Science in Action

Science in Action

United States

Jack Stewart and guests discuss the latest science research and news stories from all over the world.


How to Survive Without Air  

The naked mole-rat never ceases to amaze. A new study shows that when it gets stuffy in their underground burrows, this mouse-sized wrinkly mammal is able to metabolise fructose - just as plants do - and by this bypass the need for oxygen for up to 18 minutes. In a new study scientists have created an artificial retina. The retina is a light-sensitive layer of the eye which is essential for sight. The artificial retinas are able to mimic the abilities of living tissue, reacting to light and electrical signals. In the future, scientists hope that these retinas could save the sight of many. Virtual reality (VR) is not only a fun gimmick for gamers, but could be used to train dentists in dental surgery. Our reporter Marnie Chesterton visits the VR World Congress in Bristol in the United Kingdom and tries out the technology and discovers first-hand the all too real experience of dental surgery. Lastly, with 800 million people living near a volcano, spotting eruptions in advance can be crucial. We talk to the scientists working on the technology that allows us to spot them from space with satellites. And, reporter Anand Jagatia heads to Iceland which homes the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which caused disruption to the air space back in 2010. Picture: Naked mole-rats in the laboratory of Thomas Park at the University of Illinois at Chicago. [Credit: Thomas Park / UIC] Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Louisa Field

Enceladus: Could this moon harbour life?  

Hydrogen is a favourite food for some microorganisms, so finding it on one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, increases the potential for to it to have life. During its deepest-ever dive through the jets of water vapour and other materials bursting from cracks in the ice-covered surface of Enceladus, the Cassini spacecraft has detected enough hydrogen to sustain microbes much as it does in dark undersea environments on Earth. And, while fish swim they shed DNA from their skin and faeces into the water. For the first time, scientists have been able to use this DNA to record fish moving through the rivers of New York. By doing this the scientists avoid the disturbance, and expense, of collecting fish from trawlers. Such ‘wildlife forensics’ is likely to spread to more and more corners of diversity surveying. Lastly, we tackle one of the greatest disputes between science and religion – the theory of evolution. We explore how religious groups reconcile evolution with their beliefs and learn how the Muslim world is embracing – and rejecting – evolution depending on who holds political power. Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Louisa Field Image: The view looking toward the anti-Saturn hemisphere of Enceladus, 27 Nov 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

When Britain First Ripped Away from Europe  

Britain was in the grip of an ice age 450,000 years ago. It has long been thought that Britain’s separation from Europe resulted from spill over from a lake formed in front of the ice sheet but until now it has not been proved. New research shows that this is correct - 450,000 years ago Britain geologically separated from Europe in two stages – a spill-over from a giant lake, followed by catastrophic flooding. Tallying up the Number of Tree Species Until recently, no one knew how many tree species there are in the world. But this week the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, have published a comprehensive global list of all our tree species. Out of the 60,065 different species world-wide, an astonishing 58% exist in just one country. Why Aeroplanes Survive a Bolt of Lightning? An aeroplane struck by lightning, might sound like the stuff of horror films. But thanks to the Faraday cage effect, planes are completely safe from damage when flying through a electrical storm. Caroline Steel wanted to test this for herself when she visited Manchester University’s High Voltage Lab. She even got to press the big red button! Viruses that Protect Koalas Koala populations in the north of Australia have been hit hard by a number of bacterial and viral diseases. But the koalas in the south, even though they’re exposed, they aren’t developing the symptoms. It turns out that a retrovirus which has embedded itself in the koala’s genome and then mutated, is granting them some immunity. (Photo: Artist’s illustration of ancient ice age land bridge connecting Britain with France. Credit: Imperial College London/Chase Stone) Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Martian Atmosphere Blew Away  

