On Board ‘The Waterpod’

  • The pod docked at the Worlds Fair Marina in Queens. (Photo by Samara Freemark)

So, maybe you think you do good
by the environment. Maybe you buy
local, maybe you go to the farmers’
market, maybe you even walk to work.
But you’ve probably got nothing on
the crew aboard the Waterpod – a
converted barge anchored in New York
City. Samara Freemark
went to the Pod to see just how
sustainably people can live:

Transcript

So, maybe you think you do good
by the environment. Maybe you buy
local, maybe you go to the farmers’
market, maybe you even walk to work.
But you’ve probably got nothing on
the crew aboard the Waterpod – a
converted barge anchored in New York
City. Samara Freemark
went to the Pod to see just how
sustainably people can live:

When I caught up with the Waterpod barge, it was docked at a marina right next to
Laguardia Airport.

(sound of a plane)

That’s the sound of people and products moving all around the world.

But on board the Waterpod, four artists have spent the summer living locally – about as
locally as a group of people can possibly live. They’ve been surviving almost entirely on
what they can make, grow, or gather on a 3000 square foot barge.

Which is where I found artist and Waterpod creator Mary Mattingly.

“Hi.”

Last spring, Mattingly and some friends rented the barge and spent a month converting it.
They built a kitchen, 4 bedrooms, gardens, and a whole lot of alternative energy and
water systems. They wanted to see whether they could create a floating self-contained
ecosystem – one that could adapt to a future where resources were scarce and rising sea
levels had swamped coastal regions.

“We’re probably going to need to find new ways to make land that’s usable. So can you
just recreate it on a platform like this? So what’s the answer? I think so.”

Waterpod launched in June. It’s been traveling to docks in the New York City area since
then. The barge is towed around by tugboats – not exactly a sustainable energy source,
true, but the crew does pretty well producing just about everything else.”

We have 33 vegetables and 2 fruits. In this garden we’re growing kale, potatoes,
tomatoes.”

There’s also a coop for 4 chickens, which each produce an egg a day.

“Their names are Gilly, Rizzo, Marble and Bonzai.”

Between the chickens and the gardens, Mattingly says Waterpod is almost self-sufficient
for food. The barge gets its water from collected and purified rain.

“We get enough water barely. We are very close to not having enough water. We only
use a 55 gallon jug of water a day. So split between four people that’s about maybe 10
gallons a day at the most. So we’re taking really short showers.”

Solar panels and a power-generating stationary bike provide energy – enough to power
the lights and the fridge and an impressive collection of laptop computers. The crew uses
those to collect and analyze data on how their various survival systems are functioning.

Crew member Ian Daniels says the data could eventually be used not just by people
embarking on radical living experiments – but also by regular folks who just want to
make their homes a little more sustainable.

“We have 3000 square feet here. So what would happen if you cut that in half? Or a
third? What can I use that space for? Maybe you’re growing food on your roof or in your
window. Maybe you just take this example and take it down a notch, just do what’s
plausible in your own world.”

The Waterpod experiment is ending. So, I asked the crew for the biggest lesson they
learned this summer about living sustainably. Was it about energy conservation? Or, a
new method for collecting rainwater? Actually, Mattingly told me, it was mostly about
getting along with other people.

“I guess I didn’t really consider what it would be like to live in such a small space for
such a long time with other people and the psychology of that became a really interesting
part of the day to day life, and how we managed to make that work and how we would
have to have that dinner every night to reconnect and get back together.”

Which, she says, is a lesson that translates pretty well back on land.

For The Environment Report, I’m Samara Freemark.

Related Links

Continuing Success for Migrating Whoopers

  • Whooping cranes are being successfully trained to migrate in the Midwest. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

An experimental flock of whooping cranes is starting to head back to the Midwest. Three birds died while down South over the winter. But later this year, the migrating cranes may start creating their own little replacements. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

An experimental flock of whooping cranes is starting to
head back to the Midwest. Three birds died while down South over
the winter. But later this year, the migrating cranes may start creating
their own little replacements. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Chuck Quirmbach reports:


At least eight whooping cranes have either died or been injured
during the experiment to create a migrating flock of whoopers in the
eastern U.S. But Rachel Levin of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
argues despite the losses, the experiment is going well.


“After 4 years of ultralight led journeys with whooping cranes, we have 45 wild
cranes now where just ten years ago east of the Mississippi we
had no wild whooping cranes.”


However the crane experiment remains unpredictable. Some of the
cranes may not come back to Wisconsin where they received their
migration training behind ultralight aircraft. Last summer, several of the
birds wound up in Michigan. Also some of the cranes may now be
sexually mature and scientists are eager to see if the migrating birds
produce their first offspring.


For the GLRC, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Outdoor Lab Forecasts Global Warming Effects

  • Mark Kubiske checks the valve that controls the flow of greenhouse gases to a stand of sugar maples, birch and aspen. (Photo by Jennifer Simonson)

Scientists from around the world are studying how higher levels of carbon dioxide will affect forests 100 years from now. They’re doing that by pumping higher levels of CO2 and ozone into stands of trees. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson visited the experimental forests and has this story:

Transcript

Scientists from around the world are studying how higher levels of carbon dioxide will affect forests 100 years from now. They’re doing that by pumping higher levels of CO2 and ozone into stands of trees. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson visited the experimental forests and has this story:


(sound of “quiet area”)


The north woods of the Great Lakes states are stands of millions of acres of pine, maple, birch, and aspen forests. It’s a perfect place to try to figure out how trees will react to the higher levels of ozone and carbon dioxide scientists expect in the future.


(sound of beeping fence gate)


The first thing you notice at Aspen Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment Project – Aspen FACE for short – is two huge tanks inside the fenced in enclosure. Each one is bigger than an 18-wheel tanker truck. They’re full of carbon dioxide… CO2. So much CO2 is used in this experiment, the tanks are filled twice a day.


