Environment

The Biology Of Birds Of Prey

Sep 28, 2012

Transcript

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Up next, the biology of raptors, moving from giant animals to the birds, we're going to talk about here in Boise. Just outside of town is the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. And that park has one of the highest concentrations of nesting raptors in the world, more than 20 different birds of prey, including golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, screech owls.

Cheatgrass, an invasive weed, is choking out native sagebrush in the Great Basin--and setting the stage for hotter, more catastrophic fires there. Jen Pierce, an expert on ancient fires, and Mike Pellant, of the Great Basin Restoration Initiative, talk about how fires are reshaping landscapes in the American West.

Mammoths and saber-toothed cats may be the most famous beasts of the Ice Age. But they shared the prairie with horses and camels, too--both of which evolved in North America and crossed the ice bridge into Eurasia, before disappearing here. Matthew Kohn and Christopher Hill talk about the lesser-known fauna of the Ice Age.

After one of the driest summers on record, recent rains have helped in some parts of the country. But overall, the drought has still intensified. The latest tracking classifies more than a fifth of the contiguous United States in "extreme or exceptional" drought, the worst ratings.

In some parts of the Lower Midwest, water-starved crops have collapsed, but the farmers have not. Farmers across the country are surviving, and many are even thriving. This year, despite the dismal season, farmers stand to make exceptionally good money, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A future in which a discarded cell phone dissolves into a landfill, rather than living on for thousands of years as garbage, may not be that far off. Melissa Block talks with John A. Rogers, a 2009 MacArthur Fellow and professor of engineering at University of Illinois, about his research into "transient electronics."

Can tigers and tourists coexist? The debate is rumbling through India, where the Supreme Court has temporarily banned tourism in core areas of the country's 41 tiger reserves. The unexpected and controversial ruling is aimed at protecting the last of India's 1,700 tigers.

Up until the late 1960s, big game hunters trod the forests of Rajasthan's Ranthambore National Park, part of a sprawling tiger reserve southwest of Delhi. Under the court's recent ban, spotting one of India's big cats — a tiger or the more elusive leopard — inside the park is forbidden.

Near the mountain city of Potosi in the southern highlands of Bolivia, the cone-shaped peak of Cerro Rico stands as a 15,800-foot monument to the tragedies of Spanish conquest. For centuries, Indian slaves mined the mountain's silver in brutal conditions to bankroll the Spanish empire.

Today, the descendants of those slaves run the mines. But hundreds of years of mining have left the mountain porous and unstable, and experts say it is in danger of collapsing.

Arctic sea ice is in sharp decline this year: Last week, scientists announced that it hit the lowest point ever measured, shattering the previous record.

But it turns out that's not the most dramatic change in the Arctic. A study by Canadian researchers finds that springtime snow is melting away even faster than Arctic ice. That also has profound implications for the Earth's climate.

When it comes to farm raised fish, it doesn't pay to let them be lazy. Fish like wild salmon, tuna and eel are built for the vigorous swimming required during migration.

These fish are "uniquely adapted to a physiology of high levels of exercise performance," says Tony Farrell, who studies fish physiology in the University of British Columbia Zoology department. "Therefore when we put them in constrained environments and remove predators, the consequences are they become a little more like couch potatoes."

Cities and towns facing tight budgets have often neglected their cemeteries, an oversight that has left many of them in disrepair with broken fencing, crumbling gravestones, overgrown grass and persistent weeds.

But this summer, the Vermont town of Charlotte implemented a new strategy to both save money and keep grass in the town's graveyards under control, and it's a decidedly traditional way of doing it: Let goats and sheep do the work.

If you had a sudden urge to put a horn on your head, not use your knees and chew on some leaves, you may be catching the spirit of World Rhino Day. It's being celebrated all over the world with art shows, auctions, walk-a-thons and lectures with the theme of "Five Rhino Species Forever."

Residents of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, are engaging in a community-wide flushing of toilets today.

Is it a symbolic washing away of waste? A sign of protest? A commode "flash mob?"

None of the above.

President Obama named a new national monument on Friday: Chimney Rock in southwestern Colorado. With two sandstone spires soaring from a mesa, not only is Chimney Rock a spectacular place; it also provides a fascinating glimpse into the ancient people who lived in that region more than 1,000 years ago.

The Ugly Truth About Food Waste In America

Sep 21, 2012

Transcript

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Up next, an entirely different kind of food problem. Recycling paper and plastic, as you know, is an effective way to save money and energy. So why not recycle all the uneaten food that goes to waste? And there is an awful lot of it. Forty percent of the food in the U.S. today goes uneaten, which means Americans are throwing out the equivalent of 165 billion - with a B - billion dollars worth of food each year. But that's not all. Food waste, as it decays in landfills, also produces methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

Printing Solar Panels In The Backyard

Sep 21, 2012

Transcript

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Up next, Flora Lichtman is here with our Video Pick of the Week. Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: What's in store for us this week?

