorado River is running dry. The Western  states that rely on its flowing water are struggling to reckon with how its depleting reservoirs will satiate growing  populations. You’ve probably seen images of the white “bathrub rings” at Lake Powell and Lake Mead that expose the water line rings of years ago.  But there’s an equally dramatic and dangerous drop in an invisible source of water. That’s the Ogallala Aquifer – an underground basin of groundwater that spans eight states on the High Plains, including Colorado. Nearly one third of irrigated cropland in the country stretches over the aquifer. And the Ogallala yields about a third  of the ground water that’s used for irrigation in the U.S.  The story of the Ogallala’s depletion is a very personal one for author Julene Bair. She lives in Longmont, but years ago she learned that the family farm in Kansas that she inherited had been a big part of the problem. Julene has written about her journey, including her desire to make the farm part of the solution. Julene joins us on the show to talk about her new book  The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning.

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

Listen to the show:


Engineering for Kids // Antarctica’s Ross Sea

On Tuesday, Nov. 26, How On Earth brings you two features:

Feature #1: (start time 5:53) STEM, as you may well know, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Many math and science topics are introduced throughout most years of primary education, but technology and engineering — not so much. We live in a world surrounded by things imagined and designed and built by engineers, from roads and buildings to computers and appliances and even food, drugs and clothing. So it’s important to understand engineering if we want to understand these life necessities. An educator tackling this issue is  Dr. Christine Cunningham, vice president of research and educator resource development for a project called “Engineering is Elementary.” It was developed by the Museum of Science in Boston. Cunningham is featured in an article, written by former How On Earth contributor Breanna Draxler, called “E is for Engineering” in the December issue of Discover magazine. Cunningham talks with host Joel Parker about how teaching engineering to very young students can be done.

Adelie Penguins in the Ross Sea
Photo courtesy John Weller

Feature #2: (start time 14:45) Arguably the healthiest marine ecosystem on Earth is the Ross Sea in Antarctica. It’s so pristine largely because it is protected by a 500-mile-wide shield of floating sea ice, and, well, it’s not exactly easy to get to.  But in recent years the Ross Sea has come under threat, largely from New Zealand industrial fishing ships that are hunting as far south as they can for the Antarctic toothfish, which was rebranded as Chilean sea bass for U.S. and other consumers. John Weller is a nature photographer and conservationist living in Boulder. He has documented the beauty and fragility of the Ross Sea in his new book, The Last Ocean. Weller also co-founded a nonprofit, called The Last Ocean Project, that is dedicated to protecting the Ross Sea and other fragile marine ecosystems. Weller talks about the science and art of these environments with host Susan Moran. (You also can hear a previous interview with Weller on KGNU’s Morning Magazine.)

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Beth Bartel
Additional contributions: Brian Calvert, Jim Pullen

Listen to the show here:



Feature #1: Neanderthals
(start time: 6:01)
Our Neanderthal ancestors have long been maligned as rather dim-witted cave-dwellers. But they may have been brighter — and more colorful — more like us, shall we say.  We turn to the BBC’s Science in Action for a look at new research into who these ancestors really were. Here’s BBC’s Jon Stewart.

Feature #2: Antarctica (start time: 11:03)
It may be hard for people living in Colorado and other land-locked states to grasp that our daily lifestyles – burning fossil fuels every time we turn on the lights or drive our car, for instance – affects the delicate marine ecosystems of the Southern Ocean, from the ice algae to the penguins and whales. And in turn, the health of the plants and animals, and indeed the ice they depend on, in Antarctica, affects our own health.  Cohost Susan Moran interviews Dr. James McClintock, a marine biologist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, about his new book, Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land.” He shares his adventures waaayy down under, and his concerns about the future of the fragile and stunning continent. 

Hosts: Ted Burnham, Susan Moran
Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Edelstein
Executive Producer:
Jim Pullen


Climate engineering // Jamie Williams

The Wilderness Society

Jamie Williams (start time  5:40). Today on How On Earth we speak with Jamie Williams about land conservation. It’s safe to say that Williams should take credit for large swaths of land in the West that have been preserved as wilderness. He has served as The Nature Conservancy’s director of landscape conservation for North America as part of a 20-year career at the organization.

During that time he helped forge unlikely partnerships between ranchers, other landowners and environmentalists. And he led major efforts to garner funding in Congress for conservation, including the largest conservation purchase of private land ever – of 500 square miles of forest in northwest Montana.

Williams helped develop the large landscape focus within the Obama administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which aims to connect especially young kids to the outdoors.

Today, Williams takes the helm of another major conservation organization, the Wilderness Society.

Climate engineering (start time 18:12). Geoengineering means large scale, intentional manipulation of the climate to counter the effects of global climate change. Advocates have proposed ideas like placing giant shields in space to block the sun’s rays from striking the earth, and seeding the ocean with iron particles to speed up the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. Critics cite a host of social, moral, and technological problems.

Climate engineering may be a solution of last resort, but the time for last resorts may be rapidly approaching as we spew more and more carbon into the air.

We  speak with Dr. Doug Ray about the readiness of climate engineering. Ray is an expert on energy and atmospheric carbon removal science and technology and is an Associate Lab Director at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Hosts: Joel Parker and Susan Moran
Producer: Jim Pullen
Engineer: Jim Pullen
Headlines: Jim Pullen
Additional contributions: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

Listen to the show:


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

Listen to the show:


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.



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

Listen to the show: 


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


Theme Song Contest

The Science of Music (Courtesy Flickr user wlodi)

How On Earth’s Theme Music Contest has concluded! And the winner is…

Patient Truth - T3KL3R

This track comes from local musician Josh Cutler, a.k.a. T3KL3R, a composer whose music is featured in the games of Boulder-based design company Team Phobic, including Electropy and Undead Ocean. Congratulations, Josh!

In addition to our winner, we received a number of excellent entries, all of which you can still listen to at this page. Thank you to all of the talented musicians who offered their music in support of our show:

Paper Bird
Jon Stubbs (of Hamster Theater)
The Buck Fifty



Theme Song Contest – All Entries

The Science of Music (Courtesy Flickr user wlodi)

How On Earth’s Theme Song Contest is no longer accepting submissions.

Thank you to all the talented musicians who offered their music in support of KGNU’s local, community programming. We were very impressed with all of the entries, and you can still listen to them here.

For comparison, here is the theme we were replacing after many years of faithful service to How On Earth. It was written by Tim Morton and produced by Tom Wasinger.

How On Earth Theme


  • Paper Bird is a local band putting their own unique spin on the folk genre. They submitted a track from their 2010 album When The River Took Flight.

Yellow Sun - Paper Bird

  • T3KL3R is a composer whose music is featured in the games of Boulder-based design company Team Phobic, including Electropy and Undead Ocean.

Patient Truth - T3KL3R

  • Jon Stubbs is a composer, musician, educator, and long-time KGNU member. He is also part of local band Hamster Theater.

Dancers - Jon Stubbs
Phoenix - Jon Stubbs
Dreams - Jon Stubbs

  • The Buck Fifty is an emerging Boulder-based trio playing their acoustic blend of folk and bluegrass – Mile High Americana.

Spray - The Buck Fifty

  • Jababa is a 5-piece instrumental group from Boulder. They blend elements of funk, fusion, and progressive rock to create a new hybrid genre that both honors the traditions of these styles while simultaneously forging new ground..

Booty Sox - Jababa
Green Slime - Jababa
Look Paw No Hands - Jababa

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