Author Archives: Molly Samuel

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.

Quick Link: “Alcatraz Solar Isn’t For The Birds (But They Like It)”

When the National Park Service decided to install solar panels on Alcatraz, there were some issues to consider that most places don’t need to deal with. Where could the panels go, so that they wouldn’t disrupt visitors’ experience of the foggy prison island, for one. That was resolved by putting them on the roof of the cellhouse, out of view.

Another was, how would the solar panels affect the island’s birds? According to this article from Earth Techling, initially there was some concern that the panels would scare the birds, but that hasn’t ended up being the problem.


It was no easy task getting a thousand or so solar panels past preservationists PO’d at the idea of PV on the iconic Alcatraz penitentiary – and now that the modules are up and operating, there’s the challenge of keeping the bird poop off them.

Read more at: www.earthtechling.com

New Tool Maps California’s Biggest Greenhouse Gas Emitters

Interactive map pinpoints the polluters next door

Air Resources Board

In this Google Earth view, the height of the "balloon" location markers indicates the volume of greenhouse gas emissions.

Wondering where all the petroleum refineries are located in California? Curious about which industries in your area emit the most greenhouse gases? Or which counties have the most big industrial polluters, and which don’t have any at all?

A new interactive map from the California Air Resources Board taps the versatility of Google Earth software to transform eye-glazing spreadsheet data into a visual, if wonky, feast.

The map shows the locations and greenhouse gas emissions of about 625 facilities — the largest industrial greenhouse gas emitters in the state. The graphical tool can filter by type of facility (cement plant, refinery, electricity generation), by county or air district. You can use the satellite view to see a facility’s physical footprint, then switch over to Google Earth to see how its carbon footprint stacks up against other emitters. The EPA released a similar map earlier this year, but without all the Google Earth bells and whistles. Continue reading

Rising Seas Threaten California’s Coastal Past

Higher tides and increased erosion will wipe out archaeological sites

Hear the radio version of this story from KQED’s The California Report.

Mike Newland

A site with evidence of more than 1,000 years of occupation is eroding due to high tides hitting the base of the cliff.

On a sunny day earlier this summer at Point Reyes National Seashore, I scrambled behind Mike Newland as he clambered across gullies and bushwhacked through thigh-high lupine. Once we got to the spot he was aiming for, on the edge of a sandy beach-side cliff, he stopped and started to pick through shells and stones.

“You can see, we’ve got sort of a handful of little guys here, popping out of the ground,” he noted. Some of these that we’re going to see, they weren’t here a year ago, when I came here last time.”

Newland, an archaeologist at Sonoma State University and the president of the Society for California Archaeology, was hunting for Native American artifacts, clues about what life was like in coastal California before Europeans arrived. It was easy for him to find them; wind, rain and tides have eroded these cliffs and exposed the ancient trash piles and stone tools.

This site and these cultural resources — some of them a thousand years old or more — might not be around for much longer. These pieces of California’s history are in danger of disappearing as the Pacific Ocean claws at the base of this cliff. Sea level rise is accelerating the problem. Continue reading

Understanding the U.S. Drought and Heatwave: Five Good Visuals

As the drought drags on, these graphics and interactives explain what’s happening

Scott Olson/Getty Images

1. “Drought’s Footprint”The New York Times

In June, more than half of the U.S. was experiencing moderate to extreme drought. How does that compare to other years? The Times’ graphic lays it out.

2. “Dried Out: Confronting the Texas Drought” — NPR, KUT and KUHF

The drought began in Texas in October of last year. Watch it grow over time, and explore a timeline that explains the root causes of the drought and how communities are responding.

3. “Flash Drought in U.S. Explained in 14 Seconds”Climate Central

Watch an animation showing the spread of the drought, from Texas and Georgia in March, to most of the Midwest and West by June.

4. Drought Impact Reporter — The National Drought Mitigation Center

This is “the nation’s first comprehensive database of drought impacts.” Submit reports of how the drought affects you, and search for drought impacts by state, whether they’re to agriculture, industry, public health or wildlife.

5. “Historic heat wave in hindsight: Hottest on record in Washington D.C., hotter than 1930″Washington Post

From the Post’s weather blog, a local, numbers-heavy analysis of the heatwave that hit Washington. With stats like “Longest period at or above 100: 7 hours on July 7 (tie with July 6, 2010 and July 21, 1930),” it’s like a Guinness Book of World Records for D.C.’s summer, and holds my usually California-focused attention.

Turning the Tide at Ocean Beach

Pencil-ready: Funding comes through for Ocean Beach adaptation studies

Molly Samuel/KQED

At San Francisco's Ocean Beach, erosion and sea level rise threaten infrastructure.

As an Army Corps of Engineers dredge dumped sand offshore, a crowd of politicians, representatives from local and federal agencies, business owners and volunteers gathered in a crumbling parking lot on Thursday to voice their support for the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a sweeping project to prepare for sea level rise and stem erosion on San Francisco’s western shore.

Project manager Benjamin Grant said that with more than a million dollars in grants now secured, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) is ready to get down to the nitty-gritty details of how to implement the plan, which was officially released in June.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into taking something from a big visionary idea to a project that’s actually in the pipeline at a public agency,” Grant said. Continue reading

Quick Link: Coastal Tribes Take On Climate Change

Native Americans have weathered climate change before, but now there are new challenges

Rising sea levels will affect all coastal communities. But for Native Americans, the pace of climate change threatens traditions that go back thousands of years.

PBS Newshour reports on how the Swinomish Tribe in the Pacific Northwest is trying to adapt to the shrinking salmon population. Overfishing, habitat loss and dams have all contributed to the problem. Climate change exacerbates it.


Watch Swinomish Tribe Works to Adapt to Shrinking Salmon Supply on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Tribes from the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, the Gulf and the Great Lakes are all gathering in Washington D.C. this week for a symposium about the effects of climate change on their communities, how they’ve adapted in the past and how to plan for the future.


Washington salmon depend on the cold water from glacial lakes to survive. But as temperatures increase and glaciers shrink, salmon populations are declining, threatening the way of life for the Swinomish Indians, also known as the “salmon people.” In collaboration with KCTS-9′s Earthfix Project, Hari Sreenivasan reports.

Read more at: www.pbs.org

Preserving Biodiversity in the Age of Climate Change

The dean of conservation biology has a message for young scientists: Get out of the lab

Hundreds of scientists are gathered in Oakland this week to share ideas on how to stem the tide of extinctions among plants and animals. On opening night of the inaugural North American Congress for Conservation Biology, they got an earful from Michael Soulé, professor emeritus at UC Santa Cruz, founder of the Wildlands Network and the Society for Conservation Biology. Considered the “father” of conservation biology, Soule is concerned that the work he started is getting bogged down in the lab. I sat down to talk with him at the conference. This is an edited version of the interview.

What were the biggest problems when you started working on conservation biology?

Lisa Cox/USFWS

Coastal sage scrub and riparian habitat on the San Diego Refuge.

I was a kid naturalist in San Diego. I went around collecting things and going to tide pools and playing in the chaparral, the coastal sage scrub. Those places are gone now; they’ve been bulldozed and they’re now housing developments. So I saw with my own eyes, and was gradually more and more horrified to see, everything I loved disappear, bulldozed.

Later, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I recognized that human population growth was a tremendous factor in changing and shrinking habitats all over the world. And we recognized that pollution — in those days it was DDT — was a big factor in causing the disappearance of brown pelicans, for example, on the West Coast. Continue reading

Rising Sea Levels Threaten Toxic Sites

Contaminated areas along the San Francisco Bay could be inundated

Quest/KQED

The Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard is one of the EPA's Superfund sites in the Bay Area.

As water levels rise, old landfills, shipyards and industrial sites that line the San Francisco Bay are at risk of being submerged, exposed to higher storm surges and inundated by groundwater. Toxic substances, including arsenic, lead, petroleum products, asbestos and DDT that have been sealed off could leech into groundwater or into the Bay.

While the agencies that have a hand in keeping the Bay clean consider sea level rise in new clean-up projects, they can’t necessarily revisit every old one, according to reporter Nate Seltenrich, who wrote about the problem in this week’s East Bay Express. Continue reading

Quick Link: Calculating the Odds of Extreme Weather

How does the probability of an extreme weather event change in a warmer world?

Scientists are loathe to directly link any given weather event to climate change — climate change attribution is a young science, and there are a lot of variables. But they have made some progress. Researchers at NOAA and UK Met Offices examined extreme weather events in 2011, and were able to narrow down how likely some of those events are to occur again.

One finding: La Niña-related heatwaves like the Texas drought of 2011, which was the hottest and driest year on record for the state, are 20 times more likely to happen during La Niña years now than they were 50 years ago.


How much of the recent hot weather can be attributed to global warming? Scientists will no doubt dig into the data and grapple with that question in the months to come. They have already taken a stab at that question regarding some of last year’s extreme weather events, like the drought in Texas.

Read more at: www.npr.org