SciTech Now Episode 439

In this episode of SciTech Now, we see what is being done to save the sacred Navajo water; Dave Mosher discusses the world’s most powerful rocket; Bill Nye’s warning for the future of our planet; and the challenges that Zoo’s face in replicating the natural habitat of their animals from around the world.

TRANSCRIPT

COMING UP... SAVING THE SACRED NAVAJO WATER 'What motivates me and my work is how I can use my sides to come back to my community and help my people'. THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL ROCKET 'It can lift two times as much into orbit as the next most powerful rocket'. BILL NYE'S WARNING FOR THE FUTURE OF OUR PLANET 'We're going to be optimistic and we're going to address this problem and we're going to turn it around and preserve the quality of life for billions of people.

Let's go!

HABITAT REPLICATION 'Every animal at the Zoo.

The well-being is our priority.

And what we can improve with new designs of systems'. IT'S ALL AHEAD... FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III AND CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS STATION.

HELLO, I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

WELCOME TO SCITECH NOW, OUR WEEKLY PROGRAM BRINGING YOU THE LATEST BREAKTHROUGHS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION.

LET'S GET STARTED.

NEARLY 250, 000 RESIDENTS LIVE IN THE NAVAJO NATION, WHICH SPANS SECTIONS OF UTAH, NEW MEXICO AND ARIZONA.

THE AREA ALSO CONTAINS A STRONG MINING PRESENCE, ONE THAT HAS LED TO DANGEROUS SPILLS AND WATER CONTAMINATION.

HYDROLOGIST KARLETTA CHIEF, WHO IS A MEMBER OF THE NAVAJO BITTER WATER CLAN, DISCUSSES HER WORK AND HOW HER PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THOSE WATERWAYS INFLUENCED HER PURSUIT OF SCIENCE.

OUR PARTNER SCIENCE FRIDAY HAS THE STORY.

My name is Karletta Chief and I am a Hydrologists.

And I study how water moves through the environment.

Water.

It's a real part of my identity.

The Navajo people or (inaudible) people have this deep connection to the environment.

I'm from the Bitter Water clan one of four originating clans of the Navajo people.

Growing up on the reservation with no running water no electricity and with a very strong cultural upbringing where my family lived off the land raising livestock, we just lived a simple life.

We live within an area leased to a coal company.

One of the big memories I had was how my grandfather she drank from a contaminated wash and a hundred of their sheep died.

It was traumatic because we realized how much of an impact the mine could have on our livelihoods.

I was very motivated by my desire to help my family.

And help my community understand the impacts of the mine and minimize those impacts.

My grandmother told me to work hard and pursue learning but she always told me ('My grandchild, come back to our people') And so I came to the University of Arizona with that motivation.

The Navajo Nation is rich in natural resources.

There are over 2000 mines including uranium, coa, l oil and gas.

Extracting and mining land surface mining can contaminate water.

So my goal was to reach out to tribes.

And address these impacts and the environmental challenges.

Many of my elders though they're not.

Miners they passed away from black lung disease and cancer.

So I really relate to the impacts of mining on communities and families.

August 5th 2015, that was the day the Gold King Mine spill had occured near Silverton Colorado.

Three million gallons of acid mine drainage was released into the Animas River people were going to the river and just watching the horror.

The geology of southwestern Colorado has Barach that's rich in iron as well as other metals and so, when the water and oxygen come into contact with metals in the rock, sulfuric acid is generated and that starts to dissolve the metals such as arsenic and lead into the water creating the acid mine drainage.

And we know that arsenic and lead have a health impact that low cost attraction's for long periods of time.

Their risk assessment that was conducted was only addressing the recreational risk.

However the Navajo people use the river and much more ways than recreational.

They use the water for spiritual, cultural, ranching.

When a spill like this occurs its devastating to the communities that view it as a current being.

The Navajo living along this river we're very concerned about using the water and they had a lot of unanswered questions.

So within the year we surveyed Navajo households living along the river to ask them how to use the river and what we found from that is that the Navajo community members used the river and over 400 different ways.