LICHTMAN: I pretty much geeked out this week.

FLATOW: You geeked...

(LAUGHTER)

The Pacific Island of Guam is experiencing a population explosion — of spiders.

There are more spiders there now than anyone can remember. To get a sense of how weird the situation is, I started out in Maryland. On my front porch, overlooking the Severn River.

At 6:30 in the morning on a cool fall day, I find two spider webs in a matter of five minutes. But if I were on the island of Guam, I might find 70 or 80 spider webs in five minutes.

Anthropologists believe early humans evolved in Africa and then moved out from there in successive waves. However, what drove their migrations has been a matter of conjecture.

One new explanation is climate change.

Anthropologist Anders Erikkson of Cambridge University in England says the first few hardy humans who left Africa might've gone earlier but couldn't. Northeastern Africa — the only route to Asia and beyond — was literally a no man's land.

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but what do you do when there are no apples? It's a question western Michigan's apple growers are dealing with this season after strange weather earlier in the year decimated the state's apple cultivation.

Michigan is the third-largest apple producer in the U.S. after New York and Washington, but the state's apples will soon be in short supply. Now in the middle of harvest season, growers are picking only 10 percent to 15 percent of their normal crop.

Wind Power Plentiful, Study Says

Sep 14, 2012

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. How much of the world's energy needs could be met by wind power alone? Energy analysts are always quick to point out that the wind doesn't blow all the time, but it turns out that if you look worldwide, and you look up at the sky and not just at ground level, there's a lot of wind available, and that wind carries a lot of energy.

Field Trip To A Fungi Foray

Sep 14, 2012

What happens at the Northeast Mycological Federation Foray? "Mushrooms only," according to attendee Gary Lincoff, an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and author of The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Science Friday stopped by the conference for mushroom talk, mushroom crafts, mushroom eats and a mushroom hunt.

When crossing from Uganda into Congo at the shabby border town of Bunagana, I encountered a broadly smiling man in a black leather jacket named Hamid Kashaisha.

He asked if I wanted to see the gorillas. I replied that it's guerrillas — with guns, that is — that I wanted to see: the M23 rebels who, for the past two months, had occupied a piece of real estate in eastern Congo larger than Delaware.

That was no deterrence to the pitchman.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Here's some troubling news. Ice covering the Arctic Ocean has melted more dramatically this year than ever before. This year's loss of ice has exceeded the previous record by an area the size of Texas. NPR's Richard Harris reports.

Arctic sea ice has melted dramatically this summer, smashing the previous record. The Arctic has warmed dramatically compared with the rest of the planet, and scientists say that's what's driving this loss of ice.

To be sure, ice on the Arctic Ocean always melts in the summer. Historically, about half of it is gone by mid-September. But this year, three-fourths of the ice has melted away, setting a dramatic new benchmark.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Here are some descriptions of a foul smell that has stunk its way across a huge stretch of Southern California.

PAT STEVENS: Rotting fish, sewage, you know.

JOYCE THATCHER: It smells exactly like somebody's septic system overflowed.

SEAN NEALON: Like an old banana under the seat for, like, a week, and it just turns all black and gooey and, like, something's rotting.

Some grapes like it hot.

Arctic Sea Ice Melt Sets Record

Sep 11, 2012

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

Every summer, some of the ice that covers the Arctic Ocean melts. Come mid-September, it begins to refreeze. Scientists began to monitor this cycle in the late 1970s, and this year, they saw less ice than ever before - a lot less ice. NPR science correspondent Richard Harris joins us here in Studio 3A. Richard, nice to have you on the program.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Always a pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: And how big is this change?

The current poster child for global warming is a polar bear, sitting on a melting iceberg. Some health officials argue the symbol should, instead, be a child.

That's because emerging science shows that people respond more favorably to warnings about climate change when it's portrayed as a health issue rather than as an environmental problem.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

When the European Central Bank holds its monthly meeting today, investors around the world will be watching nervously to see what the bank's head, Mario Draghi, says about interest rates. Draghi was recently quoted as saying he would do whatever it takes to keep Europe's debt crisis from growing out of control, and that could go beyond just cutting borrowing rates.

As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, any European Central Bank plan to use its resources to prop up Europe's weaker economies will face strong opposition from the Germans.

Scientists have found that the aquatic birds are good indicators of toxins in the environment. That's why researchers have taken to the waters of western Maine for what's believed to be the longest-running loon monitoring study in North America.

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