On This Week’s Show
- We get an inside look on fossil restoration and paleontology with Mariana di Giacomo of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
- Science News
- The Climate Lounge
- Pub Quiz
Science News with Chris MacAlister and Dr. Amrita Sule
Wetlands Protection Rule put ‘too much emphasis’ on science, Trump officials complain
It’s time for the continuing adventures of the Trump administration and their valiant efforts to protect you from the scourge of the environment and its evil plans to keep you healthy and alive!
As scientists we shouldn’t make assumptions about things but I reckon it’s pretty safe to bet that if you’re taking time to this science podcast then you probably aren’t a fan of White House at the moment. So I’ll try to avoid preaching to the converted because there is some other interesting stuff going on.
The broad picture is this. The United States has a Clean Water Act. It’s a law that gives isolated wetlands and waterways automatic federal protection. Whilst this may be one of the few environmental protection measures that Trump isn’t scrapping, his administration argues that the interpretation of this law is not in keeping with its wording.
To be fair to them, they have a point; the law is impressively vague. The Act says it should apply to “navigable waters of the United States”. “What do they mean by that?” you may ask. The Act defines them as “waters of the United States.” I’m sure glad that they clear that up! The Supreme Court has attempted to decide what that phrase means 3 times and how far have they got with this? They’re split.
To cut a long story short; the Obama administration interpreted the law in a way that not only protected the areas in question but also protected the waters that feed into these waters. After all, what’s the point in putting your valuables into a safe and then leaving the door wide open? But it is this interpretation that the White House is questioning stating that Obama’s Environment Protection Agency (the EPA) put “too much emphasis on science”. Ken Kopocis, who lead the agency at the time, said that “It's baffling for a science-based agency to say that they relied too much on science” and I can see his point. You wouldn’t accuse Roger Federer of paying too much attention to Tennis.
But the reason why this accusation is being made is because EPA should rely both on science and law when developing regulation. The defence of the EPA is that, with such a vague law to work with, what’s left to rely on other than the science.
For me, the really worrying thing isn’t that this argument is being made, it’s why is this argument being made? Why would you want to remove protection from these areas; what possible better use could they put it to? Don’t go all Big Yellow Taxi on me America, it may not be paradise but we don’t need another parking lot! ]
Human Implants Invaded by Microorganisms
This story definitely makes me think of the time when I had a screw and a rod in my ankle due to a fracture. But who knew that when these implants were removed a year later they had likely become home to number of microorganisms found in the human body.
Implants like screws from joints, pacemakers, or plates from skulls when first implanted are completely sterile – which makes sense because you don’t want any infection. But recent studies showed that, once in place, they start being colonized by fungi and bacterial species which naturally occur in the body.
Previously there have been studies on microorganisms on implants surrounded by infected tissue. However, this is the first time studies have been carried out on implants from people with no such complications.
This study, which was carried out at Costerton Biofilm Center at the University of Copenhagen, looked at around 100 implants from infection free patients. They also looked at implants from patients who were due to have them removed, as well as from deceased patients.
The group found that about 70% of implants were covered with microorganisms. These are not harmful as they had not attacked by the body’s immune system.
This is pretty cool because although it is be well known that human bodies are home to microorganisms it has been thought that our tissues and blood are free of them. But given this observation that might not the case, as one possibility is that the bacteria and fungi reach the implants via blood stream.
More studies need to be done to answer questions like – What is the role of these microorganisms who make these implants their home OR Does this colonization by good bacteria/fungi prevent infections?
The End of the Road for Kepler Space Telescope
One of our great eyes in the sky is about to close for the last time. The Kepler Space Telescope is about to run out fuel. Supplies have got so low that it has been put into hibernation until the start of August when it gets its slot on the Deep Space Network. At this point it will awake, use the last of its fuel to point its antenna toward Earth, transmit its final message, and then it will be goodnight Kepler. So here at Blue Streak Science, we’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate Kepler and all that it has achieved.
This NASA mission was named after Johannes Kepler, a 17th century German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer (no one’s perfect). He formulated the laws of planetary motion and was one of the giants whose shoulders Newton, in his own words, so famously stood upon.
Kepler was launched in 2009, charged with the task of discovering Earth sized exoplanets. It cost six hundred million dollars, and do you want to know what you get for that kind of money? One instrument: but, oh what an instrument; it’s photometer can monitor the brightness of 150,000 stars at once, watching for those characteristic dips in radiation caused by a passing satellite.
So how did this one trick pony perform? Well its earthbound predecessor, the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, has discovered 134 exoplanets but it’s had a five year head start. Kepler’s total is 2,512 with 5,011 candidates still awaiting confirmation.
