Wolbach, Dr. Dean — The Air We Breathe

We all know that there are various forms of air pollution that affect our health and the health of our environment, but what do we really breathe? What is in the air that we breathe?

In this archive edition of Radio Curious, recorded in the Radio Curious studios on January 9, 2009 we visit with Dr. Dean Wolbach, a former Air Pollution Control Officer for Mendocino County. Our conversation focused on the different types of air pollution and how they affect us both globally and at the local level.  We began by asking Dr. Wolbach to provide an overview of air quality issues across history, through to the present day, here, in Mendocino.

The books Dr. Dean Wolbach recommends are “Dreams Of My Father,” and “The Audacity Of Hope,” by President Barack Obama, “Samuel Adams: A Life,” by Ira Stoll and “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Click here to listen or on the media player below.

Dvorak, John Ph.D. — Earthquakes: Why and When

To many of us who live along the coast of California, earthquakes are a living legend. That legend is closely associated with the San Andreas Fault, an earthquake line which runs roughly 800 miles through California forming the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate.  More than just a legend, earthquakes over the millennia have rattled the world in multiple events close in time are referred to as “earthquake storms.”  These storms are close in geological time, not so much in human time.

As you might expect, this edition of Radio Curious is about earthquakes.  Our guest is John Dvorak, Ph.D., a geophysicist and author of “Earthquake Storms:  The Fascinating History and Volatile Future of the San Andreas Fault.”  He is currently employed by the United States Geological Survey, working for the Institute for Astronomy in Hilo, Hawaii, after having taught at the University of Hawaii, UCLA, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Smithsonian Institute.

In our visit, recorded on October 31, 2014, from his office in Hilo, Hawaii, we began our conversation when I asked him to describe what an earthquake storm is.

The book John Dvorak recommends is “Daughters of Fire,” by Tom Peek.

Click here to listen or on the media player below.

Brandt, Roger — The Oregon Caves

The Oregon Caves, located about 70 miles northeast of Crescent City, California in the Oregon Caves National Monument, are a place full of interest, mystery, and history. 

The caves were located in 1874 when Elijah Davidson chased his dog into the caves.

The Oregon Caves are very unique—possibly due to the fact that it is one of the few cave systems located on tectonically active ground, known as a subduction zone.   Their uniqueness may also be due to the fact an old growth Douglas fir forest grows directly above the caves, or the fact that they were created from what used to be a tropical reef that was pushed about 12 miles below the surface of the earth and then brought back up to its current location, and is still rising. I visited the Oregon Caves in 2006 and knew at once it would be a first-time, unique experience.

I spoke with Roger Brandt, the manager of visitor services and education of the Oregon Caves in June, 2006.  We began when I asked him about the Oregon Caves and what they represent.  

The book Roger Brandt recommends is “Golden Days and Pioneer Ways” by Ruth Phefferle.

Click here to listen or on the media player below.

Farrell, Tom — A Visit to Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park, the eighth National Park established in 1903 and located in the Black Hills of southwest South Dakota, is the subject this edition of Radio Curious. Our guest is Tom Farrell, Chief of Interpretation at Wind Cave National Park.

Lakota stories speak of a hole in the Black Hills that blows air which is a sacred place for their people. The tipi rings, near the present day elevator building at Wind Cave National Park, indicate that Indians camped in the area and knew about the cave’s small natural entrance. Sitting Bull’s nephew is quoted as saying that “Wind Cave in the Black Hills was the cave from which Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, sent the buffalo out into the Sioux hunting grounds.”  

One of the stories tell of a beautiful woman, known as the buffalo woman, who came out of the cave and gave the bison to the Lakota people.

In 1881 a couple of non Lakota deer hunters happened on to the cave when one of them was following a wounded deer up a ravine and heard a loud whistling sound. The hunter noticed grass caught in a strong breeze on what otherwise was a calm day. Investigating, he found a small hole blowing with such force that it blew his hat off.  Returning to show what he thought was a phenomenon to some friends, one of them put a hat in front of the hole which was sucked into the cave because the wind had switched directions.

The direction of the wind is in fact related to the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface. To understand this phenomenon it’s important to understand barometric or atmospheric pressure.

