'Controlled Burns' Can Help Solve California's Fire Problem — So Why Aren't There More of Them?

With climate change, wildfires threaten disaster and chaos in more California communities, more often. But experts say it's possible to avoid catastrophic harm to human and forest health by setting planned burns before human error, lightning or arson choose when fires start. "Putting prescribed fire back out on the landscape at a pace and scale to get real work done and to actually make a difference is a high priority," says Cal Fire chief Ken Pimlott. "It really is, and it's going to take a lot of effort." 'Unprecedented Catastrophe' In a February report, the watchdog Little Hoover Commission concluded that the way California landowners have collectively managed forests is an "unprecedented catastrophe." In May, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order to improve forest management, and with it, a dramatic change. Now Pimlott says that Cal Fire intends to triple the amount of prescribed fire on lands the state controls. "We can prevent these large catastrophic fires or at least reduce the intensity when fires do occur," he says. "So a little bit of smoke now and a little bit of inconvenience now is well worth offsetting these large damaging fires." That's a small step toward addressing a major deficit. According to the commission's report, an area the size of Maryland — including state, private and federal land — needs maintenance or planned fire to become healthier. 'We can prevent these large catastrophic fires or at least reduce the intensity...'Ken Pimlott, CalFire Chief One day of prescribed burning in the Tahoe National Forest offers a glimpse of the difficulties in completing these projects. Easier Said Than Done U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighters hacked a line into the earth, around a patch of land on the Yuba River District near Pendola, overlooking Bullard's Bar for one day of work. A "hot shot" crew and crew members from two engine companies gathered for the day's work. In May, U.S. Forest Service crews set a 23-acre prescribed burn in the Yuba River District for the Tahoe National Forest. (Jennifer Hinckley) "This day started a few years back," Jennifer Hinckley laughs dryly. Hinckley is a fire and fuels specialist for the Tahoe National Forest. And she does a lot of paperwork: before the first torch even can drip fire on the ground, federal law requires extensive environmental review. Even with approval, federal wildland managers waited months for the right weather and environmental conditions here. Hinckley says those criteria range from wind speed and temperature, to how much water is in the soil. It was a very wet spring; on-and-off rains created several months of delay here. Thick vegetation in the understory is a limiting factor, too. Hinckley says her crews often need to chop and flatten vegetation to make safe conditions for burning. Even when all of the stars align, Hinckley says she might not have warm bodies for the job. That happened last fall, when fires up and down the state kept fire crews hamstrung. "I didn't have crews to perform prescribed burns," she says, "because the wildfires take priority." Even when the permit is done and the weather is right and crews are available, the air might already be too polluted to add more smoke to the mix. Air regulators grant permission for burn days, and it's hard to get: regional atmospheric conditions mean that smoke from Sierra Nevada forests funnels toward the central valley, where air pollution is consistently bad. Balancing Forest and Human Health Whether from wildfire or planned burn, smoke feels like pollution to vulnerable lungs. "The consequences are the same in terms of patient response," says Fresno-based asthma and allergy specialist Praveen Budigga. "I mean, patients are going to have the same effects of the fire." State and regional air boards say they're working to balance forest and human health. "We have to protect public health; that's our mandate," says Dar Mims, a meteorologist with the California Air Resources Board. "But we also recognize that we need burning in the forest, and a lot of those trade-offs have to happen in real time because the decisions have to be made — do we want to potentially impact the air basin, or do we want to burn." 'We have to protect public health. That's our mandate.'Dar Mims, CARB Air regulators and fire officials say that to promote prescribed burns will require better public education about their relative hazards. Last year, a groundbreaking study concluded that wildfire smoke contains three times as much pollution as smoke from prescribed fires. CalFire's Ken Pimlott says that's reason to push for more burn days. "We want the ability to have some more flexibility to be able to burn on days [when] maybe it's not quite as close to an air quality attainment day as one would like but it's a perfect prescription window," he says. "Say we have the resources available and the temperatures and humidities and wind — all of those, vegetation, are all in alignment to make a perfect burn and so we want the ability have a little flexibility." A flame-scarred tree trunk at Bouverie Preserve. A prescribed burn might have kept fire from burning hot and high, destroying buildings, and damaging trees. (Molly Peterson) Bringing Fire to a Healthier Landscape Evidence of the ecological benefits of fire are visible at the Bouverie Preserve, a wildland area in Sonoma County. Beginning in spring, a living carpet of purple lupine, white popcornflower, yellow fiddleneck unrolled across the preserve's fields and canyons. "It's lush and green with wildflowers. It's pretty beautiful," says fire ecologist Sasha Berleman. To her, this off-the-charts growth signals a healthy landscape, where wildflowers followed the fire in short order. But look closer at the trees, she says, pointing out how the heat of the Nuns fire blackened the ground and charred the oaks, their trunks scarred with flames up to six feet high. Berleman wonders whether the fire needed to be that severe. "With that wind event that we had, it's not that this fire is completely preventable but we could have probably had an impact on the behavior of the fire within the area that burned," she reflects. To see how, she points across the path, to a 17.5-acre plot where she lit a prescribed fire last May. Those trees remained green. Flames were only inches high. These lands will recover faster. "They might have not burned so hot or so extreme in the oak woodlands if we had been managing them on a regular basis," Berleman says. Fire ecologist Sasha Berleman set a prescribed burn at the Bouverie Preserve last spring. She says it prepared the land for the October fires that tore across Sonoma County. (Molly Peterson) She also thinks more planned burns could have saved Bouverie's buildings. That hot and extreme fire torched all but one of them. Berleman went back to the preserve as the fire raged. She and two men were able to save that last building, David Bouverie's own, using a bucket, a shovel and a chain. "So now that building has a special place in my heart," she laughs. "We spent a good 24 hours together." Berleman now works as a consultant, promoting the use of ecologically applied fire for private clients and the East Bay Regional Park District, among others. Paradoxically this summer, she's deploying her "hot shot" training as a wildland firefighter, where the job is to stamp fires out. "I felt like we're sometimes putting out fires that were doing good work. Just because that's what the machine does," Berleman says. "That's what we do, put out fires." Her hope is to reconcile the conflicting aims of these jobs, and the relationship between fire and California's landscape, to get scientists and wildland managers heading in the same direction. In Harm's Way Craig Thomas, conservation director for the Sierra Forest Legacy, says in the last 25 years, that's become easier to do. But during those years, Thomas points out a different challenge has been growing: more people have moved into wildlands from cities. "There is a, you know, thinking that a landscape is like a photograph," he says ruefully. "You know, when you have these big beautiful trees and we want to freeze-frame them." Thomas argues that's a bad idea. Fire is a natural disturbance, he says, "a process that is every bit as much of the picture of where you land as the trees are." For him, the forests are a movie, not a picture. Trees have a starring role, but so does fire. And it doesn't have to be the bad guy in a summer blockbuster.

'Controlled Burns' Can Help Solve California's Fire Problem — So Why Aren't There More of Them?

Something Else Adding Fuel to California's Fire Season: Warmer Nights

It will most likely be weeks before the County Fire west of Sacramento is completely extinguished. By Friday it had consumed nearly 140 square miles — an area larger than Las Vegas. Firefighters say it was a vicious cycle of weather conditions, terrain and vegetation that made it one of the fastest-growing fires in recent memory. But there was something else at work: a relatively new challenge confronting fire crews. Scientists have noted that nighttime temperatures — overnight lows, in particular — are rising at a faster rate than daytime highs. 'We know this has been going on and impacting firefighting operations.'Tim Brown, Western Regional Climate Ctr. "It is a significant difference," says Tim Brown, who directs the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno. "Both temperatures are rising, but the minimum temperatures are rising even more." Brown says the difference in rates first started showing up in the data around 1980, and that overnight lows are now running about 2 degrees F above the 1981-2010 period that climate scientists use as a benchmark. "We can see both the trends in the daily high temperatures," he notes, "but an even stronger trend in the daily night time temperature." Graph shows the recent spike in Northern California's overnight low temperatures, compared to 1981-2010 period. (Western Regional Climate Center) And it's not good news for firefighters, who have complained in recent years that wildfires have not been "laying down" at night as they had in the past. Brown says the trend has been particularly apparent at this time of year, and in the part of the state where the season's first two major fires erupted. "This rise has been occurring all over the state," says Brown. "But where the current fires are — the County Fire, the Pawnee Fire — yes, over the last six years, we can see from these observations that the nighttime temperatures have been particularly warmer than usual during the spring months and into summer." It could've been a contributing factor when the County Fire started devouring landscape at the rate of 1,000 acres an hour, growing fourfold in size on its first night. The higher nighttime temperatures were just part of a witch's brew of heat, low humidity, erratic winds, and terrain that made for a difficult fire fight. "We know this has been going on and impacting firefighting operations," says Brown. California's fire season is off to an early start. By early July, Cal Fire had responded to about 260 more fires than by the same time last year. Brown says that since nights have warmed and humidity dropped, there isn't as much moisture for "cured" or dead vegetation to absorb from the air. And, he says, if fire crews can't make as much headway at night as they used to, it means there is also more smoke to contend with. "There's a substantial increase in the potential for public health impacts that we can link to this increase in nighttime temperature," says Brown.

Something Else Adding Fuel to California's Fire Season: Warmer Nights

Oakland Zoo Makes Room for Big Predators. But Is it Enough?

On a sunny, crisp day in April, LeRoy Little Bear and a dozen other tribal members from the Blackfeet Nation sang and danced a traditional rite to honor fourteen American bison they brought from Montana to the Oakland Zoo. "Today is a very historic day because we've brought down buffalo that were almost extinct," announced Little Bear from an overlook above the grazing herd. These bison are rare, he said, because they haven't been bred with cattle, unlike most bison seen today. "You're getting full-blood buffalo from the way they used to be," Little Bear proclaimed with visible pride. Tribal members from the Blackfeet Nation sing together to honor and welcome fourteen bison they brought from Montana to their new home at Oakland Zoo. (Sarah Craig) The bison are one of eight species at California Trail, the Zoo's new exhibit hosting animals native — or once native to California. It's scheduled to open to the public in July 12. Amy Gotliffe, the zoo's conservation director, says the exhibit is a way to, "show people from the Bay Area what beautiful biodiverse wildlife we live with now, lived with before and could live with again." The bison, she says, are an example of how the zoo is trying to support animals in the wild. They will breed the bison and send the offspring back to the tribe to repopulate the wild herd. The zoo is also supporting a range of conservation efforts for each of their new animals, which include mountain lions, wolves, jaguars, California condors, bald eagles, black bears — even the long-extirpated grizzly bear. For example, the four black bears at the zoo — a mother and her three cubs — were rescued from Pine Mountain Club in Kern County. "There was a possibility of them all being put down because they were considered a nuisance," said Gotliffe. The zoo is partnering with the Bear League in Tahoe that helps to deter black bears from wandering into human areas. Jaklyn Mistaken Chief, 12, and Dallis Mistaken Chief, 9, from the Blood Tribe, offer the "Fancy Shawl" dance during a ceremony to welcome fourteen bison brought from the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. (Sarah Craig) The zoo also rescued four grizzly cubs from Alaska, and three mountain lion cubs, one from El Dorado County and two from Orange County. (The original California Grizzly is considered extinct, hunted out nearly a century ago.) "The mountain lions are another story," said Gotliffe, "They were all found abandoned [as cubs] on the side of the road." The zoo is working with the Mountain Lion Foundation and the Bay Area Puma Project and has created a task force called the Bay Area Cougar Action Team. There's also a plan to help California condors and bald eagles recover from lead bullet poisoning and then release them back into the wild. In order to support all these partnerships, the zoo contributes 50 cents of its admission price ($22 for adults) as well as a portion of future Zoo membership fees, to conservation funds. Managers expect to raise at least a quarter of a million dollars this fiscal year for conservation. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA, recommends that zoos under its accreditation — like the Oakland Zoo — spend at least three percent of their revenue for conservation. Gotliffe says they aren't there yet, but they "have that goal in mind." She says with the opening of California Trail, which cost $80 million dollars and more than doubled the size of the zoo, they "will definitely be there." Fourteen bison graze on native grasslands in their new exhibit at Oakland Zoo, in what was once part of Knowland Park. (Sarah Craig) Ironically, to achieve these conservation goals, the zoo expanded into 57 acres of Knowland Park, cutting into habitat for the threatened Alameda striped racer — also known as the Alameda whipsnake — and the California red-legged frog. This angered park advocates who formed an organization called Friends of Knowland Park. In 2011, they waged a losing legal battle against the zoo and the City of Oakland, arguing that the city didn't fully mitigate for impacts to the Alameda striped racer, native grasslands and sensitive plant species, like the Oakland star tulip and bristly leptosiphon. Under the existing requirements, the zoo must set aside 13 acres for native grasslands and 53 acres for the striped racer. "We don't know if the snake is going to go into an animal enclosure and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing," said Shawn Smallwood, an independent biologist from UC Davis hired by Friends of Knowland Park to review the zoo's plan. But, he added, when you are dealing with an endangered species you must err on the side of caution. "It's just been so political," says Karen Swain, the biologist hired by the zoo to monitor the frog and the snake during construction. She's tasked with making sure construction workers don't harm the snake. "I've had to walk this honest line for what the biology is." In a way, the zoo is walking its own line: even making adequate space for its own animals remains controversial. Heather Paddock and her fellow zookeeper rake old hay away from the feeding areas for the zoo's fourteen American bison. (Sarah Craig/KQED) "We are trying to provide these guys with as varied of an environment as possible, to help them not be sitting around all day bored," says Heather Paddock, one of the zookeepers in charge of the black bears. The bears have more than an acre, dotted with dens, oak trees — even a swimming pool. The zoo says the bears exhibit, as well as all of their new exhibits, exceed the industry's best standards. But Mark Bekoff, an Emeritus Professor of Ecology who studies animal behavior at the University of Colorado, says zoos shouldn't keep large predators because of their need to roam vast distances and hunt prey. One of the black bear cubs wanders over to the glass of his enclosure, which is over an acre and features three dens, oak trees and a swimming pool. (Sarah Craig/KQED) "Wide-ranging carnivores are among the animals who suffer the most when they are put into a cage," he said, referencing a 2014 study published in Nature. While Bekoff agrees that zoos should take in animals who have nowhere else to go, like these bears, he wants them to have more choice and control over their lives. Zookeeper Paddock said she is trying to compensate for this with training and enrichment activities. "We are providing them enrichment every single day, whether that's a new food item or a new device, a toy, a new scent," she said as she fed the black bears a mixture of bird seed, mealworms, romaine lettuce and oranges. But Bekoff maintains that animals need privacy, too. "Because let's face it," he says, "zoos bring animals in as money makers and so many animals in zoos suffer from boredom or stress from being unable to get out of the public's eye." Heather Paddock, a zookeeper for the Oakland Zoo's new exhibit, prepares a food enrichment activity for the zoo's four black bears. She pours bird seed and mealworms into large round containers and tapes off the holes to make it harder for the bears to get the food. (Sarah Craig) But Paddock says the public needs to connect with these animals so they care about saving them in the wild. "You know the wild isn't butterflies and rainbows for a lot of these animals," she says. "They're getting pushed further and further to the fringe of wild spaces." Ultimately, that fringe habitat could be the last refuge — for both snakes and bears — because there just isn't enough wild space left. A major new expansion doubling the size of the Oakland Zoo, called California Trails, opens July 12, and features eight species native or once native to California, a gondola and hilltop restaurant. Source: The Oakland Zoo

Let's Talk Thor's Hammer and Wakanda ... Sciencewise

The season of summer blockbusters is in full swing. From the rollicking space adventure of "Solo," to the universe-spanning "Avengers: Infinity War," characters are dodging blasters, collecting stones of power, and falling in love as their world hangs in peril. 'We're not trying to be the accuracy police. For us, it's a lot more about inspiration.'Rick Loverd, Science & Entertainment Exchange It's a lot of popcorn, and whole lot of fun. It's also a chance to lose yourself in new imaginary worlds. Sometimes what you see on screen can become inspiration for real life. "The number of present-day scientists who might point to a character like Spock as a point of inspiration that got them interested in science is many," says Rick Loverd, program director of the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a project of the National Academy of Sciences. "It's our job here at the Exchange to try to facilitate as many of those moments as possible for the next generation of kids." The service is free and works best, Loverd says, when a researcher connects with a storyteller early on, while the project is still being envisioned. "While we're happy to help at anytime," Loverd says, "we're most excited by those projects where a screenwriter calls us up and says, 'Hey, I just had an idea. It involves time travel and I'd love to talk to a scientist.'" Loverd helped "Black Panther" movie makers conceive the city of Wakanda, for example, finding architects, city planners and anthropologists to contribute to a document the crew used as a reference for the history, culture and layout of Wakanda. Lovered recently spoke with KQED Science editor Danielle Venton about what science can offer to Hollywood. Black Panther toys are displayed to attendees at the Hasbro showroom during the annual New York Toy Fair, on February 20, 2018, in New York. (EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images) DANIELLE VENTON: I wanted to know, is this really about getting the science right? RICK LOVERD: For us, we're not trying to be the accuracy police and the least interesting consults for us, though we're happy to do them, are the ones where we're just fact checking. For us it's a lot more about inspiration and about giving storytellers ideas. DV: What's an example or two of a Hollywood movie that really got the science right? RL: I'd like to say that it's not always important to get the science right. You know, especially in the narrative summer popcorn movie. Some of the more exciting science moments for me have come in Marvel films, not necessarily because they have deadly accuracy in them, but because they're seen by so many people. And a character like Shuri from "Black Panther," has an opportunity to inspire a lot of kids into science and engineering. Also another example that I like is "Interstellar." Because the visualization of the black hole actually was based on a Nobel Laureate's work. We hear about black holes our whole lives and we kind of have this image of the absence of light. But when you see it in "Interstellar," it's actually quite vibrant and bright. I think that moment of wonder when you see the unexpected and then you later find out that there's some truth to it, those are really the moments that the Science & Entertainment Exchange tries to facilitate. DV: I gotta say though as someone who has a science degree, when I'm watching a movie and there is something just obviously inaccurate it completely pulls me out of the story. I might be a curmudgeon but I can't suspend my belief if I'm like, 'Oh, that definitely couldn't happen.' RL: I can tell you that that is something that no filmmaker wants. But I don't think that these mistakes usually are intentionally done, and when they are intentionally done I actually have no problem with the idea of a storyteller knowing what the facts are, and then saying, 'You know what? It's going to serve my story better to not be completely accurate in this situation.' DV: Some of my colleagues who are extreme movie fans had a couple of extra questions for you, if you're game. RL: Okay, alright. DV: Alright, if you had unlimited resources, which company would you hire to build a real Iron Man suit? RL: There are places like the Media lab at MIT where there's just such a trove of brilliant minds that I would definitely feel comfortable that they'd be able to make something pretty spectacular, given unlimited resources. DV: To the best of your knowledge what is Thor's hammer composed of? RL: Well it was forged in a dying star, so it's gotta be made of some exotic materials that are super dense. Actually, there are materials that exist, I understand, in dying stars in our universe that are extraordinarily dense that could be targets for something like Thor's hammer. I don't know exactly, other than the magic of the character and the mystique of Thor, why one person would be able to lift it and another person would not, though. DV: That's a mystery that will have to stand.

Proposition 68: Money for Parks, Beaches and Water Projects

Proposition 68 is a $4.1 billion bond measure that will clean up dilapidated parks, improve water projects, upgrade flood protection and protect scenic open spaces. What You Need to Know About Proposition 68 About two-thirds of the money would be dedicated to parks and wildlife, and one-third would be allocated to water and flood control projects. Payments on the bond will cost taxpayers about $200 million annually over 40 years. The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) estimates the infrastructure investments will likely save communities tens of millions of dollars annually. Here's how the allocations break down: Parks and Recreation: $1.283 billion for neighborhood parks in low-income communities, plus city and county park facilities Natural Resources: $1.547 billion for conservation projects and climate change preparedness Water: $1.27 billion for drinking water treatment, groundwater clean-up and flood protection How did Proposition 68 Get on the Ballot? Proposition 68 was written by state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and was placed on the ballot by a two-thirds vote of state lawmakers last year. "I grew up in a neighborhood in San Diego that was all asphalt, that was concrete and cement," de León says. "No green parks. No open space. No trees for shade. This is an intentional way of democratizing our benefits so that every child regardless of their zip code has access to Mother Nature." Why Do People Support It? Prop. 68 provides funding for disaster prevention, clean drinking water and safe parks for children and future generations. Fellow "fairy lanterns" bloom at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. This year they are especially abundant following the recent wildfire. (Danielle Venton/KQED) Voters have not approved a statewide ballot measure to fund parks, beaches, wildlife and forests in 12 years. Environmentalists say the measure is necessary to protect the state from droughts, floods, sea level rise and wildfires that are likely to increase in intensity under climate change. "It's never a mistake to invest in people and nature," said Louis Blumberg, of The Nature Conservancy. "We look back and we always say we are glad we did." Other proponents include the American Lung Association in California, California Chamber of Commerce and The Nature Conservancy. Why Do People Oppose It? There is no organized campaign against the measure. But some critics do not support more state debt. "We can't borrow more," said Sen. John Moorlach, R-Orange County. "We should pay as we go. We actually have extra money because the state has a budget surplus." The state's budget surplus is $9 billion, but Governor Jerry Brown argues that money should remain in a rainy day fund. Moorlach disagrees because a bond like Proposition 68 will end up costing a lot more than it's initial price. "When you borrow money you have to pay double for the infrastructure because of the interest costs," said Moorlach. The interest on Prop. 68 will cost about 200 million dollars annually for 40 years. According to the Legislative Analyst's Office that's about about one-fifth of one percent of the state's current General Fund budget.

Proposition 72: Rainwater Capture Tax Break Passes Handily

UPDATE: Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 72 by a roughly 83-17 margin, in a move to promote water conservation in the state. What You Need to Know About Proposition 72 • Exempts rainwater catchment systems from property tax assessments • Applies to systems constructed on or after Jan. 1, 2019 • The rainwater system is included in the value of the home when it is sold. How did It Get on the Ballot? State lawmakers put Proposition 72 on the ballot with a unanimous vote in both houses. Why Do People Support It? Rainwater systems catch rain from the roof of a home and siphon it to a large barrel, or even larger cistern, for outdoor use. Prop 72 aims to encourage rainwater catchment by ensuring that homeowners who install a system won't have to pay property tax on the increased value of the home. Using rainwater for landscaping will preserve drinking water, lower utility bills and retain more water in streams and rivers, thereby aiding fish and wildlife. Prominent state newspapers have endorsed it. So have environmental groups like Save the Bay and Trout Unlimited. Why Do People Oppose It? Actually, there's no organized opposition to Proposition 72, and no opposition statement listed in the California Secretary of State voter guide. Who Gains — Who Loses? Homeowners gain an incentive to install rainwater catchment systems, because they won't have to pay property tax on the home improvement. The savings for homeowners can be varied. An inexpensive system might mean only a few dollars saved in property taxes. But there are also bigger, more expensive systems that can cost thousands to install and would otherwise raise property taxes a noticeable amount. The value of the catchment system would be included in the value of the home when it is sold. Local governments may bring in slightly lower property tax revenues.

Climate Scientist Won't Back Down Despite Threats, Harassment

Michael Mann, creator of 'hockey stick' curve for greenhouse gases, says we now have to double sea rise projections. Sees California as 'shining beacon' for how to take action Despite harassment, says 'You don't back off from a worthy battle when the stakes are important.' Even as negotiators wind up another round of climate talks in Germany this week, there is little evidence that leaders are reining in global greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid warming Earth by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — that's the threshold at which scientists say we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change. In fact, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged more than 410 parts per million in April, for the first time since scientists have been tracking it. 'You don't back off from a worthy battle when the stakes are important.'Michael Mann, Penn State KQED Science Editor Craig Miller sat down recently with Michael Mann, who directs the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, to assess where things stand. Mann's major claim to fame is the hockey stick. Not the Wayne Gretzky kind, but the data plot that came to be known as the "hockey stick curve." Al Gore used it in his "Inconvenient Truth" documentary to show the sharp upward trend in temperatures since the start of the industrial age. The "hockey stick:" temperatures in blue represent the "shaft," steeply rising red part of the curve is the "blade." (Michael Mann) Four years ago, Mann wrote a piece for Scientific American warning that crossing 405 parts per million would be leaping over the "danger threshold." The following is an edited transcript. Miller: Given what we know now that maybe we didn't know or weren't as certain of even five years ago, are you more concerned or less concerned than you were then? Mann: I'm more concerned. Over the last several years, we've learned that there are processes that are now playing out that we didn't have in our models in our early projections that are causing the ice sheets to lose ice faster than we expected, earlier than we expected, that's leading to more sea level rise than we expected. 'It's like a minefield that we're walking out onto, and the farther we walk out onto that minefield, the more of those mines we're going to set off.'Michael Mann, Penn State Just within the last year, even since the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we've now learned that the west Antarctic ice sheet may lose twice as much ice by the end of this century as we thought previously. We now have to double the sea level rise projections. Previously, the upper end of the range that you typically heard — by the end of the century maybe three feet of sea level rise — we now think we could see more than six feet of sea level rise. And far more than that, if we don't act, ultimately, if we lose the west Antarctic ice sheet and the Greenland ice sheet, which we'll do if we burn all of the available fossil fuels. Then we're talking 80, 100 feet of sea level rise. We're not quite in "Waterworld" but headed in that direction. CM: What happens in the polar regions doesn't stay in the polar regions. MM: Absolutely. We didn't understand, five years ago, that the melting of the Arctic sea ice and the change in the pattern of warming in the poles that that causes might change the jet stream in the way that it appears to be doing. For California, it's a disastrous impact because it's causing the jet stream to sort of veer north and deny California of all of that rainfall and snowfall that it depends on for water supply in the water. Hotter summers, more evaporation. High-altitude winds known as the jet stream have taken a wavy path, diverting winter storms up and around California. (NASA) The jet stream is steering north of California, denying the state the precipitation that it needs, and then that same jet stream comes crashing down in the east, giving us very unusual, if brief, episodes of cold. We're just starting to understand the subtle physics of why it is that climate change may be causing the jet stream to behave in this wacky way, and it's not a good surprise. It's a bad surprise. CM: And the president's response to that is, "Hey, it's really cold here. We could use a little bit of global warming." How much do you think this current administration has set back the cause of awareness of climate science? MM: It's really unprecedented. What's most worrying to me isn't what Donald Trump tweets about climate change, but what his administration is doing to set back our efforts. It's dismantling protections — the Clean Power Plan that the Obama administration put in place, that helps us achieve the sorts of reductions in carbon emissions that we have committed to in the Paris agreement — backing out of the Paris agreement, and taking away incentives for renewable energy. I mean pretty much doing everything that polluting interests want him to do to ensure that we double down in fossil fuels rather than join the rest of the world, and move on toward the great revolution, the economic revolution of the next century: renewable energy. CM: At this point there is so much warming in the pipeline, so to speak, how can you be optimistic that we can make any difference with any kind of policy? MM: Well, sometimes there's a danger that when we hold a number up like 405 parts per million, or 2 degrees Celsius warming, it makes it sound like there's some cliff that we fall off and there's no going back. And the way I prefer to think of it is rather than a cliff that we go off, it's like a minefield that we're walking out onto, and the farther we walk out onto that minefield, the more of those mines we're going to set off. We don't know exactly where they are, but we know they're out there, and we know that the only safe thing is to stop marching headlong into that minefield. CM: Let me just ask you about California's efforts, bucking the trend at the federal level of doing either nothing or actually reversing progress. It's been said that California's about 1 percent of global emissions, that it can't really move the needle no matter what it does. You agree with that? MM: I don't. I do see California as a great shining beacon. It isn't just the emissions reductions that it is achieving itself. It's the message it's sending to the world, and it is the credibility that it gives policymakers when they say that this can be done. They can point to California. CM: You've paid a high personal price for all of your efforts toward communicating climate science. Can you just run down a list of some of the things that have happened to you as a result of your work? MM: I didn't realize that I would be hauled into a hostile congressional hearing, be attacked on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, have police come to my office to investigate a white substance that I had received in the mail, dealing with death threats against me, thinly veiled threats against my family. Certainly not what you think you're signing up for when you, as I did, study science at UC Berkeley. You go into the field of science and when that science comes into conflict with certain vested interests — in this case, the science of climate change perceived by some fossil fuel interests as a threat to their bottom line — in some cases, they have decided to sort of wage this war against the science. And often it takes the form of personal attacks against the scientists themselves. CM: What made you decide not to lay low? Because that had to be a tough call. MM: It was. I think frankly, it was a matter just of personality and temperament. I wasn't a big kid when I was in elementary school but I always stood up to bullies and I always fought back, even if I was likely to get beat up, because it was the right thing to do. You don't back off from a worthy battle when the stakes are important. And in this case, what could be more important than the battle to preserve this planet for future generations?

