PRI's The World on RADIO IQ

Weekdays at 4:00 pm on RADIO IQ.
Marco Werman

PRI’s The World is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. Launched in 1996, PRI’s The World, a co-production of WGBH/Boston, Public Radio International, and the BBC World Service.

The World's coverage is provided by a global network of international journalists. The program also has access to the 250 BBC correspondents located around the world. Unique in public radio, this network works in concert with the program's multinational team of producers and editors, and brings an exceptional depth of understanding and freshness of perspective to the program content. The result is an award-winning hour of breaking news, in-depth features, hard-hitting commentaries, and thought-provoking interviews found nowhere else in U.S. news coverage.

PRI's The World -- international news for an American audience -- weekdays at 4:00 on ourRADIO IQ With BBC News network of signals and streaming live on the web.

Program Headlines

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014 4:30pm

    If you're in Iceland this week, the forecast is for a very strong indication of magma movement east of Bárðarbunga caldera. Seriously.

    In English, that means Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano could be about to blow. 

    On Tuesday, authorities in Iceland raised the volcano alert level for air travel over the region to the second-highest level on the scale. That followed a big uptick in the intensity of seismic activity near Bárðarbunga that started on August 16.

    The number of small earthquakes in the region is growing, which is a possible precursor to volcanic activity, says Bloomberg reporter Omar Valdimarsson in Reykjavik.

    Such rumblings are fairly ordinary in Iceland. But there are concerns that this eruption could be huge if it happens. Bárðarbunga is Iceland’s largest volcano and sits under Europe’s largest glacier. That means the intensity of an eruption would depend not just on whether the magma beneath the volcano reaches the surface, but where.

    “If it reaches the surface underneath the ice cap, it will result in a phreatomagmatic eruption,'” Valdimarsson says, in which “the water that’s contributed by the melting ice will make it a more explosive eruption." That would result in a huge ash plume.

    On the other hand, he says, if the eruption were to pass the edges of the icecap, it would be "less explosive.”

    With Europe’s largest glacier potentially in the path of destruction, are there are also worries about sea levels rising? Not likely, Valdimarsson says.

    “It would never be the whole glacier,” he explains, “it would only be a tiny fraction of the glacier, so it (likely) wouldn’t have any impact on sea levels.”

    But scientists tell him the ash plume from Bárðarbunga could reach as high as 10 kilometers, which is about the height where trans-Atlantic planes fly. When the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010, it affected trans-Atlantic travel for days.

    Thankfulkly, Valdimarsson says, there’s at least no real threat to Iceland’s roughly 325,000 residents.

    “There’s no inhabited areas just around [the volcano], and the only risk that’s posed to the general public is that they might be threatened by flash floods,” Valdimarsson says. “But according to the scientists that are monitoring the situation, they are likely to get as much as 12 hours’ notice before any floods near populated areas."

    The worst thing that might befall Iceland is that "we could be landlocked for a few days when it comes to air traffic,” Valdimarsson says.

    “And the other scenario is that more tourists will flock here. ... Tourism has been growing in Iceland exponentially since the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, so I definitely do think that this helps get Iceland on the map.”

  • Monday, August 18, 2014 3:11pm

    Researcher Camila Ferrara admits she felt a little stupid while sitting on the beach hour after hour with a microphone pointed at some turtle eggs buried in the sand.

    Ferrara was trying to capture the sound of turtle embryos talking to each other — before the animals even hatched from their eggs.

    When the sound of turtle chatter finally came through her headphones for the first time, Ferrara says. “It was a big surprise to me ... when I could start to hear the sound. Wow!”

    For a long time, scientists assumed that turtles were both incapable of vocalization and completely deaf. But Ferrara, an aquatic ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, is helping to put that misunderstanding to rest along with her colleagues based in Brazil.

    Giant South American river turtles are more talkative than some other species.
    Credit: Photo provided by Camila Ferrara

    Giant South American river turtles are more talkative than some other species.

    “In the '50s, there was a general book on reptiles and amphibians, and the author just made a blanket statement saying that 'turtles are deaf and dumb,'” says Richard Vogt, a turtle expert with the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, Brazil. Along with Ferrara, he wrote the study revealing their findings on turtle vocalizations.

    The "deaf and dumb" misunderstanding endured, but Vogt says scientists now know it to be untrue. It took a while for them to notice, he explains, because turtles are not all that chatty. If you listen to them for a while, they might only offer up a single short vocal phrase every few hours.

    Like whales and dolphins, turtles also speak in very low frequencies. “Somebody that's snorkeling underwater looking at turtles won't hear them because [a diver] makes more noise with their flippers and air bubbles than the volume of [any] turtle sounds,” he says.

    Vogt also says the sounds are very short in duration, making them even harder to hear. “There are some [turtle] sounds that are a few seconds, but most of them are in the tenths or hundredths of a second,” Vogt adds.

    The current consensus is that turtles are far more social and reliant on vocalization than once believed. Vogt says they even begin to communicate vocally even before they hatch, probably as a way to determine when they will hatch from their eggs en masse. The same goes for plenty of other turtle behaviors: Migration, gathering to bask in the sun and nesting, all of which turtles also do in large groups.

    Some species of turtles talk more than others, Vogt says. But he believes that all turtle species use their voices to communicate with each other to some extent. “We're showing that turtles are very social animals,” Vogt says. “The behavior of turtles is much complex than people thought before.”

  • Friday, August 15, 2014 11:49am

    Michael Muller loves sharks, and he wants you to share his infatuation.

