Category Archives: Environmental

Keystone Ancient Forest

The Keystone Ancient Forest is one of the gems of northeastern Oklahoma. The forest is located in Sand Springs and is home to trees that are hundreds of years old. It’s made up of cross timbers which are some of the toughest trees in existence which is why it’s never been developed.

The forest shows what Oklahoma (or at least the Sand Springs area) looked like well before civilization began exploring it.

It’s a great place to go for a walk and take a step back in time but it does have limited hours and pets are not allowed.

It’s only open on select days throughout the month. For more information on the Forest click here for the city of Sand Springs.

 

Earthquake Test

Make plans Monday February 8th at 8am to watch a University of Oklahoma professor conduct a unique earthquake test.

Dr. Amy Cerato- courtesy The OU Daily

Dr. Amy Cerato- courtesy The OU Daily

Dr. Amy Cerato is an assistant professor in the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science. On Monday she’ll be conducting a one-of-a-kind shake test that could help people living in places where there are lots of earthquakes (aka, Oklahoma).

She’ll be looking at how helical piles shake during an earthquake. Helical piles are deep foundation elements that look like and are installed like a large steel soil screw to support the structure they hold. Helical piles are used in seismic areas, such as New Zealand and Japan, but they have not been widely used in the United States.

Here’s a story from Oklahoma City’s News 9 where Dr. Cerato explained what she’ll be doing.

The test could help engineers develop and build safer structures for those living in seismic zones.

Dr. Cerato will be conducting the test  on helical piles in seismic conditions at the University of California-San Diego’s Shake Table site beginning at 8 a.m. Oklahoma time this Monday, Feb. 8.

You can watch it live from this link.

 

How Dust can help control Climate Change

Research by a University of Oklahoma scientist could lead to novel way to fight climate change. It has to do with dust.

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan and a team of researchers from the University of California Riverside, Florida State University, University of Leeds, Hampton University, and Cornell University have been looking at some really old, iron-rich dust deposits. Like 300-million year old dust from the late Paleozoic period.

(I’ve talked with Dr. Soreghan before, click here and here to learn more about her.)

Dr. Soreghan says Earth’s atmosphere was as dusty as it has ever been 300 million years ago. She says it’s important to study those dust deposits because of the impact they had back then on Earth’s climate.

Here’s why: dust carries iron- iron is a fertilizer for plants- plants use photosynthesis-photosynthesis removes carbon from the atmosphere and replaces it with oxygen.

Dr. Soreghan says deep-time dust contained a lot of iron which means it “…should have even larger consequences for burial of carbon.” As for the modern day, there’s talk of iron fertilization as a geoengineering scheme to control the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Dr. Soreghan says her study on deep-time events shines a light on how those types of geoengineering endeavors may work in the present day but, she says, more research is needed.

You can read more on the study in this brief write-up by Dr. Soreghan or here where the Geological Society of America has published an article. The National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society funded the research.

 

 

Oklahoma Spring Rains Strengthened by Global Warming

Global warming is behind that record setting rainfall we experienced last May.

The Oklahoma Climatological Survey reported a statewide average of 14 inches of rain in May, well above the previous record set in 1941.

It’s no secret that Oklahoma gets a lot of rain in the spring but a newly published study says global warming is the reason why we saw so much of it this year. Dr. Shih-Yu (Simon) Wang, the assistant director of the Utah Climate Center, is the lead author of the study. The Guardian has a good recap.

Global warming acts like a domino effect…a rise in temperatures in one part of the world, impacts rising seawaters in another part of the world, impacts precipitation in another part of the world…and so on. Dr. Wang studied how global warming impacted El Niño.

“El Niño tends to increase late-spring precipitation in the southern Great Plains and this effect has intensified since 1980. There was a detectable effect of anthropogenic global warming in the physical processes that caused the persistent precipitation in May of 2015: Warming in the tropical Pacific acted to strengthen the teleconnection towards North America…”              

You can expect to see many more studies like this linking global warming to natural disasters. Some may continue to deny it but the Earth doesn’t care.

 

 

Using Radar to Track Bird Migration

Two University of Oklahoma students have discovered a way to use weather radar to track bird migrations. Kyle Horton is a biology student and Phillip Stepanian is studying meteorology and electrical engineering. They recently found a way learn how birds migrate using the country’s weather radar network. Below the pics is a news release from OU. I think this is a fantastic way to use an already existing system (the weather radar network) for an entirely different field than it was built.

Phillip M. Stepanian- Doctoral student in Meteorology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma

   Phillip M. Stepanian- Doctoral student in Meteorology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma

Kyle G. Horton- Doctoral student in Biology at the University of Oklahoma

Kyle G. Horton- Doctoral student in Biology at the University of Oklahoma

OU Students Use Nation’s Weather Radar Network to Track Bird Migration at Night

Norman, Okla.—Using the nation’s weather radar network, two University of Oklahoma doctoral students have developed a technique for forecasting something other than the weather: the orientation behavior of birds as they migrate through the atmosphere at night.  The students have discovered a way to use the latest dual-polarization radar upgrade to measure broad-scale flight orientation of nocturnal migrant birds—a promising development for biologists and bird enthusiasts.

The approach to the problem paired Phillip M. Stepanian, a meteorology and electrical engineering student, and Kyle G. Horton, a biology student, on the study that demonstrates how the upgraded national weather radar network contributed to the understanding of animal flight orientation behavior at a large spatial scale. Stepanian and Horton may be the first to develop a practical application of polarimetric radar data for tracking migrant birds during nighttime flight.

“This is an important advance because we can now measure how migrants compensate for wind speed and direction to achieve a particular migration track direction; essentially extracting a large-scale measure of bird behavior.  We are already involved in several follow-on studies that look at the behavioral variation in flight orientation at large spatial scales,” says Jeffrey F. Kelly, Oklahoma Biological Survey.

Horton, who is interested in bird strategies and orientation as they migrate from one place to another at night, will use the methodology to track migrant birds on the east coast and weather events that may disrupt flight patterns of the birds.  Stepanian is interested in the method for collecting the data using the nation’s upgraded weather radar network.  He wants to apply measurements to bird migration in ways not done before, which is a new application of the radar.

The ability to forecast migrant bird patterns will provide biologists and birders with an important tool for tracking nighttime flight of migrants.  Horton hopes to answer some big biological questions with this methodology, while Stepanian values the importance of the radar in tracking migrants and applying the data in new and innovative ways.

An article on this study has been published in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering’s Geoscience and Remote Sensing online early edition.  The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded this research project.

Snakes and turtles and stuff

A student researcher examines a turtle.

A student researcher examines a turtle.

I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with researchers from OU studying snakes and turtles and stuff. Jessa Watters is the Collection Manager for Herpetology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles.

Watters is part of the Cameron Siler lab at the museum. She was joined by two students this weekend at the James Collins Wildlife Management Area in Latimer County, it’s near Robbers Cave State Park. I’ll be producing a story of my visit soon and show why they say studying these creatures is important.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma study wildlife in Latimer County.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma study wildlife in Latimer County.

Earthquakes and Oklahoma

Oklahoma, we need to talk. We have an earthquake problem and here’s the thing, we think we know why. More and more reports are coming out showing it’s connected to the disposal of waste water from oil and gas wells.

Oil and gas are deeply tied to this state and I’m not in favor damaging the industry but we simply have to do something. Instead, our state leaders think laws prohibiting local officials from doing what they think is best for their own community is the way to go. Besides just being short-sighted it’s a slap in the face to Oklahomans. Now The Daily Show has taken notice with Jon Stewart appropriately saying, “What the f#&k Oklahoma?”

Weather School

Oklahoma’s weather season is here so what better time to go to weather school. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman is offering just such an opportunity.

Rich Thompson is a lead forecaster at the SPC. He hosts a weekly a series on forecasting tornados. You can attend the workshops live every Tuesday evening at 7:30 at the National Weather Service office in Norman or you can watch online right here. You can also go to this YouTube channel for more archives and other presentations.

The workshops are for anyone who wants to learn more about tornados and science behind how forecasters know where one will next appear.

 

Fighting Cancer, One Clump of Soil at a Time

Have you ever looked around your yard and wondered if it held the key to fighting cancer? Okay, so maybe not…but here’s a cool way you can be a part of a scientific experiment and maybe unlock the next new drug.

It’s called Citizen Science. It’s part of the National Products Discovery Group in the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (whew, that’s a mouthful!).

In a nutshell, they’re looking for soil samples…from your yard, from your neighbor’s yard (with their permission of course), or from your pasture. The scientists are looking to see what microorganisms are living in that soil. They’re specifically looking for fungi. Here’s why from their website, “Fungi are capable of making many new compounds that can thwart the growth of cancer cells, impede the spread of infectious pathogens, as well as treat many other human diseases. With millions of fungi estimated to be living on earth, you probably have several new species inhabiting your area that we have never tested.”

How cool is that? Just dig up a little soil and see if it’s home to a new cancer fighting agent! Click here to learn how to get involved and see where samples have been submitted from across the country.