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access_time17 hours ago
Science in Action this week comes from a vast gathering of earth scientists in Vienna, at the general assembly of the European Geosciences Union.

Roland Pease hears the latest insights into the cataclysmic eruption of Hunga Tonga in the Pacific ocean from volcanologist Shane Cronin of the University of Auckland.

He also talks to NASA's Michael Day about how the planet Venus might have acquired its hellish super-greenhouse atmosphere, and how the same thing could happen to planet Earth.

There’s intriguing research from geologist John Tarduno of the University of Rochester that hints of a link between the ups and downs of the Earth’s magnetic field and the evolutionary history of animals.

Fraser Lott of the UK's Hadley Centre explains his ideas for calculating an individual person's responsibility for climate change-driven extreme weather events.

Image: Multi-beam sonar map of Hunga Tonga volcano post-eruption
Credit: Shane Cronin/Uni of Auckland/Tonga Geological Services

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
access_time8 days ago
Tree mortality in tropical moist forests in Australia has been increasing since the mid 1980s. The death rate of trees appears to have doubled over that time period. According to an international team of researchers, the primary cause is drier air in these forests, the consequence of human-induced climate change. According to ecologist David Bauman, a similar process is likely underway in tropical forests on other continents.

Also in the programme: the outbreaks of monkeypox in Europe and North America… Could SARS-CoV-2 infection lingering in the gut be a cause of Long Covid? News of a vaccine against Epstein Barr virus, the cause of mononucleosis, various cancers and multiple sclerosis.

Credit: Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
access_time15 days ago
The heaviest thing in the Galaxy has now been imaged by the biggest telescope on Earth. This is Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy – a gas and star-consuming object, a 4 million times the mass of the Sun. The Event Horizon Telescope is not one device but a consortium of radio telescopes ranging from the South Pole to the Arctic Circle. Their combined data allowed astronomers to focus in on this extreme object for the first time. Astronomer Ziri Younsi from University College London talks to Roland Pease about the orange doughnut image causing all the excitement.

Also in the programme…

Climatologist Chris Funk talks about the role of La Niña and climate change in the record-breaking two year drought that continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in East Africa.

Was a pig virus to blame for the death of the first patient to receive a pig heart transplant? We talk to the surgeon and scientist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who led the historic animal to human transplant operation this year.

How easy will it be to grow plants in lunar soil on future moon bases? Plant biologist Anna Lisa Paul has been testing the question in her lab at the University of Florida, Gainsville, with cress seeds and lunar regolith collected by the Apollo missions.

Photo: First image of Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy
Credit: EHT Collaboration, Southern European Observatory

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
access_time22 days ago
Vietnam’s vast Mekong Delta faces an uncertain future. Also in the programme: using the rumble of traffic in Mexico City to monitor earthquake hazard, record-breaking quakes on Mars and a record-breaking high jumping robot.

Photo: Mekong River in Kampong Cham, Cambodia
Credit: Muaz Jaffar/EyeEm/Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
access_time29 days ago
Deadly heat has been building over the Indian sub-continent for weeks and this week reached crisis levels. India experienced its hottest March on record and temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (and in some places approaching 50 degrees) are making it almost impossible for 1.4 billion people to work. It’s damaging crops and it’s just what climate scientists have been warning about. Roland Pease talks to Vimal Mishra of the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar about the impact and causes of the unprecedented heatwave.

What could be behind the incidence of hepatitis in young children around the world in recent months? Ordinarily, liver disease in childhood is extremely rare. Could a virus normally associated with colds be responsible or is the Covid virus involved? Roland Pease talks to virologist William Irving of Nottingham University.

Also in the programme: how climate change is increasing the likelihood of animal viruses jumping the species barrier to humans with global change modeller Colin Carlson of Georgetown University, and myths about the personalities of dog breeds are exploded with new research by Elinor Karlsson of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

(Photo: Woman cooling herself in India heatwave
Credit: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
access_time1 month ago
As a series of UN climate reports have warned recently, drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – a halving over the next decade – are needed if we are to keep global warming down to manageable levels. No sign of that happening.

An emergency measure to buy time that’s sometimes discussed is solar geoengineering – creating an atmospheric sunscreen that reduces incoming solar heat. Sulphate compounds in volcanic gases or in industrial fumes attract water vapour to make a fine haze and have that effect. The difference would be starting a deliberate programme of injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere.

There are a host of arguments against it, including a revulsion against adding another pollutant to the atmosphere to offset the one, carbon dioxide, that’s giving us problems in the first place. Another objection, outlined this week, is that it could set back the global fight against malaria - a major killer in its own right. University of Cape Town ecologist Chris Trisos tells Roland Pease what his team’s modelling study revealed.

Yale University neurologist Kevin Sheck talks to us about a revolution in medical scanning – small-scale MRI machines that can be wheeled to the patient’s bedside.

