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Searching the Ocean

Searching the Ocean; Low Density Supersonic Decelerator; Google Cars; Colorado River; Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction

It has been more than two months since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing, and there is still no trace of it. The plane has been back in the news this week, as the Malaysian government has released details of the last known satellite traces of the airliner, its passengers and crew. The initial search phase of the Indian Ocean is ending, as it is increasingly unlikely that traces of debris will be found floating. Now the seabed is becoming the focus and the extent of the hunt is highlighting just how little is known about the ocean floor in this remote area off Australia. The BBC science correspondent, Jonathan Amos, and Dr Walter Smith of NOAA in the US explain how the search could be improved.

Low Density Supersonic Decelerator
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is planning to test a better way of landing spacecraft. It looks like a flying saucer, and is officially known as a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). It was built in the same giant sterile environment where the Curiosity Rover was assembled. After the necessary precautions against dust and contaminants that could cause malfunctions in the experiment, Jack Stewart had the privilege of being shown the LDSD.

Google Car
Google is getting into the car business. The internet search giant is building its own small two-seater vehicles with no steering wheel and no pedals. The self-driving cars are designed to look cute and friendly, to make the idea of a robot driver seem less threatening. The company intends to test them on the roads around Silicon Valley and Jack Stewart visited the company's headquarters to see Chris Urmson, the man behind Google's self-driving programme, and to learn more about the technology.

Colorado River
The world over, the issue of water supply is being highlighted as large dam projects threaten to limit flow down-river. The Colorado River, one of the major waterways in the United States, provides some potentially important lessons. It runs through the Grand Canyon and has the Hoover Dam on it. For the last 16 years or so, it has not reached the sea. So much water is taken out to irrigate crops or to be used for drinking by the large population in that part of the US and Mexico that there is literally nothing left. Conservationists have been campaigning for the delta of the Colorado River, in the north of Mexico, to be flooded again and that has finally just happened in a one-off experiment. Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund explains why getting the river to flow to the sea again is important.

The Death of Vultures in India
The Oriental white-backed vulture was so abundant in India in the 1980s that it was probably the most common large bird of prey in the world. Only one in 1000 now survives: a 99.9% decline for this species. They are dying because they are eating farm animals that have been given a drug called Diclofenac. There is better news for the vultures following campaigns and research projects to reintroduce the birds. But now there are fears that birds in Europe may be affected by the use of diclofenac. Science in Action hears more from Grahame Madge of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK.

Photo: Co-pilot and Squadron Leader Brett McKenzie of the Royal New Zealand Airforce, helps to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in flight over the Indian Ocean, Credit: Getty Images

Presenter: Jack Stewart
Producer: Deborah Cohen

Available now

29 minutes


  • Searching the Ocean

    New ocean floor maps used in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

    Duration: 06:06

  • Low Density Supersonic Decelerator

    NASA’s new spacecraft design

    Duration: 06:16

  • Google Car

    A car with no steering wheel or pedals is the search engine giant's latest venture

    Duration: 03:36

  • Colorado River

    The river that never sees the sea

    Duration: 06:29

  • Asia's Vultures

    Saving Asia's vultures from extinction

    Duration: 02:57