Science & Environment

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Try to find a hotel room in St. Joseph, Missouri a year from now, and you might be disappointed. On August 21, 2017, tens of thousands of visitors will have descended on the city to watch a remarkably rare event: a total solar eclipse.

St. Joseph falls in the small band in which the entirety of the sun will be blocked by the moon, causing the sky to go dark.

Eduard Solà / Wikimedia Commons

Seeing a planarian for the first time, you might not even know what you’re looking at. Brown, black, or white in color, these flatworms are about the size of a toenail clipping and have two light-sensing spots on their triangular-shaped heads that make them look cross-eyed. Their simple appearance, though, belies a surprising ability.

 

“You can take one of these animals and cut them into 18 fragments,” says Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, who does this for a living, “and each and every one of those fragments will go on to regenerate a complete animal.”

The year is 2091 and you have a business trip to make to Kansas City. You wake up in the morning, ask the speaker in your wall for a car to be brought to your door to take you there. A car arrives, no driver, naturally, and you set up camp in the back seat with your laptop to prepare for a big meeting. The car, dodging traffic reported along Forest Park Parkway, hops onto I-70 and into a line of other driver-less cars along a solar-paneled highway.

Echo Bluff State Park is officially open.

Gov. Jay Nixon cut the ribbon Saturday on Missouri's newest park, which is being promoted as a hub from which visitors can explore the state's Ozark region.

Courtesy U2D, Inc.

A device that could improve homeland security, help the military and protect workers in nuclear facilities and hospitals has won a coveted award for a team led by a UMKC professor.

Physics professor Anthony Caruso led a team of 20 student researchers plus researchers at MU-Columbia and Kansas State University and two private companies in taking the product from concept through prototype to production.

Americasroof / Wikimedia--CC

The Mid-America Regional Council, or MARC, releases a Skycast each day with a forecast of ozone air quality. The third orange ozone alert in 2016 for the Kansas City area was issued for Thursday. It recommended "limiting prolonged outdoor exertion" by children and adults, especially those with respiratory issues, such as asthma. 

In recent years, ozone alerts haven't been issued until July, says Amanda Graor, MARC's air quality program manager.

Rex Archer and Alex Garza
Brian Ellison / KCUR 89.3

The greatest threat to public health in the face of bioterrorism, viral pandemics and natural disasters may actually be less of a headline-grabber: An insufficient budget.

Speaking on KCUR’s Up to Date on Friday, the former chief medical officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that while various programs are in place to protect against biological weapons and disease outbreaks, the system could still break down at the state and local level.

Courtesy of KCP&L

Kansas City Power and Light has agreed to buy wind energy from two plants now under construction in northwest Missouri.

NextEra Energy Resources is building its Osborn wind farm east of St. Joseph. It’s expected to be up and running by the end of the year and provide 200 megawatts of energy. A little further north, Tradewind Energy plans to complete the 300 megawatt Rock Creak wind farm near Tarkio, Missouri by September 2017.

ROY ANDERSON / OKLAHOMA FORESTRY SERVICES/ OKLAHOMA HIGHWAY PATROL

UPDATED, 10:20 a.m.:  A massive wildfire still rages in south-central Kansas, though authorities on the scene  indicate much of the blaze is coming under control. 

Active fires are still burning in Harper and Barber Counties in Kansas. The AP also reported Thursday emergency responders were called back out to Comanche County after a fire that was contained Wednesday night briefly reignited Thursday morning. 

Elle Moxley / KCUR

KC Water officials say a rigorous testing protocol should keep what happened in Flint, Michigan, from happening here.

“We’re trying to make sure the water is the best we can get out of here,” says plant manager Mike Klender. “We live in the city. We drink our water.”

The ongoing crisis in Flint began when the city switched to a new water source, but Kansas City is still pumping from the source it’s relied on for 80 years: the Missouri River.

CREDIT JOESPH NOVAK / FLICKR--CC

You may take it for granted, but electricity gets to your outlets through wires that originate all the way back to the source.

