Smelly Seaweed Shocks Sunbathers and Sponges

By Toni Waterman   |   Tuesday, July 3, 2012
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July 5, 2012

BOSTON — If you've been spending early summer at the beach, you might have noticed something in the air. An invasive and quite ... pungent ... species of seaweed has made its way to the East Coast from Asia. Judy Pederson of MIT’s Sea Grant Program said the seaweed, which favors rocky shorelines and coves, could be squeezing out native species.
"We’re finding that over time these non-native species come in early, they grow faster or sooner than our native species and then they begin to displace them," she said. "And the native species they might displace are things like mussels, barnacles, sponges — things that are typically what we think of as our major New England species."
The seaweed has also become a hassle to state workers, who say they have no place to dispose of it — or the money and resources necessary to do so.

This Year, Weather Service Will Begin Pushing Notifications To Cellphones

By Eyder Peralta   |   Saturday, June 30, 2012
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June 29, 2012

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What the alerts may look like on your phone. (NWS)

The National Weather Service says that this year, it will begin pushing text notifications to cellphones that alert users to hazardous weather conditions.

The text notifications will be sent to those people within the location of the severe weather. The Weather Emergency Alerts could also be used for local emergencies that require evacuation, AMBER alerts and presidential alerts "during a national emergency," the Weather Service said.

Tech site The Verge reports:

"The Wireless Emergency Alerts system will notify people of approaching tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, flash floods, extreme winds, blizzards and ice and dust storms by sending an up-to-90 character message to their smartphone. The system is only compatible with newer devices, and will not be available in all areas, but the NWS says that "millions of smartphone users" will start receiving messages soon. Apple intends to support the service this fall, but it's not clear whether the support will be limited to new hardware, or if all its devices will receive an update."

The Weather Service says users can opt out of the service.

The CTIA says that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are all participating in the system. They have more information on whether your phone is supported at their website.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

As Water Supplies Wane, What's Next?

By Kara Miller   |   Saturday, June 23, 2012
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An irrigation canal is seen in Arizona's Salt River Valley. Some experts are concerned that parts of the American southwest are at risk for water shortages. (gem 66 via flickr)

Part 1:

Part 2:

A girl drinks from a tap in Rwanda. (jon gos/flickr)

We look at the increasing scarcity of water.

As the world’s population explodes, from 7 billion to 10 billion, will violence erupt over water the way it has over other natural resources, like gold, oil and diamonds?

Who will control water? And how much will it cost to access?


  • William Moomaw, director, Center for International Environmental and Resource Policy, The Fletcher School, Tufts University

  • Shafiqul Islam, director of the Water Diplomacy Initiative; professor, Tufts School of Engineering

  • Lisa Sorgini Marchewka, vice president, Oasys Water

It is a Mistake to Divorce Ourselves from Nature

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
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July 20, 2012

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Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist E.O. Wilson in his office at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., 2007 (AP Photo/Steven Senne).

More that 30 years ago E.O. Wilson wrote Biophilia. In it, he proposed that humans' have an innate tendency to admire living things. He expressed hope that by understanding our love of nature, we might develop a new conservation ethic.

"The reason I'm an optimist," Edward Wilson told NOVA's Peter Tyson, referring to where society stands in terms of protecting the natural world, "is that we still have a lot of elasticity, a lot of wiggle room."

Read the Biophilia Hypothesis on Wikipedia and hear "Biophilia" by Bjork.

Is Japanese Dock A Noah's Ark Or A Trojan Horse?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012
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Among the creatures that survived the trans-Pacific trek aboard the Japanese dock was this sea star, which was found inside the float.(Jessica Miller/flickr)

A bizarre event has drawn scientists to a beach in Oregon — a floating concrete dock from Japan has washed ashore. It had been ripped from its moorings by last year's tsunami and floated across the Pacific.

The dock is encrusted with mussels, barnacles and other marine life from Asia. Scientists are amazed these organisms survived the 14-month voyage, but they're also worried some of these organisms could become pests in U.S. waters.

Marine biologist John Chapman heard about the dock last Tuesday. It hit the beach a few miles from his laboratory at Oregon State University, and when he saw it, he was shocked.

"There were just an amazing diversity of species that we have never seen before," he says. "And the massiveness of this thing — it's about a 100 tons of stuff. And it really does have millions of organisms and maybe hundreds of species."

The dock is 66 feet long, 19 feet wide and 7 feet high; a plaque with a name on it revealed its source: a coastal town in Japan.

Chapman expected the organisms stuck to the dock would be deep sea species that hopped aboard during its Pacific transit. Japanese coastal creatures could not have survived a 14-month trip in the open ocean. But when he looked closer, he realized he was wrong.

"You know, it's appalling to me that this artificial island of Asian species was ripped off of their shore and transported to here really intact, and that we would not have predicted that," Chapman says. "So what we thought we knew is wrong."

Chapman says nothing like this has ever happened on such a large scale. The dock was like a Noah's ark for all these local Japanese species.

Or perhaps like a Trojan Horse.

"There could be very bad things in there," Chapman says. "We already know of very bad disasters of introduced species."

Zebra mussels from Russia have fouled the Great Lakes; in Oregon, the invasive oyster drill is a worm that threatens the oyster business. Chapman says non-native species are regular arrivals on the Oregon coast. But this is different.

"It's as if we had this turnstile that would only let through one a year, and then you know, a stampede came," he says.

In just two days of examining the dock, scientists have found a starfish that looks like one that has overwhelmed huge coastal areas in Australia; there are crab that look like one that's infested the East Coast of the U.S.; and there's a nasty species of brown algae all over the dock.

Jessica Miller, an Oregon State University biologist at the site, says workers are trying to get rid of what they can.

"The state hatched a plan which included this morning going out with a team to scrape most — as much of it as they could — and bag up as much as they could of the living biota and dragging it up the beach to reduce the risk that it might drift and float and settle somewhere local," she says.

Unfortunately, whatever was growing on the bottom of the dock isn't there anymore.

"When it got up on the beach, there was nothing left," Chapman says. "It all got ground off, which means that all of that was washed off in the ocean. It got away."

University scientists are still trying to census this floating menagerie. But Miller says the team is also mindful of the event that brought it to Oregon.

"A gentleman came up and put some white flowers in a crevice on the float and gave my intern a hug and then walked down the beach," she says, "really reminding us that yes, it's interesting scientifically, but it's only here because of a very serious devastating human tragedy."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

From Food to Fuel

By Toni Waterman   |   Tuesday, May 29, 2012
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May 30, 2012

RUTLAND, Mass. — When Randy Jordan was in high school, his family’s dairy farm was one of 640 in the state. Now, a generation later, there are only 200 still operating in Massachusetts.
“Farmers aren’t going out of business because they're dying or — geesh, there’s better opportunities. They’re going out of business because they can’t afford to stay in business,” said Jordan.
Jordan said one of his biggest budget busters was his electric bill: $2,400 a month to keep his 300 cows milked and his 1,000 acres of corn and hay growing. He had to cut costs. And his cows were the answer.
“The average cow poops about 18 gallons of manure and pee a day — a lot!” said Jordan. “And there’s nothing but methane in it.”
The cow as energy source
Methane gas has huge energy potential. So 2 years ago, Jordan partnered with Shannon Carroll of AGreen Energy to build the state’s first facility that converts food waste and manure into electricity.

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About the Authors
Kara Miller Kara Miller
As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.

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