Students With Autism Excel in Working With Data, Helping Scientists

Twenty-year-old Ryan Karsner is surrounded by rocks. Thousands of them overflow from boxes and cabinets in a cramped storeroom at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. The rocks range from rust-hued sandstone to smooth grey basalt. Some have been collecting dust in rooms like this for more than 50 years, until now. Ryan's task is to catalog the collection into a massive spreadsheet. A storeroom at USGS in Menlo Park, Calif: Some of the rocks Ryan Karsner works with have waited to be cataloged for over 50 years. (Peter Arcuni/KQED) He might seem like your typical college-aged research assistant. He's dedicated and enthusiastic about science. But Ryan has struggled with autism his whole life. In elementary school, he had trouble with the most basic math and reading. Ryan's teachers told his family he would be lucky to one day work at a 7-Eleven. Now he helps scientists conduct important research. 'The obsessions or passionate interests of autistic people often provide the basis of a career or a pathway forward.'Steve Silberman, author "If someone told me I would be working here ten years ago," says Ryan, "I would never have believed them." Ryan is one of 12 Bay Area students participating in a new job training program called STEP-UP, or Secondary Transition to Employment Program – USGS Partnership. The program pairs young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities with scientists to assist with research projects. The students, aged 18 to 22, volunteer at the agency's headquarters in Menlo Park a few times a week, and receive a stipend from the state. USGS geologist Scott Bennett says that since the program launched in January, the STEP-UP students have made an "invaluable" contribution to his work. "Their ability to focus and complete the task at hand is really exceptional," says Bennett. "They're just doing a great job." 20-year-old Carla Young scans handwritten geological field notebooks dating back to the 1940's for Scott Bennett's lab at USGS. Carla commutes two hours each way for the opportunity to participate in STEP-UP. She says, "My goal was trying new things. I started taking things slowly, and I love it so much." (Peter Arcuni/KQED) Bennett is in the map-making business. His lab uses rock samples and field measurements collected throughout the Pacific Northwest to locate geologic hazards like fault-lines and landslide-prone areas. "It's not glamorous work to be honest," Bennett says of the archival project the students are undertaking. But it's essential to the preservation of their data. For Ryan Karsner, whose passion is the outdoors, the opportunity is a chance to do something meaningful. Ryan Karsner holds a thin section of volcanic rock. (Peter Arcuni/KQED) "I like rocks a lot," he says, "and to know that I am assisting in building maps that could help people, it's kind of like, 'Wow.'" Ryan's parents, Janine and Richard Karsner, learned about the STEP-UP program from a teacher from Santa Clara Unified School District. Ryan came a long way since elementary school, but at 20, he still doesn't have a high school diploma. Without clear college or job prospects on the table, his parents worried about his future. "When you have a special needs child, your options a lot of times are limited, and you don't know what's out there," Janine Karsner says. This is real concern for families like the Karsner's. The unemployment rate for autistic adults is more than 15 times the national average — even though the majority don't have impaired intelligence. This can fuel anxiety and depression in a group prone to emotional distress. 'These students are tuned to unique and wonderful wavelengths. And when you get them on that wavelength, they are just incredible.'Chris Hammond, USGS STEP-UP program manager Federal law requires public schools offer job training to students with disabilities. Melissa Mitchell, the teacher who told the Karsner's about STEP-UP, says this mandate doesn't come with funding. It's left up to the individual school districts to develop and, for the most part, pay for programs out of their already strained budgets. This limits the number and variety of what's offered. The Karsner's found that most programs prepared students for simple tasks like folding laundry or bagging groceries. While beneficial to many, Richard Karsnser says these one-size-fit-all options overlook the potential people like his son have to contribute to a workplace. STEP-UP, he says, is different. Richard still remembers the first day his son came home from the program in January. He couldn't stop talking about a particular rock. Ryan Karsner shows off his favorite rock – a piece of fault line that was formed millions of years ago. (Peter Arcuni/KQED) "He walks in the door and he has a smile ear to ear, and he goes, 'You'll never believe what happened. I got to hold a piece of a fault line and it's 6 million years old. How awesome is that?' And I was like, 'This is going to be a great place.'" While new to California, the program was pioneered in 2012 at USGS's main office in Reston, Virginia. It proved so beneficial to students and scientists, the agency decided to expand it. Chris Hammond, who manages the program for USGS, says he's been amazed by what students have been able to accomplish. "I didn't know much about autism before I got involved with this group," says Hammond. "But what I'm finding is these students are tuned to very fine, unique and wonderful wavelengths. And when you get them on that wavelength, they are just incredible." STEP-UP alumnus Kevin Kim now works part-time for USGS in Virginia. While in the program, Kevin worked so fast, he crashed one of the agency's email servers. (Chris Hammond/USGS) Data entry, archiving, and digitization make up the bulk of the tasks assigned to the students. Hammond says the error rate of most people USGS hires for this type of work is around three percent. The STEP-UP cohort in Virginia averages point-three percent. The students often find mistakes in other people's work. "They do things that neurotypical people just wouldn't have the time, patience or attention to detail on," Hammond says. When students turn 22, they age out of STEP-UP, and many of the services offered to autistic people. So far, USGS in Virginia has hired four out of the eight students that have graduated the program as part-time employees. So, what is the key to unlocking the potential of someone on the spectrum? Journalist Steve Silberman got to know hundreds of young people with autism for his book NeuroTribes. He says each one is passionate about something — whether it's Pokemon or computer games or collecting rocks. The interests of autistic people can seem like obsessions. "It turns out that the obsessions or, if you will, passionate interests, of autistic people often provide the basis of a career or a pathway forward," Silberman says. Traits associated with autistic people, like hyper-focus and repetitive behavior, can translate into them becoming hard-working, detail-oriented employees. Janine, Ryan and Richard Karsner inside USGS offices in Menlo Park. Janine and Richard say working at the Geological Survey has given Ryan a new perspective on his future. (Peter Arcuni/KQED) "So, by supporting those interests," says Silberman, "you actually give the person the best chance of success." Vocational training programs like STEP-UP play a big role in this. They help young people with autism figure out what they like, and what they're good at. They also teach employers the value of their skills and how to work with them. Without the chance to put their abilities to use, autistic kids can find it difficult to transition to adulthood. "Suicide is a serious problem for autistic adults because they never found a career or perhaps don't have any way to make a meaningful contribution to society," says Silberman. "So we're not just talking about making people's lives more fun or something, we're actually talking about issues of life and death." Stanford psychiatrist Antonio Hardan has been treating autistic children and adults for over 25 years. He says there's a growing awareness of the hidden potential of many people on the spectrum. "The sky's the limit, if you find an area that matches the person's interests," Hardan says. STEP-UP student Diya Rao helps geologists measure the water content of soil. She says the best part is running the samples through the soil splitter (pictured left). (Peter Arcuni/KQED) With this this awareness comes a greater need to fund opportunities like STEP-UP. "It's a great thing," says Hardan. "We need more programs like this." Hardan says local, state and federal governments need to put more financial backing behind these resources. He's looking to universities like Stanford to lead the way in developing programs. It's still to early to tell whether Ryan Karsner will have job waiting for him at the end of the STEP-UP program. Scott Bennett from USGS says he hopes they'll be able to keep him on to finish the rock archival project, and maybe even get him out into the field to collect samples. Regardless, Ryan says the experience has him rethinking what's possible. He's realizing he can, "be somebody that I want to be," instead of have everyone tell him what he can't.

Today, A Milestone for Cars: No Driver Needed

One day we may tell our kids or grandkids about the first time we ever saw a car drive down the street without a human behind the wheel. Today in California, we are a little closer to that milestone. As of April 2, the DMV can issue permits to test driverless cars on public roads. Unlike previous testing, the new permits will not require cars to have a person behind the wheel. 'This technology right now is, by many measures, like teenage drivers. They're pretty good. They're not perfect. And they've got a ways to go still.'Nidhi Kalra, RAND Corporation KQED's Brian Watt spoke with Nidhi Kalra, senior information scientist at the RAND Corporation and an expert on self-driving cars, about what this means for our roads. Watt: How far are we, do you think, from seeing cars regularly go by on the street without a human driver? Kalra: We're not far at all. I would say by 2020, which is around the corner, we are going to see self driving cars. We're going to look over at the car next to us and there will be no one behind the wheel, there may not be a wheel. Watt: Let's talk about the significance of April 2nd. Is today a big change in policy, a big change in opportunity? Kalra: It is a big change. You know, until now there's had to be a test driver behind a vehicle even if it's driving itself. And now that changes. And that matters for a couple of reasons. The big benefits of self-driving vehicles are that there doesn't need to be anyone paying attention. Not even anyone there. To get that [technology] on the road for consumer use we have to get that on the road for testing. That's what this allows. It's a mixed bag, though. On the good side, we're getting towards technology that many people think is going to hold a lot of promise. On the negative side, there's a lot more risk in having a vehicle that doesn't have someone paying attention. Watt: As we look at this emerging technology, what are the safety pros and cons of driverless cars? Kalra: Let's do a little context-setting. Every year there are 40,000 fatalities on our roads in the United States alone. So it's a public health crisis that we sort of take for granted. Over 90 percent of those crashes involve some kind of human error. These vehicles are never tired. They're never drunk and never distracted. They don't make the routine mistakes that you and I might make all the time. That's their potential in terms of safety. Ambarella's autonomous car drives a 5-minute route near the semicconductor company's headquarters. Gabriele Lini is in the driver seat as a "safety driver." Starting April 2, 2018 the DMV is offering permits to companies that want to test cars without a back-up driver. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED) But there's a risk. One is that they might make mistakes that we would never make or they might not be able to solve all of the safety issues we have. And then there's issues of cyber security. Will these vehicles be hacked and will we have simultaneous crashes? Or will a bug in the program cause them to do crazy things? So just because we're terrible drivers doesn't necessarily mean that the vehicles will be great, but there's a lot of room for improvement. Watt: What are the pros and cons of having a driver testing a self-driving car and not having a driver in them? Kalra: The obvious pro is that there's a backup safety driver because this technology right now is by many measures like teenage drivers. They're pretty good. They're not perfect. And they've got a ways to go still, so that backup driver is this professional who is going to jump in if something goes wrong. But eventually you've got to let that technology be on the road without a backup driver because that's the way we want people to start using it. The public is interested in this technology. So this is a step towards that. It's not without its risks. Watt: What's the coolest and most interesting thing you've seen so far in this field? Kalra: You know the coolest part of it is the brains of the self-driving cars, the stuff you can't even see. It's making sense of the world, figuring out what's going on and deciding what to do. That requires a level of computation and algorithmic sophistication that, a few years ago, wouldn't have been possible. So this technology couldn't have happened 10 years earlier, and that's really exciting that we have it now. The "Data Framework Fusion – Visualizer" in Ambarella's autonomous car displays the external environment. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED) Watt: Now at any intersection in San Francisco, you're seeing all kinds of different vehicles. You've got a lot of fire trucks passing through, city buses, Muni, little scooters. These brains powering these cars, are they ready for all of the nuances of driving on a city street? Kalra: It's not clear that they're ready yet, but there's no way to get them ready without getting them on the street. There's so much diversity on our roads, not to mention the pedestrians and the dog walkers and squirrels crossing. There's so much to take in but that can only happen when you actually get the vehicles on the road. And they're pretty advanced; they can tell you that this is a kind of a vehicle and that's a two-wheeler. They can put the world together pretty well. Watt: So another thing a car might at an intersection is that between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m., say, you can't make a left turn. This all gets programmed into the into the computer, the "brains" of a self-driving car? Kalra: Absolutely. Keeping up with not only the rules of the road, which change from time to time, but the signage and what's happening. So these vehicles need pretty detailed maps of the world and then they have a pretty good idea of where they are within that world. There's a lot of technology on location, on sensing perception algorithms, and driving execution — a whole lot of stuff that goes inside this technology.

What Exxon Knew and When They Knew It: Climate Science in S.F. Federal Court

It's not a trial, nor is it quite a debate, but what's happening Wednesday in Judge William Alsup's federal courtroom is an unusual and possibly unprecedented proceeding. That's because Alsup has ordered a four-hour tutorial on climate change – what scientists know about global warming, and when they knew it. And it's because of who's responsible for the tutorial: Bay Area cities on one side, and oil companies on the other. The cities sued the oil companies over the impacts of sea level rise, and the tutorial is a key early step in the case, one of dozens of similar cases across the country. Lawyers for San Francisco and Oakland claim BP, Exxon, Chevron and others created a public nuisance to the Bay Area by producing and selling oil and gas while misleading the public about known consequences. The two Bay Area cases represent one strategy among several in a growing body of law relying on tort and common-law claims to hold fossil fuel producers responsible for global warming. Complicating these arguments are the other human activities that also contribute to global warming – and the fact that fossil fuel burning is global, which means companies and countries in the oil and gas industry outside of California are responsible. "And that's why probably there's going to be a big focus on the fraud part: who was overtly and aggressively denying the science, who knew internally," says Stanford University historian of science Robert N. Proctor. "There's a lot of evidence that some of these fossil fuel makers really did know quite a while ago that there was going to be this threat but they covered it up." Proctor says the cases resemble efforts to hold major tobacco producers responsible for smoking-related lung cancer. "Both of these industries– tobacco and big carbon – have been kind of embracing science and a sense of open inquiry," he says, "with the idea being that as long as we leave the inquiry open we can maximize uncertainty and say that we don't really know the truth." Alsup has issued a list of questions he wants answered in the presentations. They include the cause of the ice ages, the origins of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and even whether billions of peoples' breathing is warming up the planet. "These questions are great questions, they're interesting questions, but they're not the questions that you would want to say, 'What's the state of knowledge?'" says Katherine Mach, a Stanford researcher whose work focuses on assessing climate science. Mach and other scientists characterized the questions as simple, and straightforward. They're also pretty easy to answer for scientists. "Turns out answers to those questions are actually pretty well known," wrote Andrew Dressler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M. Dressler has sketched out his responses on Twitter. Here are answers to questions posed by the Judge Alsup re: climate science (https://t.co/DLFDT70PdL). Turns out answers to those questions are actually pretty well known. 1/ — Andrew Dessler (@AndrewDessler) March 8, 2018 https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js At the website Real Climate, scientists are compiling and updating crowdsourced responses. The semi-adversarial nature of the tutorial has reminded some observers of an idea circulated last year, by NYU professor Steven Koonin and then by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, that climate science should be the subject of an intellectual "red team-blue team" exercise, that name taken from military simulations in which one side attacks another. But Wednesday's briefing is fundamentally different, for at least a few reasons: the judge has wide latitude in using the information presented there, and these days, it's more likely that the science presented by cities and oil companies will overlap or even agree. Fossil fuel companies now characterize themselves as active but risk-adverse participants in the global discussion about climate science – and these companies have acknowledged risks posed by climate change in public statements. ExxonMobil, for example, states on its website that it "unequivocally reject[s] allegations that [it] suppressed climate change research contained in media reports that are inaccurate distortions of [the company's] nearly 40-year history of climate research." But each side has its own time to present the best climate science, and its own version of history. Experts say that format means key differences may emerge in questions around certainty, both past and present. Cities, for their part, are likely to emphasize growing certainty in climate research. "What we've seen over the last 5-10 years is an incredible amount of research into the science of detection and attribution," says Aaron Strong, an associate professor of ocean science at the University of Maine. "There are a lot of uncertainties in terms of of future projection of sea level rise, but there's not a lot of uncertainty in the fact that it's rising at all."

