Jonathan Henderson of New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network is flying Louisiana's coast looking for oil. As usual, he's found some.
"I just noticed something out of the corner of my eye that looks like a sheen that had some form to it," he says. "We're going to go take a closer look and see if there's a rainbow sheen."
It's a target-rich environment for Henderson, because more than 54,000 wells were planted in and off this coast — part of the 300,000 wells in the state. They're connected by thousands of miles of pipelines, all vulnerable to leaks.
And leak they do. Louisiana admits to at least 300,000 barrels spilled on its land and in its waters each year, 20 percent of the nation's total. But those figures come from a system that depends largely on oil companies to self-report.
The problem went mostly unnoticed until the largest spill in U.S. history back on April 20, 2010, drew environmental groups to the coast looking for BP's oil.
"I started noticing, towards the end of 2010, other leaks that were unrelated to the BP disaster," Henderson says. "I would find wellheads that were leaking or platforms that were leaking. Just in the last year, I have filed 50 reports for different leaks and spills unrelated to the BP disaster."
Under the Clean Water Act, when a company spills any amount of oil in the water, it must file a report with the National Response Center run by the Coast Guard. But when Henderson checked, he found many of those smaller spills were not making that list.
So environmental groups formed the Gulf Monitoring Consortium to get a better count on spills. The partnership is a blend groups of complementary skills.
Gulf Restoration Network, for example, has personnel who can spot spills from the air and file complete reports.
SouthWings, a group of volunteer pilots, helps get those spotters aloft.
A third member, the West Virginia-based tech group SkyTruth, finds the spills on satellite photographs, then applies a formula used by spill experts to translate the size of the oil sheen into gallons of oil in the water.
SkyTruth spokesman David Manthos says its estimates typically are much higher than what's been reported.
"We found that the spill was usually 10 times larger than had been reported, and that was averaged out across a lot," he says. "In some, the mismatch was much larger than that."
The sheer size of the industry here means there's seldom a quiet day for the consortium. In an average year, the NRC receives 10,000 reports of spills in the Gulf.
It's a number that surprised even SouthWings Gulf Program Director Meredith Dowling, a veteran of monitoring efforts.
"I can't think of a single instance where our volunteers have flown offshore and not found spills," Dowling says. "This was something that was really amazing to me when I first moved here ... that is was a continuous, absolute failure of business-as-usual practices."
The partners hope their work educates the public to the scope of the problem, and perhaps gets governments to end the voluntary compliance model and turn to aggressive enforcement by outside groups.
How did it happen? How'd the zebra get its stripes?
In Rudyard Kipling's version, a gray, horsey-looking beast went into "a great forest 'sclusively full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-batchy shadows," stayed there awhile, and after a "long time"... got stripy.
OK. Not bad.
Here's another notion, this one from Ricardo Solis, an artist working in Guadalajara, Mexico. He says a team of highly intelligent mini-mes got itself a roll of black ribbon. Using giant scissors, the mini-mes cut themselves long slivers, which, dropped from a blimp, they pasted on a horse.
This is such a satisfying explanation. No waiting eons and eons. No random mutations. No molecular biology. Just a team of itty-bitty designers doing, well ... almost intelligent design. They're not precise. Life should be accidental, which is why it feels right that a flamingo gets its pink from teeny buckets of paint, randomly poured. And why the mini-mes down below have to protect themselves with small umbrellas.
Plus, creature-building should be hard work. In making a giraffe, a team of designers had to draw, manufacture and stock each golden-brown blotch, and ship them to the studio, where this monster-sized animal, tethered by a handful of mini-mes, is patiently waiting to be accessorized. It's a paint-by-numbers job, each blotch must be fitted to its pre-figured spot, and if they take too long and the giraffe gets restless? I'm not even going to think about that.
In the Bible, genesis happens super-fast, as befits an all-powerful being. Creation is a six-day effort, from "let there be light" all the way through zebra-striping, giraffe pigmentation and flamingo pinks. Then, on the seventh day, God rests. He gives Himself a single day off. One.
