NPR Picks


San Diego Researchers Measure The Highest Ocean Surface Temperature In A Century

"At a pier in San Diego, researchers on Wednesday recorded the warmest sea surface temperature since record-keeping began there in 1916."

"Every day, researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego collect data — by hand — from the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier."

"Wednesday's 78.6 degrees Fahrenheit at the pier surpassed a previous record of 78.4 degrees in 1931, researchers said in a statement on Thursday."

"'It really is weird,' Clarissa Anderson, a Scripps research scientist, told NPR. 'We have different records going back decades and while [our ocean water] temperature is tightly connected with the equator, we're now seeing [temperatures] stabilize at the equator while temperatures in southern California keep going up.'"

"Anderson said that it's not clear why southern California's ocean temperature patterns appear to be diverging from the equator's."



Scientists Are 'Spying On Whales' To Learn How They Eat, Talk And ... Walked?

"We think of whales as creatures of the sea, but scientists now believe that 40 million to 50 million years ago, whales had four legs and lived at least part of their lives on land."

"'We can tell that they're whales based on key features of their anatomy — specifically parts of their skull,' paleobiologist Nick Pyenson says. 'But they were certainly not like the whales that you would see today.'"

"As the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., Pyenson has examined whale fossils that are tens of millions of years old. He has also learned about modern whales by attaching sensors to them in the wild and by studying their carcasses at commercial whaling sites."

"'We live in the golden age of whale science because there's so many new tools that we have to investigate their hidden lives,' he says."

"Pyenson notes that the largest whales alive today are the biggest vertebrates that have ever existed: 'No dinosaur was heavier. No other mammal exceeded their length or width," he says. "They are absolutely the largest vertebrate animals to have ever evolved in the history of life on Earth.'"



2017 Was One Of The Hottest Years On Record

"NOAA has released the latest State of the Climate report, its annual checkup on our planet."

"So, how did Earth fare in 2017?"

"Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: highest concentrations ever. Global surface temperature: near-record high. Sea surface temperature: near-record high. Global sea level: highest on record."

"Warm global temperatures have been a strong trend in recent years: the four warmest years on record all occurred since 2014, and last year was among them. In fact, 2017 was the warmest non-El Niño year ever recorded."

"The past three years were 'substantially warmer than the previous — kind of establishing a new neighborhood in terms of global temperature,' said Deke Arndt, a climatologist at NOAA and the lead editor of the report. 'And 2017 reinforced that.'"


To Combat Rhino Poaching, Dogs Are Giving South African Park Rangers A Crucial Assist

"Ruben de Kock has been training South Africa's park rangers for over two decades — but last month was the first time one of his former students was killed on the job."

"The July 19 incident, in which 34-year-old Respect Mathebula died in a shootout, marks the first instance in 50 years of a ranger being killed by poachers in Kruger National Park. Yet given the intensity of rhinoceros poaching in the region, the milestone is as surprising as it is tragic."

"Home to roughly 80 percent of the world's rhino population, South Africa has seen poaching explode over the past decade. In 2007, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers. Last year, that number was 1,028 — down from a peak of 1,215 three years earlier, according to TRAFFIC, a monitoring network for wildlife trade. African rhinos include the near-threatened white rhino and critically endangered black rhino species."

"The escalating aggression of poachers — who are widely reported to be connected to criminal syndicates in Asia, where rhino horn, valued for its purported medicinal qualities, trades on the black market for tens of thousands of dollars per pound — means rangers face greater risks in the field, says de Kock, who oversees ranger training at South Africa's Southern African Wildlife College."


South Africa Overturns Diplomatic Immunity For Grace Mugabe

"It's unlikely that former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe will be making a trip to South Africa anytime soon."

"A South African court has overturned a government decision to grant the wife of former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe diplomatic immunity in connection to her alleged assault of a South African model with an extension cord."

"The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg described that decision as an "error of law," according to South Africa's News 24."

"Last August, Grace Mugabe was allowed to return to Harare after former minister of international relations and cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane granted her immunity."

"'That the minister has the power to confer immunity on Dr Mugabe is neither doubtful or debatable,' the judge said, according to News 24. 'She, however, has to exercise this power in a manner that is constitutional and lawful.'"


Off Your Mental Game? You Could Be Mildly Dehydrated

"Was it hard to concentrate during that long meeting? Does the crossword seem a little tougher? You could be mildly dehydrated."

"A growing body of evidence finds that being just a little dehydrated is tied to a range of subtle effects — from mood changes to muddled thinking."

"'We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don't do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention,' says Mindy Millard-Stafford, director of the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology. She published an analysis of the evidence this month, based on 33 studies."