According to palaeontologist Maria McNamara, an amazingly preserved pterosaur fossil from Brazil proves that some of these flying reptiles did have feathers similar to those of birds (and some dinosaurs), and that the feathers were of different colours, possibly for mating display.

Primatologist Adrian Barnett has discovered that spider monkeys in one part of the Brazilian Amazon seek out fruit, full of live maggots to eat. Why?

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

(Photo: Illustration of a mosquito biting
Credit: SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)
access_time1 month ago
Brain scanning experiments reveal how psilocybin works to relieve severe depression. Psilocybin is the psychedelic substance in 'magic mushrooms'. The psychoactive chemical is currently in clinical trials in the UK and US as a potential treatment for depression and other mental illnesses. Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London tells Roland about the research

Also in the show, worrying findings about the increase in premature deaths because of air pollution in growing cities in tropical Africa and Asia. An international group of climatologists has found that the tropical storms which struck Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar in early 2022 had been made more intense by human-induced climate change. And astronomer David Jewitt used the Hubble telescope to measure the largest known comet in the solar system - it's huge at about 120 kilometres across.

(Image: Mexican Psilocybe Cubensis. An adult mushroom raining spores. Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
access_time2 months ago
Just over two months ago, the undersea volcano of Hunga Tonga erupted catastrophically, generating huge tsunamis and covering the islands of Tonga in ash. University of Auckland geologist Shane Cronin is now in Tonga, trying to piece together the sequence of violent events.

Edinburgh University palaeontologist Ornella Bertrand tells us about her studies of the ancient mammals that inherited the Earth after the dinosaurs were wiped out. To her surprise, in the first 10 million years after the giant meteorite struck, natural selection favoured larger-bodied mammals, not smarter ones.

At the University of Bristol, a team of engineers are developing skin for robots, designed to give future bots a fine sense of touch. Roland shakes hands with a prototype.

A global satellite survey of the world’s largest coastal cities finds that most of them contain areas that are subsiding faster than the rate that the sea level is rising. Some cities are sinking more than ten times faster, putting many millions of people at an ever-increasing risk of flooding. Oceanographer Steven D’Hondt at the University of Rhode Island explains why this is happening.

(Image: An eruption occurs at the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha"apai off Tonga, January 14, 2022.
Credit: Tonga Geological Services/via Reuters)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
access_time2 months ago
Russian forces in the forested exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear site may be receiving potentially dangerous levels of radiation. After the nuclear accident trees were felled and radioactive material was buried across the site. As the forest regrew its took up much of that radiation - making it the most radioactive forest in the world according to Tom Scott from Bristol University who studies radiation levels in the region. The troop's activities, from digging trenches to lighting fires as missiles are fired, may be releasing radiation. Its unclear how dangerous this is, but those with the greatest and most immediate exposure risk are the troops themselves.

Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef has suffered a mass bleaching event – where coral can be killed by rising temperatures. This is the latest in a series of such events which also affect other reefs. Kate Quigley from The Australian Institute of Marine Science is working to breed corals that can be more heat tolerant. However, she says this is not a solution in itself without addressing climate change and continued ocean warming.

Understanding the human genome has reached a new milestone, with a new analysis that digs deep into areas previously dismissed as ‘junk DNA’ but which may actually play a key role in diseases such as cancer and a range of developmental conditions. Karen Miga from the University of California, Santa Cruz is one of the leaders of the collaboration behind the new findings.

And can fish do maths? Yes according to Vera Schlussel from the University of Bonn. Her group managed to train fish in both addition and subtraction.

(Image: Radiation hazard sign in Pripyat, a ghost town in northern Ukraine, evacuated the day after the Chernobyl disaster. Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time2 months ago
Unseasonably high temperatures have been recorded in both polar regions. Glaciologist Ruth Mottram discusses why they might be occurring now and the potential impact on her own work measuring climate change in Greenland.

Erica Ollmann Saphire from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology tells us about her work developing new treatments for Ebola, she is looking to develop drugs which work not just on Ebola but also a range of related Viruses.

And Eugene Koonin from the United States National Institutes of Health shows us how his computer modelling of the mutations of Sars Cov -2 suggest some good news - that the virus might not be able to mutate into further dangerous forms – at least not with its current set of genetic tools.

Eugene is originally from Russia and both he and President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren are keen to keep up ties with scientists in Russia despite the international sanctions now being applied over the war in Ukraine. Both point out that many Russian scientists have opposed the war, and that curtailing scientific collaboration could have a detrimental effect not just on science in Russia but elsewhere as well.

Image: Penguins on an ice float, Paradise Harbor, also known as Paradise Bay, behind Lemaire and Bryde Islands in Antarctica. Credit: Leamus via Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield