Tuesday, July 31, 2007


by Lester R. Brown / from Earth Policy Institute

As the world’s demand for water has tripled over the last half-century and as the demand for hydroelectric power has grown even faster, dams and diversions of river water have drained many rivers dry. As water tables fall, the springs that feed rivers go dry, reducing river flows.

Scores of countries are overpumping aquifers as they struggle to satisfy their growing water needs, including each of the big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States. More than half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling.

There are two types of aquifers: replenishable and nonreplenishable (or fossil) aquifers. Most of the aquifers in India and the shallow aquifer under the North China Plain are replenishable. When these are depleted, the maximum rate of pumping is automatically reduced to the rate of recharge.

For fossil aquifers, such as the vast U.S. Ogallala aquifer, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain, or the Saudi aquifer, depletion brings pumping to an end. Farmers who lose their irrigation water have the option of returning to lower-yield dryland farming if rainfall permits. In more arid regions, however, such as in the southwestern United States or the Middle East, the loss of irrigation water means the end of agriculture.

The U.S. embassy in Beijing reports that Chinese wheat farmers in some areas are now pumping from a depth of 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet. Pumping water from this far down raises pumping costs so high that farmers are often forced to abandon irrigation and return to less productive dryland farming. A World Bank study indicates that China is overpumping three river basins in the north—the Hai, which flows through Beijing and Tianjin; the Yellow; and the Huai, the next river south of the Yellow. Since it takes 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain, the shortfall in the Hai basin of nearly 40 billion tons of water per year (1 ton equals 1 cubic meter) means that when the aquifer is depleted, the grain harvest will drop by 40 million tons—enough to feed 120 million Chinese.

In India, water shortages are particularly serious simply because the margin between actual food consumption and survival is so precarious. In a survey of India’s water situation, Fred Pearce reported in New Scientist that the 21 million wells drilled are lowering water tables in most of the country. In North Gujarat, the water table is falling by 6 meters (20 feet) per year. In Tamil Nadu, a state with more than 62 million people in southern India, wells are going dry almost everywhere and falling water tables have dried up 95 percent of the wells owned by small farmers, reducing the irrigated area in the state by half over the last decade.

As water tables fall, well drillers are using modified oil-drilling technology to reach water, going as deep as 1,000 meters in some locations. In communities where underground water sources have dried up entirely, all agriculture is rain-fed and drinking water is trucked in. Tushaar Shah, who heads the International Water Management Institute’s groundwater station in Gujarat, says of India’s water situation, “When the balloon bursts, untold anarchy will be the lot of rural India.”

In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas—three leading grain-producing states—the underground water table has dropped by more than 30 meters (100 feet). As a result, wells have gone dry on thousands of farms in the southern Great Plains. Although this mining of underground water is taking a toll on U.S. grain production, irrigated land accounts for only one fifth of the U.S. grain harvest, compared with close to three fifths of the harvest in India and four fifths in China.... (more)

also: Waterways, crops gasping in July heat

DENVER — Near-record heat and persistent drought are shrinking lakes, baking crops and taxing water supplies.

The Mississippi River's headwaters in Minnesota are so dry that it is possible to cross on foot in some places, says an Army Corps of Engineers hydrologist.

Several cities in the West are close to setting records today for the warmest July. Boise is on track to break a 133-year-old record for its warmest July ever. Reno is one-tenth of a degree below its July record set in 2005. The Nevada city has not had any rain in eight weeks.

Nearly two-thirds of the contiguous USA is abnormally dry or in drought, according to the national Drought Monitor.

Despite recent showers in the Southeast, much of that region remains extraordinarily dry. The worst-hit area in the USA includes most of Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. Topsoil moisture, critical for crops, is poor in half of Georgia, two-thirds of the Carolinas and Alabama and three-fourths of Tennessee.

Low flows on the Tennessee, Ohio and Cumberland rivers are forcing barge operators to lighten loads.