"How long does it take to become mildly dehydrated in the summer heat? Not long at all, studies show, especially when you exercise outdoors."

"'If I were hiking at moderate intensity for one hour, I could reach about 1.5 percent to 2 percent dehydration,' says Doug Casa, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, and CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute."

For an average-size person, 2 percent dehydration equates to sweating out about a liter of water.



Mugabe's Gone, But Zimbabwe Still Has A Serious Cash Shortage

"It's a little after 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in downtown Harare, and Brandon Moyo has been waiting in line for the ATM for over four hours already. He's hoping to withdraw $20 — but it's not looking promising. There are over 20 people in front of him and bank officials have already warned they might run out of cash before he gets to the front."

"Moyo is from a small farming town about 65 miles outside of Harare. He says banks in his town usually don't have any cash at all these days, so he takes a bus into the Zimbabwean capital city twice a week to wait in a line like this. He has to pay for that bus ride in cash, and if the bank runs out before he can get some, he sometimes has to stay overnight until he can try again."

"Zimbabwe has been facing a major cash shortage for the past two years, a symptom of the country's larger and longer economic crisis. After Robert Mugabe was ousted from power by the military last November, his replacement, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has claimed that Zimbabwe is now "open for business." But getting cash into the country is complicated, and access to physical currency hasn't improved with the leadership change."



What Friday's Extra-Long Lunar Eclipse Can Tell Us About The Earth

"Let's get the bad news out of the way first: You won't be able to see this Friday's epic lunar eclipse in person if you live in North America (aside from a very small portion of eastern Canada and parts of the eastern Caribbean)."

"But here's the good news: if you are almost anywhere else, you'll probably be able to see at least a portion of the event."

"Prime viewing is in eastern and southern Africa, the Middle East, eastern Europe and south Asia, based on a NASA map."

"The most noteworthy thing about this particular eclipse is its extraordinary length – in fact, NASA expects it to be the longest lunar eclipse this century. The total lunar eclipse is projected to last for an hour and 42 minutes, with the entire event lasting over 6 hours."

"To figure out precisely when the eclipse will hit your area, you can calculate it at"



14,000-Year-Old Piece Of Bread Rewrites The History Of Baking And Farming

"When an archaeologist working on an excavation site in Jordan first swept up the tiny black particles scattered around an ancient fireplace, she had no idea they were going to change the history of food and agriculture."

"Amaia Arranz-Otaegui is an archaeobotanist from the University of Copenhagen. She was collecting dinner leftovers of the Natufians, a hunter-gatherer tribe that lived in the area more than 14,000 years ago during the Epipaleolithic time — a period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras."

"Natufians were hunters, which one could clearly tell from the bones of gazelles, sheep and hares that littered the cooking pit. But it turns out the Natufians were bakers, too --at a time well before scientists thought it was possible."

"When Arranz-Otaegui sifted through the swept-up silt, the black particles appeared to be charred food remains. 'They looked like what we find in our toasters,' she says — except no one ever heard of people making bread so early in human history. 'I could tell they were processed plants," Arranz-Otaegui says, "but I didn't really know what they were.'"


Pizza Physics: Why Brick Ovens Bake The Perfect Italian-Style Pie

"The ideal Italian pizza, be it Neapolitan or Roman, has a crisp crust flecked with dark spots — marks left by a blazing hot oven. The dough is fluffy, moist and stretchy, and the toppings are piping hot. A pizzeria's brick oven pops these out to perfection, but intrepid home cooks attempting to re-create Italian-style pizzas have more than likely discovered facsimiles are nigh impossible to produce."

"'Even if you prepare [the pizza] the same way, you cannot get the same result with just your oven at home,' says Andreas Glatz, a physicist at Northern Illinois University and pizza enthusiast."

"The fact that you need a vaulted brick oven to bake a great Italian-style pizza is well-known, but Glatz and Andrey Varlamov, also a pizza-eater and physicist at the Institute of Superconductors, Oxides and Other Innovative Materials and Devices in Rome, wanted to know why. The secret behind a pizzeria's magic, they concluded in a paper published on last month, is in some unique thermal properties of the brick oven."

"They started off interviewing pizzaiolos, or pizza makers, in Rome who were masters of the Roman style of pizza. For this, the bake lasts 2 minutes at 626 degrees Fahrenheit. (Neapolitan pizzas usually bake at an even higher temperature — at least 700 degrees.) That turns out a 'well-baked but still moist dough and well-cooked toppings," Glatz says. The same settings in a conventional steel oven produce far less ideal results. "You burn the dough before the surface of the pizza even reaches boiling, so this is not a product you will want to eat,' he says."