(sound of filling tanks)


If you looked at the site from an airplane, you’d see 12 circular tree stands surrounded by 30 foot high pipes. Those pipes pour CO2 or ozone gases or both into the air surrounding birch, sugar maple, and aspen trees. The scientists know that greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere have been increasing. They believe two centuries of industrial pollution has contributed to the problem. And they expect the CO2 and ozone levels to double by the end of this century. They’re raising the level of greenhouse gasses in different mixes to see what the predicted levels will do to forests.


This open air project is different than previous experiments. David Karnosky is with Michigan Tech. He’s the Project Manager for Aspen FACE. He says before these kinds of projects, they just tested trees inside places like greenhouses.


“We needed to get out of those chambers. We needed to have a more realistic, real world sort of situation where we had multiple trees. We wanted real intact forest communities. We didn’t want to have just a small number of trees inside of a chamber.”


The United States Department of Energy launched this experiment in Wisconsin’s northwoods seven years ago. Karnosky says they’re learning how the trees react to the higher CO2 levels, and that could shape the future of the world’s timber industry.


“Who will be the winners? Who will be the losers? Will aspen or birch or sugar maple? In northern Wisconsin here we’ve got probably 40 million acres of those species mixes. What’s going to happen under elevated CO2 in the next 100 years? Will these forests remain as they are?”


(sound of driving on gravel)


Driving to one of the experimental circles, we pull up to a ring of trees. Mark Kubiske is one of the two full-time on-site researchers.


“Now this particular ring is an elevated CO2 plot. CO2 is delivered through this copper pipe. It runs to that fan, there’s a large fan right on the end of that gray building.”


The scientists have found that trees in the CO2 circles grow 30 percent faster than trees without the gas.


“The trees are larger in diameter, they’re straight, they have lots of leaf area, they just look very healthy. That is just in tremendous contrast to the ozone ring. We’ll go up around the corner and look at one.”


Nearby another circle of trees is not doing nearly as well. The trees are skinny, twisted not as tall as the other sites. Higher ozone levels are hurting the trees.


At the sites where pipes emit both ozone and CO2, the tree growth seems normal – except for some stunted maple trees. The leaves of the aspen and birch take in much of the CO2, convert it to sugar which goes to its roots, eventually becoming a natural part of the soil. That suggests forests may help alleviate gases that cause global warming. The Project Director, David Karnosky says CO2 and ozone appear to cancel each other out. But he says it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions. Ultimately, he says governments will be able to look at this glimpse into the future and try to come up with emissions policies that help.


“The whole issue of the Kyoto protocol, our government not signing off on that. There’s been some relaxing of the feelings from what I’ve seen from the President’s report now that they’re beginning to realize that elevated CO2 is having an impact on global warming and could be impacting our plant communities.”


Karnosky says it’s possible that besides reducing emissions, governments might determine that planting more trees might be very helpful in reducing greenhouse gasses worldwide.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mike Simonson.

Related Links

Link Between Cadmium and Breast Cancer?

A recent study shows a possible link between breast cancer and a toxic chemical we’re exposed to every day. And people living in some Great Lakes states might face higher exposure to this chemical. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erika Johnson has more:

Transcript

A recent study shows a possible link between breast cancer and a toxic chemical
we’re exposed to everyday. And
people living in some Great Lakes states might face higher exposure to this
chemical. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Erika Johnson has more:


Cadmium is a toxic metal present in trace amounts in the air, water, soil, and in
most foods. It is also found in
batteries and cigarettes, and is released by some industries.


Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois are at the top of the list for overall cadmium exposures.


Recent findings published in Nature Medicine suggest that even low levels of cadmium
in lab rats caused changes
in their sexual development. Cadmium mimics estrogen, the female hormone that
regulates the reproductive
systems of men and women.


Steve Safe is a Toxicologist at Texas A & M University.


“Women have high doses of estrogen. They have much higher rates of breast cancer
than men. And estrogen has
been clearly linked to breast cancer. What we don’t know is, ‘Can cadmium
contribute to that? Does low dose
cadmium have any effect on humans at all?'”


Safe says more research is needed before any clear links can be made to human health.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erika Johnson.

‘Greening’ School Chemistry Labs

Tougher environmental laws and concern for students are prompting many schools to consider new ways of teaching chemistry and other sciences. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tom Rogers reports:

Transcript

Tougher environmental laws and concern for students are prompting many schools to consider
new ways of teaching chemistry and other sciences. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tom
Rogers reports:


Teachers in Illinois are being introduced to what’s being called “green chemistry” – using much
smaller amounts of hazardous chemicals – or none at all – to conduct experiments for
demonstration.


Bill Nelson is a chemical process specialist with the University of Illinois. He says not only is
green chemistry safer for students, it won’t leave behind a legacy of chemicals needing disposal.
Nelson says there’s no reason to worry that students won’t get the full impact of working with
larger supplies of chemicals.


“Students will be taught a healthy respect for chemicals, but what we’re trying to do is limit the
chemicals that are used in the classroom laboratories to as minimal as possible so that down the
road we don’t face the difficulties oftentimes we face now with disposal.”


Nelson says one prime example is mercury – it was widely used in classrooms until it was linked
to a variety of illnesses. Now schools are trying to roundup old mercury supplies and dispose of
them properly.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tom Rogers.

Global Warming in the Peatlands

President Clinton has said this summer’s record breaking heat is evidence of global warming, and he blasted congress for ignoring the problem. Most scientists are firmly convinced that global warming is already underway, but there is still some scientific uncertainty about what effects it might have. Around the world, scientists are looking for answers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports on one research project now underway: