Environment

This summer's drought continues to wilt and bake crops from Ohio to the Great Plains and beyond. Under a baking, late-afternoon sun just outside of the tiny east-central Illinois town of Thawville, John Hildenbrand walks down his dusty, gravel driveway toward one of his corn fields.

"You can see on the outer edge, these are a lot better-looking ears on the outside rows. Of course, it's not near as hot as it is inside the field," he says.

Changing Views About A Changing Climate

Aug 3, 2012

What is the role of humans in climate change? "Call me a converted skeptic," physicist Richard Muller wrote in an Op-Ed in the New York Times this week, describing his analysis of data from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. Though Muller was once a notable skeptic regarding studies connecting human activity to climate change, he has now concluded that "humans are almost entirely the cause" of global warming.

To avoid the crowds at Niagara Falls, why not sail the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or ogle oil refineries in Port Arthur, Texas? In Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures In The World's Most Polluted Places, Andrew Blackwell describes traveling to the world's most contaminated destinations.

This month we are collecting your stories about the good things Americans are doing to make their community a better place. Some of your contributions will become blog posts and the project will end with a story that weaves together submissions to make a story of Americans by Americans for Americans.

Every Day Is Earth Day In Seattle, Wash.

Aug 2, 2012

This month we are collecting your stories about the good things Americans are doing to make their community a better place. Some of your contributions will become blog posts and the project will end with a story that weaves together submissions to make a story of Americans by Americans for Americans.

Near their headquarters in a converted WWII naval building, EarthCorps members — brought in from all over the world — do morning yoga before departing to restore parks and creeks in and around Seattle.

Austin Docter has worked at a shellfish plant in Shelton, Wash., for 18 years and has a lot of words to describe what he calls the flavor profiles of oysters: Minerally. Metallic-y. Sweet. Buttery.

"Wherever oysters are grown, they take on the characteristics of the algae and water that they grow up in," Docter says. "It's a lot like French wine."

Likes Long Walks On The Beach, Collecting ... Plastic?

Aug 1, 2012

After talking to artists Judith and Richard Lang I couldn't stop thinking about the plastic in my life. I looked around my kitchen — at the dish soap bottle, the food storage containers, my kiddo's toys — and realized this stuff might be around for a long, long time.

America's 'Most Polluted' Lake Finally Comes Clean

Jul 31, 2012

Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, N.Y., has often been called the most polluted lake in America. It was hammered by a one-two punch: raw and partially treated sewage from the city and its suburbs, and a century's worth of industrial dumping. But now the final stage in a $1 billion cleanup is about to begin.

Standing in his office amid stacks of reports, scientist Steve Effler glances at an old front-page headline of the Syracuse Herald-Journal: "Divers find goo in Onondaga Lake."

The next time you take a sip of your favorite wine, you might want to make your first toast to hornets. Or, more precisely, European hornets and paper wasps.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

FLORA LICHTMAN, HOST:

And I'm Flora Lichtman. In 2007, thousands of people in Mexico took to the streets, protesting the price of tortillas. In three months, the price of corn had gone up 400 percent. Why? According to my first guest, it all started with a spike in oil prices triggered by Hurricane Katrina. That led to increased demand for ethanol, and U.S. farmers who grow a lot of the corn that Mexicans eat planted less corn for eating and more corn to make ethanol.

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The drought is threatening a major event important to one small lake town. For more than 25 years, DePue, Illinois has hosted the American Powerboat Association's national championships. This year, officials discovered the water level in the lake was too low. And so, they embarked on an unusual effort to bring in more water.

Mike Moen of member station WNIJ reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF A MOTORBOAT)

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In the Midwest, the drought is doing a number on the nation's biggest agricultural crop, corn. The USDA says half of the country's cornfields are in poor or very poor condition, and the short supply is driving up the price. Now, a fight between livestock farmers and ethanol producers over the high priced corn crop. Farmers say ethanol factories have an unfair advantage.

NPR's Dan Charles reports.

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Each summer, about half of the surface of the Greenland ice sheet melts. That's on average, but this month, in just four days, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet's surface has already melted. That rate is abnormally fast and it comes just a week after a huge iceberg broke off a glacier in Greenland.

For more now, I'm joined by Tom Wagner. He's a scientist at NASA. Hi there, Tom.

TOM WAGNER: Hello.

CORNISH: Now, to start, how'd this come to NASA's attention?

A pair of NASA satellite images taken just four days apart tells a potentially worrying story of melting ice in the polar summer.