Kepler’s legacy will be the confirmation that exoplanets are very common. And this has massive implications for the greatest question of humanity; are we alone in the Universe? Because the more planets that there are out there, the more chances there are that something may be living on one.
But the search does not stop here, TESS the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April of this year (as was so expertly covered on this podcast) and should have started collecting data last month. It is expected to discover another 20,000 exoplanets, which is great news for anyone looking for work in exoplanet astrology. You guys are gonna be busy!]
Raptors of a Feather
Let’s go back in time guys. We have a story from the Jurassic World. So, who is it this time? The RAPTORS – my personal favorites, who have made appearance in the entire Jurassic park franchise yet.
Now in the movies we have seen how these intelligent Velociraptors work together and hunt in packs. But did they do that in real life as well??
Velociraptors as they have been called were similar to another animals called Deinonychus. Bonebeds of Deinonychus surrounding bones of herbivores have indicated that they worked in packs to hunt the prey however this notion has been questioned over years.
But there is another line of evidence, which comes from their tracks which also indicates the same at least in part. In 2008 paleontologists described that velociraptor –like animals walked side by side for a time.
The imprints discovered had the signature of two-toed imprints – with the killing claw held off the ground, indicating that they belonged to deinonychosaurs. And just this year another set of deinonychosaur tracks indicating signs of similar interaction was found.
These tracks are among the aggregation of 300 dinosaur footprints in the Early Cretaceous rock of eastern China. There are four trackways with 15-18 foot prints and alongside each other in the same direction.
Theses footprints initially look single toed but then if you think of modern ostriches – who have two toes but them most of their body weight rests on one toe – making an imprint look like single toed.
These footprints were pretty small about 10 cm in length thus likely made by a smaller animal. The most important thing that stood out was that these tracks are very close to each other and go in same direction. At one point you see that one track crossed the other and that one Deinonychosaur was lagging behind but more or less they followed same path.
Now, from these tracks it is difficult to say if this particular pack was hunting or just out on a stroll. Well I guess for this moment back in time, birds of feather were just flocking together.
The Climate Lounge
Thanks JD! It’s summer in the climate lounge, so we’re going to talk about summery things. Cold drinks with umbrellas. A relaxing day at the beach. And scorching temperatures that have caused horrible things across North America and serve as a scary reminder at what may be not a rare event come the next 50-100 years. Things jumped up a notch there at the end huh? Yeah, I know. Here in the climate lounge we go from 0 to 50….celsius REAL QUICK.
So over the last several weeks a giant heat dome has sat itself in the upper troposphere over much of North America. This has led to sinking, warming air, and a lack of clouds allowing for the summer sun to simply bake the continent. Now it hasn’t done all of this in the same place at the same time. The focus of the dangerous heat has shifted across North America (and even been located in Europe).
Chris: [Tell me about it!]
First, temperatures were hot over eastern North America. Temperatures in Washington DC didn’t drop below 80 for a couple of days. But the scarier stuff happened farther north in Canada. The hot temperatures in Quebec have led to at least 54 deaths, 24 of which were in Montreal as scorching temperatures descended on a region that is simply not used to that sort of heat. Many of those who died were older and lived in places without air conditioning. Temperatures in montreal stayed near 35 C for nearly a week, the longest period of warmth since 1965. Long lasting heat and warm nights are a very bad combo for the elderly and young. The body simply has no time to recover.
Moving west, the heat dome led to some frankly startingly temperatures out in California. On July 6, the temperatures set all-time recor in 6 locations in southern California. Including 117 in Van Nuys, 118 in Riverside and 111 at UCLA. Downtown LA only hit 108 a daily record that beat the old one by 14 degrees. According to the US’s National Weather Service, it hit 120 at Chino which would be the highest ever temperature recorded by an automated site in the region of southern California (coastal or valley). That’s absurd. It’s sorta hard to explain why because my jaw literally dropped when I first saw that and has remained that way. I mostly subside now on bugs that mistakenly fly into my mouth. It’s a living.
What makes this nuts is that California normally sees its hottest temperatures in September when dry winds called the Santa Anas zoom down the mountains and warm as they compress, leading to hot temperatures. To be setting temperature records like this in early july is again, absurd.
So it was hot. Who cares? Its weather right NOT climate. That’s sorta missing the point. But listen to an expert Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “[i]n probabilistic terms, climate change increased the chances of the heat wave by about 20 to 50 times,” adding that there is at least a 99% likelihood that human-induced climate change “increased the severity of this heat wave.”
Climate change is affecting temperatures now. It’s beginning to show its weather cards on the table… As temperatures continue to warm, events like this will become more and more common. And while some folks who are used to hot temperatures may be thinking Psht I can handle that, the last two weeks show some pretty big vulnerabilities. During the heat wave in California, electricity demands skyrocketed and power went out for 12-24 hours. Yes. It was 115 degrees in a place that normally gets hot. And the power still went out.
