Living Underwater For 100 Days, Refineries’ Excess Emissions, Owl Facts. June 9, 2023, Part 2
In the early hours of August 22, 2020, Hurricane Laura was still just a tropical storm off the coast of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. But effects from the monstrous storm, which would ultimately take at least 81 lives, were already being felt on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
As rain poured down on the Sweeney refinery in Old Ocean, Texas, that afternoon, two processing units failed, releasing nearly 1,400 pounds of sulfur dioxide, which can cause trouble breathing, and other chemicals.
Over the next few days, Laura siphoned up moisture from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and transformed into a Category 1 hurricane.
In Texas, chemical plants began shutting down, hurriedly burning off unprocessed chemicals and releasing vast amounts of pollution in anticipation of the storm making landfall. On August 24, Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery released 36,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other noxious pollutants.
The next morning, Motiva began purging chemicals its plant had been processing, emitting nearly 48,000 pounds of carbon monoxide and propylene, among other pollutants. The following day, a Phillips 66 refinery in southwest Louisiana shut down, releasing more than 1,900 pounds of sulfur dioxide.
Then, as gale-force winds swept through coastal communities and the relentless rain poured down, the chemical facilities increasingly malfunctioned.
A Scientist’s Catalog Of 100 Days Under The Sea
In February, Dr. Joe Dituri put on his scuba gear, dove 30 feet below the surface, and entered a 100-square-foot underwater lodge. This former US Navy diving officer didn’t come up again for air until June 9, spending 100 days underwater. And even before the end of his stay, he broke the record for living underwater.
He did all of this in the name of science—to understand how the human body handles long-term exposure to pressure. This mission is called Project Neptune 100, and because those 100 days are finally up, we’re taking a deep dive into the underwater habitat to hear what is to be learned from so many days below the waves. We recorded this interview with Dituri on Day #94 with a live virtual audience, whom you’ll hear from later.
Ira talks with Dr. Deep Sea, aka Dr. Joe Dituri, a biomedical engineer and associate professor at the University of South Florida, and Dr. Sarah Spelsberg, wilderness emergency specialist and the medical lead for Project Neptune 100 coming to us from the Maldives.
Unmasking Owls’ Mysteries
Don’t let owls’ cute faces fool you—they’re deadly predators. This duality is part of what makes them so mysterious to humans. And their contradictions don’t end there: Their hoots are among the most distinctive bird sounds, yet owls are nearly silent when gliding through the air to catch their prey.
Scientists are learning more about why owls are such good predators—how their hearing and night vision are so sharp, and their flight so silent. With new technology, researchers are also decoding owl communications, increasing our understanding of their social structures and mating habits.
John Dankosky talks about all things owls with Jennifer Ackerman, author of the new book, What An Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds.
To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.
Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.