I am an award-winning science writer and editor with more than a decade of experience covering a wide breadth of science, from astronomy to zoology. My blog, Wild Things, appears at Science News, and my work has been published in a variety of other outlets, including Slate, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Science, Science News, National Geographic News and NPR.org.
A bit over 200 years ago, the Tambora volcano in Indonesia erupted in the greatest cataclysm in the last 10,000 years. It spewed so much ash and gook into the air, and it stayed there so long, there was essentially no summer the next winter. But the tendrils of that eruption lasted far longer than that. Read my anniversary story at Smithsonian: 200 Years After Tambora, Some Unusual Effects Linger.
In August, Toledo residents woke up to warnings that they shouldn’t drink the water coming out of their tap. A toxin was in the water, the result of an algal bloom in Lake Erie.
In the days after the incident, I started talking with my editor at Science News for Students about how Toledo was just one in a series of incidents around the country that had left people without clean water. I ended up writing a feature, “Will water woes leave Americans thirsty?,” that tried to tally up some of those incidents, as well as longer-standing problems and what, if anything, is being done to address them.
Plenty of people have dreams of buying that second home right on the water. And a few recent home shows have capitalized on such dreams. But should you actually pursue that desire and invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a property just steps from the ocean? No, I argue in Slate; climate change is raising sea levels, and what’s next to the water today may be in the sea not too far in the future. Read more in my story: “Do Not Buy Oceanfront Property.”
That’s the question that I asked in my cover story for the July 26 issue of Science News (now online). And it was a question that became far more complicated that I thought it would. That’s because if a species is going to deal with climate change, it’s got several ways to do so. It can migrate to a new place, if it can find a path and has a spot where it can move to. It can genetically adapt, but to do so fast enough some members of its species must already carry the appropriate genes. Or it can be flexible in behavior or other traits and buy itself some time to do one, or both, of the first two.
The thing is, though, that while some species may be able to use a combination of all three of these options, many won’t. Extinctions are inevitable. And then it will be up to us to decide which species we can and should help. Just another reminder that the future of climate change is completely in our hands.
Last fall, I visited the Jurassic Coast in southeast England to go fossil hunting with a friend. After a week of scouring beaches in Lyme Regis and nearby towns, we left with piles of fossils. We found nothing that would be worthy of a museum, but they were special because we found them.
Fossil hunting can be great fun, especially for kids. Inspired by my trip, I wrote a story for Science News for Students (the online publication for which I am an editor) about children who have found amazing fossils and adult paleontologists who were inspired by fossil hunting when they were young.
And I encourage anyone who likes the outdoors to give fossil hunting a try (check out the story for recommendations of places to try out, but be sure to learn the rules first). It was a lot of fun, even in the chilly rain of an English autumn. And, as Nicholas Pyenson of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History told me: “Any day someone can make an observation that changes everything.”
This week I got to go behind the scenes at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to visit forensic anthropologist Doug Owsley. Dr. Owsley and his colleagues had been called in by Congressional Cemetery to deal with the bones in a vault that was being restored. After more than 150 years and at least one bout of vandalism, the remains in the Causten Vault were a mess. But by the time I arrived in Owsley’s lab, though, he and his team had painstakingly sorted the bones, identified the remains (all but one individual–a baby in a metal coffin) and packed them carefully, ready for re-internment. Read more about Owsley, the Caustens and Congressional Cemetery in my story for Smithsonian.com.
Yesterday, I wrote a story for National Geographic‘s website about a new study regarding bullying. The researchers had looked at a biomarker for stress, C-reactive protein, and found that young adults who had been bullies when younger had lower levels of CRP than anyone else. So do bullies get health benefits from their malicious actions? Maybe not, scientists told me. While CRP can be a harbinger of bad things, such as metabolic disease, the differences in CRP levels may instead reflect something in the underlying biology of people who become bullies rather than better health. Maybe bullies really are just different from the rest of us.
Earlier this year, I took a trip to North Carolina with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources to learn about various environmental issues. While in the Outer Banks, in the middle of a Nor’easter, with the winds blowing and the sea washing homes into the ocean right before our eyes, I considered how the current human population is–or isn’t–dealing with the problem of sea level rise. That made me think about how past populations may have dealt with the problem thousands of years ago, when the Ice Age was retreating and glaciers were melting, and led me to the field of geomythology and the story “Ten Ancient Stories and the Geological Events That May Have Inspired Them”:
Myths have fed the imaginations and souls of humans for thousands of years. The vast majority of these tales are just stories people have handed down through the ages. But a few have roots in real geological events of the past, providing warning of potential dangers and speaking to the awe we hold for the might of the planet.
Find out about the science behind Noah’s Ark, the giant catfish that shakes Japan and exploding lakes in Africa at Smithsonian.com.