South Pole Rescue

Got up early to talk about the South Pole rescue mission to pick up Renee Douceur, who had a stroke back in August. Here’s clip of my interview on CBS Early Show today. And here’s my report for Discovery News from a few days ago that included an interview with Douceur. Word from NSF is that flight may be canceled because of severe cold, which turns aviation fuel into jelly.

Here’s my Oct. 17 interview with national talk show host Jim Bohannon of CBS Radio/Westwood One on the South Pole rescue, starting at 1:25:50 to 1:37:00.


Scott of the Antarctic

I just finished Roland Huntford’s excellent 1979 bio of both Amundsen and Scott “The Last Place on Earth,” a devastating book that portrays the British Naval officer as an incompetent neurotic bumbler who was ill-prepared for the his race to the South Pole in 1911-12. I retraced some of Scott’s steps last month during my brief one-week visit to McMurdo Station and the South Pole as part of the NSF’s Antarctica journalism program. I found that many folks living and working there still talk about Scott, and the kind of obstacles he faced and the decisions he made. I put together this piece for Discovery News about Scott’s legacy that includes a few of my photos from a quick helicopter trip to Cape Evans, where Scott and his party wintered in 1911 in preparation for the final push to the pole.

Off the Ice

Back in Chevy Chase after nearly a week in Antarctica courtesy of the National Science Foundation. Rather than keep an online diary (I was either too busy or too tired to do much writing), I’ve decided to post some of the material that I will be producing over the next few weeks. So far, I’ve put together two interesting pieces that weren’t on the official agenda of our trip. One is a unique cross-Antarctic caravan called the South Pole Overland Traverse, which takes fuel and supplies from the main U.S. base at McMurdo Sound, some 850 miles across ice fields, glaciers and crevasses to the South Pole. Now the NSF and contractor Raytheon Polar Services Corp. want to automate the 10-person wagon train. Here’s my report for Discovery News along with some great photos.

The Parasite Cure

Interesting story today in Discovery News about something called “bio-therapy,” or using parasitic worms, leeches and maggots to cure human disorders. While there has been anecdotal reports of relief for centuries, now supporters are enlisting the medical establishment and clinical trials to support their claims. How does it work? Well the idea is that some intestinal parasites co-evolved with humans over generations. As public health and sanitation helped rid our bodies of these invaders during the 20th century, there has also been a corresponding increase in auto-immune diseases. Parasites help turn down the human immune system, but not enough to turn it off. Some patients and doctors say these worms, called helminths, can cure bowel disorders like Crohn’s disease, severe allergies and chronic pain.

Fuzzy Numbers on the Oil Budget

The good news about the capping, mud injection and now cementing of the Deepwater Horizon well is being undercut by some overly rosy projections by the federal government about the fate of the BP oil. NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco unveiled her “oil budget” yesterday at the White House, along with President Obama’s environment advisor Carol Browner and on-scene commander Adm. Thad Allen. Lubchenco said only 26 percent of the oil is left unaccounted for, and that oil is breaking down naturally in the environment – either small droplets underwater or in tarballs on the beach. Here’s my report on the announcement for Discovery News. The problem is that many scientists believe the report relies on overly optimistic estimates of this dispersed oil. They also point out that NOAA made a big blunder when this spill was in its early days but estimating the spill at 5,000 barrels a day, a figure later revised to 62,000 barrels per day. Florida State’s Ian MacDonald told me that NOAA officials also denied the existence of underwater oil plumes for weeks after independent scientists complained, and even after these plumes were discovered miles from the site. University of Georgia’s Dr. Mandy Joye told the New York Times this morning that the NOAA report that “if an academic scientist put something like this out there, it would get torpedoed into a billion pieces.” Lubchenco acknowledged that the “oil spill calculator” was based on assumptions and extrapolations, rather than direct measurement. BP lawyers may now be using these same numbers as the opening salvo in a likely court case over the billions of dollars in damages they owe. The report – accurate or not – has big implications for the Gulf ecosystem, US taxpayers and Gulf Coast residents.

Arctic Warms as DC Boils

I’ve been looking at Arctic policy the past week, this as Washington experiences one of the warmest spring/early summers on record with today expected to reach 97. While we’ll probably get a few more bugs, maybe some new plants and warmer nights under the “new” climate regime that is on its way this century, the Arctic is already seeing huge changes. One-quarter of the polar sea ice has disappeared since 1978. Russia is preparing for commercial sea traffic in the so-called “Northeast Passage” along its northern border sometime in the next 20 years. It’s not just polar bears that are endangered, so too the whales, marine mammals and huge stocks of fish – many commercial species – that are finding the food chain all whacked out. Here’s my report for Discovery News on how a few conservative Senators are blocking the Law of the Sea treaty that would allow the U.S. to take a more pro-active role in planning for the effects of climate change on the Arctic. Since the U.S. isn’t a party, it can’t counter claims by Russia, Canada or Norway, all of whom are staking out big chunks of the Arctic. As the polar region melts, oil and gas drilling gets easier. Imagine BP, Exxon or Russia’s Lukoil trying to stop a massive spill up there.