Giraffe Production Bottlenecks
Not the mini-mes. Ricardo Solis doesn't say, being an artist, but I'm figuring those little guys needed two, three full days to paint in each giraffe. Multiply that by the number of giraffes on order, and creation is a labor-intensive nightmare. Figuring regular weekends, summer vacations, holidays and medical leave for paint-poisoning, giraffe gestation is going to be very, very slow — which is why, if Ricardo Solis ever visits Africa and gets to see 50, 60 giraffes ambling together across the plain, he — more than the rest of us — will blink, smile and say, "That? That is a miracle!"
There are many routes to appreciating the bounty about us.
To see more Ricardo Solis drawings - of hippos being inflated, armadillos getting armored — you can find his latest work collected here.
Citing progress in diplomacy and this weekend's Easter holiday, Ukrainian officials say they've suspended an "anti-terrorist operation" that is aimed at pro-Russian forces who have occupied government buildings in eastern Ukraine.
The move comes after an international group including Ukrainian officials, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov reached an agreement late this week in Geneva that would compel the separatists to disarm and abandon the buildings they've taken in parts Donetsk and other cities with large Russian-speaking populations in eastern Ukraine.
"In exchange, the government in Kiev would give the regions more autonomy, offer equal status to the Russian language - which are two of the things the rebels have been asking for from the beginning," NPR's Ari Shapiro tells Wade Goodwyn on Weekend Edition Saturday.
But Ari notes that the agreement reached in Geneva faces challenges in Ukraine.
"At this point, the occupiers say they will only lay down their weapons and leave if the interim government in Kiev also steps down," he says.
At an occupied building in Donetsk, the rebels displayed a sign Friday that read, "Yanukovych is our only president," Ari notes.
The separatists have also demanded an independence referendum next month, before Ukraine is scheduled to hold elections to install a permanent government to replace the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
"The anti-terrorist operation continues. How long it is going to last, it depends on when the terrorists leave our territory. Due to the Easter holidays and the Geneva agreements, the operation is not in its active phase at the moment," Ukraine's Security Service press secretary Maryna Ostapenko said, according to a news release from the defense ministry.
The BBC has this look at the broader picture:
"The US has threatened more sanctions if Russia fails to abide by the agreement.
"The Kremlin responded by accusing the White House of treating Moscow like a 'guilty schoolboy.'"
This is simply astonishing. Watch twenty seconds and you'll be sucked into the world of Usman Riaz, an immensely talented 23-year-old Pakistani musician who will change your perception of how a guitar can sound and be played. What's more remarkable is that this Berklee College of Music whiz kid learned much of his dazzling guitar technique by watching YouTube videos at 16. He also learned what he calls "parlor tricks," like body percussion and harmonica. But the classically trained pianist also used the Internet to learn how to write and conduct orchestra pieces and make films. If you're a skeptic, fine, just watch this youngest of TED senior fellows and be dazzled.
- "The Waves"
Producers: Bob Boilen, Denise DeBelius; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Gabriella Garcia-Pardo, Olivia Merrion; photo by Jim Tuttle/NPR
Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:
Modern Medicine May Not Be Doing Your Microbiome Any Favors: In Missing Microbes, Dr. Martin Blaser argues that the overuse of antibiotics, as well as now-common practices like C-sections, may be messing with gut microbes.
A Duo's Debut Album: A Collaboration From 'The Both': Aimee Mann and Ted Leo began performing together in 2012, when Leo was Mann's opening act. Mann began joining Leo onstage during his set. Their debut album is "The Both."
'Silicon Valley' Asks: Is Your Startup Really Making The World Better?: Mike Judge's HBO sitcom pokes fun at programmers hoping to hit it rich. It's not the first time Judge has satirized the workplace: His 1999 cult film Office Space explored desk-job-induced ennui.
You can listen to the original interviews here:
- Modern Medicine May Not Be Doing Your Microbiome Any Favors
- A Duo's Debut Album: A Collaboration From 'The Both'
- 'Silicon Valley' Asks: Is Your Startup Really Making The World Better?