What Exxon Knew and When They Knew It: Climate Science in S.F. Federal Court

The Contentious Future of Point Reyes — Here's What You Need to Know

On a rocky peninsula with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, an hour north of San Francisco, cows, tule elk, and people have shared the land for several hundred years — but lately, with growing conflict. That's why the National Park Service is rethinking how to manage the rangelands in the Point Reyes National Seashore. 'Everything is on the table.'Melanie Gunn Point Reyes National Seashore President John F. Kennedy established the national park at Point Reyes in 1962, but the government only owned some of the land. The rest had been cattle and dairy land for 100 years. So federal authorities paid out $50 million in the 1960s and 70s to buy the land from the cattle and dairy ranchers. Ranchers were able to stay under long-term leases, and some two million people visit annually, from all over the world. After an effort to restore tule elk, the herds now roam over the park's wildlands, as they did before human development nearly drove them to extinction. But they've also spread to the ranchlands, becoming a little too free-range for the liking of ranchers, who make their livelihood on public lands. And a bacteria common to dairy and cattle has sickened some of the elk. These conditions brewed a sour fight among conservationists, the park service, and ranchers, culminating in litigation four years ago. Cattle belonging to Marin Sun Farms, Inc. graze the land on Point Reyes National Seashore. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED) As a result, the park service now is modifying its General Management Plan, a kind of road map to the next twenty years on rangelands at Point Reyes. In doing that, the park service must consider cutting ranching out of the national seashore altogether. Other ideas for the future include expanding farming and eliminating some of the elk. "The question we need to resolve through this planning process is whether or not we can have elk and cattle coexisting and what it takes to make it work," says Dave Press, a National Park Service wildlife ecologist. Melanie Gunn, a spokeswoman for the seashore, says it's a public process, "so everything is on the table." Even the alternatives the public has seen so far aren't set in stone. "We're in listening mode," she says. The park service has now released thousands of comments about the park's future, but the actual planning is only just beginning. Here's what you need to know to make sense of, or participate in, the process. Point Reyes is the only national park where tule elk are visible. Tule elk disappeared from the peninsula in the mid-nineteenth century; they didn't move back until 1978, after the seashore was established. Today the Tomales Point Elk Preserve holds around 450 of them, behind a tall fence on the north side of the seashore. Tule elk are native to California, and were reintroduced to Point Reyes National Seashore beginning 40 years ago. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED) Elk have spread along the seashore. The fenced preserve was so successful, wildlife managers added a free-range herd in 1998. That second herd has split, with more than a hundred elk hanging out down by Drake's Estero, and Limantour Road, and a smaller number further north, by Drake's Beach. Our map shows the range for both free-range herds, based on NPS data. Cattle fences don't work on elk. Tule elk are the smallest elk species (of three) in California, but they're still 600 pounds, and nimble. They can jump a cattle fence easily, to graze the organic grasses ranchers maintain for their grass-fed beef and organic cheese. Ranch fences keep cattle away from some sensitive waterways and wilderness at the seashore. But the only fencing at Point Reyes that controls elk is at the elk preserve, where a three-mile long, ten-foot high, wood-and-wire fence confines the original herd. A pasture of fresh grass belonging to Marin Sun Farms, Inc. is ready for grazing. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED) A wasting disease has struck elk and cattle out on the Point Reyes peninsula. A bacteria found at Tomales Point decades ago, probably connected to a defunct ranching operation, has caused outbreaks of Johne's Disease over the years – a contagious, chronic, common, and often fatal sickness in dairy operations. Its symptoms include weight loss and diarrhea for affected animals. We haven't fully sleuthed out the disease – in part because no testing is required for it. The park service tests and quarantines elk from the free-range herd, but the last tests for elk in the fenced reserve were a decade ago. The park service says there's no money for genetic tests for the bacterium that causes the disease, and the test itself can be hard to interpret. Finally, cattle and dairy operations may or may not test for Johne's in their herds. All that means it's hard to say with certainty which animals have passed the disease to each other, and when. Everyone agrees the federal government paid fair market value for land bought from ranchers, but grazing fees may be a different story. Between 1963-1978, the government paid ranching families nearly $50 million for their lands, then allowed them to run dairy and cattle operations on public land under successive 20- and 30-year leases. David Evans and his wife Claire Herminjard of Marin Sun Farms say they rotate their cattle and take care to protect habitats for endangered species. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED) Ranchers pay $7 a cow a month to graze on public land. That's higher than other federal lands, and park management says those fees cover the cost of administering the lands, still, conservationists point out that grazing costs are as much as double on other Marin lands. Want to see row crops at Point Reyes? Ranchers do. The word artichoke appears 92 times in the public comments file, and for a reason: the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association is pushing for something called "agricultural diversification." It would permit pigs, sheep and row crops within park boundaries; interested West Marin residents have weighed in for and against the idea. And ranchers argue cattle grazing can be beneficial to grassland. David Evans and Claire Herminjard, who manage Marin Sun Farms and Mindful Meats on park service land, say they control the timing and severity of grazing to manage the land. "Our central love and goal is to make sure that we are doing the best possible job we can, in taking care of the land, the pastures, and all of the layers of ecosystem that are out here, in tandem with our livestock," Herminjard says, "and our livestock do the best job at being able to keep grasslands viable." Tule Elk graze on grass in a field at Point Reyes National Seashore Elk Preserve. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Environmental groups who sued the National Park Service in 2014 remain skeptical about federal rangeland management at Point Reyes. "From impacts to endangered species, to water pollution, invasive species, soil erosion and conflicts with native wildlife – there's enough negative impacts from grazing that the park service has to look at them," says the Center for Biological Diversity's Jeff Miller. Grazing is a privilege, not a right, say environmental advocates, and the government should take it away if ranching doesn't meet high standards. "We feel that the general management plan should prioritize the protection of wildlife and habitat, and also it being a resource for visitors," says Deb Moskowitz, with the Resource Renewal Institute of Mill Valley, "and then see how ranching could possibly fit into that." Climate change may mean that the national seashore looks different in 20 years. "We know that we're going to have sea level rise, average temperature changes, rainfall total changes, distribution of native and non native invasive species, are also going to change," says Morgan Patton, a fourth-generation Marin resident who runs the Environmental Action Center of West Marin. "We would like to see some discussion about how climate change is going to impact the park's resources." NPS ecologist Dave Press says that discussion will happen. A Marin Sun Farms, Inc. calf chewing on foliage at Point Reyes National Seashore. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED) Thirty national parks (out of 417) permit some sort of grazing — and at least one permits agriculture. When the law was passed to create the national park service a hundred years ago, then-Interior Secretary Franklin K. Lane announced that grazing would be permitted in park areas away from visitors, where it wouldn't interfere with natural resources. During World War I and II, grazing expanded; in western states, operations remain particularly active. And in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, sustainable row-crop agriculture is managed by a collective. What happens in Point Reyes will help shape an evolving and communal understanding of what our national parkland is for.

The Contentious Future of Point Reyes — Here's What You Need to Know

The Lowly Seagrass That Could Save Your Oysters From an Acid Death

The impacts of climate change aren't a distant threat for the Pacific shellfish industry. Acidifying seawater is already causing problems for oyster farms along the West Coast and it's only expected to get worse. That has one Bay Area oyster farm looking for ways to adapt by teaming up with scientists, who are studying how the local ecosystem could lend a helping hand. "We need help," says Terry Sawyer of Hog Island Oyster Company. "That 'canary in a coalmine' analogy drives me crazy, but that's what we are." 'We've got to move on this and we need help.'Terry Sawyer, Hog Island Oyster Co. By that, he means that oysters are an "indicator species" on the frying edge of a changing climate. Sawyer's own natural habitat is on the mudflats of Tomales Bay, about 50 miles north of San Francisco, where his oyster operation is located. But a few years ago, he started going to climate change conferences, sitting next to scientists and policymakers. "Carbon chemistry is incredibly sophisticated, complicated science," he says. "I am definitely out of my element — out of my comfort zone. I'd rather be in shorts and no shoes." For Sawyer, these wonky affairs are a necessity. Like a lot of oyster farmers, he buys baby oysters from hatcheries in Oregon and Washington. But starting a decade ago, the hatcheries began having mysterious die-offs. "The orders that we were getting – if we were getting them at all, they wouldn't necessarily happen at the time or the size that we could take them," he says. Terry Sawyer of Hog Island Oyster Company examines a bag of fresh oysters. He sells to both restaurants and individual retail customers. (Lauren Sommer/KQED) Scientists eventually identified the main culprit: increasingly acidic seawater. The Carbon Sponge At least a quarter of the carbon humans put into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is absorbed by the ocean. It acts like a carbon sponge, but adding carbon to seawater makes it more acidic. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the oceans have become about 30 percent more acidic. It's harmful for animals that build shells, like oysters, and spells big trouble for the Pacific shellfish industry, worth more than $100 million. "You don't want to curl up in a fetal position," says Sawyer. "You do want to say, 'We've got to move on this and we need help.'" Sawyer found some help by opening up his oyster farm to a team of scientists. Equipment monitors the water's acidity in real time, part of a network run by UC Davis's Bodega Marine Lab. "That was a significant move: knowing what's going on day-to-day, minute-by-minute," he says. "And it's also been proving the point. We have numbers you can't argue with." Scientists like Kristy Kroeker (left) from UC Santa Cruz are looking to seagrass as a natural acidification remedy. (Lauren Sommer/KQED) Hog Island is opening its own oyster hatchery in Humboldt Bay, 200 miles to the north, to improve the reliability of the supply chain. The oyster farm is also assisting with cutting-edge scientific research, focused on how oysters could get a boost from native plants in Tomales Bay. The Acid Test On a sunny morning, a team of scientists is scuba-diving in a shallow part of the bay, surrounded by thick, green seagrass, waving in the current. "When you're down in it, it really feels like you're in a forest of seagrass," says Kristy Kroeke, a marine biologist at UC Santa Cruz. "It's quite long." This seagrass is a glimmer of hope for oyster farmers. Plants, whether it's a forest or lawn, take up carbon dioxide and use it for photosynthesis. "The plants under the water are doing the exact same thing," Kroeker says. Seagrasses from Tomales Bay. (Lauren Sommer/KQED) The seagrass pulls the carbon out of the water, which makes it slightly less acidic. "Essentially, they're creating this little bubble of seawater around them that's more friendly for animals that might be threatened by ocean acidification," she says. Kroeker is testing whether seagrasses could act as a buffer, protecting the oysters nearby. She plants mesh bags of baby oysters in the seagrass bed, which she'll be watching in the months to come. So far, the results look promising, but not necessarily the whole answer. Seagrass can reduce acidification around it, but possibly only in certain locations or at certain times of year. More research will be needed, Kroeker says, but against a global problem, local approaches have a lot of potential. "Can we use parts of nature that we already know are important," she wonders, "seagrasses – to actually benefit people and protect them from some of these impacts?" The approach is being studied around the world in different ecosystems, including near coral reefs, and using bigger marine plants, like kelp. Eventually, it'll be up to oyster farmers like Terry Sawyer to make the research work on the ground – or, in the water. He's hopeful. "From an aquaculture point of view, you bet I'm hopeful," Sawyer says. "Maybe I'm being idealistic here, but we're learning so much. We're just at the tip of the iceberg on that."

