Earth

Earth: Exploring Our Planet

Puerto Rico’s Breaking Point

After Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico in 2017, millions of people lost power — some for nearly a year. But the blackout wasn’t just the work of a powerful hurricane. Decades of debt, economic dependence, and bad financial deals set up the territory and its electrical company, PREPA, for failure. To get to the root of the catastrophe, UNC anthropologist Sandy Smith-Nonini and filmmaker Roque Nonini teamed up to create a documentary about the underlying forces of Puerto Rico’s energy crisis.

A Solution for Seagrass

Seagrasses are vital habitats in North Carolina coastal waters, but their numbers have dwindled over the years. A team at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences is exploring what type of seagrass structure marine life prefer in order to best approach restoring these important aquatic environments.

Carnivorous Conservation

Native only to a 90-mile inland radius around Wilmington, the Venus flytrap is a symbol of the Atlantic coastal plain’s unique ecology — and a contender for the federal endangered species list. As wild populations suffer due to poaching and habitat loss, UNC researchers work to preserve these carnivorous wonders through genetic testing and seed banking.

Trapped on the Surface

In the past decade, the Cape Fear River has become more susceptible to algal blooms — a potential public health concern for more than 1.5 million people relying on the river as a drinking water source. UNC researcher Nathan Hall thinks droughts and slow flows are the culprit, and aims to predict when future blooms will occur.

Fighting Fire with Fire

In its mission to inspire understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants, the North Carolina Botanical Garden conducts a series of controlled burns each year to manage wildfires and maintain rare plant and animal habitats in Chapel Hill and Durham.

The Known Unknowns

In 2016, a group of North Carolina researchers published evidence of high rates of PFAS in the Cape Fear River basin. While this unregulated family of chemicals is used in the production of everyday goods, its impact on human health is largely unknown. For the past year, scientists from UNC-Chapel Hill, five other UNC system universities, and Duke University, have researched these potentially dangerous chemicals found in drinking water sources across the state.

Captain of the Coast

From the shores of New Jersey to the North Carolina coast, Pete Peterson has always loved the ocean. He's spent nearly five decades researching its marine life, fighting for its protection, and guiding the next generation of marine scientists to do the same.

All Hands on Deck

Capping off a semester of hard work, students in a biological oceanography class put their lessons to the test during a two-day, hands-on field trip to the Neuse River Estuary and the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City.

Eye-Opening Ice

After spending two months on a research expedition in Alaska last summer, UNC junior Carly Onnink, a biology major, shares her story of field-based discovery.