They all use the reeds for baskets or put the clay on their face for prayers and wear sunscreen.

They'll even put water in their mouth for prayers and many more.

And so we needed to understand where are these metals in the environment where did they go and order to do that we needed to take water samples as well as sediment core samples and so we brought the samples back to the laboratory.

The water samples are filtered and for the sediment samples the sample has to be taken out of this PVC pipe and then categorized according to the depth.

Then finally we can take the sediment and the water sample to an analytical lab to detect arsenic and lead.

For the short term.

It was good news and the results that we had we found from this one year study low levels of arsenic and lead that are not of concern to human health.

However we did find some spikes in manganese.

In concentrated pools and this is something that should be looked at because we do know that manganese leads to some neurological impacts.

During the snowmelt the river will increase the flow and so the metals are deposit on the sediment will be re-suspended and we know that the spikes do occur.

It's important to make sure the farmers and the community members know that they shouldn't be using the river during these these high flow periods.

There's actually a lot more that needs to be done long term because acid mine drainage is continually going into the river.

Our long term actually tries to capture that whole exposure pathways that people may have as a result of using this river.

What motivates me and my work is how I can use my sides to come back to my community and help my people and also try to understand the potential exposure pathways that people have which can be very diverse.

My grandmother charged me with this responsibility.

You must come back and help our people.

And help our family it may not be exactly what she envisioned for me but that's an honor to bring science to my community.

Hari Sreenivasan: Dave Mosher is a Science Reporter who has written for Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic News and Discovery.com.

Throughout his career he has watched humans and robots launch into space, flown over the north pole to catch a total solar eclipse, and toured a cutting-edge nuclear reactor.

He joins us now to discuss Space X's Falcon Heavy the most powerful operational rocket in the world.

How powerful is the most powerful put it in perspective for us.

Dave Mosher: So it's not as powerful as the Atlas 5 or some of these crazy rockets that the Soviet Union built during the Cold War.

But today it's the most powerful, it can lift two times as much stuff into orbit low Earth orbit or about 250 miles above the Earth as the next most powerful rocket which is built by United Launch Alliance that is called the Delta 4 heavy in the Falcon Heavy is one quarter of the costs of the Delta 4 heavy.

Hari Sreenivasan: Describe seeing it launch for the first time?

Dave Mosher: This was the most incredible thing I've ever seen.

Not not just for the launch the launch is like OK it's a thunderous roar on your chest you can feel it reverberating.

These rocket engines are spewing out these like stirringly white hot sort of like gases like it looks like a little someone like poked a hole in the sky and the sun's coming through it.

The key part of Falcon Heavy certainly for its future is reusability.

The boosters come back.

They don't crash in the ocean and sink to the bottom.

Tens of millions of dollars per booster they come back to earth and they light up their engines.

And there's sonic booms because they're going thousands of miles an hour.

So when those boosters came back you can see them but there they're like 16 story buildings flying back to Earth and you hear three sonic booms happening.

It's like boom boom boom.

Per Per booster.

So seeing that happen and seeing them land and the sonic booms I just like shouted I couldn't contain myself because I'd never seen anything like it.

Hari Sreenivasan: So that changes the game not just in expensiveness but the reusability.

Dave Mosher: So each booster costs 10...20 million maybe more millions of dollars per booster and most of that cost is locked up in the engines.

There are nine engines per booster.

The really heavy they're really hard to engineer and get right.

You put them through a lot of testing but you can reuse them.

So if you can get those back to Earth you've just save yourself tens of millions of dollars.

You can do a quick turnaround launches not only reduce the cost of access but the frequency in which you can get the space game changing ability.

And now the world's most powerful operational rocket can do this.

So everyone's shaking in their boots.

Hari Sreenivasan: If you can get more items up for a lesser cost.

What kinds of items are likely to go up.

So they're going to go in two directions here.

You're going to see a lot more small satellites because this rocket it's 90 million dollars a launch versus 62 million dollars a launch for the Falcon 9 which is a smaller one.

It's about a third as capable.

So it's not that much more.