The Water in Your Jeans: How Two Consumer Products Giants Are Cutting Back on Water Use

Here's a sobering thought: "Studies have shown that as we look out to 2030, global demand for water is expected to outstrip supply by 40 percent." So says Brooke Barton with CERES, a Boston-based non-profit that helps businesses build sustainability into their work, including water conservation. Right now, that's a challenge that's just not on the radar of a lot of companies. "It's surprising how many companies and manufacturing facilities around the world aren't even measuring how much water they use," Barton says. CERES is trying to change that, by tracking food companies' progress using less water, and by appealing to their self-interest; tracking and cutting water use can save corporations a lot of money. 'Especially in some areas where we produce, water is a challenge. Water is a premium.' Bart Sights, Levi Strauss Barton says that message is getting through. "What we're seeing is a growing cadre of companies who are shifting direction and elevating this as a priority in their business," says Barton, who highlighted Levi's and PepsiCo as two examples of corporate leaders in water conservation. PepsiCo produces many types of beverages – including Gatorade – as well as many types of chips like Cheetos, Ruffles, and Tostitos. At a massive Gatorade facility just outside of Phoenix, in the city of Tolleson, Arizona, bottling lines fill 600 containers per minute. "We're doing grape, we're doing fruit punch, we're doing lemon lime," says Tim Carey, who directs sustainability programs for PepsiCo Beverages in North America. Carey says the company started investing in water efficiency four years ago in water-scarce Arizona. Since then, they've seen a 24 percent reduction in water use. PepsiCo is now saving $1.5 million annually at its Gatorade processing facility in Tolleson, AZ and using 24 percent less water. (Jason Margolis) "That's about a hundred million gallons of water that were used in 2013 every year that we do not use this year," says Carey. That translates into $1.5 million of annual cost savings, music to the ears of Carey's corporate bosses. So, how'd Pepsi do it? It starts with cleaning all those empty bottles. Water is out; air is in. Pulses of air remove dust particles from sterilized bottles. Another water-saving step: more efficient filtering of the water used in Gatorade. "Originally we would just do a single pass-through, reverse osmosis. We'd use the clean water in our operation and the rest would go to drain," says Carey. That water is now re-captured and cleaned again. Previously, Pepsi recovered 80 percent of the water used here; now they recover 87 percent. Water and Power Pepsi's next trick can be found on the rooftop. Carey opens a hatch and emerges into the bright Arizona sun. "On top of this roof we have a field of solar panels that covers about 700,000 square feet," says Carey. That's like 12 football fields. But just what do solar panels have to do with saving water? It goes back to the local utility. Most power plants use tremendous amounts of water to generate electricity, boiling water to create steam or using water as a coolant. The less power Pepsi draws from the grid, the less water is used at the power plant. "And because we're all in the same watershed, we're saving water in Arizona in the watershed that supplies us," says Carey. That, in turn, helps maintain the long-term viability of Pepsi's operations in Tolleson. Pepsi is also working with The Nature Conservancy in Arizona and elsewhere, experimenting with ways to replenish local watersheds. Beyond Arizona, Pepsi has set a goal to reduce its water use an additional 25 percent by 2025 (compared to 2015) at all its food and beverage facilities worldwide. By that same year, the company plans to replenish 100 percent of the water it uses in manufacturing operations in high-risk water areas. Pepsi may be leading the way, but what it's doing isn't exactly splitting the atom. So why are corporations like PepsiCo just making these changes now? Why weren't these things done 25 years ago? Carey says water has long been cheap and CEO's just didn't think about sustainability as a business advantage. "People didn't say, 'Oh what can I do to save water?' she says. "Second thing is they probably did what I call 'the gross stuff.' They did the big water savings projects, which were fairly obvious. We're at the precision scale now where we say: How can we tune our operations? How can we buy equipment and make it operate just perfectly?" The challenges will be different for just about every plant, in just about every industry, but more companies are at least asking the questions. Wet Jeans Consider Levi's, where, strange as it might seem, water is a main ingredient for blue jeans. "This team is charged with coming up with new techniques every day," says Bart Sights, who runs Levi Strauss & Co.'s "Eureka" lab near downtown San Francisco. "It's time, temperature, pressure, mixture..." The lab is a miniature factory at the forefront of denim technology. Hundreds of pairs of prototypes are stacked along the walls. Jeans hanging in the Levi Strauss "reference library." Many colors and patterns are created with water. (Lauren Sommer/KQED) "Each jean has a recipe," he says. "It's very similar to cooking." Jeans all start out with the same basic ingredient: dark denim fabric. "Up until forty years or so ago, jeans were sold like this," Sights says. "They were stiff and scratchy." Today, consumers choose from a huge variety: light, dark, faded, pre-shrunk, stone-washed. And those variations are created with water. The lab has several rows of washing machines, but at a full-scale Levi's factory, each machine washes 300 pairs of jeans at a time. To get the right color and texture, some jeans are washed over and over, which uses a lot of water. So a few years ago, the company developed machines that use ozone gas instead. "It reduces the color from something dark to something light without using very much water at all," he says. Levi Strauss has developed about a dozen other waterless techniques with the goal to use them in 80 percent of its products by 2020. That means rolling them out to factories around the world, from Egypt to Mexico. The company hasn't quantified how much water it plans to save but so far, it reports having saved more than 200 million gallons. "To use less water is usually less expensive," Sights says. "Especially in some areas where we produce, [where] water is a challenge. Water is a premium." Thirsty Crop Of course, most of the water in your jeans comes from growing the cotton itself, a notoriously thirsty crop. Levi's doesn't grow it, but is working on ways to reduce that water demand too, including sourcing fabric from the Better Cotton Initiative, which works with farmers to reduce water use. Then there's all the water that jeans use after we buy them, which makes up about a quarter of their total water footprint. Levi's has found that Americans use more water to wash our jeans than consumers in Europe or China. Among hard-core lovers of 501s, there is a movement to never wash their jeans, to develop a personalized patina. "[For] true connoisseurs and aficionados, it's the ultimate form of self-expression for people," Sights says. "I never wash my jeans. Ever." But for everyone else, Sights has an easier option. "If we could just convince people in America to wash their jeans only every five times they wear them, that would move the needle."

The Water in Your Jeans: How Two Consumer Products Giants Are Cutting Back on Water Use

LISTEN: 1,200 Years of Earth's Climate, Transformed into Sound

Climate change is difficult to talk about. The subject is complex. Denial is rampant. The scale of the problem is hard to grasp. And, while it is arguably the most important story of our time, it has a way of wearing people down. Rather than exhausting the topic, the topic exhausts us. When you sonify data, you experience time in a way you can't when you look at a chart.Hal Gordon, Graduate student We know this. So, we'd like to offer a new way to understand the speed at which our planet has changed over the past few hundred years. This project was brought to us by three UC Berkeley graduate students and a sonification artist. Chris Chafe, director of Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics composed the piece of music based on data compiled by Hal Gordon, Kate Pennington and Valeri Vasquez at Berkeley. The piece in our story below tracks global temperatures and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 850 A.D. to 2016. "A large part of what motivated us to think about sonifying CO2 and temperature data over time," says Pennington, "is that when you look at a graph of how these two things have moved together, you see very clearly that they track each other really closely. But it's hard to understand time when you see it all at once." https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2018/01/WEBSonificationVenton180108.mp3"Perhaps the pace of climate change can be better communicated through sound. In all climate data you see it in a long chart with time that is way longer than human life time so it's impossible to experience," says Gordon. "But when you sonify it you actually experience time in a way that you can't experience when you look at the chart." "As you hear in the piece that Chris has composed there's really not a lot happening for a really long time and it's kind of soothing," says Pennington. "We have a normal state of the world, and life has evolved relative to that normal state of the world." The piece of sound begins with a low drone, the tone of which represents the concentration of carbon dioxide during the Middle Ages. It is accompanied by a twangy ping-pong sound: global temperature averages. Starting in the 1700s, however, you begin to hear a change. The Industrial Revolution and widespread deforestation in Europe take hold. Carbon concentrations begin to creep up. Approaching the 1900s, the tone becomes a higher-pitched wail. The last few seconds of the piece sound like an alarm, the result of a meteoric rise in CO2 concentrations. "The whole concept that we're trying to explain here is not a pleasant one, it's actually a frightening one," says Vasquez. "So it might be really appropriate that it ends in this kind of ambulance sound." We're now living in a world that is about 1.5 degrees C above what it was before the Industrial Revolution (and about 1 degree above what it was in the first half of the 1900s). This could seem relatively minor change, but it indicates the Earth's balance has been disrupted. "My body temperature's 98.6. If I have a fever of 101, I would worry. If all the doctors tell me that my temperature's going to go up, I would be very worried," says Inez Fung, climate scientist at UC Berkeley. "If I have a temperature of 103, I know other organs are going to be influenced." This is manifesting itself in sea-level rise, extreme storms, prolonged droughts, deadly floods, wildfires and emerging diseases. "The whole planet is adapted to a certain range," says Fung. "We're going into a range where, yes, we've seen higher CO2 before, but people have not been around." The last time the atmospheric CO2 concentration was as high at it is today was 3 million years ago. That's about the time of Australopithecus, the pre-human hominin species that Lucy comes from. Researchers extract an ice core from a drilling machine in the French Alps, on August 25, 2016. (PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images) We can study the ancient climate through a number of means. One is by analyzing ice cores. These cores hold trapped air bubbles going back thousands of years. After drilling a core, researchers can melt down sections of the ice and capture the released air to measure the concentration of carbon dioxide (among other things). Temperature data can be reconstructed in part from tree rings and mud core samples from the bottoms of lakes. What will happen in the future? "We literally don't know what will happen next," says Pennington. The aim of the Paris Climate Accord is to limit the rise in temperature to "well below" 2 degrees and, if possible, to 1.5 C, "recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change." Last year President Trump announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from participation in the Paris Accord. However California, along with a number of states and cities around the world, have defiantly expressed commitment to the agreement. What happens next is "really sort of a pick-your-adventure choice" says Pennington, with all of us playing some role in the outcome. We, as a society, have the chance to choose what the future will sound like.

Healers Offer Firefighters Free Massage and Acupuncture. And They're Loving It

https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/10/FIrefightersFreeMassages.mp3 The volunteer response to the wildfires in Sonoma County has a distinctly California flavor. Thousands of alternative-medicine practitioners like naturopaths, chiropractors — even aroma-therapists are donating treatment to anyone affected by the fires. Sessions happened at dozens of pop-up spas in parking lots, relief centers and emergency shelters during the brunt of the disaster. There are still about a half a dozen open. At one Red Cross shelter on the Sonoma County fairgrounds, a young man lays down on the gym floor with a blue towel under his head. Amidst a cacophony of evacuees calling friends and family, a sound healer kneeling on a silk Asian blanket begins ringing quartz bowls arranged in a semi-circle. The therapy is intended to calm the patient's frazzled nerves. Tuning forks radiate the sound from quartz bowls to help calm the nervous system. (Lesley McClurg/ KQED) Outside under a red and white striped plastic tent, a group of firefighters and national guardsmen wait patiently on folding metal chairs. Jamie Sheppard, a Truckee-based firefighter is next in line. He's beat after shouldering a 60-pound back for grueling 24-hour shifts over the past 10 days. "My neck hurts, my back hurts, my left shoulder hurts," says Sheppard. "And breathing in a lot of smoke of course, the lungs hurt." He climbs up on a massage table and a therapist gently places her hands on his temples. After twenty minutes of gentle massage and Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation, Sheppard slowly rises to stand up. Firefighter Jamie Sheppard receives energy work, or Reiki, after numerous long shifts on the front lines of the North Bay fires. (Lesley McClurg/ KQED) "I feel much, much more relaxed," said Sheppard. "Looser and nimble." This is his second massage in a week. He says it doesn't just help his body. "It also just kind of helps you unwind and power down and get ready for the next day." But it's not just the firefighters who are working long hours. Dan Cortright is a volunteer who has offered massages for about ten hours each day for six days in a row. Sweat drips down Cortright's forehead as he digs his elbow into the back of a burly national guard soldier. Cortright says he's volunteering to show his gratitude to the emergency responders. "It's the least I can do to pay them back for all they've done to save our town, our whole community." A few blocks away stacks of donated boxes of herbs and healing remedies are arriving from all over the country to Farmacopia, an alternative healing clinic in Santa Rosa. Lily Mazarella, the owner, says she can't keep up with all the shipments. "We've gotten everything from organic mushroom powder for the immune system to homemade osha syrup for respiratory distress to to big bottles of sleep syrup," said Mazarella. She gave a lot away last week at another pop-up clinic nestled beneath huge trees, Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds, about thirty minutes east of Santa Rosa. Helicopters circled above Alliance's blue basketball court that was lined with massage tables until Sunday. A few hundred firefighters stayed at this facility between shifts. Volunteers handed out "Manzanita Magic" – a folk remedy for poison oak. A white plastic table was lined with tinctures and syrups for respiratory support, stress, sleep and immune support. Some firefighters sniffed essential oils like eucalyptus to soothe their smoke-filled lungs. Or drank throat-coat flavored Yogi Tea to ease raspy coughs. Firefighters inhale the smell of eucalyptus oil to soothe dry smoke-filled lungs. (Lily Mazarella) Jen Riegle helped to coordinate shifts at more than two dozen shelters throughout Sonoma County. She's a naturopath — a practitioner of alternative medicine— in Santa Rosa. Riegle says she's truly touched by the feedback she's received. "There have been so many soldiers and firemen and evacuees who have told us that they've never, ever received this kind of work before!" Riegle exclaims. A Facebook page about the volunteer effort now has more than 2,000 members, and a website to keep the momentum going recently went live. Riegle hopes the outpouring of support can become a model that's easily replicated when disaster strikes another community.

Healers Offer Firefighters Free Massage and Acupuncture. And They're Loving It

Future of Huge California Water Project May Hang on the Next Few Weeks

California's biggest water project in decades appears to be in limbo after a key irrigation district voted not to help underwrite Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to build two giant tunnels that would re-engineer water transport in the state. For the last 75 years or so, we've tried to figure out how to move water from north to south. The no-vote at the Fresno-based Westlands Water District — the largest agricultural water supplier in the U.S. — puts the $17 billion project's funding on shaky ground. Will other water districts pick up the slack? Other large water agencies considering participating in the project are set to vote soon. Another key player, Los Angeles' Metropolitan Water District , will vote on October 10. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, based in San Jose, will weigh in a week later. But with the loss of Westland's support, some are left wondering if the controversial project is already doomed. KQED's Brian Watt spoke with Paul Rogers, managing editor for KQED's Science unit and the environment writer for the San Jose Mercury News, about the delta tunnels project and what may lie ahead. Brian Watt: This is a project that is touted as benefiting both the delta environment and water consumers. Remind us how these delta tunnels are supposed to work. Paul Rogers: When you talk about water in California, the big picture is that three-quarters of all the rain and the snow falls in the northern part of the state and three-quarters of the people live in the south. Twin tunnels, 40 feet in diameter, would shuttle water from the Sacramento River, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, to farms and cities to the south. (KQED) So, for the last 75 years or so, we've tried to figure out how to move water from north to south. Right now, in the delta we have these giant pumps near Tracy. What happens is when we pump water south, they grind up and kill fish like salmon and smelt and as those species have gotten endangered, less water at certain times of the year. So, Jerry Brown's idea is let's build these two tunnels, 40-feet high, costing three times what the Bay Bridge costs, to take the water from farther north in the delta and rely on these pumps less, so people can get the water more reliably. Watt: The project has had some pretty vocal opponents.: some environmentalists, some members of the delta's congressional delegation. But why did a huge farm irrigation district, Westlands, pull its support when its customer were supposed to benefit from it? Rogers: It's a great question, you know, environmentalists have been against this thing all along. They argue that if you build these giant tunnels, it'll make it easier for big corporate interests in the Central Valley and Los Angeles to take northern California's water. But some of those farmers in the Westlands Water District near Fresno, their board voted recently, 7-to-1, to pull out of this plan. They were supposed to pay three billion of the 17 billion-dollar cost. They decided not to because, number one, it was a huge amount of money and it was going to raise what they paid for water. Number two, they weren't being guaranteed by the Brown administration they were going to get any more water. That no-vote sent shock waves across the California water world because it meant the other agencies that might want to participate were going to have to pay a lot more. Watt: So the Metropolitan Water District in L.A. has a big vote coming up on October 10. What do you think is going to happen? Rogers: Some of the folks down there on that board have been raising questions about the cost. I think if I had to handicap it, I'd say that there's probably about a 75 percent chance that they'll vote for it. So that'll be a big win for Governor Brown, but that doesn't mean the project is done because there are other water agencies, like the Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose that still have yet to vote. Brian Watt: So, where does this leave the project now? State water agencies and other big supporters say it's far from dead. Rogers: It's just fascinating. I think there have already been more than a dozen lawsuits filed against this project and even if water agencies approve it, it's probably going to be held up in court for years. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is sort of wobbling. I think they may want a smaller project. So, it's still hardly a sure thing. Jerry Brown leaves office in 15 months and his successors — his likely successors — are not huge supporters of this. They're not opponents, but they're not embracing it the way Brown does. So, I think in the next few weeks we're really going to see whether or not this thing has a chance of being built or whether the final stake is driven through its heart. Watt: What does Governor Brown think of this? Rogers: You know, it's worth remembering that Governor Brown has two giant legacy construction projects: high speed rail and this tunnels project. His dad built a lot of big things around California when he was governor in the '60s and this is Brown's attempt to do that.

