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:

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

A congressional hearing held Nov. 18 examined a bill to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund was first established in 1965 to support conservation and outdoor recreation programs. It lapsed in September without legislative action.

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

More than 150 lettuce growers and researchers are gathering this week in Yuma to discuss a soil-borne fungal disease that damages lettuce crops in the United States and abroad.

The international conference is hosted by the University of Arizona’s Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture.

Mike Matheron is a plant pathologist and professor at the University of Arizona. Matheron is leading a field test to see which varieties of lettuce withstand the disease.

Arizona Town Hall Begins Next Week, With A Focus On Water

Nov 13, 2015

Water issues fill the agenda for the Arizona Town Hall meeting in Mesa Nov. 15-18.

The meeting is a statewide effort to draft a report addressing water resources in the state, including recommendations for future use.

Arizona Town Hall participants will collectively address questions such as “How well has Arizona managed the use of water?” and “What actions would have the most beneficial impact on Arizona’s water needs?”

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

Although extreme heat can be dangerous for everyone, it also creates another form of social inequality. For the Arizona Science Desk, Amanda Solliday takes a closer look at how low-income residents in the desert Southwest struggle to find heat relief.

Injury and illness led Victor to Crossroads Mission – a group of tidy, mismatched buildings that serves as a homeless shelter in Yuma.

He couldn’t return to work in the lettuce fields or packing produce. His family has been homeless, off and on, for the past couple years.

USDA Awards Science Education Grant To AWC

Oct 30, 2015
Craig Fry - AWC

Arizona Western College (AWC) received a $250,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for agricultural science education.

AWC is one of 30 Hispanic-serving colleges and universities selected nationally.  The USDA announced the grant recipients Oct 20.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Oct 21. that 2015 may be the hottest year on record. Global temperatures are record highs for seven months of the year to-date.

In Arizona, the daily high temperatures in 2015 have been warm, so far ranking in the top ten hottest years since 1895. But the state is experiencing a more drastic shift in nighttime temperatures.

KAWC's Amanda Solliday Reports From ScienceWriters2015

Oct 14, 2015

Arizona Science Desk reporter Amanda Solliday received a CASW New Horizons travel fellowship to attend ScienceWriters2015. The gathering was hosted by MIT from Oct. 9-13, 2015.

She joined more than 800 other science journalists, writers and public information officers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to spend a weekend focusing on science communication.

See her live tweets from the conference below.

University of Arizona

Reporter Blake Herzog recently wrote an article for the Yuma Sun about media coverage of agriculture, after she attended a town hall forum that focused on water in southwestern Arizona.

Herzog sat down with KAWC's science reporter, Amanda Solliday, to discuss her article.

Solliday: Hi, Blake.

Herzog: Hi, thanks for having me, Amanda.

courtesy of NOAA Regional Climate Centers

The late monsoon rains in September brought short-term drought relief for southeastern Arizona, but scattered heavy rain events meant little recovery for the rest of the state, according to the latest report from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

A technical committee updates Arizona drought status each week. Nancy Selover is the state climatologist and chairs the committee.

She said this year’s monsoon was patchy compared to the more geographically uniform rain last year.

George Andrejko - Arizona Game and Fish Department

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Oct. 5 that the Sonoran desert tortoise will not be added to the Endangered Species list.

In the United States, the iconic Sonoran desert tortoise is only found in Arizona.

courtesy of Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area

A conservation fund that has provided money since 1965 for national parks and forests, as well as state and local outdoor recreation sites, faces an uncertain fate.

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

More than 100 members of the Yuma community will collectively write a report about water use in southwestern Arizona.

At a town hall meeting held at the Yuma Main Library Sept. 25, community representatives from water organizations, agriculture, health care, military, businesses, and students met to give perspectives about water needs in the area.

The group brainstormed ideas for future water use, given drought conditions and demands from agriculture and population increases in the region.

Arizona Science Desk

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Sept. 22 settlements with an Arizona fertilizer and crop protection retailer and its affiliate company in California.

The companies will pay more than $130,000 in fines for improper distribution and use of pesticides.

The EPA fined Fertizona and Compton Ag Services for violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, a law that regulates pesticide sales and use in the United States.

Amanda Solliday-KAWC

Fusarium wilt - a lettuce disease caused by a soil-dwelling fungus - is becoming a more common problem in fields. The disease causes lettuce to droop and turn brown, making it unsuitable for sale.

Typically, when lettuce wilt appears, the grower would then rotate to another crop like broccoli or cauliflower. But one farmer in Yuma dedicated three acres of his troubled field to research led by the University of Arizona.

University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Fifty farms in Arizona grow more than $4.5 million in vegetable seeds, according to the latest statistics from the US Department of Agriculture.

Coordinating where those crops are grown requires some careful planning and a little distance.

To grow vegetable seeds, fields with similar crop varieties or even plants within the same family need to be spaced at least two miles apart. This is called the isolation distance.  

National Weather Service-Phoenix

The National Weather Service relies on trained citizens to collect data during heavy rainfall, such as the record-setting storms seen in southwestern Arizona Tuesday.

A Somerton resident’s rain gauge collected more water during Tuesday’s storms than the area sees on average during an entire year.