You're going to see a ton of small satellites being deployed at once.

Also some medium satellites and even a large satellite are two going off.

Another thing we're going to see is first hand with Elon Musk own efforts and that is with Starlink.

This is a global fleet of satellites that he wants to launch he wants to put up almost three times as many satellites as currently exists in orbit and create global high speed low latency broadband Internet.

To do that you're going to need to launch a heck of a lot of satellites and you're going to need to do it at low cost.

Hari Sreenivasan: All right.

Dave Mosher thanks so much.

FOR MANY YEARS, BILL NYE WAS THE HOST OF A POPULAR SCIENCE CHILDREN'S SHOW.

TODAY, HE IS AN ADVOCATE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AWARENESS AND EVIDENCE-BASED POLICY MAKING.

UP NEXT, WE HEAR FROM NYE, THE STAR OF A NEW DOCUMENTARY SERIES THAT FOLLOWS HIS FIGHT FOR SCIENCE AS THE SOLUTION TO EARTH'S PROBLEMS.

THIS SEGMENT IS PART OF AN ONGOING PUBLIC MEDIA REPORTING INITIATIVE CALLED PERIL AND PROMISE TELLING THE HUMAN STORIES AND SOLUTIONS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

Jenna Flanagan: From New York City to Abuja Nigeria.

More than 200 events across the globe mark the annual March for science this April as activists from all walks of life rallied for change.

Now in its second year of existence, the movement behind the march is calling for society to hold public officials to greater account and push lawmakers to enact evidence based policy.

Bill Nye has been instrumental in elevating the public's understanding of climate change.

His film Bill Nye the Science Guy debuted recently on PBS his acclaimed documentary series Point of View and I'm pleased to welcome him back to the program.

Mr. Bill Nye welcome.

Bill Nye: Yes, Thank you.

It's good to be back.

Now you know you referred to it as my film.

Jenna Flanagan: Ah.

Bill Nye: It's really a film about me.

I didn't make it.

I had no creative control.

I signed a thing a document an agreement Jenna Flanagan: And you just write them follow you around from there.

Bill Nye: Yeah well almost everywhere they followed me around for two years.

Jenna Flanagan: For two years though you did take us on a very important journey into your work studying climate change.

Bill Nye: We confronted a couple of climate deniers especially this guy Joe Bastardi who's notorious he's on Fox News and he's says he does a lot of speaking in fossil fuel industry venues and he's asked many of the contrarians seem to have done.

He's confused or conflated the idea that carbon oxides are a very small fraction of the Earth's atmosphere.

Less than half of 100 percent.

Jenna Flanagan: A lot of people do say that because there isn't a 100 percent consensus amongst the scientific community about the notion of climate change or global warming that that's reason to poke holes into that theory and say that maybe it's not real.

Bill Nye: You can do the perfect analogy is medical doctors if you have 97 or 98 medical doctors telling you to get your parathyroid gland removed and three doctors telling you well know what would you do.

Would you only go for the three?

Jenna Flanagan: How is it that we go about holding government officials or public officials to account to looking at evidence based policy when we right now have a federal government at least that seems to be very resistant if not outright denying of those policies.

Bill Nye: So what I tell everybody is vote.

Now what happened.

Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida it was very troubling.

But you look at the activism that imbued in those kids in those students they're out there fighting the fight now for the next few years about this other issue.

They're going to do the same about climate change when these people come of age and are able to vote by these people.

High school students are going to demand changes and the current backward or whatever you'd call it Climate contrarian point of view at the Environmental Protection Agency and the administration is going to get swept away.

Jenna Flanagan: There's been a lot of talk about the doomsday clock so to speak.

And have we gone too far?

Or will that be enough time for when these young people come of age and become a major voting block.

Can we correct what's been damaged?

Bill Nye: Well what if I told you we couldn't.

What would you do?

Just go buy all the SUV vehicles you could find just start open flames everywhere.

No you wouldn't.

We would never do.

That's not how humans operate.

Instead we're going to be optimistic and we're going to address this problem and we're going to turn it around and preserve the quality of life for billions of people.