Future of Huge California Water Project May Hang on the Next Few Weeks

40 Years With the Voyager Spacecraft: Earth's Most Distant Explorers Are Still Calling Home

When NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft left Earth in 1977, they had a mission that was possible only at that very moment in human history. The spacecraft were headed toward two of the outer planets of our solar system, and would use the gravity of one planet to swing themselves toward the next. It's the alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune that make this gravity swing dance possible. This alignment happens only once every 176 years, and it happened just at the time when human space technology was ready to meet the challenge. 'None of us knew how long they would last. At the time the space age was only 20 years old.'Ed Stone, NASA When it comes to the Voyager mission, the numbers themselves are cosmic. Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles away from Earth, and counting. Voyager 1 and 2 discovered "The Great Dark Spot" on Neptune and the first active volcanoes on another planet — on Jupiter's moon, Io. In 2012, Voyager 1 passed across the far end of our solar system to give humanity its first taste of interstellar space. These were not among the outcomes Ed Stone could have imagined when he and his colleagues at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory prepped the two Voyagers for launch in 1977. Their mission was a four-year sortie to Jupiter and Saturn — which at the time seemed plenty ambitious. The moon landing was still a fresh memory. Now in his 80s, Professor Stone, a physicist and National Medal of Science recipient, continues to serve as chief scientist for the program he helped launch. He is also a full-time professor and researcher at Caltech. He spoke with KQED News host Devin Katayama on the occasion of Voyager's 40th anniversary. Katayama: Professor Stone, you were in your early forties when Voyager 1 and 2 launched into space. What was the original goal of that mission? Stone: The original goal was a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn and Titan, a moon of Saturn. And we had two spacecraft to give us a higher probability of having at least one making it on that four-year journey to Saturn. Katayama: So did you ever think the Voyager spacecrafts would last this long? Stone: None of us knew how long they would last. At the time the space age was only 20 years old. Katayama: So, 40 years later, what are some of the most important planetary discoveries to date, thanks to the Voyager mission? Stone: Well, we discovered that nature is much more diverse than we could have imagined. For instance, before Voyager, the only known active volcanoes were here on Earth. And then we found a moon of Jupiter called Io, about the size of our moon, which has ten times more volcanic activity than Earth. So time after time, we've discovered that our 'terracentric' view of planets and magnetic fields and moons and rings was much too limited. Katayama: People working in the field might not be surprised to discover how expansive space could be, but has it changed our understanding of the universe? Stone: We now understand that when bodies form, there are processes by which they can maintain a very active geological life, just as the Earth does. And the way that happens depends on the exact circumstances. So each moon seems to be quite distinct in character. Katayama: NASA put a message on Voyager for other civilizations in outer space that might one day find it — The Golden Record. What was the thinking behind that? Stone: It was a form of outreach. It was a declaration that we as a society here on Earth could actually send such a message, which would leave the sun, the solar system, and orbit the center of the Milky Way galaxy for billions of years, long after Earth itself may have ceased to exist. The Golden Record is carried on board the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts. (NASA) Katayama: Can you share with us what that message was? Stone: There were several messages: greetings from different languages on Earth, messages from different cultures, images of various aspects of Earth. The whole idea was to make this a time capsule, or what I call a calling card: the ambassadors Earth has sent to the Milky Way galaxy. Katayama: I'm curious whether you had any say in what that messaging was. Stone: The messaging was really determined by Carl Sagan and a small group that he put together. They did this basically over a 6-month period before launch, and it was done independently of what we were all doing, getting ready for launch. Katayama: I'm curious whether there are any questions you were hoping would be answered by Voyager that have not been answered. Stone: I think what Voyager has done is inform us well enough to know what interesting questions to ask now. For instance, before Voyager, the only known liquid water was here on Earth, in the ocean. Then we flew by Europa, another moon of Jupiter, which has an icy crust on it which is cracked — very much like ice on an ocean. In fact, that's what a subsequent mission, Galileo, has shown. Katayama: The Voyager spacecraft are steadily losing power, and I saw a prediction that NASA will have to turn off all the equipment by 2030. What do you think should come next in terms of probing interstellar space? Stone: The next step is exploring the heliosphere itself, which is the huge bubble that Voyager left in August 2012. That is going to be done by a mission here on Earth which looks at neutral atoms coming from the outer edges of the heliosphere and from the interstellar medium beyond. That mission is now being launched in 2024. It would be the next stage in understanding the heliospheric bubble that protects all the planets in the solar system, and its interaction with the winds of the other stars as it occurs in interstellar space. Katayama: What are the biggest questions about the heliosphere that we need to understand? Stone: We need to understand the size of the heliosphere, because it breathes in and out with the 11-year solar cycle. But it will also change size as the material outside in interstellar space changes over a much longer time scale. So it's understanding how our solar bubble, which envelops the Earth, interacts and changes as what's in interstellar space also changes. Katayama: What does communication between us here on Earth and the Voyager spacecraft look like? Stone: We listen 24 hours a day; the spacecraft each have a 21-watt transmitter. We get a very slow data rate — it's 160 bits per second, which is the best we can get from 13 billion miles away. Katayama: What's it been like having a hand in such an important mission, and having spent most of your career with Voyager? Stone: It's been a remarkable journey. Science is about learning about nature — why it's there, why it is the way it is. And Voyager has been an overwhelming success in terms of scientific endeavor. But even more than that, the thing that's wonderful about Voyager is it's remarkably inspiring to many people, and that's of great value as well. It turned out to be a very effective way of involving the greater public in the journey, which is a scientific journey of discovery. Want more Voyager action? Check out 'The Farthest,' a new full-length film from PBS. You can live-stream it here.

40 Years With the Voyager Spacecraft: Earth's Most Distant Explorers Are Still Calling Home

Everything That Happened Monday During the Solar Eclipse

Just after 10 a.m. Monday morning off the coast of Oregon the temperature dropped, shadows sharpened and the morning eerily turned to night. The sky filled with stars and planets. An unusual sunset glowed from the horizon in every direction. The total solar eclipse awed onlookers as it swept across America. People within a narrow 70-mile wide band witnessed totality, while the entire country was treated to a partial eclipse. Clear skies in Oregon set into motion a nationwide viewing event that had millions of Americans erupting into cheers or falling into stunned silence as the moon slipped in front of the sun. Social media sites erupted with photos, videos and audio. Traffic crept along as people parked along highways and overflowed campgrounds and festivals. The Oregon Department of Transportation estimated 1 million visitors descended on the state. If eclipse mania stoked any newfound fans they won't have to wait too long for the next one. A total solar eclipse will travel from Texas to Maine on April 8, 2024. 3 p.m. If you were stuck inside or blocked by clouds today don't fret. You can watch NOVA's Eclipse Over America, tonight at 9 p.m. on KQED 9 and streaming online. NOVA investigates the storied history of solar eclipse science and joins both seasoned and citizen-scientists alike as they don their eclipse glasses and tune their telescopes for the eclipse over America. 2:35 p.m. The first people to see this morning's eclipse... NASA astronaut Michael Barratt had his camera ready on board Alaska Airlines Flight 9671 this morning . The aircraft was destined out over the Pacific Ocean for the first glimpse of the total solar eclipse. Along with 100 other passengers, he pointed his camera out a round window as the moon slid in front of the sun. He had crafted a filter using a Chex cereal box. KQED's Lindsey Hoshaw was on the same flight with journalists, scientists, eclipse chasers and contest winners who cheered and even swore aloud when the sky darkened. Totality, Hoshaw said, was magical from mid-air. "It felt like something out of a movie," she said. "It was really inspiring to be around people who were so excited, who traveled all the way across the country to see something for two minutes." Alaska Airlines Flight 9671 flew out over the Pacific Ocean to intercept the path of the total solar eclipse. (Lindsey Hoshaw) 1:15 p.m. 'The sky turned inside out' Those who have chased eclipses around the world often speak of the transformative experience of totality. But KQED's Danielle Venton says that researchers at the Lost River Field Station in Mackay, Idaho found today's solar eclipse particularly special. "Maybe because the sun was high in the sky and the air was pretty clear up there," Venton said. "The corona was strongly visible." There were three "filaments" of solar wind visible to the scientists, who will be combing through the data they collected for months to come. "Just with the naked eye we were able to see what looked like some coronal streamers, these long streaks of solar material coming away from the solar disk," said Joseph Hutton, a researcher from Wales. "And maybe a few prominences, which showed up bright pink against the disk of the moon." Even hours after what she called an astounding experience, Venton was exhilarated. "What was interesting was how the light changed," she said. "It kind of felt more like moonlight. Shadows were especially vivid. There was this general feeling of euphoria, this wave of 'Oh my god's' and gasps and cheering." She says that when totality blanketed the Lost River Field Station, the sky turned dark where it was once blue, while the horizon glowed. "It felt like the sky turned inside out," she says. 12:42 p.m. KQED's Lindsey Hoshaw captured the total solar eclipse from midair off the coast of Oregon on Alaska Airlines Flight 9671. A view of the eclipse from @AlaskaAir flight #9671, more than 38,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean #totaleclipse2017 #Eclipe2017 @KQEDscience pic.twitter.com/d0oOelZeTh — Lindsey Hoshaw (@lindseyhoshaw) August 21, 2017 And then there's this crew on Mt. Tamalpais: "So glad I went to see the eclipse on Mt. Tamalpais," says KQED designer Christina #Fogclipse #bayarealife #inthefield pic.twitter.com/QW4CcoeCOA — KQED (@KQED) August 21, 2017 11:55 a.m. The Casper Star-Tribune has a collection of the best photos from today's total solar eclipse here. 11:50 a.m. And just like that, totality has left American soil. Here's a view of the total solar eclipse from Charleston, South Carolina. WSBTV reports WATCH LIVE: Totality in Charleston, South Carolina where GlennBurnsWSB is: https://t.co/0O7I54z91u ... pic.twitter.com/gJoyOrxAAh — Channel 1 Atlanta (@channel1atlanta) August 21, 2017 11:20 a.m. This is what totality sounds like ... Some gasp, some cheer, some sigh. And some sit silently in stunned awe. Listen to the exact moment eclipse viewers in Mackay, Idaho watched the sun disappear behind the moon and the sky go dark. https://ww2.kqed.org/science/wp-content/uploads/sites/35/2017/08/eclipse-reax-lrfs.mp3 Update 10:40 a.m. This is totality. The Exploratorium just shared this capture of their telescope stream from Madras, Oregon. Up next: Casper, Wyoming. #LiveFromMadrasOR: #TOTALITY! Sun is now completely hidden, revealing the full glory of the solar corona. It'll last ~2 min #Eclipse2017 pic.twitter.com/W7y4R458AV — Exploratorium (@exploratorium) August 21, 2017 Update 10:40 a.m. Schedule alert 11:46 a.m Peak in Charleston, South Carolina Update 10:20 a.m. The 75 percent partial eclipse shone through wispy fog as it peaked in the Bay Area at 10:15 a.m. Update 9:45 a.m. KQED's Danielle Venton reports cheering and applause as the moon edges in front of the sun at the Lost River Field Station in Idaho. Eclipse enthusiasts greeted first contact (!) with cheers and applause at Lost River Field Station, ID. @KQEDscience #SolarEclispe2017 pic.twitter.com/eO5aNqXLDI — Danielle Venton (@DanielleVenton) August 21, 2017 Update 9:40 a.m. Bay Area social media is currently cursing @KarlTheFog as the sun peeks in and out of view in San Francisco. The skies could clear for the end of the eclipse, but the East Bay will be the best bet for the 10:15 partial solar eclipse peak. My view: Your view: ☁️☁️☁️☁️☁️☁️ — Karl the Fog ☁️ (@KarlTheFog) August 21, 2017 Update 9:30 a.m. Oregon officials have warned that parking on the side of the road is illegal. This is the view of U.S. Highway 97 north of Redmond at 9:21 a.m. Drivers pull over to the side of U.S. Highway 97 north of Redmond, Oregon on Monday morning. (Oregon Department of Transportation) Update 9 a.m. Madras, Oregon live stream begins San Francisco's Exploratorium scientists are standing by, ready to begin a live telescope stream of the solar eclipse in Madras, Oregon. The moon is about to start eclipsing the sun right now for West Coast viewers. Totality in Madras hits at 10:19 a.m. Watch it live here: Just fine tuning the telescopes until show time. Lookin' good pic.twitter.com/TK1jlPHUwY — Exploratorium (@exploratorium) August 21, 2017 Keep an eye on the NASA live stream, as well. Update 8:45 a.m. We've got you covered for last minute eclipse plans. Weather forecasts give the East Bay the best shot at clear skies for the peak of the partial eclipse. Museums and libraries around the Bay Area are offering public viewing events, and many are giving away coveted free eclipse glasses. Check out a list of local eclipse viewing events here. Update 8 a.m. How exactly do scientists practice for a solar eclipse? KQED's Danielle Venton has this report from a remote solar science outpost in Mackay Idaho. Also in this morning's newscast, KQED's Kat Snow catches up with Californians chasing the eclipse in Oregon. https://ww2.kqed.org/science/wp-content/uploads/sites/35/2017/08/2017-08-21-6-22AM-newscast.mp3 Traffic update, 7:45 a.m. The Oregon Department of Transportation is reporting heavy traffic north of Redmond on U.S. Highway 97. Delays could reach two hours. In Wyoming, Interstate 25 came to a halt early this morning and officials advise travelers to use alternates routes. Eclipse day traffic begins to stack up; skies clear in downtown Casper https://t.co/KdJJevqGMF — Casper Star-Tribune (@CSTribune) August 21, 2017 Update 7:35 a.m. Eclipse chasers spent the weekend packing into fields, festivals and campgrounds, anxiously awaiting this morning's totality. Update 7:20 a.m. Didn't get glasses in time? Don't be like this guy. Remember, DON'T look at the sun, except during totality, which the Bay Area will not experience. Check out this video on how to make a pinhole viewer from a cereal box. Update 7 a.m.: Welcome to our live coverage of the total solar eclipse. Stay tuned all morning for photos, reactions, news and updates from reporters in the path of totality. Solar eclipse chasers prepare for takeoff on an Alaska Airlines flight Monday morning. (Lindsey Hoshaw) Morning weather update: Skies are forecast to remain clear in the path of totality in Oregon, while Idaho and Wyoming may have some patchy haze, according to the National Weather Service. Some cloud cover is gathering around the eclipse path in Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Iowa. In the Bay Area, low cloud cover may obscure the beginning of the partial eclipse, but skies are expected to clear mid- morning around peak viewing time. For the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the United States from coast to coast. More than 200 million Americans live within driving distance of the path of the total eclipse, called the path of totality. From Oregon to South Carolina, cities and towns that lie within this narrow band are preparing for traffic jams and huge crowds, as millions gather to witness the phenomenon. Those outside the path of totality will see a partial eclipse. The Bay Area will experience a 75 percent partial solar eclipse, peaking at 10:15 a.m. HOW TO VIEW THE ECLIPSE SAFELY DON'T look directly at the partially eclipsed or uneclipsed sun without eclipse glasses. (Sunglasses are not enough!) DON'T look through camera, telescope or binocular lenses, even with eclipse glasses. DON'T remove your eclipse glasses during the eclipse – that's only safe during full totality, which California WON'T experience. DO make a pinhole viewer if you don't have eclipse glasses – or watch a high quality live stream online. Here are the most important things you need to know this morning: The entirety of the eclipse on American soil will last about two-and-a-half hours, with totality stretching from Oregon at 10:16 a.m. to Charleston, South Carolina at 11:47 a.m. PDT. Totality lasts about two minutes at each location. Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, casting a shadow and blocking out the sun momentarily. Check out an animated view of an eclipse from outer space here. Looking at the partially eclipsed or uneclipsed sun even for a moment can permanently damage your eyes. Watch a video on how to safely watch the eclipse here. Solar eclipses aren't rare in general — they happen every 18 months somewhere in the world. But if you stayed in one place, you'd wait 300 years on average to see one. Keep an eye on the NASA live stream at the bottom of this page to watch the eclipse.

