Arizona Science Desk

Reporting on science, technology and innovation in Arizona and the Southwest through a collaboration from Arizona NPR member stations. This project is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Additional stories from the Arizona Science Desk are posted at our collaborating station, KJZZ:

Bridgestone Americas

For decades, industries using rubber have looked for alternatives to supplement and back up their supply.  90% of natural rubber is from trees grown primarily in Southeast Asia.  Bridgestone Tires says a desert shrub could be the answer and they want to grow (and process) it in Southwest Arizona.  For the Arizona Science Desk, Maya Springhawk Robnett reports…

University of Arizona

What: Community discussion with a panel of experts on "Climate Change: What Might We See in Yuma in the Next 30 Years?"

When: Wednesday, April 20, 5:30-7 pm

Where: The Patio Restaurant and Bar at the Hills, 1245 W Desert Hill Drive

How much: FREE with cash bar and regular menu available

Scientists Test Wasp As A Tool Against Citrus Greening

Apr 15, 2016
Amanda Solliday - KAWC

The plant disease citrus greening has hit Florida hard. Growers in other citrus-producing states, like Arizona, see it as a warning.

Researchers in San Luis are collecting new data on a wasp that may help slow the spread of the disease.

The parasitic wasp Tamarixia radiata is so small, scientists can ship 200 of them in a vial about the size of a photo film canister.

Bobby Baker, a technician with the USDA, has received weekly shipments of the vials for more than a year.

Hospice of Yuma

Dr. Clevis Parker joined the nonprofit Hospice of Yuma two months ago. Parker moved to Yuma from Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he was the medical director overseeing hospice and palliative care for multiple hospitals.

KAWC’s Amanda Solliday talked to Dr. Parker about his experiences in hospice care during his 15-year medical career and his goals for the new role in Yuma.

Solliday: What excites you about being the new medical director of Hospice of Yuma?

Yuma Science Chat: Rare Earth Metals

Apr 8, 2016
Steve Hennig - KAWC

KAWC is starting a new initiative to reach out to local scientists and learn from members of the community. This is our first Yuma Science Chat.

Scott Donnelly, chemistry professor at Arizona Western College, joined Arizona Science Desk reporter Amanda Solliday to discuss rare earth metals. These metals are critical for modern society and not easily mined.

Solliday: I’m Amanda Solliday. I’m here with Scott Donnelly, chemistry professor at Arizona Western College.

Donnelly: Hello Amanda, thank for inviting me.

New Ideas Wanted For Keeping Birds Out Of Arizona Crops

Mar 28, 2016
Paula Rivadeneira, University of Arizona

A flock of birds can damage acres of fresh produce.

“Not only can they eat the produce or eat your seedlings or your seeds, but they also poop in the field. So there could also be fecal material left behind,” said Paula Rivadeneira, University of Arizona professor at the Yuma Agricultural Center. “And that’s a real, genuine concern for food safety.”

To keep birds away, growers have tried more than just scarecrows – including cannons, noises that mimic predators and even lasers. Nothing really works.

NASA Photos Show Record Low Wintertime Arctic Ice

Mar 25, 2016

The Arctic had an extremely warm winter this year, and the latest satellite images from NASA reveal the lowest levels of winter Arctic sea ice on record.

NASA scientist Walt Meier uses satellite images of Arctic sea ice in his research.

“It’s about two Texases less ice now than it used to be back in the late seventies,” Meier said.

Meier said it’s not just area – the ice is also about 40 to 50 percent thinner.

Blood Drives Canceled in Yuma County Over Zika Concerns

Mar 17, 2016
United Blood Services

Two blood drives have now been canceled in Yuma County due to Zika concerns - the first in San Luis last month and another scheduled at Arizona Western College next week. This is leading to donation shortages of certain blood types in southwestern Arizona.

iPads Connect Hospice Patients To Nurses

Mar 17, 2016
Kimberly Shea, University of Arizona

End-of-life care is a difficult time for both patients and their families. And if an individual is managing a terminal illness at home, it can also be hard to get prompt medical help. This is especially true in rural areas, where a hospital may be a long drive away.

A professor at the University of Arizona wants to provide hospice patients with better access to nurses.

