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October 5, 2014: Climbing Into Volcanoes, Swimming the Seven Seas and More

George Kourounis, armed with his heat and fire resistant suit, has endured some of the planet's hottest places, including volcanoes and the "Door to Hell". (photo by Chris Johns/National Geographic)
George Kourounis, armed with his heat and fire resistant suit, has endured some of the planet’s hottest places, including volcanoes and the “Door to Hell”. (photo by Chris Johns/National Geographic)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!

HOUR 1

“Extremophile” bacteria that live in and around some of the world’s hottest places like volcanos and man-made fire pits in Turkmenistan are able to survive in environments with temperatures that top out above 1,000° Fahrenheit. We know this because George Kourounis is something of an extremophile himself. He and his thermal protection suit ventured to the bottom of Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell” crater, which was featured on the National Geographic Channel, as well as a more recent exploration of a volcano in Vanuatu. Kourounis explains his fascination with the world’s most extreme places as volunteering to travel there so we can learn about it from the climate controlled comforts of home.

– Sanga Moses had a comfortable job at a bank, until one day, he quit. As the National Geographic Emerging Explorer tells it, he wasn’t sure what his plan was, but he knew he had to do something to help his little sister get back to school, rather than in the forest, walking 20 miles each week to collect wood to burn in their kitchen stove. After extensive research and contacting the local university, he and a team of engineering students created kilns that would turn agricultural waste, like sugar cane and coffee husks, into a fine powder, which was then pressed into pucks to be sold as fuel. The establishment of his company, Eco Fuel Africa, created a market that allows farmers to sell their agricultural waste, women in the market to act as retailers for his more environmentally friendly fire fuel, and Moses’ sister gets to return to school.

– The world’s oceans have showed a resilience in their ability to rebound from overfishing, if they’re given the proper protections. And that’s the objective of the creation of a major expansion of marine protected areas in the Pacific Ocean by Barack Obama’s presidential action. The action pushes Wake Atoll, Johnson Atoll and Jarvis Island to be the world’s third, fourth and sixth largest marine protected areas, respectively. Pew Charitable Trusts Ocean Legacy director Matt Rand explains the significance of these protected ocean havens for the fish life, and the push to get as much as 20% of the world’s oceans under a protected banner.

– The natural world has evolved such a wide array of living creatures, that it seems unfathomable that we could replicate many of them with machines. Yet National Geographic Emerging Explorer Robert Wood has started trying to create robots that mimic the natural world, to the point that they could be programmed to socialize like ants or bees. Wood founded the Microrobotics Lab at Harvard University, where they experiment with unconventional materials and models to help create the robots of the future that do the jobs that are too dangerous or dirty for people or animals to do.

– In our recurring This Weekend in History segment, Nat Geo Library research manager Maggie Turqman shares tales of the 1863 establishment of Thanksgiving, the 1927 dynamite surgery on Mount Rushmore, and the the 1957 launch of Sputnik, which kicked off the ensuing American-Soviet “Space Race.”

HOUR 2

– Medieval European sailors and cartographers spoke of the world’s “Seven Seas” that they navigated in the name of exploration and commerce. The Euro-centric term has faded in favor of a more global perspective, but in order to better understand the eternal seas that surround the “Old World,” South African swimmer and conservationist Lewis Pugh has taken to the water to slowly explore their health. His swim’s results are disheartening: the Aegean Sea was full of garbage; the Black Sea blossomed with invasive jellyfish; and he didn’t see a single fish in the Adriatic. But Pugh says he found hope in the Red Sea; the waters were full of litter and pale, dead coral, until he swam into a marine protected area. There, he found beautiful, colorful and the vibrant fish life that sustainably fed the Western world for thousands of years.

– Every skier who ventures into the backcountry has to confront the possibility that an accident could kill them. Avalanches are commonplace where dozens of feet of snow fall onto icy and steep mountains – the kinds that make perfect ski destinations. Backcountry ski guide based in Revelstoke, British Columbia, Ken Wylie survived an avalanche in 2003, in which seven other people died. It was a bad season for snow slides in Revelstoke that year and Wylie was called upon to rescue another group just ten days later. He talks snow safety, backcountry protocol and remembers that tragic season in his new book, Buried.

– Teaching kids the importance of conservation can be difficult: classroom lessons are often boring, while there is too much to explore while they’re playing outside. But National Geographic Young Explorers Caleb KruseCameron Kruse and Jordan Fatke may have found the perfect vehicle to deliver the message of saving the outdoors: ice cream, from a truck that runs on recycled cooking oil. The trio served up some of their avocado, guava, mango and coconut/purple yam to talk about their cross country road trip bribing children for promises of environmental care.

– Great white sharks, one of the planet’s most feared predators, have always been a source of curiosity for Carrie Miller. So to get closer to the object of her fascination, she got in the water to watch them in their natural habitat, off the coast of Australia’s Neptune Islands. Miller tells Boyd that they aren’t as mindlessly predatory as they’re billed. She found them to be curious rather than malicious, sampling boat motors and pieces of wood it encountered on the surface for edibility. Despite the fact that Miller reports the Great whites to be “calm” at depth, she would never swim with them cage-free. Her article “Down Under: The Great White Way,” is in the September/October 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd shares some of his best and worst, experiences around the world sampling ice cream. He loves the fanfare around ice cream service in Turkey, while he regrets his dalliances with homemade popsicles in China.