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March 1, 2015: Photographing a Revolution, Collecting Subway Bacteria and More

An Egyptian protester reacts as others prepare to throw stones at government forces during clashes that erupted after a pro-democracy sit-in was forcefully broken up by government troops in Cairo December 16, 2011. by Matt Moyer
An Egyptian protester reacts as others prepare to throw stones at government forces during clashes that erupted after a pro-democracy sit-in was forcefully broken up by government troops in Cairo December 16, 2011. by Matt Moyer

HOUR 1

– The United States has been mapped, graphed and generally analyzed in every way imaginable. But on deep in Alaska’s interior, the exact height of several peaks in the Brooks Range remain a mystery. Glaciologist Matt Nolan hopes to estimate rates of glacier change in the range, so to establish a baselline measurement, ski mountaineers Kit Deslauriers and Andy Bardon carried a GPS sensor to the summit of two peaks in the range. Nolan hasn’t revealed the findings just yet, but Deslauriers and Bardon were less secretive about their ski adventure through the “No Fall Zone.”

– New York City subways: smelly, crowded but integral to the city’s ability to move over 4 million people everyday. They’re also covered in microbes. Cornell University biophysicist Chris Mason enlisted an army of willing students to swab the city’s subway stations and gained some interesting perspective on the city’s microbiome: 48% of the DNA isn’t associated with any known bacteria; only 12% of the DNA they collected is associated with human disease; and the South Ferry station that flooded during Hurricane Sandy still shows echoes of ocean DNA that isn’t found anywhere else in the city’s subway system.

– With winter dragging on in parts of the United States, the surfers among us might be looking for a warm getaway. Ted Endo suggests some of the world’s best surfing towns, but not necessarily just for the waves. His surf destinations offer a mix of city, culture and, of course, surf. Biarritz, France meets those qualifications, as the birthplace of European surf culture; Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, offers Southern charm with long, uncrowded waves; Raglan, New Zealand offers world class waves, but not an overcrowded surf scene; and Taghazout, Morocco offers more culture than the average beach town. There are a total of 20 surf destinations in Endo’s list featured by National Geographic Adventure.

– National Gegoraphic’s photographers focus on getting the perfect shot. But in uncertain situations, like Egypt’s protests during the revolution that unseated Hosni Mubarak, photographers have to ensure their own safety. That’s why Matt Moyer recommends hiring a local to read the crowd and watch his back. Moyer explains that, even in more peaceful settings, shooting photos in Egypt is difficult, because locals are protective of their country’s image abroad. Moyer plans to return to Egypt, despite the current government cracking down on foreign journalists and their ability to roam the country freely.

– Eels have an important job in China’s rice paddy fields. Ichthyologist Dr. Tyson Roberts has studied the eels and their impact on the fields and he says that they are “stirrers”, that mixes the soil and, by simple virtue of living and dying in the fields, they add important nutrients as well. Roberts says that these are some of the most important fish in the history of humanity for their ability to increase the yield of China’s rice paddies.

HOUR 2

– Even when scientists know about a particular species, they might know all of its secrets. David Gruber explains that the swell shark, know for its ability to bloat in self-defense, is also fluorescent. Gruber, an expert on fluorescent and bioluminescent marine creatures, or, as he explains, “I like glowy things.” Gruber is working to develop a “shark-eye” camera, to better understand what the world looks to a fluorescent shark as it navigates its blue-green world, 130 feet below the ocean’s surface.

– National Geographic Geographer Juan Valdes was just a child when Fidel Castro’s revolution changed the course of Cuba. But like any seven year old, Valdes wasn’t concerned about Castro, as he was about his family and his favorite toy train. When his parents put him on a flight to Miami as part of “Operation Peter Pan,” he lost track of the train. In an audio memoir, inspired by National Geographic’s new book Journeys Home, Valdes shares thoughts on his Cuban childhood, his transition to American life, and what it meant for him to return to his home country 40 years after his “Indefinite Voluntary Departure.”

– Hurricane Tomas hit Saint Lucia on October 29, 2010, flooding the small island nation and crushing its banana crop. This storm helped pave the way for more banana troubles on the island, allowing the fungal banana disease black sigatoka to take hold and further injure St. Lucia’s banana prospects. National Geographic grantee Caela O’Connell has been studying the methods and economic systems of banana farmers on St. Lucia and says that a large threat to St. Lucia’s banana crop also comes from the large corporate farms in other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean being able to undercut the island’s small crop producers. O’Connell also explains the different ways St. Lucians like to consume bananas as part of their national dish.

– Sea level rise will impact millions of low-lying cities around the world. Florida is one of the places that will be the most impacted by higher water. Laura Parker visited the state last fall during their “King Tide,” which is the highest high tide of the year. Despite the high waters, the state has its share of climate change deniers, including local politicians. Parker explains that because of the Ameriacn political system, elected officials are encouraged to have a shorter-term view, but there is growing support for action in South Florida. Parker’s article, “Treading Water,” appears in the February 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine.

– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd shares the story of sleeping in an igloo on Baffin Island, and the merits of learning how to say “Stop!” in the languages that your dogsled teams speak.