Kimberly Shea was a hospice nurse for 15 years, providing at-home care to patients with only a short time left to live.

Julie Crawford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Dwindling groundwater, drought and climate change threaten the Huachuca water umbel. The federal government seeks comments on a recovery plan for the endangered plant found in southeastern Arizona.

The Huachuca water umbel grows in the shallow water of cienegas, rivers and streams. It can be found in only 17 locations in the United States and in some areas of Sonora, Mexico.

The plant was added to the endangered species list in 1997 and is protected under the Arizona Native Plant Law.

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

Arizona Western College is hosting the Southwest Ag Summit from Feb. 24-26. For KAWC, Amanda Solliday stopped by to see the field demonstrations.

University of Arizona professor Ed Franklin teaches agricultural education. He showed students at the ag summit how a solar cell can power a water pump.

“In agriculture, they can use it to provide lighting. We can use it to move water for irrigation," Franklin said. "But probably the biggest example that we can use, the best example for the kids, is pumping water from the ground.”

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt, where people hide an object and invite others to find it using the global positioning system, or GPS.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced Feb. 8 that the game will now be allowed on state trust lands.

If you’ve never been geocaching, then you’re a muggle.

2016 Yuma County Science Expo Winners

Feb 10, 2016
Alberto Urbierta - University of Arizona Yuma Learning Center

The 2016 Yuma County Science and Engineering Expo winners will be honored at a ceremony in Yuma High School’s Snider Auditorium on Feb. 17.

Elementary, middle school and high school students competed at the expo. The event was held Feb. 5 at Arizona Western College.

The projects covered a range of subjects including chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, environmental science, health and engineering.

The top three finalists in each category will receive awards. The ceremony begins at 6 pm.

Arizona Capitol Museum

Representatives from sixteen environmental organizations are meeting with state legislators Feb. 9 during the annual Environmental Day at the Capitol. The group will advocate for changes in Arizona’s water laws.

Organizer Sandy Bahr with the Sierra Club said environmental groups feel left out of Governor Ducey’s new Water Augmentation Council. Bahr would like to see more policy emphasis on the health of rivers, streams and lakes in Arizona.

Winter snow and rain are improving short-term drought conditions in some parts of the state, but have not yet changed Arizona’s long-term drought status.  

The long-term drought status compares recent precipitation and streamflow to a 40-year historical record. The latest update is based on data collected through the end of 2015.

Right now, streamflow is considered near normal in some parts of the state, and below average in others.

Bird Rarely Seen in U.S. Visits Yuma

Jan 27, 2016
Amanda Solliday - KAWC

A flame-colored songbird is drawing bird watchers to Yuma. The streak-backed oriole typically resides in Mexico and Central America and seldom is seen north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This particular oriole is hanging out in Riverside Park near downtown. Bird watchers first reported sightings around Christmas.

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

Many artists are inspired by the beauty of the desert Southwest, but Emily and Matthias Düwel also see something happening to that landscape. Their paintings reflect themes of environmental change and a call for sustainability.

When the Düwels moved from New York City to a small community near Tucson in 2004, this also marked a shift in their art.

Both were accustomed to painting man-made structures, settings busy with movement and night scenes full of artificial light.

Emily Düwel said the couple began searching for new sources of inspiration in rural Arizona.

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

The latest Conservation in the West Poll is a survey of 2,800 registered voters in seven Western states, including Arizona. The questions cover a range of environmental topics, including public lands, energy, and water.

Colorado College administered the poll in December 2015, in partnership with both Democratic and Republican opinion research firms. The results were released last week.

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

During the Yuma Agriculture Water Conference held Jan. 13, officials from the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation discussed water rights and supply for Yuma agriculture.

One of the key messages of the presentation: Yuma’s agricultural water rights are not threatened.

“Because of the priority of the water here, they are very secure in the water resources coming to Yuma, even in a shortage,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

UA Hosts Desert Produce Safety Conference

Jan 11, 2016

The University of Arizona is holding a food safety conference Jan. 11 in Yuma, with a focus on desert-grown produce.

The event will bring together more than 100 agriculture and food professionals, growers and other community members. Organizer and UA extension agent Paula Rivadeneira said the discussions will be tailored to regional concerns.

“We have a really interesting situation that we have produce growing in the desert. And so we have some things about our agriculture that are a little bit different from other places across the country," Rivadeneira said.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality

Frequent, intense storms, like those seen during strong El Niño conditions, mean less dust in the air statewide.

Eric Massey is the director of air quality for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. He said wind and precipitation have created almost “pristine” air conditions.

Four Elements Added To The Periodic Table

Jan 4, 2016
Brian Cantoni - Flickr

Chemistry students learning the periodic table this semester will encounter four new elements. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) announced the discoveries Dec. 30.

Elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 complete the seventh period, or bottom row, on the table.

Audubon Holds 116th Christmas Bird Count

Dec 21, 2015
Amanda Solliday - KAWC

For more than a century, the National Audubon Society has enlisted citizen scientists across the country and abroad for a holiday bird survey. This year’s count is Dec. 14 to Jan. 5.

On this chilly Saturday morning, the Yuma Audubon Society is focusing on a 15-mile circle around Mittry Lake.

Water from the Colorado River attracts birds to the area, as part of the Pacific Flyway – a major route for migratory birds.

courtesy Gowan Science Academy

Among the nearly 1200 Arizona elementary schools tested, fourth grade students at Yuma’s Gowan Science Academy earned the highest score on the science portion of the 2015 AIMS standardized exam.

Principal Jamie Haines attributed the success, in part, to the integrated way science is taught at the school.

“We take all of our subjects and intertwine them together, because we know that’s what makes the most sense for kids,” Haines said.

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

Dec. 17 marks the extended deadline for enrolling in a federally-administered Health Insurance Marketplace plan to receive coverage on Jan. 1.

Despite more consumers shopping for health insurance plans, those in Yuma County see fewer options available.

In Arizona, federal data show nearly 95,000 individuals selected plans as of Dec. 12 – days prior to the original deadline. This is already about 30 percent more than the number of plans selected by new and returning customers before last year’s deadline.

Engineers Test New Space Drill In California Rock Quarry

Dec 11, 2015
Amanda Solliday - KAWC

Planetary scientists intend to use a new type of drill to look for signs of life far beneath the surface of Mars. But before the drill can be used in space, engineers must first try it out in the most similar environments Earth can provide.

A California gypsum quarry is the first test site of the Planetary Deep Drill.

“Here, this gypsum is like 200 feet thick. So this deposit is massive,” said John Bowsher, quarry manager with the United States Gypsum Company (USG).

Francisco Zamora - Sonoran Institute, with aerial support from LightHawk

As the result of a binational agreement between the United States and Mexico, the Colorado River received a pulse flow of water in spring 2014 that once again connected the river to the Gulf of California.

Conservationist Sandra Postel’s continued work in the Colorado River delta will be profiled this weekend on the new National Geographic show “Breakthrough.”

Postel is the founder of the Global Water Policy Project. She first visited the Colorado River delta in 1996.

Tucson Bishop Shares Climate Change Message From Pope

Dec 7, 2015
Amanda Solliday - KAWC

As the United Nations conference in Paris continues, many are focused on climate change. This includes the Catholic Church.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson spoke in Yuma Dec. 6 about Pope Francis’s encyclical, or letter to the church entitled “Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home.”

Local Students Compete in Robotics Challenge

Dec 3, 2015

Teams of Yuma students and their robots will meet Dec. 5 at a tournament on the Arizona Western College campus.

Tournament director Shara Castro, an eighth grade teacher at St. Francis Catholic School, said the students have been preparing since August for the robot games.

Castro said the robotics challenge encourages students to think like engineers and scientists.

“Science, technology, math, engineering, all of those are included in what they have to do,” Castro said.

Yuma Botanists Collect Plants for Statewide Inventory

Nov 25, 2015
courtesy Karen Reichhardt

The Plant Atlas Project is an ongoing effort to catalogue Arizona’s native vegetation.

Upcoming winter rains will offer a window to collect some of the flowering plants needed for that inventory.

At first glance, the southwestern corner of Arizona might not seem like a great place to study plant life.