Moisture from Hurricane Linda – now off the coast of Baja California – created what’s called a gulf surge. In the middle of the resulting severe storms in southwestern Arizona, a resident trained by the National Weather Service collected 4.6 inches in her rain gauge.

Amanda Solliday - KAWC

Blythe, California will soon become home to a 485-megawatt photovoltaic facility. The desert town of 20,000 people sits just west of the Colorado River, across from the Arizona border.

The Renewable Resources Group, an asset management firm, will oversee the building process.

The solar farm will sit on roughly five square miles of private land and supply energy to an estimated 145,000 homes in southern California.


NASA tested the parachute system of the Orion spacecraft using a mock capsule at the Yuma Proving Ground on Aug. 26, 2015. The 11-parachute system will slow the vehicle during the last phase of descent after a mission, ensuring astronauts can land safely.

Read more about the test here:

NASA Orion Mission One Step Closer To Manned Flight

Aug 26, 2015
Amanda Solliday - KAWC

Before mankind takes that giant leap to Mars, there are a lot of smaller steps men and women are taking here on Earth to prepare for the mission.

To test the Orion spacecraft's landing parachutes, the crew dropped a model of the capsule from 35,000 feet above the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground on August 26.

This remote part of the Sonoran Desert is a perfect place for a spacecraft test. You can usually count on a few things like no rain, few clouds and an isolated place to land.

Amanda Solliday-KAWC

Eight new cases of citrus greening have popped up in the past month near Los Angeles, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The tree-killing disease is also damaging groves in Florida and Texas, but has yet to appear in Arizona.

As Amanda Solliday reports from the Arizona Science Desk, researchers want to know if climates like Arizona’s offer citrus trees some natural protections against greening.

: The Wilderness Society

The Wilderness Society has published a searchable map where you can find parks and recreational areas that are supported by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), including nearly 40 Arizona sites.

The map also gives information about funding by project and county.

NASA Releases New Data on California’s ‘Rain Debt’

Jul 30, 2015
NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

A new NASA study examines 36 years of precipitation patterns in California.

Researchers are using this information to learn more about the current drought and how much precipitation it would take to quench a thirsty state.

How Biologists Plan To Save Endangered Sonoran Pronghorn

Jul 29, 2015
Arizona Game and Fish Department

Pronghorn once roamed North America by the millions, but human activity fragmented the species into four distinctive types, one of which makes its home in the desert Southwest.

The Sonoran pronghorn is light, fast and adapted for life in the desert, but just over a decade ago they were all but wiped out due to a severe drought. Now, efforts to help the endangered animal make a comeback are proving successful.

Amanda Solliday-KAWC

Engineers classified I-10 bridge that washed out in California Sunday as “functionally obsolete.” But what does that really mean?

The Federal Highway Administration defines functionally obsolete as “does not meet current design standards (for criteria such as lane width), either because the volume of traffic carried by the bridge exceeds the level anticipated when the bridge was constructed and/or the relevant design standards have been revised.”

Invasive Palm Weevil Spotted In Arizona

Jul 20, 2015
Pest and Diseases Image Library,

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced the first confirmed sighting in Arizona of an insect pest that can damage and kill palms.

Amateur Astronomers Key To Mapping Kuiper Belt

Jul 18, 2015
Amanda Solliday-KAWC

As the New Horizons spacecraft moves beyond Pluto and scientists begin to sift through the data of the historic flyby on Tuesday, a group of citizen scientists is also taking a look at the solar system’s frontier. 

Coordinated by one of the New Horizons team members, amateur astronomers are focused on the Kuiper Belt, a band of frozen objects on the very outskirts of the solar system.

Wilting Disease Threatens Arizona's Lettuce Crop

Jul 17, 2015
Michael Matheron, University of Arizona

Growers in Arizona and around the world are concerned with the spread of a wilting disease present in soil that can damage lettuce.

In response, researchers and lettuce farmers are gathering in Yuma this fall to brainstorm ways to protect one of the region’s important crops.

Lettuce wilt looks as you might imagine — the fungus makes plants look dry and brown. The disease can kill the plant, too, if infected early — causing whole fields to be destroyed.

Yuma Ag Center, Visitors Bureau Win Tourism Award

Jul 2, 2015
Yuma Visitors Bureau

A recent change to Yuma’s Lettuce Days exposes thousands of visitors to ongoing research at a university farm. That effort has now been recognized with a statewide tourism award.

Amanda Solliday-KAWC

Outdoor recreation supporters are concerned the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in September 2015 without Congressional action.

For 50 years, the fund has helped pay for everything from national recreational areas to neighborhood parks, including the Yuma Riverfront Gateway Park, Lake Havasu State Park, the Grand Canyon and many others.

Shift In Javelina Territory Causes Problems For Farmers

Jun 23, 2015
Arizona Game and Fish Department

Javelina seen near Yuma have captured the attention of the Arizona Game and Fish Department and local farmers. The wild pig-like species is usually seen farther east or south.

Two javelina — also known as collared peccaries — were spotted last September running through the streets of a subdivision in the eastern Foothills of Yuma. A resident took a video of the pair, and that video found its way to Chris Bedinger’s inbox, a public information officer with Arizona Game and Fish.