Let's go!

Jenna Flanagan: For people who are going to be looking at this Bill Nye Science Guy film.

What is the feelings you want people to come away with this is an optimistic film.

Bill Nye: Yes yes.

That science is the best idea humans have ever had.

And this process of knowing nature enables us to accomplish extraordinary things.

Jenna Flanagan: All right then.

All right well listen Bill Nye I want to thank you so much not only for of course the film that's going to be on.. Bill Nye: Every night because you're going to watch it.

Jenna Flanagan: You're going to stream it.

Bill Nye: On POV streaming.

Jenna Flanagan: There you go!

But in addition to streaming Bill Nye Science Guy I want to thank you for your work and of course joining us on the program.

Bill Nye: Thank you.

Let's Change the world!

Jenna Flanagan: Thank you.

ONE CHALLENGE ZOOS OFTEN FACE IS REPLICATING THE NATURAL HABITATS OF THEIR ANIMALS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

THE ROSAMOND GIFFORD ZOO IN SYRACUSE, NEW YORK IS USING DIFFERENT INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES TO HELP THEIR ANIMALS FEEL AT HOME.

TAKE A LOOK.

Ted Fox: The Rosamond Gifford zoo is an amazing resource for our community.

It's got a high level of animal care being one of 231 accredited zoos around the country and that means any visitor that comes through the door is going to see animals that are housed and are being cared for in to the highest possible level.

In so many zoos around the country you'll know you're going into the African section or the Asian section of the tropical site.

And we've gotten away from that a little bit and are kind of going back to it now.

(Good Rodney.

Come here.

Good Girl) Ashley Sheppard: Zoo's around the country are changing all the time to help better in themselves.

This Yard behind me is 4 acres and it really helps us to be able to display our whole herd and kind of mimic a wild setting for them.

Ted Fox: The exhibits tend to speak to each other so they you when you feel you're in an area it's more of an immersion not only for you but for the animals as well.

(Kids speaking to the animals) Simon Perez: You have elephants here you have penguins here.

They're not from the same part of the world but they are now.

How do you how do you pull that off?

Ted Fox: So every exhibit that we think about recreating we have to consider where the animals came from what they've evolved to enjoy in a daily in the daily life of an elephant what do they do?

Do they like to tear a tree down?

Do they like to dig dig up grass?

Do they like to play in the water?

So all those basic elements we like to think of first and see how we're going to accomplish that you know with in case the elephants we knew we needed a water system.

How how are we going to do that and have clean water for the elephants in a beautiful space for them which is this also aesthetically pleasing for the visitors.

So this is the state of the art bio filtration for the self-employed.

So this is the first one in the country from mega vertebrate that is actually a standalone bio filtration.

There's so much waste in the water.

Elephants love to play in the water.

They love to take anything they're playing with into the water so it's really difficult to keep that water clean.

And we want it to be different.

We wanted to be more responsible for our site and would that possibly work.

Simon Perez: And so what happens here?

What the water comes from up there down into here?

Ted Fox: Yeah it's a gravity fed from the 50, 000 gallon pool that's in the exhibit and the water comes down into this and it's called a settling back.

It looks just like a concrete bath but it's actually hollow in the center where the grinder pump at the bottom.

So when the water comes in the elephants like to play like roll in the sand and dirt.

So when they go in the pool all that stuff settles to the bottom comes down into here settles in this settling that and then is ground up and it comes out a different area and we can get rid of it that way.

If by any chance any of the any filter or are particles are remained in the water when they got to this point there are these things that look like garbage cans that are actually physical filters so we can take a strainer basket out just like you would at your pool at home.

So from the pumps then we're going to go to the final section which is the sand filters and I'll show you those.

So this is the final phase before the water goes back into the pool for the elephants to enjoy.

These are sand filters what happens in here is that the water comes in they agitated airy oxygenated and then they the other two pumps that we just saw down below take them to the water goes from here into the final two pumps.

And pumps back uphill to the elephant pool.

Simon Perez: Compare this system with the old?