If you were to stand on the surface of Mars you would see a cold dry dessert with a thin atmosphere and not enough oxygen to breathe. But the atmosphere on Mars hasn’t always been this way. The MAVEN (The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) mission to monitor Mars’ atmosphere has finally concluded that the Martian atmosphere has indeed been depleted from its carbon dioxide rich, thick blanket to a thin, weak covering because of the action of solar wind. Groundwater and Crops A huge global study of how much groundwater is depleted by crop plants has revealed that we have lost almost a quarter of the un-replenished stored water reserved in the past 10 years. USA, Pakistan and Mexico have come out as the worst offenders. We ask how can we reduce this loss in the future and who should be paying for it – the producing countries or the consuming countries? Extreme Weather and Climate Change Link Eminent US climate change scientist Michael Mann, at Pennsylvania State University, has shown scientifically that the warming climate is disturbing the jet stream high in the atmosphere, affecting how it wobbles and locking it in place. This causes certain extreme weather events, such as the 2011 Texas drought, and torrential rainfall to be more severe and longer lasting. IPS Cells in Clinical Use for the First Time When they were discovered back in 2006, Induced Pluripotent Stem cells, or IPS cells were hailed as the ethically-sound future of regenerative medicine. These are cells from adult skin or blood, they are not embryonic cells. They are treated such that they turn back their developmental clock, and can then become many different cell types in the body. But the past ten years has shown little evidence of these cells being used in the clinical setting. However, back in the Kyoto lab where the initial discovery was made, lines of stem cells from ‘super-donors’ are being produced that are currently being used to treat patients with macular degeneration, which affects the eyes. It seems, stem cell compatibility works in a similar way to blood types, making some people more suitable as donors to match a large proportion of the population. Image: Water on Mars © Kees Veenenbox/Science Photo Library Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Navigating London’s Roads from an fMRI Scanner  

In a clever experiment in which participants navigated through virtual busy London streets whilst in an fMRI scanner. Researchers pinpointed the parts of the brain involved in finding your way. If you rely on your sat nav, you may be surprised to hear that your hippocampus is almost entirely inactive. If you’re navigating without a sat nav, the more options you have at each junction, the more active your hippocampus is. But when faced with a detour, it’s your prefrontal cortex that takes control. Social Networking for Japanese Macaques Many of us spend a lot of time on social networks, allowing us to interact within our social circles. Our primate relatives may not have Facebook but they too move in social circles. For Japanese Macaques, these social circles dictate who grooms who and who catches fleas from whom. New research ties in these monkeys’ social networks with the spread of diseases and parasites. The findings could also be applied to the spread of disease in humans. Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Volcanic Hydrogen Redefines the Habitable Zone  

Hunting for habitable exoplanets has just got easier as many exoplanets which have previously been considered too icy may have been falsely dismissed. Exoplanets with volcanos which pump hydrogen into the atmosphere may be warmer than we previously thought. Hydrogen gas absorbs outgoing radiation which warms the atmosphere and melts inhospitable ice, providing an environment which may support life. This greenhouse warming effect could expand the habitable zone around distant stars by 30-60%. New Model Improves Offshore Earthquake Forecasting The 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami far exceeded experts’ expectations, destroying defences and killing thousands of people. A new model called CRUST is the first to simulate all events caused by an offshore earthquake: tsunamis, landslides and aftershocks. It is hoped that it will improve hazard forecasting and strengthen emergency planning to help avoid huge fatalities from disasters like the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Biofuels Reduce Damage Caused by Plane Contrails With the aviation industry rapidly growing, a lot of research has been done to better understand the impact of carbon dioxide emissions. But until recently the impact of the soot found in plane contrails has been overlooked. Contrails may look beautiful and harmless but like carbon dioxide, they too contribute to global warming. By using a 50:50 biofuel conventional fuel hybrid, we may be able to reduce the impact of contrails by 50-70%. This provides a glimmer of hope for climate change as the effect of replacing conventional fuel with biofuel would be seen immediately. Picture credit: Cornell University Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Unravelling the Mysteries of the Lut Desert  

A group of scientists are just back from an expedition to the hottest place on Earth. Dasht-e Loot or the Lut Desert in southern Iran is so hot and desolate it’s hard to imagine anything living there. There is very little plant-life in the heart of this arid, hot, desert, but a series of explorations of the region have shown that there are animals and even water. What caused the “Great Dying”? 250 million years ago Earth suffered a massive extinction event. At the Permian-Triassic Boundary nearly all marine life and most of the life on Earth were killed off. It’s long been thought that this was a result of global warming. But new research looking at the sedimentary layers of rock form the time, show that it could have actually been an Ice-age that froze the seas and killed off the creatures. Famous Fossil on the Move Archaeopteryx is on the move - The Natural History Museum in London is about to let one of its most priceless fossils leave the building for the first time since it entered the institution in the late 19th Century. Archaeopteryx, which lived 150 million years ago, is one of the iconic specimens in all of palaeontology. Seemingly part-dinosaur, part-bird – it excited Darwin when it first surfaced because it looked to be an example of the transitional fossils the great man's theory of evolution had predicted. The "London Specimen", as it is known, is what scientists refer to as the holotype – the example against which all other Archaeopteryx discoveries are compared. To date, that’s about a dozen or so discoveries. And, ordinarily, you would have to go to the London fossil if you wanted to look at it. But the Natural History Museum is about to send the specimen to Japan, as part of a touring exhibition of some key treasures Bumblebee’s Smelly Feet Bumblebees use ‘smelly footprints’ to help determine where to find lunch. A bit like humans leaving fingerprints on everything they touch, bees leave a pheromone scent mark on flowers when they land. Using these smelly cues they can determine who has previously visited a flower and taken all the food. Picture: The Lut may harbour a hidden sea: areas where the water table rises to within a few centimetres of the desert floor. Although vanishingly little reaches the surface - Reg Sookhte Spring is an exception - the extremely salty water may be vital to the Lut's denizens. Credit: Amir AghaKouchak Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Evidence of the Earliest Life on Earth  

More evidence of possibly the earliest life on planet Earth. Strange fibre-like structures in rock that is at least 3.77 billion years old, could be minerals created by the fossilisation of microbes living in very early hydrothermal vents. It’s all still quite speculative, and almost impossible to prove. But if these are evidence of early life forms, this pushes the start of life on Earth 700 million years earlier than previous evidence. Armyworm Invasion Armyworm invasions in southern Africa – Armyworms are the caterpillars of certain species of moths. They’re so-called because they march across the landscape in huge numbers, eating huge quantities of crops on their way. It’s been shown that the recent outbreak in southern Africa, is down to Armyworms from the Americas, not the native African species. Will this mean they’re harder to control? How Dinosaurs Walk They might have died out 65 million years ago, but most of us have an idea of what dinosaurs look like and behave, thanks to fossils, artists’ impressions and various CGI animations. But how close are those animations to the truth? Is the T-rex really a fast runner, as depicted in the Jurassic Park film? Many of our ideas of how dinosaurs moved are based on comparisons with animals alive today, as well as examination of the fossilised evidence left behind – the bones etc. It’s normally quite a biological process. But Dr John Hutchinson from the Royal Veterinary College in London, is attempting to use the laws of physics to work out how dinosaurs really moved. Picture: Layer-deflecting bright red concretion of haematitic chert (an iron-rich and silica-rich rock), which contains tubular and filamentous microfossils. This co-called jasper is in contact with a dark green volcanic rock in the top right and represent hydrothermal vent precipitates on the seafloor. Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, Québec, Canada. Credit: Dominic Papineau Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

7 Exoplanetary System Found  

A planetary system containing 7 planets orbiting a nearby dwarf star, 39 light years away has been discovered. It’s suspected that a number of these exoplanets are Earth-sized, rocky and exist at a temperature range of 0-100 degrees. Ancient Microbes in Crystal Cave Penny Boston was one of a group of scientists granted access to some scientifically special crystal caves. The researchers have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico - and revived them. The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago. Project Premonition Microsoft’s Project Premonition has devised a way of trapping mosquitoes and quickly analysing the DNA to find out the species, the diseases they may be carrying and the host animals they may have bitten. Picture: This artist's concept is one interpretation of what it could look like. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Reduction in Arctic Ice  

