Science & Environment

Science news

The launch of the James Caird from Elephant Island on April 24, 1916.
Frank Hurley / State Library of New South Wales

One hundred years ago this week, Sir Ernest Shackleton and five members of his crew were in a jury-rigged 23-foot lifeboat named the James Caird, sailing across some of the most treacherous ocean in the world (the Drake Passage between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula is notorious for hurricane force winds and ninety foot waves) near peak storm season. Ironically, they weren't waiting to be rescued. They were the rescue mission.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The tools of archeology used to be simple: shovels, picks, brushes. Sure, those are still an essential part of the toolbox. But today’s archeologists are also using everything from underwater jet packs to infrared satellite imaging to probe more deeply into our collective past.

What do we get for all this technology?

Nothing less than the very thing that makes us human, argues Brendan Foley, an underwater archeologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

"Is it a return on investment? Is it our stock portfolio?" he asks.

Daniel Piraino / flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Muskeget Island is a small, sandy island that sits about halfway between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. It’s currently home to the largest population of grey seals in New England. But that’s a relatively new thing. Over the past century, the island has been reshaped – quite literally – by the forces of erosion and sea level rise, but also by human activity.

Nauset Lighthouse Charter School students search for coyote scat.
Peter Trull

Conservation biologist Austin Gallagher wants to know how much stress coyotes on Cape Cod are feeling, and whether it's worse when they're in densely populated areas than when they’re out in more natural settings. Middle school students at the Nauset Lighthouse Charter School in Orleans are collecting samples for the research, and I've been invited to tag along. And that is how I've ended up spending a windy, early spring afternoon combing the back side of the dunes at Nauset Beach for coyote poop, or scat, as it's more formally known.

Wiki Commons

Tiny, thin-shelled oysters; crumbling coral reefs; fish unable to make sense of odors; decimated plankton populations. Those are some of the nightmare scenarios conjured by the prospect of a rapidly acidifying ocean caused by unchecked carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning.

Center for Coastal Studies

Periodically through the late winter we have been updating you on the return of right whales to Cape Cod Bay. This past week marked a big increase in sightings of the rare mammals in our waters, along with the season's first calf. 

batwrangler / fickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Recently, one of our more flamboyant seasonal residents has been performing at a variety of obscure local venues, venues that you might describe as off-off-off Broadway. Performances generally take the form of a one man show, and they only work nights, so don’t even think about catching a matinee.

E. Eldredge /

You've probably heard of the Slow Food movement, but you may not have heard of Slow Fish. It’s an international gathering that happens once a year, focusing on promoting a sustainable, non-industrial approach to bringing fish from sea to table.

Tim Miller / flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We like to think we’re in charge of our health, but it increasingly looks like the ones really running the show are the microbes in, on, and around us -  and not just the ones that cause diseases. Bacteria and other microbes on our skin and in our intestines far outnumber our actual human cells, and are responsible for a large fraction of what our bodies do - from digestion to mental health.

The biggest and fastest whale typically in Cape Cod waters is not one you hear talked about often. It's not the humpback, and not the right whale, our high-profile species. It's the fin whale.