Now, if that’s a solar panel on your roof, it’s not very far. But when it comes to wind, power is generated a long way from where it’s used — often crossing hundreds of miles, numerous personal property lines and, increasingly, state boundaries.

Building new high-voltage lines across all those jurisdictions is now the biggest obstacle to the growth of wind energy.

KCUR 89.3

An anticipated winter storm moved through the Kansas City metro Tuesday, bringing snow and ice in the early afternoon with the possibility of continuing snowfall throughout the evening commute.

Many schools and churches canceled evening activities or let students out early. Here is a list of those closures from The Kansas City Star.

Amanda Gehin / Missouri Department of Conservation

A hard freeze is bad for most flowers, but a patch of prairie in midtown Kansas City has seen so-called “frost flowers” in full bloom this winter.

Frost flowers aren’t really flowers at all. They are ribbons of ice twirling out from the stalks of some plants including the white crownbeard, a wildflower flower native to Missouri and Kansas.

X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Missouri/M.Brodwin et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: JPL/CalTech

A team of astronomers led by a UMKC professor have nailed down more particulars about the most distant massive galaxy cluster ever discovered.

Galaxy cluster IDCS J1426.5+3508 was first formally discovered in 2012, though UMKC associate professor Dr. Mark Brodwin and astronomers from around the country have worked on projects since 2007 that led up to it.

Heavy rainfall and swollen rivers have caused major flooding in Missouri and southern Illinois, leading to voluntary evacuations and road closures. The governors of both states have declared a state of emergency, and water levels on the Mississippi River shattered records. While this story is still developing, here are the main things you need to know about the recent floods.

At least 10 people were confirmed dead after a winter storm moved across Missouri Monday. Most of them drowned after driving along submerged roads.

Flood waters continued to submerge roads and lowlands across Missouri late Monday, including major highways. Portions of Interstate 44 were closed near Rolla and Fort Leonard Wood. I-70 eastbound was also closed in St. Charles County. 

Despite declaring a state of emergency on Sunday, Gov. Jay Nixon has no plans so far to activate the Missouri National Guard.

Cody Newill / KCUR

Around 100 activists didn't let cold rain dissuade them from marching through the Country Club Plaza Sunday to voice their support for more strict environmental regulations before the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris.

The group, organized by environmental advocacy groups 350KC and the KC Climate Coalition, wove through the Plaza chanting, "Turn on clean energy, turn off fossil fuels." They were part of the Global Climate March, which encompassed more than 2,000 events in 175 countries over the weekend.

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR 89.3

Finding a fossil in Kansas City can be as easy as going to the park or checking around your basement.

"Both Kansas and Missouri have great fossil deposits," Bruce Lieberman told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

"They represent, in some respects, different time periods, especially if you get further east into Missouri, east of the Kansas City metro," he said.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

Engineering firm Burns & McDonnell has received Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly drones for commercial use.

The Kansas City-based company celebrated the new certification with a test flight Wednesday over the new campus being built in south Kansas City.

Steve Santovasi says using unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to complete inspections presents a significant time savings over having to obtain permits to bring in heavy equipment.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stopped in Kansas City Monday to address the Congress of the International Association of Agricultural Production Insurers, a global group of farm insurers.

Though Vilsack was mostly there to explain U.S. crop insurance subsidies to the largely European audience – elsewhere, direct payments to farmers remain more common – he also touched on consumer pushback against genetically-modified crops.

The Kansas Corporation Commission has approved a rate increase of 9 percent for customers of Kansas City Power & Light. The increase was a compromise allowing the electricity company to collect an additional $48 million per year from its 250,000 Kansas electricity customers.

KCP&L says the increase pays for power plant upgrades and means a cleaner, more reliable electric system.

KCC Commissioner Pat Apple voted against the proposal. He says Kansas customers of KCP&L consistently have to pay more for electricity than customers on the Missouri side of the border.

