The 1783 eruption of Laki in Iceland lasted eight months, blanketing parts of the island in lava flows 50 feet deep, and spewing noxious gases that devastated crops and poisoned livestock. Tens of thousands died in Iceland, but the eruption killed millions more around the world, when ash from the eruption cooled the Earth, ushering in an icy winter, and weakening monsoons across Africa and Asia. In her new book The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them), seismologist Lucy Jones describes the devastation of Laki and other geological disasters. She joins Ira to discuss natural calamities throughout human history, from Pompeii to Fukushima, and why humans have such trouble planning for and responding to the uncertainty of natural disasters.
The evidence is mounting that hydraulic fracturing—fracking—is causing at least some increase in earthquakes in the U.S. From Oklahoma to Ohio, researchers have linked spikes in earthquakes to the added pressure of water too close to fault lines. Often these quakes have been linked to post-operation wastewater injections. But when will a fracking operation itself cause an earthquake? Miami University geologists Michael Brudzinski and Brian Currie join Ira to discuss their findings in the bedrock of eastern Ohio.
Plus: Humans have made the world a pretty tough place for our fellow species to live. As a species, we’re raising global temperatures, destroying natural habitats, and littering the oceans with our junk. But that’s not bad news at all for one adaptive bacteria. In 2016, scientists discovered that Ideonella sakaiensis had evolved to produce an enzyme that enabled it to eat plastic bottles. Now this week, scientists have discovered a way to tweak that enzyme to do the work 20 percent faster. Popular Science senior editor Sophie Bushwick joins Ira to discuss how researchers are looking to harness the bacteria’s penchant for plastic trash, and other science headlines, in the News Round-up.
And in the State of Science, we check in on Springfield Beckley Municipal Airport in Ohio, where a new drone radar system takes flight. Ann Thompson of WVXU in Cincinnati tells Ira more.