"We're now into the severe-drought category," says Jodi Kormanik-Sonterre of the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul....

Several states from Utah to Maryland are seeking federal disaster aid for farmers. Maryland reports crop losses of up to 60%. Heat is blamed for more than 2,800 cattle deaths in South Dakota.

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Genetic map created of tiny crustacean"

By Steve Hinnefeld / from the Herald Times

Scientists from around the world gathered at Indiana University recently for a historic occasion: the completion of the first sequencing of the genome of a crustacean.

They’ve posted on Web sites the genetic map of the water flea, scientific name Daphnia pulex, making it available for other researchers to study. They plan to publish their findings near the end of this year.

“This is a huge endeavor,” said John Colbourne, the Daphnia project director at IU’s Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics. “It’s so far removed from anything else that’s been sequenced.”

But the true goal of the effort is even more far-reaching. The Daphnia Genomics Consortium hopes to use the crustacean to understand how organisms respond genetically to changes in their environment.

Colbourne envisions a future in which scientists can measure the biological effects of toxic chemicals, laying the groundwork for more effective regulations to protect human health and the environment...

...It brought together researchers from disparate branches of biology and beyond: not just genetics and genomics experts but ecologists, toxicologists, crustacean specialists and evolutionary biologists along with biochemists and bioinformaticists.

Daphnia makes sense for such work for a number of reasons, Colbourne said. The tiny creatures, less than a quarter-inch in length, have been studied by scientists since the 1600s. They are present in all sorts of freshwater ecosystems, from acidic and polluted ponds to pristine streams and lakes.

They occupy a pivotal position in food webs, feeding on algae, bacteria and protozoa while serving as forage for fish. And most importantly, they are known for genetically adapting to environmental stress.

“You’ll find Daphnia in the most saline lakes on the planet,” Colbourne said. “You’ll find Daphnia in alpine ponds and lakes that are bombarded with UV radiation. It can rapidly change with the changing environment.”

Finally, Daphnia, which reproduce both asexually and sexually, sometimes produce eggs that don’t hatch, go dormant and are preserved for up to 100 years in dried lake or river beds. Scientists can trace changes in the genotype and tie it to historic changes in the aquatic environment.

“It’s kind of like a time machine,” Colbourne said.

Lake Superior Up 4.5 degrees F since 1979

...Something seems amiss with mighty Superior, the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes, which together hold nearly 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water.

Superior's surface area is roughly the same as South Carolina's, the biggest of any freshwater lake on Earth. It's deep enough to hold all the other Great Lakes plus three additional Lake Eries. Yet over the past year, its level has ebbed to the lowest point in eight decades and will set a record this fall if, as expected, it dips three more inches.

Its average temperature has surged 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1979, significantly above the 2.7-degree rise in the region's air temperature during the same period. That's no small deal for a freshwater sea that was created from glacial melt as the Ice Age ended and remains chilly in all seasons.

A weather buoy on the western side recently recorded an "amazing" 75 degrees, "as warm a surface temperature as we've ever seen in this lake," says Jay Austin, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota at Duluth's Large Lakes Observatory.
Water levels also have receded on the other Great Lakes since the late 1990s. But the suddenness and severity of Superior's changes worry many in the region; it has plunged more than a foot in the past year. Shorelines are dozens of yards wider than usual, giving sunbathers wider beaches but also exposing mucky bottomlands and rotting vegetation.

"C'mon, girls, get out of the mud," Dan Arsenault, 32, calls to his two young daughters at a park near the mouth of the St. Marys River on the southeastern end of Lake Superior. Bree, 5, and 3-year-old Andie are stomping in puddles where water was waist-deep a couple of years ago. The floatation rope that previously designated the swimming area now rests on moist ground.

"This is the lowest I've ever seen it," says Arsenault, a lifelong resident of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's Upper Peninsula...