Rome's Subway Expansion Reveals Artifacts From The Ancient Past

"All roads may lead to Rome, but once you get there, good luck taking the subway. The sprawling metropolis is expanding its mass transit system — a sluggish process made even slower as workers keep running into buried ancient ruins."

"'I found some gold rings. I found glasswork laminated in gold depicting a Roman god, some amphoras,' says Gilberto Pagani, a bulldozer operator at the Amba Aradam metro stop, currently under construction not far from the Colosseum."

"Pagani is part of an archaeological team at the site, a certified archaeological construction worker trained to excavate, preserve and build in cities like Rome, with thousands of years of civilization buried beneath the surface."

"The presence of ancient artifacts underground is a daunting challenge for urban developers. For archaeologists, it's the opportunity of a lifetime."

"'I think it's the luckiest thing that's ever happened to me, professionally speaking,' says Simona Morretta, the state archaeologist in charge of the Amba Aradam site. 'Because you never get the chance in a regular excavation to dig so deep. That's how we've found architectural complexes as important as this.'"



Photographer Captures The Contradictions Of Otherworldly Antarctica

"When WAMU photographer Tyrone Turner got the opportunity to travel to Antarctica, he thought he would be fascinated with the continent's wildlife."

"But instead, it was the ice — in its myriad shapes and textures, "bathed in polar light that morphed from powerfully sharp and blue, to gentle and pink" — that Turner says mesmerized him."

"'Antarctica just seemed to me absolutely 'the other world,'" Turner says. 'There is no other landscape like it.'"

"Turner's trip to Antarctica last November began in the Falkland Islands, where he boarded the National Geographic Explorer for a three-week journey."


Galileo Would Be Stunned: Jupiter Now Has 79 Moons

"More than 400 years after Galileo Galilei discovered the first of Jupiter's moons, astronomers have found a dozen more — including one they've dubbed 'oddball' — orbiting the planet. That brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79."

"The team of astronomers originally wasn't even looking for the 12 new moons. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science says he and his colleagues had been trying to track down a giant planet they think may be lurking at the outer reaches of our solar system."

"As part of that search, Sheppard was using the 4-meter Víctor Blanco Telescope in Chile in March of last year and realized that Jupiter was right near the part of the sky he wanted to search."

"'So we could also search for Jupiter moons while looking for things that are well beyond Pluto,' Sheppard says."

"One thing that helped was the especially large camera attached to the Blanco telescope. '[That camera] allows us to search the whole area around Jupiter in a very few images,' he says."



A 4 Billion Light-Year Journey Ends At The South Pole

"Scientists for the first time have been able to pinpoint the source of an extremely powerful version of a neutrino, a ghostly particle that can travel virtually unimpeded through space."

"It's an achievement that opens a whole new way of looking at the universe."

"The neutrino was detected by a South Pole observatory called IceCube that was specifically designed to catch the particles. It consists of a cubic kilometer of ice festooned with more than 5,000 detectors."

"Neutrinos don't interact with much, but occasionally one will strike another particle, giving off a kind of light known as Cherenkov radiation that IceCube's detectors can pick up."

"When a particularly high-energy neutrino is captured, IceCube sends out an alert."

"'We had this neutrino alert in September 2017,' says Olga Botner, a particle physicist at Uppsala University in Sweden and a member of the National Science Foundation-funded IceCube scientific team. On Sept. 22, to be precise."



Scientists Find New Tricks For Old Drugs

"Most drugs have side effects, but sometimes they're actually good news."

"Researchers are now exploring whether some cheap and common drugs have side effects that could help people fight off the flu and other lung infections."

"This idea has a passionate advocate: Dr. David Fedson. About 10 years ago, this infectious disease specialist had a disturbing thought. He was working in the vaccine industry in France, and he started to wonder what would happen if, all of a sudden, the world was gripped with a flu pandemic."

"One hundred years ago, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic swept the globe, killing 50 million people, or maybe more. Scientists fear a similar pandemic is only a matter of time. What then? Fedson wondered."

"'No company had a strategy for dealing with the pandemic,' he says. 'And also when you just looked at the arithmetic about how quickly they'd need literally billions of doses of the vaccine, which they couldn't make in time, it became very clear the you simply can't get there from here.'"



Starbucks: Goodbye Plastic Straws

"Starbucks announced on Monday it plans to eliminate plastic straws from its 28,000 stores worldwide by 2020."

"The company will broaden the manufacture and use of what some in social media have dubbed the "adult sippy cup." It's a plastic strawless lid that will come to replace single-use plastic straws that now inundate its coffee shops."

"The company says the move when fully implemented could mean a billion fewer plastic straws across its stores each year. And it's a part of Starbucks' $10 million investment in creating recyclable and compostable cups around the world."

