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Transcript: Space4U podcast, Tracy Fanara

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello, this is Andrew de Naray with the Space Foundation, and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the people who make space exploration today more accessible to all. Our guest today is Dr. Tracy Fanara, AKA Inspector Planet, AKA Dr. Tre. Tracy is currently a scientist and program manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, commonly known by the acronym N.O.A.A. or “NOAA”, where she works to protect humans and wildlife by collaborating with scientists and engineers from around the world to understand and forecast Earth systems from the bottom of the sea, to the Sun.

 

She is an environmental engineer and research scientist with a BS, ME and PhD from the University of Florida. Before joining NOAA, Tracy managed the Environmental Health Research program at Mote Marine laboratory, where she was called on as an expert in the Florida water crises, during which the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore called her “the face of red tide.”

 

In addition to appearing in hundreds of written and broadcasted news outlets and Saturday morning educational television programs on Fox, CBS and ABC. He may have also seen her on the Weather Channel or the show Weird Earth or on the Science Channel’s, MythBusters, or What on Earth? Tracy also produces her own series of Inspector Planet videos on YouTube.

 

And that kind of only scratches the surface on her many media appearances, but we’ll get more into those shortly. Thanks so much for joining us today, Tracy. It’s great to have you on thank you so much for having me while I have to start. Um, getting people to write me shorter bios, because you know, you always feel weird writing your own bio, so you like have someone, you know, kinda do it, but yeah.

 

Sounds good. Thanks for that introduction though. Sure. So, uh, there’s seems to be a prevalent trend in society of dissociating our existence as humans with our interconnectedness to Earth systems and resources, and also our coexistence with other species. In doing my research prior to this interview, as I always do, it seems to me that fighting this disconnect is pretty much at the core of what you do.

 

Would you say that’s true? Oh, absolutely. And I I’m impressed because that is the core of what I do getting, just bringing to the forefront, that connectivity between everything in this world and how Earth systems really do connect us all. Like we can’t just think about ourselves or our area. We have to be looking bigger than that.

 

And you know, when we’re looking at Earth and all Earth systems, they’re dictated by space. So, so we’re really in this together. When we look at it from the perspective of the universe. And what got you first interested in environmental science? So, you know, you always think back to the points in your life where you really kind of changed your path to go in one way or over another.

 

And for me, uh, it was in fourth grade, I learned about a hazardous waste dump site right down the street from me, where industries were dumping toxins for years into this canal way. And those toxins were leaching into the groundwater and the soils. And people started building houses and schools, and there were cancer clusters and birth defects.

 

And that’s when I realized that everything in the world is connected. What we put in the environment eventually comes back to affect our health. That incident called Love Canal also started the EPA Super Fund program, which is a program that they have a list of contaminated places that pose threat to human health.

 

And you just started working with NOAA last summer. I believe if I get the title right here, you’re a Coastal Modeling Portfolio Manager. Is that correct? Yes, that is probably the most boring title for a pretty exciting role. So I manage United States coastal modeling efforts through the National Ocean Service.

 

And so that’s everything from microbes and algae blooms to megafauna movement and, and storm surge. So we really take a holistic approach to protecting lives and livelihoods. And in doing that, I mean, it’s really more complicated in a bigger project than you would think, you know, put it this way: The example that I always like to give is Florida red tide.

 

So Florida red tide is a toxic algae species that blooms in the Gulf of Mexico every year about every decade or so. It’s really intense to the point where it just crushes Florida economics, uh, tourism, quality of life. Uh, the toxin not only kills wildlife, but also aerosolizes attaches on to sea salt particles in the air, moves on shore and causes people to have respiratory irritation, coughing, sneezing, but for those with COPD or other respiratory illnesses, asthma, this can be really serious.

 

So finding out where those blooms are and alerting the public of where to go to, you know, for a healthy beach experiences is really important. And the reason for that is that we still have so many questions we’ve been studying this organism. Granted, it’s a microscopic organism and a huge body of water that acts differently in a lab than it does in the natural environment.

 

But 70 years of research. And we still have questions about how these blooms start, how they, how they terminate, what motivates them, like we’re predicting these blooms. And that’s because for all this time, we’ve had hundreds of scientists, maybe even thousands. Yes, definitely. Thousands of scientists monitoring taking samples, making cell counts and trying to basically connect dots from these monitoring sites that were plenty in some years and, and much less than that in other years, depending on funding.

 

So we had inconsistent data streams. Trying to answer these questions. And the reason why we weren’t answering them is because we were looking locally. We were just monitoring these points. And when we start looking deeper into it, these blooms and the Gulf of Mexico are actually initiated or influenced by sands from the Sahara coming over into the Gulf of Mexico, feeding this species, a micronutrient — iron — that it it’s living on. Also, there are blue holes.

 

It basically sinkholes when the water level was 300 feet below where it is now that occurred. And now they act as springs, connecting surface water runoff. For land derived nutrients too, 50 miles offshore of Florida, where these blooms are said to initiate. In addition to that, we have the Florida loop current, our ocean currents in cycles impact the movement and the ability for these organisms to come to the top of the water, grab all that nutrients in and grow and impact humans and wildlife.

 

Um, and then some scientists think that 40% of the United States might even play a role because 38%, 40% of the United States drains into one area. The Mississippi River watershed from South to the Gulf of Mexico causing the second largest dead zone in the world, but also bringing a lot of new strains that may end up feeding Florida red tide.

 

So, so the point of me telling you this is that to connect all those dots that that people were taking monitoring for for 70 years. You need to look at things not only from an or a system standpoint, but you also need to model all of those dots to connect them and understand what’s actually happening in our environment because it’s never just one thing.

 

It’s never just one place. You know, we really have to use what we can, um, and modeling is the best way to do that. And it’s kind of like playing a video game. Wow. That’s really amazing. And do satellites play into monitoring like algae blooms and things like that? Like red tide. Yeah, satellites actually are a huge part of modeling data collection observations.

 

And it’s not just algae blooms. Of course the hyperspectral cameras. We get some chlorophyll, a feedback and understand the severity or aware of Blooms and where it’s moving to unless there’s clouds. And that’s when we use drones, but there’s also, we use sea surface. Uh, sea surface height and in storm surge flooding through our satellites as well, that helped with our modeling efforts.

 

And now we’re doing something called data assimilation, which is an advanced model that uses real-time observations with our modeled algorithms to get a more accurate dataset. So basically we can alert the public to where threats are in real time and more accurately because of our use of satellites.

 

And a lot of people don’t know this, but NOAA actually has more satellites than NASA. Oh, wow. I didn’t know that either … interesting. And, um, do you ever focus on space weather? Does that play a role as well? Or does it affect whether on Earth?

 

Absolutely space. Weather is one of the, I think there’s five main objectives at NOAA. Uh, moving forward in space. Weather is one of them. Um, we need to know about space weather because we have a lot of satellites in space and we need to protect those satellites, but also, um, understanding the interactions between the different layers of our atmosphere. Is really important in understanding climate change all the way to, you know, some of these modeling efforts.

 

You know, satellites in the early days of the pandemic lockdowns gave us some really jaw-dropping imagery, the, the absence of boats in marinas off the coast of Italy. And we saw significant reductions in particulates and industrial gases over China. And similar decreases in nitrogen dioxide over Italy.

 

And, um, although it’s not from satellites, we, you know, heard about the return of fish to Venetian waterways where the gondolas, you know, float through there. And, um, I was really shocked how quickly things seem to improve. So I guess my question here is, is this proof that the planet can heal itself and how do we, you know, perpetuate that healing as we reopened things post COVID?

 

That’s a great question. I mean, life always finds a way and if humans aren’t in the way the animals are going to take back their land, I mean, it’s just kind of what happens, but as far as the air quality and the water quality, that’s great that they were getting better in some places. What my concern was with the environmental rollbacks.

 

That occurred in the beginning of 2020? Uh, well, following the pandemic. So I guess, uh, second quarter, I was really starting to get concerned that there were, we were going to go the other way and that those rollbacks wouldn’t be rolled forward again. And we would be in a worse spot. Post COVID. Um, in addition to that, all the takeout, all the, the waste that we accumulated throughout the pandemic is also something that we can’t, you know, we can’t look past, but the reduction in emissions of course, is going to be a benefit.

 

Are you referring to the rollbacks like deforestation in, uh, South America and stuff like that? No, actually I was referring to the rollbacks right here in the United States, the coal industry, oil and gas, um, the waste that didn’t need to be properly handled and taking care of the rollbacks on filter requirements at these coal plants.

 

So their technology only has to be advanced to like 1970s technology. Um, meanwhile, if you look at a cancer. Uh, a cancer cluster map. You see that the, the states with the highest amount of cancer are West Virginia and Tennessee, where coal mining is prevalent. So it’s, um, It’s a tough thing, especially when it comes to things like that, the Keystone Pipeline things where, you know, that the people working in these areas are being impacted, but they also need their jobs.

 

So we have to find a way to communicate how to have a healthier planet and still. Be economically. Right? Cause that’s always the immediate argument, you know, is the, is industry and how do people, you know, what is a smooth transition there? You know, like to alternate, energies.

 

Yeah. And the thing is like, it’s a, it’s intimidating to learn something new, to get a new skill set. And for me, if I was in charge of doing this, I would create programs that allow these workers to be paid for their training. But even still, you know, there’s a lot of people that don’t like change. I mean, in our brain, we’re wired to avoid uncomfortability, which is understandable.

 

We’re trying to, you know, preserve ourselves. We want to step out of the way of a tree falling or run away from a fire. But when it comes down to it, if you’re not doing, if you’re doing things that you’re comfortable with all the time, you’re never growing. You’re never going to get anywhere past where you are right now.

 

And so instilling that motivation is something that, that will be difficult. It’s going to be a challenge because, um, I it’s an obstacle for anyone, even people that are motivated to do something that they’ve never done before. So getting some, somebody that doesn’t want to it’s that much harder. As I mentioned in the intro, you worked for quite a while at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota.

 

I think you left a for the job and just last summer at NOAA and it’s far from being just an aquarium it’s seems like it’s not just about water as it relates to marine life, but also how it relates to human health. Could you talk a bit about what you did there in that regard? Oh, yeah. Mote Marine Laboratory is, is a wonderful place.

 

It’s a nonprofit, um, research laboratory, but it also has an aquarium, uh, which is great because whenever people would come visit me at work, they can go down to the aquariums, see my office and all my interns and employees. But at Mote Marine Laboratory, I ran the Environmental Health program and we did a large variety of projects.

 

And the reason why I was able to do that was because of the amount of interns. That I had ability to branch out a little bit in our experimentation and product development. So a lot of my focus was on Florida, red tide, uh, mitigation strategies, water treatment technologies. And of course the apps and website to alert the public of where the effects of red tide are so that people can make healthy decisions.

 

And I think I heard that you, uh, created a phone app while you were there with, uh, support from NASA and NOAA to detect red tide. Yeah. So that’s called Hab scope. So we worked with NOAA and the Gulf of Mexico, coastal ocean observing system to create a cell phone microscope where citizens can take a sample of water, put it underneath the microscope, upload a 30-second video into an app that has an algorithm that automatically calculates the concentration of red tide by shape, size, and movement. That information goes into a NOAA respiratory irritation model. So we have a three- to five-day forecast of respiratory irritation. Um, which is great. And it was a great compliment to the beach conditions reporting system.

 

The website that I have that uses community scientists to upload real time effects, things that people are actually seeing at the beach. And I’m publishing a paper right now with a group from Virginia Tech, uh, that shows that. The beach conditions reporting system, which you can find at visitbeaches.org is the most reliable source of information for red tide effects for the day before you go to the beach, which is, which is pretty cool.

 

So we have all these technologies coming together and then it’s, as far as mitigation strategies at moat, when I left, we were developing, um, It kind of like a, um, coagulation flocculation process with activated carbon by a company called carbon next. Uh, the founder was my undergrad advisor at the university of Florida and then something called bloom zoom, which is just like half scope sort of, but for low detection.