Yet along Superior's shores, boats can't reach many mooring sites and marina operators are begging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge shallow harbors. Ferry service between Grand Portage, Minn., and Isle Royale National Park was scaled back because one of the company's boats couldn't dock.

Sally Zabelka has turned away boaters from Chippewa Landing marina in the eastern Upper Peninsula, where not long ago 27-foot vessels easily made their way up the channel from the lake's Brimley Bay. "In essence, our dock is useless this year," she says.

Another worry: As the bay heats up, the perch, walleye and smallmouth bass that have lured anglers to her campground and tackle shop are migrating to cooler waters in the open lake.

Low water has cost the shipping industry millions of dollars. Vessels are carrying lighter loads of iron ore and coal to avoid running aground in shallow channels...

Precipitation has tapered off across the upper Great Lakes since the 1970s and is nearly 6 inches below normal in the Superior watershed the past year. Water evaporation rates are up sharply because mild winters have shrunk the winter ice cap _ just as climate change computer models predict for the next half-century.

Yet those models also envision more precipitation as global warming sets in, says Brent Lofgren, a physical scientist with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor. Instead there's drought, suggesting other causes.
Cynthia Sellinger, the lab's deputy director, suspects residual effects of El Nino, the warming of equatorial Pacific waters that produced warmer winters in the late 1990s, just as the lakes began receding.

Both long-term climate change and short-term meteorological factors may be driving water levels down, says Urban, the Michigan Tech researcher.

But he and Austin are more concerned about effects than causes. There's a big knowledge gap about how food webs and other aquatic systems will respond to warmer temperatures, they say....

Sunday, July 29, 2007

"Five Chlorine Plants Refuse Mercury-Free Technology"

Five chlorine plants that are among the top mercury polluters in the United States would reap economic benefits if they eliminated mercury in chlorine production, Oceana (www.oceana.org) said today in a new report. The report analyzed over 115 chlorine plants that are shifting or have successfully shifted from mercury-based technology. The report also shows how the few remaining U.S. plants releasing hundreds of pounds of mercury into the air each year could make the switch and protect public health, the environment and increase profits, just by switching to mercury-free technology.

The study shows that switching to mercury-free technology - already in use by 90 percent of the chlorine producers in the United States - would increase energy efficiency, and an opportunity to increase capacity, sales and profits. Now a handful - five - facilities remain wedded to 110-year-old technology. The result is the release of four times more mercury per plant.

"The chlorine industry's dirty little secret is that five U.S. plants are releasing thousands of pounds of mercury into the environment each year," said Jackie Savitz, Director of Oceana's Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination. "Their refusal to switch to mercury-free technology - a cost-effective solution adopted by the majority of plants around the world - is an outrage that should concern citizens and shareholders alike. In some cases, plants have already spent nearly as much on mercury-related costs as they would have spent to convert their plants in the first place." The five plants - or Filthy Five as the report labels them - are Ashta Chemicals in Ashtabula, Ohio; Olin Corporation's two plants in Charleston, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga.; PPG Industries in Natrium, W.Va.; and ERCO Worldwide in Port Edwards, Wis...

Key findings of the report include:

· If the five eliminated mercury use, nearly 4,400 pounds of reported mercury emissions would be eliminated each year. (It takes just 1/70th of a teaspoon to contaminate a 25 acre lake.) This does not include mercury that is "lost" and not monitored at the plants, an amount that has rivaled power plant emissions in some years.

· Conversion of the five to mercury-free technology collectively would save the companies nearly $100 million dollars over five years in energy costs.

· Many plants also have increased production capacity by 20 to 80 percent in the process of converting, increasing their sales and profit.

· Both the ERCO plant in Wisconsin and the Olin plant in Tennessee are the number one mercury air polluters in their states, while Olin in Georgia and Ashta in Ohio are the third largest sources of mercury air pollution in their respective states. PPG in West Virginia is the top mercury releaser to water.