At sea level gravity is strongest and air pressure is greatest. And because gravity weakens as you go up, air pressure is lower at higher altitudes. However, the barometric pressure at any given location on the earth is constantly changing. On the surface, weather is driven by the sun, which heats some areas of the earth more than others. Temperature differences lead to pressure differences which produce winds, bring in clouds, or clear skies. Understanding barometric pressure readings help forecast the weather. A rising barometric pressure often suggests clearing skies and fair weather where falling pressure indicates that wet or stormy weather may be on the way. Areas of very low pressure are associated with severe storms, such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

Because Wind Cave is so large and has a lot of space, it also has an air pressure system. That air pressure system is always working to be equal to the air pressure system on the surface. So if a high pressure system is on the surface, air will be forced into the cave to create a high pressure system in the cave. When there is a low pressure system on the surface, the high pressure in the cave forces air out so the cave will have a low pressure system also. This is referred to as cave breathing.

Barometric airflow through the natural entrance of Wind Cave not only gave the cave its name, but also provides an opportunity for determining the approximate volume or size of the cave passages. Monitoring and recording the barometric airflow through the cave’s natural entrances help us understand the volume of air in the cave and that can be used to calculate the total volume of cave passage. By using the amount of air that comes from the cave we can determine the volume of space in the cave. At this time it has been estimated that than 10% of the caves volume has been found.  That does not mean however that the mileage of the cave is identifiably known. There could be many, very small passages or one great huge one. But it does give us an idea of how big the cave could be.

Many caves are big enough to have barometric winds. However, the wind at Wind Cave is noticeable because of its very small, natural entrance. Wind Cave, one of the longest caves in the world, is also one of the most complex caves known. Currently most all of the cave lies beneath about a 1 mile square area of land.

Wind Cave became the eighth National Park in 1903.

When Radio Curious visited Wind Cave National Park on September 23, 2014, we met with Tom Farrell, the Chief of Interpretation, and began our conversation when I asked him to describe the discovery of the Wind Cave. 

The book Tom Farrell recommends is “Wind Cave:  An Ancient World Beneath the Hills,” by Art Palmer.

Click here to listen or on the media player below.

Owen, Doug & Ted Stout — A Visit to the Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is located in southern Idaho in the middle of the Snake River Plane halfway between Yellowstone National Park and Boise, Idaho.  It encompasses about 11,000 sq. miles, an area about the size of the State of Rhode Island.  In this special and unique part of the earth, lava has flowed regularly from 50 mile long deep, open, rift cracks approximately every 2000 years beginning 15,000 years ago.  With the last flow occurring about 2,100 years ago, another eruption is considered by many knowledgeable people to be due.

The area is so much like the surface of the moon that the astronauts who prepared for the second lunar landing in 1970 went to Craters of the Moon to train. 

I visited the Craters of the Moon on September 18 and 19, 2014, meeting first with Ted Stout, Chief of Interpretation and Education and then with Doug Owen, a geologist and National Park Ranger.

When Ted Stout and I met at the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve headquarters I asked him to begin with a description of the land within the Preserve.

Click here to listen or on the media player below.

California Burning: The Mendocino Lodge Fire

California wildfires present a serious public safety concern, create fear of serious loss for many and cost millions of dollars to fight. In California each fire is given a name, as is done for hurricanes. We devote this edition of Radio Curious, to the Lodge Fire that occurred in Mendocino County, California in August 2014.  We visit with four Mendocino County people who meet the public need at times of crisis.

We begin with Mary Aigner, program director of KZYX and KZYZ, Mendocino County Public Broadcasting, the public radio station where Radio Curious was originally broadcast beginning in 1991.  She describes what local public radio is able to do at a time of crisis. We then hear from Chris Rowney, the Mendocino Unit Chief for Cal-Fire, the California fire protection agency, who explains what Cal-Fire does when confronted with a wildfire. We also hear from Mendocino County Sheriff, Tom Allman, whose responsibility it is to order a mandatory evacuation if a crisis so requires. Finally we hear from Dr. Sharon Paltin, a family physician in Laytonville, California, the community closest to the Lodge Fire.  She describes the public health effects of exposure to the extraordinary amount of smoke created by a wildfire.