The Arctic sea ice should be reaching its maximum extent about now, but following a continuing trend and unusually warm weather at the North Pole, the growth of sea ice has stopped. What will this mean for ice cover in the Northern hemisphere summer? Are we heading for an ice free Arctic sooner than we thought? India Launches 104 Satellites India has created history by successfully launching 104 satellites on a single mission, overtaking the previous record of 37 satellites launched by Russia in 2014. Observers say it is a sign that India is emerging as a major player in the multi-billion dollar space market. First Live Birth Evidence in Dinosaur Relative The Achosaurs are the animal group that contain dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds, and all examples of this group, extinct and alive today, lay eggs. Or so we thought! When scientists uncovered the fossil of a Dinocephalosaurus with what looked like the bones of an embryo in its belly, they were surprised. Dinocephalosaurs are a long-necked, marine reptile living 245 million years ago. Ebola Virus Super Spreaders With over 28,000 confirmed or suspected cases and more than 11,000 deaths, the recent West African Ebola virus outbreak was unprecedented. But why was the epidemic so immense and what lessons have we learned? Using outbreak records, researchers have been able to model the spread of the virus through communities, and their work reveals that the vast majority of transmissions were seeded by a surprisingly small number of infected individuals. Although the reasons for 'superspreading' are unclear, the scientists hope that their findings can help prevent future outbreaks from being so widespread. Alien Species A plant or animal in the wrong place gets called an alien species. A new report looking at the movement of plants and animals around the world gives details of the introduction of alien species over the past 500 years. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the rate of alien introductions increased over the past 40 years. Picture: Extent of Arctic sea ice in September 2016 versus the 1981-2010 average minimum extent (gold line). Credit: NASA Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Clueless about Martian Atmosphere  

NASA’s rover Curiosity reached 1600 Sols on Mars last week. Since it landed in 2012, we’ve been bombarded by discovery after discovery on the Red Planet. But are we any closer to solving the conundrum of a warm planet with a faint young Sun? 3-4 Billion years ago, our Sun was only 70% as bright and warm as it is today, yet there is evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars around this time. Ideas about the sort of Martian atmosphere needed for this to occur, never seem to fit the geological observations. And the latest analysis of the sediment in Gale Crater is not helping to solve the problem either. Carbon Dioxide Fermentation More news on harnessing the special abilities of microorganisms which don’t live by using oxygen but have different metabolisms for converting carbon dioxide to make biofuels. These microbes which, like plants, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or methane - so called C1 carbons - because they have only carbon atom – as their food. By bolting these microbial fermenters onto the waste pipes of industrial processes such as steel foundries, researchers think they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make fuel. Artificial Pollinators With bees and other insect pollinators under threat from disease, pesticides and intensive agriculture, could technology provide a helping hand? A discarded ionic sticky gel was the inspiration for Japanese scientists to create tiny remote-controlled drone pollinators. They used the sticky gel to coat horsehairs on the drone. This allows the pollen from one flower to be lifted up carefully and then deposited on the next flower. Helium If you look up the element helium, one of the first things you’ll read is that it’s the most unreactive element in the periodic table. It’s so stable, that helium that’s used by astronomers as a golden standard to measure the chemical signatures of other planets. But now, chemists here on Earth have forced Helium to react with sodium. Under immense temperatures and pressures the Russian and US team have created Na2He. Understanding Phobias New work monitoring fear in the brains of volunteers using MRI scanners is helping us understand phobias. People who are scared of spiders – arachnophobes – have been shown flash pictures of spiders to encourage the subliminal, sub conscious part of the brain deal with the fear. Picture: This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (right) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left)., Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