Courtesy Photo / KC STEM Alliance

The White House has made it a point to urge girls to get involved in math, science and engineering.

In 2013, President Obama said, "We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent … not being encouraged the way they need to.” 

Despite that, KC STEM Alliance director Laura Loyacono says that females are actually a shrinking percentage of the computer science workforce.

Wikimedia Commons

The Kansas Department of Agriculture's Division of Animal Health is warning Kansas residents about an uptick in rabies infections this year.

As of July 1, there have been 69 positive cases of rabies in the state, 13 of which have been in domestic animals. In 2014, there were 69 cases for the entire year. 

Kansas Animal Health Commissioner Bill Brown says that the increase is part of a natural cycle. He says rabies cases typically surge every few years, and this year's hot temperatures and wet weather could be spurring more animal activity — and more chances for infection.

Cody Newill / KCUR

A group of Web developers from across the globe gathered in Lawrence's Liberty Hall over the weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Django," a Web application framework with Kansas roots.

In 2005, Web developers at the Lawrence Journal World created Django to help journalists put stories on the Web quickly. Now, it's used in a wide variety of websites and apps, such as Instagram, Pinterest and the Washington Times. 

Elle Moxley / KCUR

Wall clouds were reported across the Kansas City metro Wednesday night, including some reports of rotation and even brief touch downs in eastern Jackson County and Cass County.

Trained spotters and residents reported a tornado in Lee's Summit and one in Pleasant Hill. There were reports of some damage, and as of 8:11 p.m., more than 10,000 Kansas City Power & Light customers were without power. 

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Update, 8:04 a.m., Saturday

At the moment, Westar Energy isn't reporting any outages in Wyandotte or Johnson counties. Independence Power & Light reports 3,798 customers without power. The Kansas City Board of Public Utilities reports 9,873.

Kansas City Power & Light reports 22,447 outages in Jackson County and 2,333 in Johnson County.

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At around 2 a.m. on Friday, a storm with winds up to 80 mph rolled through the Kansas City metro area, taking down trees and power lines.

Alyson Raletz / KCUR

Abby Cornelius, a homeowner in Martin City, Missouri, sees them everywhere.

They're in the grass, crouching on leaves, swimming in the dog bowl, and hanging out on the grill — dead or alive.

Last Sunday, she noticed her newly cleaned gutters were suspiciously clogged.

“I crawled out the window to take a look and had to scoop dead cicadas out of them,” she said in an email. “The shells will probably have to be power washed off the house."

The cicadas that have invaded Cornelius’ yard are periodical cicadas. They live just a few feet underground for the majority of their lives and emerge in great numbers every 17 years to reproduce.

Last seen in 1998, the 17-year Brood IV, or Kansan Brood, broke ground this summer in the Kansas City area, reportedly hugging trees and covering tires in some neighborhoods.

Martin Cathrae / Flickr-CC

During the summer months in Kansas City, it's common for the sweet scent of fresh-cut grass to waft through the muggy air.

And while that smell might be pleasing to some of us humans, two University of Missouri researchers say the newly shorn grass blades are none too pleased about it.

Reveal

KCUR's new investigative show, Reveal, this weekend explores energy production in the United States.

Airing Sunday at 7 p.m., Reveal will look at how fracking has opened new realms of oil and gas production – and we’ll examine some of the complex consequences of so-called energy independence.

The recent oil boom in North Dakota – driven by hydraulic fracturing and advances in technology – is a big reason why the United States is now the world’s leader in combined oil and natural gas production.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR

It's that time of year. Flowers are blooming, the grass is green, and the sweet scent of honeysuckle wafts in the warm summer air.

Honeysuckle’s fragrance however, may be the only sweet thing about it. According to conservationists in Kansas and Missouri, Asian Bush Honeysuckle is the most visible and environmentally destabilizing invasive species in the metro area.

Larry Rizzo, a natural history biologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation, says that there is a difference between invasive and exotic species, and the two are not necessarily exclusive. 

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