    The American photographer travels the world capturing underwater images of sharks. Last week, a photo Muller snapped was featured in the New York Times MagazineIt showed a great white shark breaching, or jumping out of the water.

    Muller says getting that perfect shot was an arduous, year-long journey. But besides his incredible patience, waiting for the perfect shot, he's also known for photographing sharks without the protection of a metal shark-proof cage.

    “I’m always cage-free,” Muller says. “You really only need a cage, in my opinion, with great whites on the surface, when you’re feeding them. When you swim with these animals you start to realize that they are not after us. We’re not on their menu.”

    Muller isn’t concerned about being eaten by a shark. He’s more concerned about how many sharks are being eaten by humans. He points out that 100 million sharks are killed annually, many because of demand for their fins

    “These are animals that are at the top of a very, very fragile ecosystem,” says Muller. “It’s scary because so many of these creatures are endangered or facing extinction. You go into certain waters now, and there’s just jellyfish.”

    Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they're slow both to grow and reproduce“We need to give these animals time to replenish their stocks," Muller says. "I have three daughters and I’m fearful that they’re never going to see some of these creatures.”

    Besides getting up close and personal with various species of sharks, Muller also is a well-known celebrity photographer. He’s taken portraits of actors, musicians and sports stars.

     

    So which subjects are scarier, sharks or celebrities? Muller is diplomatic: “The celebrities definitely aren’t scary. The people [who] are around them can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.”

  • Wednesday, August 13, 2014 3:09pm

    Growing up in Iran, the newest winner of math's most prestigious award wasn't even especially fond of the subject. She wanted to be a writer.

    But then, says Maryam Mirzakhani in a video from the International Mathematical Union, she stumbled upon math and "I got excited about it — maybe just as a challenge. But then I realized that it's really nice and that I enjoy it.

    Mirzakhani started to devote more of her time to studying math and solving problems. Soon she was competing in major national and international competitions, and now she is the winner of the Fields Medal. It's akin to the Nobel Prize for math, and she's both the first woman and the first Iranian to win it.

    "There are no words to describe it," says Ghazal Geshnizjani, a friend of Mirzakhani's who teaches at University of Waterloo in Canada. She says she was speechless when she heard the news of her friend's victory.

    Geshnizjani still remembers the days when the two women were competing in math competitions in Iran. "I knew she was good at math, but I looked at her during the exam and I saw her really focused on the task at hand," she says.

    Mirzakhani kept up that passion even through a deadly bus crash on the way to one competition. "I remember very clearly when I heard the news how I felt and how terrible it was," Geshnizjani says. She doesn't remember the number exactly, but thinks that eight of perhaps 13 students on the bus were killed.

    Mirzakhani and a few other friends survived the crash, and she went on to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard. She then moved on to Stanford, where she teaches today and conducted the work that led to the medal.

    But the Fields Medal isn't just about Mirzakhani's own accomplishment, says Geshnizjani. She hopes the prize will spur more women to study math and science.

    "Maryam did her Ph.D. at a time when Larry Summers was the president of Harvard and was claiming that women are not good in math. And there she is, proving him wrong," she says. In a statement after her award was announced, Mirzakhani said she was "sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years."

    But setting aside the gender politics, Geshnizjani says she's just proud of her friend. "This is fantastic on so many levels. If it was another woman from another country I would still be ecstatic. If it was a male Iranian, that, again, by itself would be such a great news. And somebody from a third-world country by itself is such a big achievement," she says.

    For her it's a combination of "all these joys and celebrations together."

  • Wednesday, August 13, 2014 2:31pm

    Scientists are warning West African communities where the Ebola virus has been aggressive to stay away from fruit bats, and to be wary of hunting bush meat, in general, too. 

    West African communities not only come in contact with the bats, but they prepare them in soups and other dishes. As the name suggests, the fruit bats only eats fruit and live in densely forested areas. 

    The disease, which has now claimed more than 1,000 lives and has been called the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history by the World Health Organization, has prompted the use of experimental drugs and vaccines. The disease erupted in Guinea and has since spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

    The medical community is desperate to slow down the rate at which the disease is being contracted and is hoping getting people to stay away from fruit bats, in particular, and bush meat in general, will help.

    Dr. DeeAnn Reeder, a professor of biology at Bucknell University, says bush meat hunting has happened in these communities for thousands of years.

    “It’s a common cultural practice,” Reeder says. “It’s a good source of meat. The risk always in bush meat hunting of fruit bats or other animals is to the hunter or to the butcher. ... Whoever is basically preparing the carcass to eat is exposing themselves to blood and tissues and saliva and maybe even has sustained a bite. It’s not so much the meat after it’s been cooked — we don’t think that that’s a problem — but it’s that initial human contact where the risk occurs.”

    The problem is that the culture of bush meat hunting is so ingrained in the community that it would be difficult to convince residents to stop altogether. “There’s so much infrastructure that needs to be put in place in order to provide alternatives to bush meat hunting,” Reeder says. “People are hungry. And my experience, at least, in South Sudan is that they really like the taste of bush meat. It’s something that they’ve lived with for a very, very long time.”

    Reeder says cutting back fruit bat habitat can make it easier for viruses to spread. “By doing these sorts of deforestation events, we are increasing the contact rate of bats and people and that’s a worldwide issue in terms of emerging diseases.”

    Bush meat hunting is a complex issue, says Reeder, and it has a long cultural and historical standing. But for now, slowing the consumption of the spicy fruit bat soup may help some ward off the deadly virus.

    Dr. Reeder answered listener questions about the spread of the Ebola virus on August 13, which you can see in the comments below.