How Bird’s Beaks Evolved  

It’s relatively easy to understand the natural selection pressures on the Galapagos finches which led to the evolution of a diverse range of beaks which so intrigued Darwin. Each species evolved a beak size and shape perfectly suited to the food most available to them. But what about the evolution of bird beaks over the entire group? From the flip-top bin beaks of pelicans, to the fine sword-like Scimitar bills and the spoon-shaped Spoon-billed sandpiper – when did these species diversify from their bird-like dinosaur ancestors 150 million years ago? A new study harnessing the deductive power of the public sheds light on the whole process. Antarctic Meteorites A new project to search for meteorites in Antarctica has been announced. Meteorites can tell us so much about the formation of the Solar System. They can be found all over our planet. But the best place to look is Antarctica. They’re black, so they show up on the white ice; the region is protected, so they haven’t already been poached and the conditions are suited to preserving these space rocks. But the best bit, is the way ice moves in a conveyor-like action, it draws the meteorites from the centre of the frozen continent to the edges, often collecting at the edges of mountain ranges. The Evolution of Invasive Behaviour Understanding how invasive species move in the environment is important in helping us mitigate the damage they can cause. In order to do this, it would be helpful if invading species dispersed through an environment at a constant rate. But nature is nothing if it’s not complex! A new study looking at beetles moving around a board-game like set up in the laboratory has shown that individuals at the edge of an invading colony readily evolve to be better at dispersing. The effect is quite variable, but this snowball effect makes understanding how organisms disperse in a new environment all the more difficult. Picture: Bird beak montage, credit: Dr. Paul F. Donald Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Making Metallic Hydrogen  

For more than 80 years, it has been predicted that hydrogen will adopt metallic properties under certain conditions, and now researchers have successfully demonstrated this phenomenon. Theoretically, metallic hydrogen will have many qualities important in the realm of physics, including high temperature superconductivity and super-fluidity, which could hold valuable implications for solving energy problems. Human/Animal Chimeras Efforts to grow the first embryos containing cells from humans and pigs are proving more challenging than anticipated. Human/animal chimeras are not without controversy. However, supporters say they can offer insights into early human development and disease onset and provide a realistic drug-testing platform. And they may also someday provide a means of growing human cells, tissues, and organs for regenerative medicine. The Falklands Island Wolf Scientists unravel the mysterious natural history of the Falklands Island Wolf. It was first spotted and described by Charles Darwin. The now extinct ‘wolf’ is thought to be an ancestor of a jackal-like creature which crossed the shallow, sometimes frozen sea from South America. Image of diamond anvils compressing molecular hydrogen. At higher pressure the sample converts to atomic hydrogen, as shown on the right. [Credit: R. Dias and I.F. Silvera] Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

Ice Crack Will Shut Down Antarctic Base  

The British Antarctic Survey will evacuate all their researchers from the Halley VI base at the start of the Antarctic winter for safety reasons. This will be the first time experiments looking at the Ozone hole and measurements of the extreme environment will be put on hold. The reason? A big chasm is opening up on the Brunt Ice Shelf where the Ice Station is situated. Seeing the Wind The soon to be launched, Aeolus satellite, will monitor wind speed and direction for the entire Earth. By firing UV laser light into the atmosphere and measuring the light reflected off molecules in the air, the spacecraft will be able to build up a global picture of wind patterns. This is something that has been missing from weather models and could improve predictions in the future. Volcanoes in Art The Bodleian Library in Oxford is putting on an exhibition showing the remarkable accounts they have in their archive of volcanoes around the world, and through time. Measuring Rainfall in the ‘Green Sahara’ 5-11,000 years ago, the Sahara in Africa was green with plant life. Wobbles in the Earth’s rotation about its axis meant that the monsoon covered what is now a vast desert. We know this from ancient lake sediments and archaeological finds. But new work looking at deposits of ancient leaf wax buried in sediment under the ocean is giving clues as to how much rain fell, turning the desert into an oasis. Picture: Massive rift in the Larsen C ice shelf on Antarctic Peninsula on 10th November 2016, credit: NASA/Maria-Jose Vinas