"The strawless lid has already been in use at many of the company's stores for certain kinds of cold drinks like cold foam and 'draft nitro,' the coffee drink that comes out of a keg, mixed with nitrogen. Unlike straws, the new lid can be recycled, the company said."

"'For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways,' Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer for Starbucks, said in a statement."



Searching For The Past In The World War II Wrecks Of Papua New Guinea

"Lloyd Woo eases a motorboat through the clear blue waters of the Bismarck Sea in the southwestern Pacific, to the edge of a coral reef. When he sights a specific cluster of coconut palms on the shore of one of Papua New Guinea's smattering of northern islands, he cuts off the engine. He turns to a couple of visiting scuba divers, tugging on fins and fiddling with their masks, and explains how to find the World War II-era airplane below."

"'Everything's still intact, the propeller's still there, the double wings,' he explains. 'You get to about 25, 26 meters [85 feet], you'll meet the plane.'"

"The Second World War ended 73 years ago, but history can feel very much alive in this corner of the South Pacific. Invaded and used as a Japanese military base in 1942, the Bay of Rabaul, on the northern end of Papua New Guinea's New Britain island, saw one of the most intense, sustained Allied bombing campaigns of the war in the years that followed. That legacy now helps fuel a modest tourism industry, as visitors from all over the world come to scuba dive around the wrecks."

"Underground tunnels, hewn into the ground, were used for shelter in the war years. Husks of downed planes are still being discovered in farmers' fields and deep underwater, prompting efforts to match the aircraft with the names of soldiers missing in action."


Many Look To Buddhism For Sanctuary From An Over-Connected World

"On the floor of a Zen Buddhist worship space in an apartment building in Washington, D.C., about 15 people recently sat on meditation cushions. They chant sutras and meditate, in complete silence, for a full 30 minutes."

"And then one of the lay leaders of the All Beings Zen Sangha, or congregation, conducted a 'little exercise.'"

"'It's very simple,' said Mark Stone. 'If you could take out your screens, stay on them for 12 minutes, doing what you usually do.'"

"The 'Zen Practice and Screen Use' workshop is one of a series that have been held at this zendo, or meditation hall, with the aim of helping participants have a more mindful experience online."

"It's a response to growing concern over the amount of time people devote to their screens. One recent study estimated that Americans are spending nearly six hours a day on their connected devices. Add television to that and the total rises to nearly 10 hours."



London Mayor Says 'Trump Baby' Blimp Can Fly In Protest Of President Trump's Visit

"The 'Trump Baby' blimp is nearly 20 feet tall, wearing nothing but a diaper and a grimace. A tuft of yellow hair tops his orange head. He is armed with a cellphone, ready to tweet."

"And now he is nearly ready to fly over Parliament in London."

"Mayor Sadiq Khan's Greater London Authority has given activists permission to launch the bouncing behemoth from Parliament Square Garden on July 13, when President Trump is set to arrive in London for a three-day visit to the U.K."

"'The Mayor supports the right to peaceful protest and understands that this can take many different forms. ... However the organisers will also need to receive the necessary approvals from the Metropolitan Police and national air traffic service in order for it to fly,' a spokesperson for Khan tells NPR."

"The blimp, which will be tethered to the ground, will be allowed to fly for two hours at a maximum height of about 100 feet, says organizer Leo Murray, who conceived of the idea of a Trump Baby blimp."

"Another protest organizer, Max Wakefield, says the London authority initially objected to the idea."



Scientists Hope Lab-Grown Embryos Can Save Rhino Species From Extinction

"Rhino embryos created in a lab are raising hopes that high-tech assisted reproduction may help save the northern white rhino, the most endangered mammal in the world."

"Only two of these rhinos are still alive, both females living in a sanctuary in Kenya and protected around the clock by armed guards."

"The last male, a rhino named Sudan, died in March. But before the males died off, wildlife experts collected and froze sperm. Now, in the journal Nature Communicationsscientists say they successfully have used this stored sperm to fertilize eggs taken from a closely related subspecies, the southern white rhinoceros."

"The resulting hybrid embryos started to develop in a lab dish. Two were frozen for later implantation into a surrogate rhino, although the researchers note in their paper that 'the embryo transfer procedure has yet to be developed and validated in rhinoceroses.'"

"Still, the researchers are hopeful that once they get this working with hybrid embryos, they can use the same techniques to produce pure northern white rhino embryos."

"To make those, they'll need eggs from the two remaining northern white rhinos. Jan Stejskal, of the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic — where rhinos Najin and Fatu were born — says the team has requested permission to obtain the eggs, 'but it's not granted yet.' Still, he hopes the research team can go to Kenya to collect them by the end of the year."