Chlorine is a chemical building-block used in everything from swimming pools to plastic tents to paper towels. Mercury-cell chlorine manufacturers produce chlorine by pumping a saltwater solution through a vat of mercury, or a mercury-cell, which catalyzes an electrolytic chemical reaction. Through this process, mercury pollution is released into the air and waterways and tons of mercury wastes are generated and disposed of.

Most human mercury exposure results from eating contaminated fish. Mercury is primarily a neurotoxin, which means once in the body it attacks the central nervous system. It can cause serious health problems, especially in children. Very high exposure levels lead to brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures and speech problems. An EPA scientist has estimated that one in six women of child-bearing age has enough mercury in her blood to pose serious neurological risks to her developing child...

List of Dirtiest U.S. Power Plants

Texas has the most entries on a list of the dirtiest U.S. power plants, while New England and the Pacific Coast make less carbon dioxide because they have fewer coal-burning plants, an environmental group said on Thursday.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is the main cause of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Of the 50 "dirtiest" power plants with the highest carbon dioxide emissions in the country, all are coal-fired. Texas accounts for five on the list, and Indiana and Pennsylvania each have four, the Environmental Integrity Project annual study found.

U.S. power plant CO2 emissions actually fell 2 percent in 2006 from 2005, but the report focused on the fact that a new wave of coal-fired plants -- about 150 nationwide -- could increase CO2 pollution by 34 percent by 2030, the study said.

"The power industry is racing to build more coal-fired power plants," said the report's principal author, Ilan Levin, an attorney for EIP.

"Once utility companies secure their air pollution permits, we can expect them to argue that these new plants should be 'grandfathered,' or exempt from any pending limits on greenhouse gases."

Coal-burning power plants make half the electricity used in the United States. And the United States in the latest United Nations report -- for 2003 -- was at 23 percent the top national producer of CO2 emissions, with China second at 16.5 percent...

States with three plants on the list were Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia, while Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico and Wyoming each had two plants on the Top 50 list...

The EIP study said U.S. power plants make 40 percent of CO2 emissions, about two-thirds of sulfur dioxide emissions, 22 percent of nitrogen oxides emissions, and roughly a third of all mercury emissions.

See The Environmental Integrity Project for more info.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"Europe's costal resorts battle a Jellyfish invasion"

By John Lichfield and Elizabeth Nash / from The Independent (UK)

From Cannes to the Costa del Sol, holidaymakers are under attack. As millions of toxic jellyfish lay siege to the beaches of the Mediterranean, coastal communities are battling to turn the tide.

Jean-Marie Giorgis, assistant mayor of Cannes, has a view of the Gulf of Fré jus that foreign billionaires would die, or even pay taxes, for. From his office, he can see red rocks, blue sea, green islands, dart-like yachts and glittering cruise ships. Just below his window are the warm stones of a small fishing village that has exploded into one of the world's most elegant coastal resorts.

As he answers a telephone call from an official somewhere out in the bay, Giorgis is not interested in any of these things. Not today. "Are there any jellyfish out there?" he asks. "No sign of them? Thank heaven for that."

Giorgis is in charge of Cannes' most treasured assets: its beaches and its waterfront. For the time being, that makes him the town's "Monsieur Méduse" or "Mr Jellyfish".

Like dozens of other resorts along the north Mediterranean coast, Cannes is under siege from a monstrous-looking primeval creature from the depths. For reasons still little understood, this summer the coast is facing a plague of an especially poisonous and painful species of stinging jellyfish, the " mauve stinger", or Pelagia noctiluca. Luminous at night, it is armed with a ferocious sting that can swiftly paralyse humans.

Follow the coast further west from Cannes and the mauve stinger invasion is in full spate, threatening Spanish holiday beaches from the Costa del Sol to the Costa Brava. The Spanish environment ministry has adopted new measures to combat the annual onslaught, which has been worsening steadily for two decades...