Huge Area of Peatland Found in Congo  

Peat is important. Made from decades of partially rotted plant material that builds up in wet conditions. This soil type is essential for locking carbon away from the atmosphere. Peatlands cover 3% of the Earth’s land cover, yet they lock up a third of the world’s carbon. The majority of peatland is found in cool latitudes. But scientists recently found a huge area of peat in northern Congo in Africa. This lowland peatland is one of just three regions found in the tropics, and locked up in its depths are clues to the past climate in a very understudied part of the world. Predicted Red Nova Astronomer Professor Laurence (Larry) Molnar at Calvin College in Seattle and his students have made a rare prediction of when stars will explode. After an undergraduate student spotted a pulsating star, and observed the pulses getting quicker, the team claim to have calculated when the binary star system KIC 9832227 might collide creating a massive Red Nova explosion which will be visible by the naked eye in the night sky in 2022, give or take a year. Science Storytelling The science of climate change is growing exponentially. No individual can hope to read every scientific paper or article on the topic. So how do they and we on Science in Action decide which pieces of work merit more attention? Unsurprisingly how well a paper is written has a huge bearing on which peer-reviewed publication warrants more of our attention. Climate change scientists should take note that; recent research into this topic has found that, papers written in a more narrative, storytelling, style make it to the top of the pile. Picture: Peat samples from the Congo, Credit: Simon Lewis Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

Fast Radio Bursts  

Incredibly short bursts of radio waves from 3 billion light years away have only recently been detected. Their origin is unknown. Now scientists have found one of these Fast Radio Bursts that repeats itself. So they tuned their telescopes on this tiny patch of night sky, and have now detected faint smudges of light as well as the radio waves. The incredible distances these waves travel is indicative of a massive event happening three billion years ago. The speculation is that it could be energy from an active galactic nucleus, a black hole at the centre of a galaxy far away, or a baby magnetar – a neutron star with a massive magnetic field. Schistosomiasis and River Dams Schistosomiasis is a tropical disease caused by infection by blood flukes, or worms. 800 million people in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world are at risk of schistosomiasis The parasitic worm spends part of its lifecycle in freshwater snails, it is then released into the water where human infection takes place. The disease is treatable, but the problem is that reinfection rates are very high. Particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where access to safe, clean water is limited. Scientists studying the ecological impact of the Diama Dam on the Senegal River in West Africa found that infection rates for Schistosomiasis increase dramatically in the region around the dam. The reason? Macrobrachium spp. prawn populations are drastically reduced by damming rivers – they basically can’t move up and down the river – and it’s these prawns that eat the freshwater snails that harbour the parasite. The finding points to prawn restoration as an ecological solution for reducing human disease. Vera Rubin American astronomer Vera Rubin died, aged 88, on Christmas Day. Vera pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates. By uncovering the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves, she found evidence of the existence of dark matter. Moving Magnets Moving scientific equipment can be a logistical nightmare. Sensitive and delicate instruments need care in packing and transporting. But what happens when you need to move a giant magnet when its 30,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, and 15 meters in diameter, weighing 700 tonnes? This is exactly what scientists working on the G minus 2 Experiment at the Fermi Lab in Chicago had to deal with, when the Muon Magnet they needed was in New York State. Picture: Very Large Array Used To Detect Fast Radio Bursts, Credit: AFP/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

State of the Climate 2016  

2016 started at the peak of a powerful El Nino event, and with memories of the Paris Climate agreement freshly reached in 2015, both of which helped set the stage for the way climate and discussions about climate played out this year. It ended with speculation about how a Trump presidency might change the political stage, the Paris agreement ratified and the certainty that this year has been the warmest at least in the historical record. Science in Action concludes the year with an overview of the state of the climate, and what the prospects are for future climate change. Taking part: Dr Richard Betts, of the UK Met Office Professor Ralph Keeling, of the University of California San Diego Dr Friederike Otto, of the Oxford University Environmental Change Institute Dr Ted Scambos, Senior Scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center Professor Corinne Le Quere, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, University of East Anglia Dr Autun Purser, Alfred Wegener Institute Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen

Creatures of the very deep  

Octopuses that live 4 kilometres beneath the sea surface have been discovered by German and American marine scientists. Their habitat is found in desolate plains that are littered with metal-rich nodules that have precipitated over the millennia from sea water. And that’s the problem – because the area is attractive to submarine prospectors for the precious metals they could harvest there. And that could disturb the delicate deep-ocean ecological balance. Autun Purser of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven describes the discovery and explains the issues. Migrating insects Trillions of insects migrate over southern England every year – moving north in the spring and south in the autumn. These mighty migrations were tracked down using radar and high-flying experimental balloons. The University of Exeter’s Jason Chapman explains. Prehistoric Porridge Pots Broken shards of pottery discarded in the Libyan Sahara 10,000 years ago, when the area was lush and green, carry tell-tale traces of plants that were once cooked by the primitive inhabitants. Roland Pease visits the Bristol University Labs of Richard Evershed and Julie Dunne to hear how they uncovered the origin of what could be the oldest example of bubbling cereal porridge. Inuits’ genetic gift The ability of Inuit to survive the harsh conditions of the polar north may be attributable to an inheritance left to them tens of thousands of years ago, when their ancestors interbred with Denisovans, the mysterious hominid relatives discovered in Siberia a few years ago. University of California, Berkeley’s Rasmus Nielsen relates the genetic detective story. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen (Image: Caspar the octopus. Credit: Jason 2 ROV team.)

Europe’s Coldest Decade  

In the midst of the Little Ice Age, winter temperatures plummeted even lower in the extraordinary decade of 1430-1440. Rivers, lakes and coastlines froze over year after year. Seeds perished, flocks dwindled, famine ensued, and soon minorities and witches were being blamed for the miserable conditions. Historian Chantal Camenische and Kathrin Keller of Bern University look into what may have been the worst decade in European weather in almost a millennium. Solar Armageddon In the depths of the cold war, a solar storm nearly triggered a nuclear holocaust, by jamming the radar systems the superpowers used to monitor their enemies’ manoeuvres. Solar physicist Dolores Knipp has been unravelling the story of the space-weather experts who halted the nuclear escalation. Chicxulub, the end of the dinosaurs New evidence was presented this week at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting in San Francisco, from the drilling project that tapped into ground zero of the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. BBC’s Jonathan Amos reports on the first hints of the asteroid that did the killing, and on the first signs of life that occupied the new crater in its immediate aftermath. Tiddlers on the Roof Imperial College planetary geologist Matt Genge shows Roland Pease the tiny micrometeorites Norwegian space enthusiast collected from the rooves of his home country. 500 specks of cosmic dust recovered from 300 kilogrammes of muck. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald Image: A Winter Scene @ J. Paul Getty Museum

Do Martian Rocks Contain Signs of Life?  

When the Mars rover Spirit recorded rocks in the Gusev crater back in 2007. It detected small lighter-coloured lumps. Geologists think these could be fossilised stromatolites in the form of opal. Back on Earth, these structures are made by films of blue-green algae and other microbes. Now, a decade later, geologists have found very similar features in the highland deserts of northern Chile, which have bacterial structures in them. Which all go to make compelling reasons to go back to the Martian crater in 2010. 100 Women As part of BBC 100 Women 2016 we’re asking the question is the internet sexist? Only 15% of Wikipedia editors are women and less than 15% of notable profiles are of women. Half of the BBC’s 100 women over 3 years still do not have a Wikipedia page. Science in Action reporter, Tracey Logan, has a go at editing Wikipedia pages for notable female scientists – Frances Micklethwait and Rachel McKendry - as part of a Wiki Editathon. Photo: Surface of Mars @ NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cornell University Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

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