 

And, uh, let me think what else? I had five projects when I left. Oh, aquaponics space and aquaponics in space, but that’s not. Yeah. Yeah, I did want to ask you about that for sure. Could you talk about the work you’ve done with NASA on aquaponics? Yeah, so, um, we just published a paper, uh, with NASA that looks at the feasibility of putting aquaponics on the ISS on the Moon, on Mars, uh, for a protein source for space travel.

 

The ultimate goal is use aquaponics for wastewater treatment. To have a completely sustainable system. You know, you poop, you pee, it goes through the primary treatment. Secondary treatment is aquaponics tertiary treatment. Then you drink the water. A lot of people that kind of grosses them out, but, but that’s, what’s really happening in our environment.

 

We’re not making any new water, the water we have here today. Same water 2,000 years, same. I mean, you might’ve drank the same drop of water that a dinosaur drank. It’s just the way it goes. It’s just that we kind of hide it by putting it out to the environment before we take it back up and drink it. But, but when you’re in space, you have to be as sustainable, uh, with your water source as possible.

 

And that’s what is so amazing about this project and space research in general is that it pushes the boundaries of sustainability of science, what should happen on Earth, but isn’t quite required, has to happen in space. So imagine, you know, our food systems using the water, the only water that goes in is the only water that it uses.

 

And it just completely recirculates captures everything that’s evaporated and just puts it right back in, that alone, especially for fish farming, would prevent a lot of the impacts that they have in the pens out in the open ocean. Um, and a lot of problems that we have with cost of putting these fish farms on land.

 

So if we’re able to actually design and develop this sustainable aquaponic system, it could be world changing. Hmm. And what kind of fish are we talking about? Did we get to that point on it? Yeah, so, so even though we’re considering fish in our paper, we really wanted to focus on shellfish. And the reason is because we wanted the smallest volume of water possible and fish use a lot of water.

 

Um, so we looked at snails, mussels and shrimp. And the reason why we picked shrimp is because they have a little bit of a different process for what their nitrogen cycle, but also because they’re charismatic and. It benefits the astronauts psychologically to have charismatic pets. I mean, we’re proposing that they eventually eat them, you know?

 

So you probably don’t want to name them. Yeah. I was wondering if that threat would have been examined, you know, if, uh, people didn’t want to eat them because they became friends with them and that could happen. That’s hard. Right. And do the fish respond to changes in gravity or how does that work? Yeah. I mean, they’ve done a number of, uh, studies with fish in microgravity.

 

And they’ve found that they’re able to reproduce, which is huge. So apparently it, it, you know, is working okay. Like I was really looking at, uh, sessile organisms, organisms that would attach onto something. So it would even have less of an impact. Hopefully the only problem is a lot of these organisms, a lot of these shellfish, they have a parasitic larvae stage.

 

So. The babies basically attach on to fish when they’re, when they’re larvae. Um, so we, we’re trying to find nine different species that didn’t need that stage or can use something else, like a sponge or something else that, you know, that has been proven in the past. Interesting. So, uh, you had a short video posted, or maybe it was an Instagram story called Why Space Research When There are Earth Problems, and I thought it made some really good points, you know, and a lot of people feel that way — like we’ve got all these problems on Earth. Why are we doing stuff in space? So could you kind of share the gist of that for the listeners?

Yeah. I mean, I think that a lot of people don’t realize that a lot of our Earth data comes from space. And just like I was saying earlier, you know, this space research really does push the boundaries of sustainability and allows us to see things that aren’t necessary, but are possible that we can use here on Earth to better take care of our natural resources, like completely reusing water research, recycling water, um, and not needing new water for different efforts or different purposes. So just like the aquaponic system itself.

 

Uh, so I know a lot of environmentalists, and I was one of them, that used to say, you know, “Why are we spending money on space when there’s Earth? And even being at NOAA, seeing how much money NASA gets, it’s a little annoying, but at the same time, it’s absolutely necessary that we look at Earth from space that we understand how all of our Earth systems work together in order to answer the big questions, especially in a changing world with climate change, with increased drought precipitation in some areas, a more intense hurricanes wildfires, you know, all of this is connected.

