Climate Change Maladaptations

Over the Seawall (start time: 7:33): One of the key things that makes us human is our ability to problem-solve.  But often our engineered fixes backfire and even make the problem we’re trying to solve much worse. How On Earth host Susan Moran interviews journalist Stephen Robert Miller about how this applies to massive seawalls, re-engineered rivers, grandiose canals (such as the Central Arizona Project) and other technological fixes that have unintended consequences.  Miller’s debut book, due out next week, is called Over the Seawall: Tsunamis, Cyclones, Drought, and the Delusion of Controlling Nature (Island Press). Check out Stephen’s upcoming book talks: Nov. 2 at CU Boulder’s ATLAS 102, 7:00-8:30 p.m.; and Nov. 28 at  Boulder Book Store,  6:30 p.m.

Host/Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Sam Fuqua
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Headline contributors: Beth Bennett, Joel Parker, Shelley Schlender

Listen to the show here:


Science On Stage


Sometimes it seems that science and art are completely different worlds but that has not always been the case. There is a long history of artistic scientists and scientific artists.  In this edition of How on Earth, we talk about the alchemy of transmogrifying science into theatre.

Our guests include two scientists and two playwrights who collaborated to create plays inspired by scientific research as part of a theatre project produced by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company.  The production is called “Science Shorts“, which will be streaming the performances online Thursday through Sunday this week, January 21-24.  The production will feature readings of four short plays by Colorado playwrights, and four short talks by the local scientists who inspired their work.

Our science guests are geophysicist Dr. Neesha Schnepf and biologist Ashley Whipple, and our playwrights are Nigel Knutzen and Ellen K. Graham.  Neesha and Nigel collaborated on creating the play Trinal, which takes three different perspectives on tsunamis and their impact.   Ashley’s and Ellen’s play, On The Rocks, follows American pikas and what they have to teach us about resilience in the face of environmental and other stress.

Host & Producer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett

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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.

Big Waves // Omega 3 Fatty Acids

University of Colorado applied mathematics researchers Mark Ablowitz and Douglas Baldwin stand with photographs of an "x wave" on an Oregon beach.
University of Colorado applied mathematics researchers Mark Ablowitz and Douglas Baldwin with photos of an "X wave" on an Oregon beach.

Big Waves (start time 4:39):  When does one plus one not equal two? When waves behave non-linearly, according to CU researchers Mark Ablowitz and Douglas Baldwin.  The two have been researching how multiple water waves can add together to form a wave with a height much greater than twice the height of either wave. The mathematicians refer to these as X and Y waves, which sounds mathematical but actually just refers to the shape of the wave front as seen looking down on the wave from above. Rather than being rare, these waves are readily observable and may be the reason that some tsunamis are much larger than anticipated.  We spoke yesterday with the pair to find out more about these interesting waves.

Fish Oil Pills (from Wiki Commons)

Omega 3 Fatty Acids (start time 14:49): It’s widely accepted that Omega 3 supplements are good for many things, especially your heart, and that fish oil is high in Omega 3. But earlier this month, Greek researchers made a splash with a meta-analysis that concluded that fish oil supplements do not help your heart. They came to this conclusion even though, in their analysis, people taking fish oil pills or eating fish had 9 percent fewer deaths from heart disease and 11 percent fewer heart attacks than people who don’t. Fans of Omega 3 shot many other harpoons into the study, and we look at one of their most compelling complaints – it’s that the amount of Omega 3 that people’s bodies absorb depends on many things, and the Greek scientists did not examine studies that checked Omega 3 fatty acids levels where they count the most. That’s in people’s blood.  To find out more about why blood levels of Omega 3’s might matter, How On Earth’s Shelley Schlender talks with Doug Bibus. Bibus is part of the team that years ago basically discovered Omega 3s. He’s a two-time winner of the American Chemical Society’s Award in Analytical Chemistry.  Bibus says that most Americans have very low levels of Omega 3s, and they’d be healthier if their levels were higher.

Hosts: Beth Bartel, Joel Parker
Beth Bartel
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: 
Susan Moran


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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