Eclipse Scientists Probe the Mysteries of the Sun's Atmosphere

https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/ScienceEclipseScienceandSolarPowerVentonandSommer170814.mp3 The wait between total solar eclipses, if you're planning to stay in one particular location, is a very long time. On average, around 400 years. But, if you're willing to go anywhere on the planet, the wait is around 18 months. And if you're a scientist studying the sun, chances are you're happy to travel just about anywhere. "Asking what we're doing seeing another eclipse is like asking a cardiologist who looked at somebody's heart for two minutes, a year and a half ago, does he want to look at another patient," says Jay Pasachoff, chair of the International Astronomical Union's working group on solar eclipses. During a total eclipse, the moon gets between us and the sun, like an umbrella. Blue sky turns dark, revealing a sight that is normally hidden. In that darkened sky is the sun's atmosphere, the corona—a silvery, waving halo of hot, constantly changing gas. "Every time we look [at the corona] there's something different," says Pasachoff. Big storms in the corona—which are like burps of fiery plasma from the sun—can damage satellites, harm astronauts and disrupt power grids. The more scientists know about the corona, the better they can predict these big storms. And the only time researchers can see all of the corona really well is during a total eclipse. "It's amazing that the moon at this moment in our history is exactly the same size of the sun, apparently," says Alan Gould, former planetarium director (and current volunteer) at the Lawrence Berkeley Hall of Science. "And so it exactly blocks the disc of the sun." Total solar eclipse as seen over Svalbard, Norway in March 2015. The international Solar Wind Sherpas team, led by Shadia Habbal of the University of Hawaii at Manoa Institute for Astronomy, braved the arctic weather in order to study the sun's atmosphere. (Miloslav Druckmüller) Leaving the brilliant corona visible around the black circle of the moon. The sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but it's 400 times farther away from us, so it looks the same size in the sky. Millions of years ago, the moon was closer and covered up more of the sun. In the distant future it'll be farther away, and appear too small to see total eclipses. "We are living in such a fortunate time in that regard" says Gould, "so we get to see the entire corona in its glory." That's why astronomers are traveling from all over the world to see the eclipse on August 21st. And some of them will be studying one of the biggest mysteries about the sun; it has to do with temperature. "So the sun is about 10 million degrees (Celsius) at the center," Gould says. "Really, that's where all the action is. All the nuclear fusion is happening there." The surface is a lot cooler: about 5,538 degrees Celsius. It would make sense for the corona streaming off the surface to be cooler still. But it's not. It's a lot hotter. "In fact, it gets up to a million degrees" says Gould. "There are theories about why that is, but it's really not known." It's not for lack of trying. "I like to joke that the problem has been solved," Pasachoff says. "It's been solved by twelve different people in twelve different ways. In other words, we don't have a solution." One of the people working toward a solution on the day of the eclipse will be University of Hawaii astronomer Shadia Habbal. She leads an international team of scientists known as the "Solar Wind Sherpas" who travel the world in pursuit of solar science. This is a very special eclipse for her. "Usually most eclipse paths cover a lot of ocean, or they go over islands, " she says. "This one is like 3,000 miles of solid land." On the day of the eclipse Habbal will be overseeing five different observation sites within the "path of totality"—the band running across the U.S. where the sun will be entirely blocked out. By spreading out the equipment, Habbal's team will get the chance to see the corona's behavior over several hours. And if you want to be part of scientific history too, you can. The Eclipse Megamovie Project is a collaboration between Google and UC Berkeley to compile photographs from the public into a film. Scientists will be able to use the images for years to study dynamics of the corona. Other researchers will be use the eclipse to learn more about the Earth itself. "Having this dark shadow of the eclipse is really kind of a shocker to the atmosphere," says Angela Des Jardin, director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium. She's overseeing a project to launch high-altitude balloons that will live-stream the eclipse as well as collect weather data. During a test flight, Montana State University students Carter McIver, left, Katherine Lee, Darci Collins, and Keaton Harmon inflate high-altitude balloons. These balloons, launched from sites across the nation, will live-stream the eclipse on August 21. (Kelly Gorham/Montana State University) "So this is unprecedented opportunity for us to actually be able to collect all this data about how the atmosphere changes," Des Jardin says. In fact, August 21st could possibly become the single greatest scientific-data-collecting day in American history. You can be part of it by joining one of the many citizen science projects. Read more KQED eclipse coverage: You Know About This Summer's Spectacular Solar Eclipse, Right? Don't Be in the Dark: Answers To Your Burning Questions About the August Eclipse Help Make History: Eclipse Projects for Citizen Scientists Americans Prepare for First Coast-to-Coast Total Solar Eclipse in Century (KQED Forum)

Self-Driving Cars Will Compel Changes on California Roads and Highways

https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/001294fa.mp3 We are moving rapidly down the road toward the age of self-driving cars. But as the cars change, the roads will have to change with them, and it will likely mean some adjustments, such as different signage and narrower lanes. 'It's been very difficult for us to fill all our potholes, and now we're talking about spending money and making investments on new technology.'Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans Five years ago, when Governor Jerry Brown appointed Malcolm Dougherty to head Caltrans, autonomous cars seemed a lot farther off than they do now. With ridesharing and even car rental companies getting into the game — and more than a dozen regulatory bills before Congress — things are accelerating. As the car technology races toward him, Dougherty is keeping his eyes on the road. KQED Science Editor Craig Miller spoke with the top man at Caltrans about the future of California's highways. Miller: What are the challenges you face to adapt California's roads for self-driving cars? Dougherty: Well, some of the challenges are: Where do we start and when do we jump? To date, it's been very difficult for us to fill all our potholes, and now we're talking about spending money and making investments on new technology. There's going to be different technologies and technology is turning over at a very rapid pace. Who goes first? If you're talking about communications between infrastructure and vehicles, do I put the communication devices out there, first, before the vehicles have them? Do the vehicles start to install the communication devices before I put them out there? Who goes first? And whatever investment I make today is going to be passed up by greater levels of technology in three years, or four years. Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty is on Twitter @MalcolmXdough. (Twitter) So we certainly want to jump into the new technology and be innovative, but we also have to be smart with taxpayers' dollars, and deploy things that are going to be utilized and not get turned over by technology very shortly. Miller: What sort of changes are we looking at? Dougherty: Well, there's a lot of opportunities. One thing that we do know is those autonomous vehicles are going to be looking very closely at the infrastructure, because there will be GPS in those vehicles, but they will still need to see their immediate surroundings. Whether or not it's lane lines, stop bars, different signs, and those types of things, they're going to have be very visual to a computer or an autonomous vehicle as well as a human-driven car. Can lanes start to get narrower because of autonomous vehicles? It depends. There's some reasons why lanes could be narrower now with human-driven cars, but depending on your setting, we have to thoughtful about the fact that there's going to be human-driven cars and autonomous vehicles before we start making the lanes a lot narrower. We have already taken the steps to update the standard that we use for lane delineation as we call it. But that's a two-fold purpose: one, to increase the visibility for the human driver, but at the same time, we were looking to the future, knowing that we were going to have autonomous technology emerging and taking that into consideration as we update our standards. Miller: And this has already begun? Dougherty: The one significant thing we're going to be doing is increasing the width of those lane lines from four inches to six inches, making them highly visible. Miller: These changes will obviously come at a cost and you've already said that keeping the potholes filled is a challenge. Do you see this technology leading to more privatization of roads? Dougherty: I don't know about the privatization of the roadways, but there definitely is an opportunity to partner with companies to be able to deploy new technologies. There's a lot of companies out there that are providing traveler information through private vendors and private apps, right? So there's a partnership synergy there between us as an owner-operator, and some of those private companies, who are both trying to improve mobility for the end user. We collect a lot of data, we don't package that data and necessarily market it to the end consumer, but we provide that data to those companies that are doing that. Those companies also have data that they're sharing with us, so we're sharing data again for the ultimate benefit of the end user. Miller: Some of the ideas being kicked around involve embedding technology into the roadways — like wireless charging of moving cars, or piezoelectric roads, that generate electricity from the pressure of traffic moving over them. Implementing any of these would involve huge sums of money. Where might that come from? Dougherty: In some of these experimental ideas that you just talked about, we would be looking to partner with some of those vendors. If you want to show us the value or you want pilot some of that new technology, show us that it works before we can scale it up. 'Getting into your car and having it take you to school to drop your child off and then take you to the supermarket and take you to work without paying attention to the driving — we're a long ways from that.'Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans We may talk about solar roads, and putting down a surface that's actually collecting electricity — is that going to stand up to the wear and tear that we put on roads here in California with all the truck traffic? I don't know, but we'll pilot that in a very isolated area to see what its durability is before we put it on any kind of an interstate like I-80 or I-5. And specifically we'll be testing that in a roadside rest area, where if it doesn't perform and it fails, it's not a high consequence for the state of California or taxpayers. Miller: Meanwhile, how fast is the clock ticking, here, for Caltrans? Dougherty: Let's say one-two-three-four-five, years from now, we start to see some version and some level of that technology hitting the street — a vast majority of the other cars are still going to be human-driven cars. You fast forward out to 10-15-20 years, you're still going to have a mix. So before we start talking about making some significant geometric changes to the highway, we have to take into consideration that there's still going to be human-driven cars out there. I think in some respects, the autonomous technology is going to be sooner than a lot of people think. But getting into your car and having it take you to school to drop your child off and then take you to the supermarket and take you to work without paying attention to the driving — we're a long ways from that.