 

I mean, and I think we saw that very clearly when Michigan was seeing the smoke from the California wildfires. You know, and, and that information was, was from space. The information about the Saharan dust feeding the, the Amazon, and also feeding red tide space. That’s amazing. Yeah. And it’s, and of course, how many technologies come back down to serve other purposes, right here on Earth. So for sure.

 

With your water expertise, as it relates to microbes, how excited are you about the Perseverance rover on Mars and the potential it has to find signs of past microbial life in the former lakebed of Jezero creator. That is really exciting. It’s totally makes sense. I am not going to be surprised whatsoever when microbes are found on Mars.

 

What’s going to be interesting is seeing if there’s species that we already know of here on Earth or not. But if you think about it, You know, there are so many species that we haven’t identified on Earth. You know, we’re in a sixth mass extinction right now. And most of the species that we’re losing our bacteria, you know, they outnumber us by, oh, a lot.

 

So, you know, we might be losing species that we never knew about, but yeah. So that’ll be really interesting to see what kind of microbes are found. Are they sulfur producing? Are they, you know, aerobic, anaerobic, like. Yeah. Are they dinoflagellate? So are they, you know what I mean? Like there’s so many questions and that will tell us a lot about the historic environmental conditions of that area.

 

I think it will be really, really, really cool. Yeah, that totally makes sense. I mean, cause we, you know, obviously you have a lot of the same minerals and everything, right. So, you know, rocks and you know, and so why wouldn’t there maybe be similar microbes, right. And the crazy part about all this is that it’s probably easier to look at microbes on Mars than it is in the bottom of our ocean.

 

Oh, interesting. I didn’t think of it that way. I think about this. Like, I think that the best example was when a coworker of mine showed me a styrofoam cup and he was like, this one went to the Moon. And then he showed me another shriveled, just like tiny little styrofoam cup. He’s like, this one went to the bottom of the ocean.

 

And you think about all that pressure? So for a human to get that low, you know, to go that deep and at those pressures is extremely difficult. Perspective. Yeah. If people are like, well, we haven’t explored so much of our oceans, but there’s a reason for it. Like we’re just not, not there yet.

 

Interesting. An organic search of you online turns up a whole lot of videos and TV appearances. Obviously a lot of scientists don’t go that route. So, uh, what made you decide to utilize that medium? Honestly, it was, uh, my 11-year-old cousin came to my house for a spring break and was just, she was on Instagram.

 

I wasn’t even on Instagram yet. And she was just idolizing Kim Kardashian. And I was like, oh my gosh, there’s gotta be a better role model. You know, she was a very pretty little girl. And the only people that looked like her on TV were people that weren’t good role models. And I was like, why don’t you, why don’t you watch…

 

And I just couldn’t think of anybody. And I was like, you know what? There needs to be more scientists, actual scientists bringing their work to mainstream media. And I mean, MythBusters, wasn’t the right fit for me, even though I loved it, I had so much fun. Um, I was gonna ask you about that. I mean, you made it pretty far and they were trying to find new hosts for the show, right? Was kind of what the competition was. And what myth where you and your team trying to bust on the show? Oh, a bunch of them. So we did a Fast and Furious myth where we wanted to see if we could build, um, an ejector seat that would launch horizontally, uh, which we succeeded. We did the Deflategate myth.

 

Uh, we did. Can you paint a room with C4? We did. Does alcohol make you more creative? We did a cardboard boat. Can you build a cardboard boat, and you know, will it float? Which was my least favorite. Um, but we did it just, just a bunch of really fun, cool things. And, and I’m really grateful for my experience on that show.

 

You also do segments as a correspondent on the Weather Channel. Could you tell us a bit about those? Yeah. I mean, that was like a dream come true to be an expert on Weather Channel and then to be a recurring one, and be recognized as a woman in STEM and, and the STEM inspiration stuff. It’s like, I just, I can’t even believe it. I’m so humbled by that, uh, but it all started with red tide.

 

Uh, we were in the water crisis in 2018 and I was one of the experts in that water crisis. That’s when they found me on Twitter, actually one of my people tagged me in a post to, to Stephanie Abrams and that’s how it all started. And she’s a Gator too.

 

Nice. So, um, you were featured in a Marvel comic called the Unstoppable Wasp. Can you tell us about how that happened and what your character was in that issue? Yeah. It’s uh, that was really cool. It was, um, it was following MythBusters. Uh, I was contacted by the comic writer to be featured in it. And so basically I was an agent of G.I.R.L, so that’s geniuses in research labs.

 

So they, it was a way for them to highlight actual women in STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math, uh, within the comic, which was. Pretty awesome. And then from there another comic writer wrote me and another girl from MythBusters, and he was like, you know, do you guys want to have your own comic?

 

And we were like, heck yeah. So now we have our own comic. It’s called Seekers of Science. It’s on Amazon and all the money that we get, we give copies to underserved communities, kids in underserved communities. Very cool. Yeah. We don’t make any money. We lose money on it,

 

But the heart’s in the right place. So, uh, and your Inspector Planet video segments are great. I was just showing the one about sloths to my nine-year-old son recently, and he thought that was amazing. Um, do you have like a whole team that works on those or do you do those yourself?

 

The animal segments that you’re seeing on my YouTube channel are actually segments from a TV show called Animal Outtakes. So it’s a kid’s TV show and my team, I had a producer and a videographer editor and, uh, Michelle and Shannon. I love them so much. And then the woman who actually created the show, Marsha has a, um, uh, animal rescue in Sarasota called Donte’s Den.

 

And so, uh, yeah, it was, I was really excited to be part of that show. I mean, it was my favorite part of every week was filming with them. Was that, uh, was the squirrel cohabitation one was that part of that too? That was on my own. That was so great. I have, I have similar problems to that guy in Gainesville.

 

So, um, I was very interested in that. We, we try to plant things in my yard and it’s just like, there’s, the squirrels are always up in it. So it doesn’t matter what happens. So we’ve watched that one with a lot of fascination. I’ve tried cayenne on things, you know, you said that, but I know there was, you said peppermint.

 

I was like, Oh, I haven’t tried that yet, I’ll try some of that, you know, but. The best things that worked were that soffits reinforcing the soffits. And we do have aluminum on ours. So that’s because we already had that very same thing where it was like the first winter we lived there. What’s that sound, you know?

 

And there, it was totally squirrels living up in between the floors and we have an old house, so we ended up getting aluminum over the soffits. So we’re good there. Okay. That’s good. That’s good. That’s definitely. And then the other one is training training the dog. Okay. And I don’t have one, so maybe that’s the route we need to go next.

 

It was actually a real problem. And I filmed it after the fact, which is why I didn’t have as much squirrel footage is I would have liked, but I’m, I think I’m going to redo that video and put a lot more squirrels on it. So all these media appearances add up to a lot of STEM outreach to young people in it’s fairly commonly known that women are underrepresented in STEM careers, but also obviously you being out there and visible is a big inspiration in itself to girls just getting that reinforcement that, you know, I can do this too.

 

So is that kind of in the front of your mind when you’re doing these various kinds of outreach? Always. I mean, that was a big reason why I did MythBusters, even though it wasn’t really environmentally friendly. And it’s something that, I mean, I don’t have much time, you know, like my job at NOAA is very, very demanding, but it’s so important to me that I make time for, for those kinds of outreach events, because they’re so important and they’re so impactful.

 

I didn’t have, I never met a female scientist. I never met a scientist growing up. So if I had seen that and known that it, it was an engineer that was doing all these things with the animals I loved and in the water that I needed to drink to stay alive and in the air, I breathe, then I would have thought about environmental engineering, you know, before I kind of fell into it.

 

But yeah, so this summer I’m, I’m running a kids camp. For Mission Tampa Bay. And I cannot wait and I am going to incorporate some space in the Earth system research every day. We’re going to go on an investigation and I’m going to break up the teams into different scientific disciplines to show that you can never look at a problem from one angle.

 

Like you need to work as a team and from all of these different scientific perspectives to get to an answer. That’s really cool. And I’ve understand that you’ve done some storm chasing, uh, any epic stories to tell there? So whenever I say storm chasing people assume that it’s tornadoes. Okay, maybe hurricanes then? Right? So in Florida I would be a little bored.