Sixty million jellyfish swept up on Spanish beaches in 2006, and more than 70,000 holidaymakers were treated for painfully swollen limbs and allergic reactions – 300 in one day in Benalmadena, near Malaga. The year before, four glaucous tons of stranded jellyfish were carted from the luxury coastal resort of Marbella. The environment ministry has mobilised hundreds of volunteers, skippers of pleasure craft, divers and fishermen the length of the southern coastline in an early warning system to alert for poisonous swarms before they approach the beach.

Joachim Such, manager of the Nautical Club of Altea, near Benidorm, is among those who have signed up. "They've asked me to recruit experienced people who go to sea regularly throughout the summer. When they spot a bank of jellyfish, there's a freephone number to call and a special procedure to report sightings," Such says. Once forewarned, local authorities onshore are then meant to prepare for the imminent invasion by mobilising Red Cross medical attendants, alerting bathers or closing off the beach entirely.

In the regions of greatest risk, including the coast off Malaga, the ministry has leased boats to scoop up the glutinous creatures before currents and winds sweep them ashore. Nets have been used to trap swarms spotted at sea, although that measure was found to be counterproductive: the jellyfish would just release their tentacles, which floated inshore semi-decomposed but with their stings still intact.

One of the films in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May was an Israeli movie called Les Méduses ("Jellyfish"). Local people wondered whether it was a joke against them, a spoof remake of Spielberg's Jaws. The film actually used the jellyfish – beautiful, near-invisible but toxic – as a metaphor for the hidden complexities of the human soul.

Jellyfish may have points of comparison, but they are nowhere near as nasty as sharks. Nevertheless, their stings can be very painful: "like touching a hot stove", according to one victim. Jellyfish stings can lead to unpleasant rashes or respiratory problems among the elderly or physically infirm. They are almost never fatal. All the same, many visitors to the Côte d'Azur are wondering whether it is – in the words of the Jaws poster – "safe to go back into the water".

...Two weeks ago, one fairly early assault engulfed beaches at Xabia, north of Benidorm. Seventy bathers were stung before the beach was closed; usually the jellyfish don't come to Xabia till August. And last week 19 beaches in Catalonia, including five off Barcelona, flew the yellow flag indicating danger from jellyfish.

...This week, Cannes took the lead in anti-jellyfish defence on the Mediterranean coast. A sophisticated diamond-shaped floating boom, attached to a fine, 2m-deep net, was deployed around three of the public beaches on the 10-mile waterfront.

...Spanish authorities have also enlisted help from the jellyfish's main predator since ancient times, the leatherback turtle (Caretta caretta). Spaniards call it the tortuga boba – stupid turtle – because of its clumsiness in catching fish, a deficiency the creature overcomes by preying on jellyfish instead. But the leatherback's beach-side habitat, where it lays its eggs, has been ravaged by tourism, and the animal is under the looming threat of extinction.

Authorities have planted some 800 turtle eggs along the coast, in the hope that they will hatch and eat the translucent invaders before they harm holidaymakers. Some 60 live turtles have also been released around the Cabo de Gata in Almeria. But the operation is only a panacea, acknowledges the local marine biologist, Juan Jesus Martin. "The protection and recuperation of the species is needed to restore the balance of the ecosystem," he says.

But why have the jellyfish suddenly become so abundant in the Mediterranean?

There are more than 10,000 species of jellyfish. They are not, to be a ccurate, fish at all, but a kind of giant plankton, which cannot swim but float on currents and the tide. Curiously, the same orifice in the jellyfish acts as both mouth and anus, which makes them – apart from their lack of backbone - a useful source of insulting political analogies.

Some scientists and ecological campaigners explain the new prevalence by pointing to a rise in average sea temperature, linked to the warming of the planet. Lack of rain has meant a shortage of cold fresh water entering the sea from rivers, with the end result of a warmer, saltier sea that puts off larger creatures but is well-suited to jellyfish. Human sewage, together with fertilisers from intensive farming along the Mediterranean coast, produces a rich soup of nitrogen and phosphates that jellyfish also like.