The first, snapped from orbit on July 8, shows about 40 percent of the Greenland ice sheet shaded in pink or red to illustrate probable or confirmed surface melting. The second photo, taken on July 12, shows nearly the entire land mass — 97 percent — blotched in a red hue.

Last week there were the pictures of an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan breaking off Greenland's Petermann Glacier.

Now there are NASA images showing that in four days earlier this month, "Greenland's surface ice cover melted over a larger area than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations."

The cool weather in London is good news for the Olympic athletes because their bodies won't need to put as much energy into cooling off.

But most of us aren't lucky enough to be headed to London, and we could use some help keeping cool.

When you get hot you sweat — but it's not enough to just sweat. To cool off, you need that sweat to evaporate. It's evaporation that drains the heat from your body.

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In this country, there's an ingredient that's key to the success of new oil and gas technologies. That crucial ingredient is ordinary and plentiful, but only found in a few places and obtaining it almost always causes friction.

From Wisconsin, Laurie Sterns dent us this report.

Florida's Aquarius Reef Base is the only working undersea lab left today. But now that federal funds have dried up, it may be forced to surface. Oceanographer Sylvia Earle joins Science Friday from inside Aquarius, 60 feet underwater, to talk about sponges, corals and other life she's observed on the reef.

Melting The World's Biggest Ice Cube

Jul 20, 2012

Antarctica has 90 percent of the world's ice--and it's melting. Ice sheet guru Bob Bindschadler talks about climate change in Antarctica, and rising sea levels across the globe. Plus, biologist Diana Wall talks about hidden life in the barren Dry Valleys, and microbe hunter John Priscu talks about "bugs in the ice."

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

This week, a NASA satellite spotted a new iceberg broken from an ice sheet in Greenland known as the Petermann Glacier. The iceberg is twice the size of Manhattan, 46 square miles, and it's the second time in the last few years that an island sized chunk of ice has calved from the glacier.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that more than 80 percent of the continental U.S. is either in a drought or considered "abnormally dry". Farmers and ranchers in the corn and soybean belt are feeling the effects, and the impact is rippling through other economic sectors as well.

This Is Not A Composite Photo

Jul 19, 2012

This photo looks like two images stitched together; above is a normal forest, and below, a strange, Martian one. But it's a single image from a single place and time — the hills of western Hungary, six months after a devastating industrial accident.

Interactive: Mapping The U.S. Drought

Jul 18, 2012

Texas experienced its worst drought on record last year. Now that the state is seeing some relief, drought conditions have consumed more than half the United States. Use this interactive map and chart to see how conditions have changed over time. Related story: 1,200 counties affected.

A noted oceanographer once quipped that if you gave him a tanker half-filled with iron, he could give you an ice age. He was only half-joking.

Adding iron to the ocean can cause blooms of algae, which have the potential to take huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air and by so doing, cool the planet. And a report in Nature magazine now offers some support for that idea.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And now we turn to the Mississippi River. The drought has brought parts of the Mississippi to near record low water levels. Those shallow conditions pose difficulties for barge traffic on the river and we turn now to Mark Mestemacher who is co-owner of Ceres Barge Line. It's based in East St. Louis. Welcome to the program.

MARK MESTEMACHER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And how low is the river in East St. Louis?

From record-breaking temperatures to long droughts, extreme weather events are on the rise. Many meteorologists and climatologists say it's only going to get worse. Many cities are putting plans in place to prepare for a range of costly and deadly weather disasters.

While you're enjoying your coffee this morning, half a dozen scientists are already at work. They're not sitting at desks, however, but a few miles off the Florida Keys, 60 feet down on the ocean bottom.

This past week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report linking climate change to some of the extreme weather events of 2011, like the devastating drought in Texas and record high temperatures in Britain.

None of this bodes well for the future, but there is a glimmer of hope. It turns out that U.S. carbon emissions are down nearly 8 percent since 2006.

Miners Weather The Slow Burn Of Coal's Demise

Jul 14, 2012

At some point today, you will probably flip on a light switch. That simple action connects you to the oldest and most plentiful source of American electricity: coal.

Since the early 1880s — when Edison and Tesla pioneered the distribution of electrical power into our homes — most of that power has come from the process of burning coal.

In some of the dirtiest places on Earth, author and environmentalist Andrew Blackwell found some beauty. His book, Visit Sunny Chernobyl, tours the deforestation of the Amazon, the oil sand mines in Canada and the world's most polluted city, located in China.

Blackwell says his ode to polluted locales is a bid for re-engagement with places people have shrunk away from in disgust.

Radioactive To Its Core

His first stop was the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl.

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