 

I mean, we do get some tornadoes, but not often, but yeah, it’s more like hurricane than say big storm events. And the reason for that is because I was testing a new technology or a filter media to remove nutrients and other pollutants from stormwater runoff. So it rains. What used to happen naturally is that the water would percolate into the ground, be treated naturally chemically, biologically, physically, and then, you know, return to the groundwater where we pull it up and drink it.

 

But we have changed our water cycle and put bunch of concrete on the ground, houses, driveways. And so now that water runs off surfaces really fast. Higher temperatures picking up all those pollutants and going right to our natural water bodies, every single drop of rain in the state of Florida and in most places actually goes right to our natural water bodies.

 

So what this filter media is, is supposed to do, it’s something called low impact development, and you implement these techniques like rain gardens, infiltration trenches, different filtration mechanisms to actually keep the water onsite, but also treat it. Before it moves to the next location. So this filter media did really well removed, like 80% phosphorous, um, and, uh, a number of other pollutants prior to reaching the final destination of that natural water body.

 

So we went around and caught samples before and after putting that water flow through that filter media to see how well it did, right. Another side of that too, is not just, uh, you know, toxins, but it’s also all those like fertilizers and things we use. Right. So that kind of is what throws off the balance when it, when it gets the water and then you have those algae blooms that’s that contributes to that.

 

Right. Absolutely. You know, we have the toxins from our cars and any waste you put out your window and the pesticides and herbicides that we put on our lawn, but we also have nutrients, which you would think would be a good thing, but too much of a good thing is, is not. Uh, especially when we’re changing not only the microbiology by putting those extra nutrients, but we’re also changing the biology and chemistry downstream.

 

So this is what causes algae blooms, cyanobacteria blooms. If you’ve ever seen a thick green paste on a freshwater body, a lot of those are well, all of them are due to, it’s a response to nutrient loading. So, fertilizers.

 

And especially like in flora, most places, you know, I just, I just did this on my Instagram story today. Our biggest crop in the world produces nothing. Think about that and we fertilize it. And it produces nothing and that’s grass. Wow. So that’s technically the biggest crop. Wow. But really think about it.

 

Think about all the resources that go into producing nothing. Yeah. That’s interesting. I never thought of it that way. Yeah. So, I mean, having native plant species, xeriscape, if you don’t have, you know, water where you live anything possible to not use fertilizer. I mean, it’s not just the nutrients that run off and cause algae blooms, but the 60% of the world’s phosphorus comes from Florida and it’s mined from Florida.

 

Um, and we’re running out of it, first of all. Second of all, it’s causing some real catastrophe, um, making national news just this week was a break in a wall that was holding back wastewater from a phosphorous and gypsum stack. And the wall broke. It’s releasing now, uh, impacting like 318 homes. Um, right. So, I mean, it never stops at just one place.

 

Everything is connected. That’s like full circle to the beginning there. So, uh, just one more question. What would be the ultimate thing or things that you’d like to achieve in the near future say, or like in the next five years? Really good question. Um, I definitely wanna have a cabinet position on the science team on the U.S. government science team.

 

That would be awesome. And I think that five years is a good timeline for that, but you know, I, I do have two different paths that I’m going on simultaneously right now. So if there is an opportunity to bring NOAA, bring research, bring science, investigation, you know, and discovery of our world to the general public, uh, through a TV show or other or other video platform. I can’t say that I wouldn’t do that at this point.

 

Well, Tracy, thanks again for taking the time out to chat with us today, and needless to say, we hope that your heroic and passionate efforts to save the planet are successful as well as your ongoing efforts to get more young people interested in the possibilities of STEM. Thank you so much.

 

And that concludes this episode of Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, and Spotify. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course our website spacefoundation.org, where you can also learn about the various ways you can support Space Foundation.

 

On all of these outlets and more it’s Space Foundation’s mission to be a gateway to education, information, and collaboration for space exploration and space-inspired industries that drive the global space ecosystem. As always, at Space Foundation, we will always have space for you. Thanks for listening.


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Space4U Podcast: Tracy Fanara – NOAA Scientist/Program Manager & ‘Inspector Planet’