Self-Driving Cars Will Compel Changes on California Roads and Highways

How Much Drinking Water Has California Lost to Oil Industry Waste? No One Knows

California survived its historic drought, in large part by using groundwater. It was a lifeline in the Central Valley, where it was the only source of water for many farmers. California regulators are charged with protecting that groundwater, but for years they failed to do so. Through a series of mistakes and miscommunication, they allowed oil companies to put wastewater into drinking water aquifers that were supposed to be safeguarded. Now, a KQED investigation reveals that regulators still know little about the actual impact on the state's groundwater reserves. One of those errors was discovered by an unlikely person: Bill Samarin, a farmer in California's San Joaquin Valley. Oil and agriculture are the big employers in Tulare County, where Samarin lives. Among the citrus and almond orchards, you see steel pumpjacks bobbing above the treetops. So criticizing either of those industries doesn't make you popular. "That doesn't set well with people around here," Samarin said. "You're some kind of environmentalist, which isn't a very accepted thing to be if you're a farmer out in this area." Samarin is not an environmentalist. He describes himself as a "pretty conservative guy." So what he discovered about the oil industry put him in unfamiliar territory, straining relationships in this tight-knit community. The Biggest Issue It started with the oil field not far from his orchard. 'Is this even possible that they could be taking wastewater and injecting it into drinking water?'Bill Samarin, farmer "From our house, we could look across and it's probably about three-quarters of a mile," he said. County officials had received an application to expand that oil field and allow more drilling. Given how close it was to his property, Samarin started doing some homework. "When I looked into it further, I found out actually that the biggest issue out here isn't the things you see on top of the ground," he said. "The biggest issue out here is the wastewater and how they're getting rid of it." Oil companies in California produce tons of wastewater. On average, for every barrel of oil, a California oil well produces 19 barrels of water, often laden with salts, trace metals and chemicals like benzene. "They have to get rid of it somehow and in this area here, they pump it into the ground," he said. It's the standard way in which oil companies dispose of wastewater in California: using injection wells, which are not much more than a pipe going into the ground with a gauge to monitor water pressure. Generally, the wastewater is deposited pretty deep, below the usable groundwater, into aquifers that are already too salty to be drinkable. Samarin decided to look up all the wells near his orchard, to see where the wastewater was going. He couldn't believe what he found. "I was just stunned, stunned by how close it was to groundwater," Samarin said. He uses groundwater on his crops, along with a lot of other farmers in the area. "I just drilled a well here," he said. "We drilled down to 740 feet. The injection wells in this area are injecting at similar depths." Alarmed, Samarin went to the local water regulators, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. They told him how a water law, known as the Safe Drinking Water Act, works. Groundwater that's potentially drinkable is automatically off limits for oil companies for wastewater disposal. But if groundwater quality is already tainted by oil or salts, then companies can get permission from state agencies and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to put wastewater there. The regulators gave Samarin a map of the land around his orchard that had been approved for wastewater disposal, as well as the areas that were protected. Most people probably would have stopped there, but not Samarin. He wanted to know how close those injection wells were to his protected aquifer. Digging Through the Maps Samarin didn't have to turn very far for help. His son, Alex, works with maps for a living. "I think we're both curious people," said the younger Samarin. "Once the question is asked, we want to see what the answer is." He plotted coordinates for all the wastewater wells on top of the land approved for wastewater. "Six out of the seven did fall within the allowable aquifer," he said. "One was completely outside of it." That meant an oil company was putting its wastewater into a protected aquifer that was supposed to be off-limits. "We were just stunned," recalls Bill. "It was like: is this even possible that they could be taking wastewater and injecting it into drinking water? Can you imagine that that actually occurs in California in this day and age?" A wastewater injection well in San Joaquin County. (Lauren Sommer/KQED) He decided to take it to county officials. In 2014, Tulare County held hearings about whether to allow the oil operation near Samarin's orchard to expand, and he filed an appeal against it. He wanted the county to know about the mistake: that regulators with the state's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources had permitted a wastewater well that it shouldn't have. Over a decade, it had pumped 80 million gallons of wastewater into the aquifer. At the hearing, Samarin presented his report, going over everything he and his son had found. "Produced water associated with oil production can contain many constituents that may endanger the environment or the public health," he testified. When the meeting was opened for comments, Burton Ellison, a recently-retired regulator with DOGGR, challenged Samarin's findings, calling them untrue. "Every one of those wells went through a rigorous review," Ellison told the hearing. "As a matter of fact, I reviewed some of them back in 2008." In the end, county supervisors denied Samarin's appeal, stating that regulating wastewater was the state's job, not theirs. Samarin let it drop for the time being. "I left it to other contacts," he said. "The state water board knew about it." 'It looks like a completely broken system.'Briana Mordick, Natural Resources Defense Council Six months later, those state water regulators reviewing wastewater wells discovered that Samarin had been right. They ordered the errant injection well that Samarin had found be shut down. The oil company, Modus, Inc., responded that its wastewater didn't contaminate the aquifer because it had the same salt level as the aquifer it was going into. What Samarin didn't know was that his wasn't an isolated case. It was happening all over California. "Broken System" "There are thousands of wells spread all across the state that are potentially impacting clean drinking water," says Briana Mordick of the Natural Resources Defense Council. State oil regulators grant permits for wastewater injection wells, so knowing the boundaries between protected and unprotected aquifers is crucial. But for decades, Mordick says, state regulators confused those boundaries. "It's just a pretty shocking state of affairs," says Mordick. "Just poor communication, poor record-keeping. It looks like a completely broken system." "Our records weren't solid," admits Teresa Schilling, a spokesperson for the division of oil and gas. "They were missing in many cases and it's essential that we have accurate records." https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/ScienceOilWastewaterISommer170802.mp3 In some cases, the aquifer maps were decades old with fuzzy boundaries. In other cases, the records regulators used to make decisions were mixed up 30 years ago. The Environmental Protection Agency had a complete list of the protected aquifers, but for unknown reasons, California oil regulators were working from an incomplete list that didn't include 11 protected aquifers. "We understand that the public has concern about what's at stake with their drinking water," says Schilling. "We all know we have a right to clean drinking water and we have a right to expect that our government will take care of that for us." What regulators are doing now, Schilling says, is reviewing records for thousands of wastewater injection wells, looking for mistakes. So far, about 175 wells have been shut down. But six years after the problems emerged, there are still hundreds of wastewater wells operating in protected aquifers, mostly in Kern and Tulare counties. Schilling says these aquifers aren't drinking-water quality and the state is going through the process of approving them for wastewater disposal. That was supposed to happen by February, but the process is still unfinished. "It's very hard as a government entity to move fast but this has been a top priority at the Department of Conservation," she says. Minimal Testing Still not fully understood is what impact all this has had on the quality of California's drinking-water aquifers. "The testing that has been performed has been minimal, I would say," says John Borkovich of the State Water Resources Control Board. The agency has tested some of the drinking water wells within a mile of the wastewater wells that were wrongly permitted. The tests looked at the quality of the drinking water. Borkovich says officials have found no correlation between wastewater injection and "anything we're finding in the water supply wells." So far. "Just because we haven't seen anything, doesn't mean there isn't an issue out there," he said. The next, bigger challenge is determining what the long-term impact of wastewater has been on the larger aquifers. Some wastewater wells have been operating for decades. https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/08/oilwastewaterpt2.mp3 KQED asked oil regulators for records showing contamination levels of the wastewater that oil companies put into the cleanest aquifers. Officials say they can't produce those records for KQED, because the information is in stacks of paperwork, spread across several regional offices. They also say the division of oil and gas isn't looking at that question. Given how far back the permitting problems go, it could be a challenge for the state to reconstruct what's happened underground. "We don't necessarily have good records of what the quality of that water would have been 20 years ago when they started doing this," said NRDC's Mordick. "So trying to figure out whether their actions have impacted the water is really difficult at this point." Mordick adds that the state may be overlooking certain chemicals in their testing. "One of the complicating things is that the state doesn't require disclosure of most of the stuff that oil and gas operators use," Mordick says. "Things like drilling fluids, or maintenance fluids, enhanced oil recovery operations, so really, we wouldn't know what to test for." The aquifers in question may not contain groundwater that California needs right now, but future droughts are inevitable. "Those resources are becoming more and more valuable over time," says Mordick. "Protecting our groundwater is really important. They need to follow the rules and California needs to step up and take this seriously because they haven't been for a long time." State water regulators say they hope to figure out what the larger impacts have been in the years ahead, but have no set timeline. The risk is that they've allowed oil companies to contaminate drinking water aquifers to such an extent that Californians may have permanently lost those sources of fresh water.

How Much Drinking Water Has California Lost to Oil Industry Waste? No One Knows

Want to Cut Your Carbon Footprint? Get Liquefied When You're Dead

You may not equate death with climate change, but disposing of human remains leaves a fairly hefty carbon footprint. Supporters of a California bill allowing dead bodies to be dissolved in a hot chemical bath are hoping to overcome the 'ick factor.' "Cremation is really what people hold Read More ...

On the Fourth of July 20 Years Ago, NASA Landed the First Rover on Mars

On July 4th, 1997 as Americans were stoking their barbecues, a NASA spacecraft touched down on Mars and bounced like a beach ball. The Pathfinder mission was an unlikely and stunning success that marked the beginning of a roaming robotic presence on the red planet. The successful feat surprised everyone—including the team behind the mission, a mission that didn't have the best reputation in the beginning. Jennifer Trosper applied to work at NASA in the nineties. "And I got a phone call," Trosper says. "He [the recruiter] said, 'Well, we got this project out here. Nobody really wants to work on it, because nobody thinks it's going to work.'" https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/07/ScienceMarsRover.mp3 NASA was trying something new: space travel for a bargain price. Pathfinder's mantra was cheaper, faster, better. The goal was to cut down on red tape and dream of solutions no one had else had thought of. "Be crazy and bold and innovative," says Pathfinder's chief engineer Rob Manning. 'Cheaper, Faster, Better' When Trosper arrived in Los Angeles, she joined a team of scrappy aerospace engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) willing to work on a lean budget and try something revolutionary. "We didn't follow all the rules. We had some good leadership, but it was a very small team," Trosper says, "And we were landing on the surface of Mars with air bags!" The airbags were designed to cushion Pathfinder's landing. Touching down on Mars can be tricky because the atmosphere is so thin. That's one reason no other country had had a successful landing for twenty years. NASA's last success was the Viking 1 and Viking 2 orbiter-lander in 1975. Low Budget Inspires Innovation Manning says the team settled on a parachute to slow the spacecraft down as it hurtled through the Martian atmosphere. The engineers also wrapped the machine in a cocoon to protect it when it touched down on the rocky landscape—kind of like a beach ball. Manning says the idea was that the ball "would bounce and roll on the surface. And finally open up like a flower and have a little rover drive off." If successful, the tiny rover—about the size of a microwave—would become the first wheeled vehicle to explore the surface of another planet. NASA named it Sojourner. Seven months after the launch, NASA engineers monitored the spacecraft's status as it neared its icy destination. A nervous tension filled the control room at JPL. And then at the exact moment Pathfinder was expected to bounce down, a faint signal sounded, back on Earth. The room erupted with loud applause and cheering. "By late afternoon for us we were getting our first picture," Manning says, smiling. Miraculously, Pathfinder had traveled millions of miles and landed upright on the red planet. The Sojourner Rover at the Yogi rock on Mars. (Mars Pathfinder Project ) NASA uploaded the images to a new realm known as the World Wide Web. Jon Brooks, a science editor at KQED, remembers the moment vividly. "You could see a little more, a little more, a little more," Brooks says, "and the anticipation was truly great because you were going to catch a glimpse of Mars for the first time. You actually saw the barren landscape and the red color." The Most Important Question Sojourner was expected to take pictures for one week before its batteries died. Instead, the little spacecraft weathered the frigid climate for nearly three months. Pathfinder beamed thousands of pictures back to Earth, says Manning, to help his team answer one central question: "Was Mars at some point in its past a place with lakes and an atmosphere and places where presumably life could actually get started?" The quest to find an answer has inspired three more NASA rovers after Pathfinder. The latest, Curiosity, is the size of an SUV and has been driving around Mars for nearly five years looking for clues about how and when the red planet went from warm and wet to cold and dry. Astronomers are still searching for signs of life, but they have confirmed the presence of water. Observations suggest that habitable lakes and streams likely existed in the ancient past. "Doesn't say anything about whether there was life there," Manning says. "But it does say this planet is much more interesting than we ever dreamed." Mars is the only planet inhabited solely by robots (as far as we know). Next year the U.S. will send the InSight lander to Mars, and the Mars 2020 will follow. NASA hopes to land a human on the red planet within the next twenty years.

On the Fourth of July 20 Years Ago, NASA Landed the First Rover on Mars

Californians Will Ski on the Fourth of July

You can celebrate America's birthday in the surf or the snow this year. Two California ski resorts are still open. It is the fourth time Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has had enough snow for Fourth of July turns since the resort opened in 1949. Mammoth Mountain predicts there may be enough snow to stay open through August. 'It's a little like water skiing. But it's great coverage so you can't complain.'Michael Visconti On a recent 80-degree Sunday, a stream of skiers and snowboarders in board shorts and tank tops tumbled out of the gondola at Squaw Valley. Nearby, a waterfall poured through a gap in the cliffs as the hot skies penetrated the snow. Clearly the bluebird skies are the highlight rather than the conditions. Skiers say the wet snow feels like gooey oatmeal, mashed potatoes or ice cream. As San Francisco resident Michael Visconti carved turns in the slush, a fan of water sprayed out from underneath his skis. "It's a little like water skiing. But it's great coverage so you can't complain." Bikinis and Costumes Peopled posed for photos on the slopes with Lake Tahoe's turquoise waters glimmering in the distance. Women were dressed in slinky bikinis, black lingerie and red booty shorts, yet it was Visconti's outfit that stole the show. Michael (L) and Katherine Visconti are skiing as many days as possible this summer. (Lesley McClurg/KQED) "I've got my signature zebra pants," said Visconti. "I've got this monster hat with light up eyes and pink fur. It seems to be incredibly popular with the five-year-old crowd who want to know what kind of monster I am." Dangerous Waters All the liquid running off the mountain has lifted water levels in Lake Tahoe to capacity. Water managers are releasing as much runoff as possible through the Lake Tahoe Dam at the mouth of the Truckee River. Usually the upper river is knee-deep flat water that families raft in inner tubes, but it's currently a frothy beast closed for swimming. "It's too high to be rafting right now," said local raft guide Richard Saffo. "The bridges, you can't go under them. So it's very dangerous. Whether it's decapitation or a gnarly concussion — either will definitely ruin your vacation." https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/science/2017/06/McClurgFourthSkiing2.mp3 Tributary Waters, the company Saffo works for, offers trips down a safer section of the Truckee River closer to Reno. This year Saffo warns his clients to hold on tight because if they fall in they could spend a long time in the icy waters. "Those rapids come alive," said Saffo. "The water is so high and swift you might swim for two miles." In fact it could be lethal. The Associated Press is reporting that western rivers have claimed at least 14 lives so far this year. From the Mountain to the Sea Fresh water from the Sierra is rushing all the way across the Central Valley and pouring into the San Francisco Bay. The runoff is so powerful, it's pushing back the salty ocean water all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is much different than what happened during California's recent drought when runoff barely trickled into the Bay. Even though the snowpack on April first was 164 percent of normal and the winter was one of the state's wettest on record, it wasn't as cold as previous generations. Jeffrey Mount, a water expert for the Public Policy Institute of California, says that's a sign of climate change. "What we forget is this year is still part of our long term trend that started back in the early 1980's — warmer than average winters," said Mount. "So as we continue to warm, there's a lot of consequences." Warmer temperatures mean melting snow evaporates quicker, trees bloom earlier and soils dry up faster. Though Mount says that doesn't add up to another drought — at least not in the near term. He cautiously predicts California is likely to have another snowy winter because wet years tend to cluster together. Though he says he wouldn't put money on it.