Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Welcome

I'm a science journalist, living and working from my home in Pemberton, BC, Canada. My academic background is in chemistry and oceanography, but I write across all the physical sciences, from anthropology to quantum physics, with climate change and the environment in between. I write (and sometimes edit) for Nature, Yale E360, Hakai magazine, the Pique newspaper, SAPIENS, the New York Times, and more.

I post everything I write, and some of what I edit, here. Enjoy!

TED, 2019: The dangers of a noisy ocean

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The future of liquid fuel

If you thought ammonia was just for fertilizer, think again. 

Many think ammonia could be the planet's best bet for a liquid fuel that creates no CO2--both for burning in engines (especially ships) and for storing and transporting all the renewable energy produced by wind and solar power plants. The hard part will be making enough of it in a green way. Read my feature in Yale about the rise of green ammonia.

https://e360.yale.edu/features/from-fertilizer-to-fuel-can-green-ammonia-be-a-climate-fix

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Saturday, December 18, 2021

2021 in Review

A turbulent year: from the storm on the Capitol to wildfires, racial tensions, and more. My look at the year through the eyes of anthropology for SAPIENS magazine...

https://www.sapiens.org/news/anthropology-2021/

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Farewell SAPIENS, Hello Knowable

This week I bid farewell to SAPIENS magazine, where I worked for 5 years as a freelance developmental editor. Over those 5 years I edited more than 200 essays and OpEds written by academics, and wrote more than 20 news and features articles for the magazine. More importantly, I gained a much more nuanced understanding of what anthropology is and what anthropologists do, and, thanks to the outstanding editorial team, learned so much about writing and editing with an eye to diversity and equity goals and sensitivity of language. It was an amazing ride.

Also this week I am stepping into a contract position editing comment pieces for Knowable magazine, a production from Annual Reviews that has been publishing journalism since 2017 and OpEds for the last year. This will give me a chance to edit pieces on a much greater diversity of topics, across all fields of science. Looking forward to it!

Meanwhile I continue to write for Nature, New Scientist, Yale E360, Hakai magazine and more, and edit for Nature and Yale. Happy and thankful this year for a full plate, loaded with fascinating stories.


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Ivory hunting drives evolution of tuskless elephants

Here's my take on a great Science paper for Nature: how ivory hunting in Mozambique has driven the evolution of tusklessness in female elephants in that country. A fascinating story both in terms of the scientific detective work to track the genetic component of this evolutionary pressure, and in terms of what it means for the elephants. The trait is fatal for male offspring, so the elephant population will skew to having more females than males, and overall growth of the struggling population will be hindered. Plus... apparently tuskless elephants eat different plants, which could alter the entire ecosystem of the region. Amazing stuff!

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02867-y

Invest in Congo science

 It was my great pleasure to edit this piece for publication in Nature.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02818-7

The Congo is the world's second largest rainforest after the Amazon, yet receives so very little attention in both the media and from science budgets. These researchers make a persuasive case for investing $150 million in local science and scientists.

Salmon need trees

Here's a news piece on a paper that hammers home the importance of caring for watersheds and not logging the areas where salmon are spawning. Salmon across the Pacific Northwest are crashing: these researchers are helping to unpick why.

https://www.hakaimagazine.com/news/salmon-need-trees/

Bright spots in coral reefs

Here's a feature I wrote in record time (1 week!) for Yale Environment 360 on corals, pegged to the latest global assessment (it's bad, but not as bad as it could be) and rounding up the latest in conservation efforts (from electrically-stimulated reefs to probiotic smears and cloud brightening trials). 

https://e360.yale.edu/features/finding-bright-spots-in-the-global-coral-reef-catastrophe

Monday, September 27, 2021

Acoustical Society of America Award

Not to blow my own horn (pun intended), but... I am so happy to share the news that my feature for Nature on noise pollution in the ocean has won the Acoustical Society of America award for science communication (short format category). Shout out (pun intended) to my editor, contacts, sources and everyone involved; and TED for giving it a bright stage.

 


How Safe Is Africa's Deadliest Lake?

Between Rwanda and the DRC lies a strange lake with the capacity to explode: Lake Kivu. It is one of only a handful of lakes in the world like this: they build up volcanic gas in their bottom waters until they sit like a bottle of champagne with a cork on top. Pop the cork and the gas can be explosively released. I had the honour of visiting one of the other such lakes, Lake Nyos, back in 2001 (more about that below); it had blown up in 1986, tragically killing more than 17000 people. Lake Kivu is much, much bigger, with many, many more people living on its shores. Commercial efforts are currently underway to extract some of its gas (both to lower the explosive risk, and to burn the extracted methane as fuel for electricity). But experts can't agree whether the lake is getting safer or not.

https://www.nature.com/immersive/d41586-021-02523-5/index.html

This was a hard feature to report. The people involved care deeply about Rwanda and its people; many have strong views about the lake and how best to extract its gas. There is a lot of disagreement, and a lot of deeply-felt emotions. I hope that the data from the lake becomes more accessible, and that the community arrives at a consensus view on the best and safest things to do. 

Credit: P Richon
My own personal Lake Nyos adventure was a different story. Back in 2001 I was a fresh intern at New Scientist magazine in London, just getting on my feet as a journalist. I had written a cover feature about a wacky attempt to extract minerals from a volcano on a remote and disputed Russian-Japanese island, and the researchers working on Lake Nyos, reading it, thought I'd be a good fit to cover their own project (they didn't know that I had written the first feature from the safety of my desk in London; but as a young rock climber I was up for an adventure). The trip was arranged by email, and I set off on a long journey: after arriving in Cameroon's capital of Yaounde, a two-day car trip was required, involving payments to armed guards standing at road-checks. Arriving tired and dusty at camp, I stepped out of the car to gasps of shock: I was a woman. (My name, Nicola, looked male to the French researchers who had requested my participation.) They were concerned that their primitive camp didn't have 'facilities' for a woman; I reassured them I had brought my own tent and was used to rustic environments: "Don't worry," I said, "I'm Canadian."

I feel truly honoured to have had the opportunity to watch those pioneering scientists insert a pipe into Lake Nyos and drain it of its explosive gases. In hindsight, the trip was probably far more dangerous than I had bargained for (both geologically and politically). There was an awkward moment when I entirely ran out of cash and had to visit the embassy for rescue; I was young and naive and perhaps out of my depth. The science was compelling. But when I look back on that experience I feel I really missed out on meeting the locals and hearing their side of the story: what it was like to live through this experience, and the subsequent struggle of being evicted from their homes for reasons of safety. As I get older, I start to see stories as less about the science and more about the people. Hopefully this makes me a better reporter.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16922834-800-the-monster-in-the-lake/