Go With The Floe

Monday, March 5, 2012
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March 5, 2012



Sam Bowring, professor of Geology at MIT, says human adaptations to the environment are so specific that we would face significant challenges if our surroundings were suddenly very different.

Visit the EAPS (Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences) website to learn more about the scientists who are studying the natural surroundings of our home planet and the clues they give us about our future.

Here's one scientist with a passion for ICE:  Alison Criscitiello is studying glaciology in the EAPS program. Her work takes her to Antarctica, where she studies sea ice and measures ice cores. Check out photos of her work in this video:

A Local Perspective on Global Warming: Complete Series

By Heather Goldstone   |   Tuesday, February 28, 2012
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A Brookings study released this week found that the public's belief in global warming is on the rise. Scientists say it's clear: temperatures are increasing, weather is getting more erratic and sea levels are going up. The question is ... what should we do about it? WCAI's Heather Goldstone looked at the ramifications of environmental change for the Massachusetts coast in a four-part series.

Reporter Heather Goldstone talks about the series to host Bob Seay.

> > Are you concerned about climate change? Comment on this story, let us know on Facebook or tweet @wgbhnews with the hashtag #climatide.

Part One: Warm Winter, Big Questions

early daffodils

Scientists predict that Massachusetts could have the climate of the Carolinas by late this century if global warming continues unabated. With temperatures several degrees above average, this winter has brought a taste of what may be to come. And some wonder if that’s really such a bad thing. In the first installment of our four-part series, we explore the disparity between the scientific consensus and public opinion on climate change.

Web Extra: The psychological impacts of climate change

Part Two: Fisheries in Hot Water


Lobstermen in the Gulf of Maine have posted record harvests in recent years. But in the waters just south of Cape Cod, the situation is dramatically different. Lobster populations there crashed a decade ago and have not recovered, leaving lobstermen to face the potential closure of their fishery. We take a look at one of the most dramatic examples of how climate change is affecting New England’s fisheries.

Web Extra: A warming world? See for yourself

Part Three: The Rising Seas


In part three of this week's series on climate change, we look at the threat rising ocean levels pose to the state's coastline — and to the policymakers who will be forced to face tough questions. But does it have to be bad news?

Multimedia: A three-dimensional animation of sea level rise.
Web Extra: Cape Cod's disappearing dunes

Part Four: Mitigation and Adaptation — the Birds' Lessons for Us


In the final installment of our series, we take a look at state officials' attempts to find the right balance between stopping climate change and preparing for it, with guidance from the avian kingdom.

Web Extra: With global warming, new birds in our skies
Massachusetts' clean energy and climate plan for 2020 (pdf)

Ants & Chainsaws: The Fine Art of Scientific Observation

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
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Feb. 22, 2012



How easy is it to break up an ant colony? As part of WGBH Radio’s ongoing science coverage, we’ve partnered with NOVA.  All this week, we’re exploring nature.
Adam Lazarus is an ant expert at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

Here is his hilarious TEDx talk about ants:

Seaching for the Unexpected

Monday, February 13, 2012
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Feb. 13, 2012


Image of the Super-Kamiokande, used in the T2K experiment in Japan to observe the oscillation of neutrinos.

Professor David Wark is the Chair of High Energy Physics at Imperial College, London. He explained the TDK experiment in detail for the Science and Technology Facilities Council, saying, ""People sometimes think that scientific discoveries are like light switches that click from 'off' to 'on', but in reality it goes from 'maybe' to 'probably' to 'almost certainly' as you get more data. Right now we are somewhere between 'probably' and 'almost certainly'."

No End To Wave Of Dolphin Strandings On Cape

By Brian Morris   |   Thursday, February 9, 2012
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Feb. 9, 2012

WOODS HOLE, Mass. — Dolphins have been stranding themselves along the shores of Cape Cod, Mass., since the Pilgrims' times, and this winter is no different. What's different is how long the latest round of strandings has lasted — almost a month. So far, rescuers have counted 147 strandings and 38 successful rescues and releases.

No one knows exactly why these animals come ashore, but when they do teams of rescuers and volunteers mobilize to try to save them. One such team is led by marine biologist Misty Niemeyer down a beach on Cape Cod Bay to where a 6-foot black common dolphin lies on the sand. It's one of four dolphins that were spotted along the beach earlier that morning. The volunteers gently secure the dolphin inside a harness, then hoist it onto a large beach cart with oversized wheels.

Seagulls have pecked at the dolphin's eyes, which are bloodied, but other than that Niemeyer says the dolphins found that morning seem healthy.

"Two of them have some minor injuries but we're gonna just clean them up and take a look at them and we're hoping to release all four of them," she says.

Niemeyer helps the volunteers push the dolphin down the beach toward a waiting truck. She's a scientist with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which relies on a network of 300 volunteers who alert the group when stranded dolphins are sighted and assist with rescues.

Kit Boucher, a volunteer from nearby Eastham, says she loves working with the animals. "It's an honor to be in their presence," she says, "and it's humbling and also an honor to be with them if you're right there when they die. Beautiful, beautiful creatures."

The dolphins are brought up from the beach, then carefully lifted onto mats inside a specially equipped IFAW trailer.

Scientists are stumped

Scientists are having a hard time explaining the dolphin strandings. Some say Cape Cod's hooked shape traps dolphins that swim into the bay and then can't find their way out. The cape also has numerous creeks and sand flats, as well as 9-foot tide fluctuations.

According to Katie Moore, head of IFAW's Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Team, there's another key factor.

"These are very social animals," she says. "When they do come into shore for whatever reason, they stick together. And so once that happens, you end up with many animals at the same time."

Moore says you can't just turn the dolphins around and send them back out into the bay because they're likely to re-strand. "So we put them in our trucks, continue our health assessments and supportive care and then release them off the other side of the cape, or off the tip of the cape out in Provincetown, where they have a shot at open water without any sand bars or creeks."

A successful rescue

After a couple hours of blood tests and other exams, IFAW scientists decide these four dolphins are healthy enough to release. At around 8:30 p.m., the large IFAW trailer arrives at Herring Cove Beach, the northernmost point of Cape Cod. From there it's a straight run back out to the ocean.

All four dolphins are given a final assessment in the parking lot, weighed and then carted down to the beach, where their harnesses are gently removed in waist-high water. It's a remarkable success, considering that around two-thirds of the recently stranded dolphins have died.

After re-acclimating themselves for a few seconds, the animals quietly slip back into the Atlantic, taking with them the secret to whatever impulses drove them ashore.

Boston 'Rain Garden' Aims To Clean Polluted River

By Ibby Caputo   |   Friday, December 2, 2011
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Dec. 5, 2011

BOSTON — The intersection of five busy streets in Dorchester seems like an unlikely place for a garden. But in Peabody Square near the Ashmont T station, if you look behind the clock tower, you’ll see what the City of Boston planted: a rain garden.

What was once a lawn in no-man’s-land is now a garden and a gravel trench. The garden is planted with native trees, shrubs and flowers in a ditch. Rainwater flows into this ditch and is absorbed into the ground, then taken up by the plants.
That is what makes this garden special. It’s a utilitarian use of space. It looks like a garden, but it is actually a storm water management system.
How nature manages rain

“Rain gardens are a really interesting, simple way to think about managing rain in an urban environment,” said Kate Bowditch, the director of projects at the Charles River Watershed Association, the nonprofit that consulted on the design of Boston’s first rain garden. “It’s really the way nature manages rain and we’re just replicating it in an urban environment.”
Rain gardens are designed to treat the first inch of rain, which carries the most pollutants.
When rainwater comes into the garden, it soaks down through the soil, Bowditch explained. An active microbial mix in the soil breaks down the pollutants and eats up the nutrients; the plants drink up a lot of the water and nutrients as well. The rest of the water then percolates through the soil into the groundwater.
Less storm runoff = cleaner rivers

The purpose of this green infrastructure technique is to reduce flooding and improve water quality. Both are problems created by what is called “gray” infrastructure: concrete, pipes and pavement.
“It’s hard to live in a city with no pavement and you can’t live in a city with no buildings,” said Bowditch. “But the buildings and the pavement have really cut off the water from the ground, so we have all this rainwater falling out of the sky, landing on all of these paved areas and rooftops, and where’s it going to go? It has to go somewhere.”
Bowditch said that most storm water currently drains into pipes and shoots straight out to local bodies of water such as the Charles River. This causes water quality problems and increases the risk of flooding.

Rainwater runoff from Peabody Square drains into the Neponset River, which is on a list of polluted waters compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Peabody Square project is part of a larger initiative paid for by federal stimulus dollars to improve 15 intersections along Dorchester Avenue. While only a few of the reconfigured intersections will include rain gardens, the Peabody Square project was specifically designed to address water quality.
“There’s a lot of really, really interesting new techniques and technologies that are evolving that allow us to make the urban environment function much more like a natural environment, particularly in terms of water,” said Bowditch.
City officials said they hoped to learn from the Peabody Square pilot and include a green dimension in all future projects, including the redesign of Audubon Circle and Central Square in East Boston.

About the Authors
Heather Goldstone Heather Goldstone
Heather Goldstone is the science editor at WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station. She holds a Ph.D. in ocean science from M.I.T. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and spent a decade as an active researcher before leaving the lab to become a writer. In her nine years with the Cape and Islands NPR Station, Goldstone has reported on Woods Hole’s unique scientific community and key environmental issues on Cape Cod. Her reporting has appeared in venues ranging from NPR and PBS News Hour, to Cape Cod Times and Commercial Fishery News. Most recently, Goldstone hosted the blog Climatide – an exploration of how climate change is impacting coastal life in the region. 


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