We begin our conversation, recorded on August 29, 2014, with Mary Aigner from Mendocino County Public Broadcasting, describing the role of community radio when a wild fire occurs.

The book Mary Aigner recommends is “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,” by Charles C. Mann. The book that Chris Rowney recommends is “Young Men and Fires,” by Norman McClean. The book Dr. Sharon Paltin recommends is “A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster,” by Rebecca Solnit.

This program was recorded on August 29 and September 1, 2014.

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Wells, Spencer — The Unforseen Cost of Civilization

In this edition of Radio Curious we revisit a conversation with Spencer Wells about his book, “Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization,” published in 2010.

Our interview is a follow-up to a 2003 conversation about his book, “The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey,” in which Wells traces our routes as small bands of hunter-gatherers when our ancestors walked out of Africa approximately 60,000 years ago and began populating the world.

“Pandora’s Seed” tells the story of what we humans, with our hunter-gatherer biological construct have created in the past 10,000 years. These multiple life style changes have produced what we call “civilization,” with systems and mechanisms that will not allow us to continue the life-styles that are emulated by many people world-wide, and exploited by those who have access to them. In other words, we can’t last much longer doing what we are doing without radically reducing the way we all live, if not outright killing our species.

Spencer Well is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., where he leads the Genographic Project, which is collecting and analyzing hundreds of thousands of DNA samples from people around the wold in order to decipher how our ancestors populated the world. He is also a professor a Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

In this interview with Spencer Wells, recorded on July 19, 2010, we began by describing the changes necessary for our species survival.

The book Spencer Wells recommends is “The Histories,” by Herodotus, a 5th century B.C. Greek historian.

Click here to listen or on the media player below.

Feigin, Keith — Liquid Gold on Lovers Lane

This program is about honey. We visit with Keith Feigin, owner of Lovers Lane Farm, at his bee keeping center in Ukiah, California. We discuss bees on the loose, how they orient themselves to a new location, communicate with each other and how Keith harvests the “liquid gold.”  Keith was just leaving to catch up with some bees on the loose when I arrived, and that’s when our conversation began in mid August, 2011.

The book that Keith Feigin recommends is the “Secret Life of Bees,” by Sue Monk Kidd.

Click here to listen to the program or on the media player below.

Cochran, Gregory — The 10,000 Year Explosion – How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution Part One

Have humans changed in the last 10,000 years?  Are we biologically the same as we have been for the past 60,000 years? Recent evidence suggests that so called civilization has promoted rapid evolutionary change in our species in the last 10,000 years.

In this edition of Radio Curious we visit with Gregory Cochran, a physicist and anthropologist, who is the co-author of the book “The 10,000 Year Explosion – How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution”.  His book asserts that changes in human biology, lactose tolerance and resistance to malaria for example, represent human evolution accelerated by civilization.

In this, the first of two Radio Curious conversations with Gregory Cochran we discuss some of these evolutions.

In part two we discuss the evolution and genetic mutations of race and physiology.

I spoke with Gregory Cochran from his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 23, 2009 and began by asking him what biological indications exist to show an increase in human evolution in the past 10,000 years and why they occurred.

The book Gregory Cochran recommends is “Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Re-Wilding of America” by Paul S. Martin

Click here or on the media player below to listen to part one.

Blake, Tim — Marijuana & the California Drought Part One

The growing nation-wide acceptance of marijuana for medical and recreational use and how it is grown and evaluated is the topic of this edition of Radio Curious.  We visit with Tim Blake, the founder of The Emerald Cup, California’s oldest competition among outdoor growers of organic cannabis. The Emerald Cup originated in an area known for it’s marijuana cultivation as the Emerald Triangle, a region of northwestern California which includes Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.

In the first of two conversations with Tim Blake, recorded in the studios of Radio Curious on January 17, 2014, we began when I asked him what marijuana growers could expect in 2014, as California is in the midst of the most severe drought in recorded history and considering the fact that water is indispensable to growing marijuana.

The book Tim Blake recommends is Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, By, Christopher Ryan, Ph.D and Cacilda Jethá M.D.

Click here to listen or on the media player below.

Click here to listen to part two.