Ted Fox: One the footprint for life support system with the filtration for the old pool was nothing.

There was no filtration for that whole pool.

It was a big concrete pool when and when we got dirty where was at least once a week we would open the drain.

All that twenty thousand twenty to thirty thousand gallons would go into the sewer system and we clean the pool and fill it back up until the next week and do it again.

This maybe once or twice a year we clean and when we do that again none of that enters the system it goes into the infiltration system.

Simon Perez: From the animal's point of view.

What difference is all this stuff makes?

How do they benefit?

Ted Fox: This new pool is much more like it would be in the wild.

They can access it from any site.

There are no stairs.

It's all gradually getting deeper and deeper.

There's a waterfall.

There's a special nozzle that comes out.

It's clean water that hasn't been through the filtration at all so that's the drinking water.

If they want to and not drink out of the pool that the water is agitated.

There's skimmer baskets so the constant movement in the water it makes it much more interesting for the animals and healthier because it's cleaner all the way around.

Deborah Delorenzo: When the elephants go in there the pool actually overflows over the sides and it can form mud wallows around the pool and Batu in particular loves to play in the mud.

But they all use the mud for all different kinds of things.

They come out here in the winter they get to experience snow.

They do all different kinds of things all throughout our seasonal changes here and there's always different types of enrichment and things that we put out for the elephants to help stimulate them as well.

Simon Perez: Animals here come from all over the world.

You can't just make them be central New York animals.

What about the science and technology part of that?

Because It's one thing to bring a tree or bring some rocks in But we've got temperature we've got water filtration.

There's there's more to it than just the trees.

Ted Fox: We've got to make sure the water quality is as much as closer to the wild condition as possible.

So in the case of the Penguins we know they would only be extremely clean water.

The Humboldt Current which is where they got their name where they came from is not only cold but it's very very clean.

Deborah Delorenzo: We replicated our exhibit to mimic where they're from if you ever did travel that part of the world.

It's very rocky, very barren, very little plant life.

So that's what we kind of incorporated here.

We also mimics their pool temperature to keep that of what they would naturally swim in very cold water.

So cool temperatures mimic to keep it around 50 to 60 degrees year around.

Simon Perez: Is it hard to keep it cold?

Ted Fox: It's so hard to keep it cold.

The tiller system that keeps the cold, not so much heated in the winter.

There's a lot of insulation up there but we have to heat it to 60.. 50 degrees in the winter and keep it cool to 60 degrees in the summer.

And so the whole entire 50, 000 gallons of water volume in the pool circulates through the system three times every hour and that goes through it's in the summertime it goes through a solar system and in the winter time it goes through our heating system.

If the penguins are in too hot or too cold the temperature of their health would be compromised and that's of course what we don't want to see happen.

Deborah Delorenzo: For the bacterial control we do produce our own ozone here which for your commercial pools it's chlorine that helps with bacterial control and keeps the water clear.

Penguins you can't use chlorine so ozone is the more designed way to keep your bacterial levels at bay.

And so we inject a small amount of ozone Interpol for that clarity and keep the water clear.

A lot of people, we get a lot of questions, well ok penguins go out and swim in the ocean and the ocean is salt water so how are you able to have a freshwater pool?

Well through our research and discovering and learning about the species.

We found that Penguins have a gland called the super orbital gland which excretes excess salts out of the bodies.

So generally when they are in taking fish.

They're excreting a lot excess salt out so almost 90 to 95 percent of the water that they would intake with that becomes freshwater.

Ted Fox: Every animal at Zoo, the well-being is our priority.

And what we can improve and how we can improve.

With new designs of systems and so forth.

That's what we're focusing on and what we want to teach and explain to the public comes in and invest in coming here for the day and we want to make sure that they understand that we take this very seriously and we'll put everything we can into it.

AND THAT WRAPS IT UP FOR THIS TIME.

FOR MORE ON SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION, VISIT OUR WEBSITE, CHECK US OUT ON FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM, AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON TWITTER.

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UNTIL NEXT TIME I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

THANKS FOR WATCHING.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III AND CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS STATION.