But even scary is what happened in Canada. Simply put, it’s a region not used to the type of heat wave that may be common in 50 to 100 years. And because of that, many residents simply don’t have the technology that people more used to the heat do, like air conditioning. And when that happens, sadly people die.
Now it will get hot every summer. It is summer after all. But every year we see glimpses of what in the future we may see as normal. And that could mean drastic changes to the way people, cities and regions exist. Now that is not fatalistic. I’m not saying we’re doomed. What I’m saying is, let’s acknowledge what we are seeing, and take steps to make it not so bad. Oh and maybe think about who among us will be most affected the quickest thanks to climate change. A little empathy goes a long way…
Interview with Mariana Di Giacomo, paleontologist
Today's interview with Mariana Di Giacomo was like getting a personal behind-the-scenes tour in a science museum. And our tour guide is a paleontologist who specializes in fossil restoration and is a Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. What a treat!
Have a listen to this interview!
Joining us for this humdinger of a hootenanny are the hippest of hipsters Chris MacAlister, the humble and housebroken Tom Di Liberto, and the heartwarmingly highfalutin Amrita Sule.
Here’s how it works. I ask a science question and our horse stable of highbrow hotshots heartily holler back.
It’s not just the letter H today. It’s animals that begin with the letter H.
- Sharp-shinned, Shikra, red-tailed, and the Cooper’s are all types of what?
- Naturally occurring only in Asia, Africa, and Europe there are 17 species of this small spiky mammal.
- Any of several species of low-flying diurnal raptors or a British military aircraft.
- There are four species of this carnivore that range from Africa to southern Asia. One species might be welcome in the audience of a comedian.
- The name of this species means “water horse”? What is it?
- What birds have the highest metabolic rate of any homeothermic animal?
- Name any insect from the taxonomic Order Hymenoptera.
- What is the only known comet visible to the naked eye that may appear twice in a human lifetime?
- This hard-shelled invertebrate, named for its resemblance to equine footwear, is related to arachnids and evolved about 500 million years ago.
- This type of whale ranges from 12 to 16 meters in length and weighs around 25 to 30 tons, and was featured prominently in the film Star Trek IV “The Voyage Home”. What is it?
How did YOU do?
Recommended by The Team
Host Jamie Jeffers takes us on a history adventure. Well, not exactly. Yes, it’s a history adventure, but it’s also a storytelling adventure with every episode.
It’s a chronological retelling of the story of Britain beginning in the most recent Ice Age and it goes forward from there. That’s a lot of ground to cover! But Jamie makes every episode worth listening to…sometimes more than once.
So I highly recommend you begin at the beginning, episode one, or you may become lost without the stories that lead up to the current episodes.
You can find that on Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher.
We’ll put links in the show notes.
Where Have We Been?
Chris: As I mentioned last time I was on; I’ve been to the Lake District, a little way from Penrith and whilst I never got around to making it to Beatrix Potter’s house I managed to capture another type of experience. On our first night at the campsite I took my dog, Cassini, for a short walk before the sun completely set. I’m so glad that I did as I soon became aware that we were not alone. All around me, darting through the air were bats, pipistrelles. “Wow” I thought, “Matilda would love this!” And then responsible parenting thoughts kicked in: “Agh, we’ve just put her down to sleep”. But sod responsible parenting, there’s bats everywhere, so I went to get my daughter out of bed. Now I should probably explain at this point that Matilda LOVES bats. Spooky moods in kids TV are ruined because every time a colony of bats emerge unexpectedly Matilda is delighted! We are so lucky to have one of the best zoos in the UK on our doorstep, Chester Zoo, and Matilda’s favourite place in the zoo is the bat cave, where Rodrigues Fruit bats and Seba’s short-tailed bats are free to fly around you, and possibly shit on you. So the expression on Matilda’s face as the pipistrelles started to emerge before her eyes is something that I will never forget. It was one of those moments that reminds me exactly why I do science communication, because there is no greater spectacle than the wonder of nature and no greater feeling than sharing that with someone.
Where Are We Going?
JD: Going to a lecture at Bodega Marine Lab in stunningly beautiful Bodega Bay, California. It’s titled “Saviors of the reef? Context‐dependent control of algae by coral reef fishes”. The speaker is Mike Gil of the University of California at Davis, and this will be happening on Wednesday, 18 July.
Once again, our thanks to Mariana Di Giacomo for sharing her stories from the field and the lab
And that concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.
If you have any suggestions or comments email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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And please check out our website is at bluestreakscience.com
This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.
And our hosts today were Chris MacAlister, Amrita Sule, Tom Di Liberto, and JD Goodwin.
Thank you for joining us. And remember…follow the science!