Others blame the fact that natural jellyfish predators – such as the bluefin tuna and the turtle – have been driven almost to extinction, a consequence of overfishing and pollution. Still others think that the jellyfish explosion might be connected to the overfishing of other species, such as the anchovy and the sardine, which used to compete for the minute creatures and plankton on which jellyfish voraciously feed.

There also seems to be a connection with a change in the wind and the pattern of the Mediterranean currents, which may themselves be linked to global warming. Jellyfish live deep in the sea during the day but rise to the surface at night to feed. For all their undulating mobility, jellyfish have little control over where they travel, and are mostly swept along by currents and prevailing winds that propel the creatures landwards.

It all signals a deep malaise in the Mediterranean. "Every jellyfish that comes ashore brings us the message that the sea is sick," says Josep Maria Gigli, scientific coordinator of the Spanish environment ministry's Medusa Plan.

Apart from the mauve stinger, various other species also thrive in the Mediterranean. One regular visitor is Cortylorhiza tuberculata, known as " fried egg", which luxuriates in the warm, salty lagoons near the fashionable Murcian resort of La Manga, lagoons rich in nutrients from the fertilisers drained from the region's intensive plastic-greenhouse agriculture. The fried egg's sting is mild, but its sheer numbers transform the water into a milky gloop. Rhizostoma pulpo, or octopus jellyfish, named for its eight long tentacles, is also on the increase.

The deadly Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia physalis) is increasingly being swept towards Europe's Atlantic coasts, in "blooms" resembling a sinister sea of plastic bags. But so far, currents have yet to drag this majestic but deadly creature through the Gibraltar Strait into the Mediterranean....

The French-Canadian biologist Daniel Pauly paints an apocalyptic vision of oceans taken over by jellyfish: "We are moving from a marine ecosystem dominated by big fish to a soup of small organisms. If we carry on like this the only things in the sea will be jellyfish and plankton soup."

A return to primeval slime? "A lot of pressures are pushing in that direction," says Dr Santilo. "The mechanisms are there to make that happen. Ecosystems are flexible up to a point, but no one knows when elasticity breaks into a different sort of ecosystem and you get an irreversible shift. This plague of jellyfish is a like hazard warning light. It's a wake-up call."

Ecologists do not criticise the Spanish government's effort to protect holidaymakers from unwelcome tentacular visitors. But they say it is not enough. "It's like using a fly swat to combat malaria," says Ricardo Aguilar, a spokesman for the international environmental organisation Oceana. "The sickness remains."

...Their numbers were worryingly large last year. There was something close to a panic when the bays and coves were suddenly filled with near-invisible stinging creatures the size of soup plates. This summer, they have been elusive, teeming along some parts of the French Mediterranean coast, absent in others...

Some of the stinging jellyfish to avoid include:

* Lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata). Grows to 50cm but can reach 2m in diameter. Large, reddish brown, umbrella-shaped bell with a mass of long, thin, hair-like tentacles, in addition to four short, thick-frilled and folded arms.

* Mauve stinger (Pelagia noctiluca). Can reach up to 10cm in diameter and has a deep bell with pink or mauve warts. Has 16 marginal lobes, eight marginal, hair-like tentacles and four longer, frilled arms with tiny pink spots.

* Compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella). Can grow up to 30cm in diameter. Usually has a pale umbrella-shaped bell with brownish, V-shaped markings. It has 32 marginal lobes and 24 long, thin tentacles. Four long, thick-frilled arms hang from the underside's centre.

* Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita). This transparent jellyfish with an umbrella-shaped bell edged with short, hair-like tentacles can grow up to 40cm. Its sting is mild and the most distinguishing feature is its four purple rings in the centre of its bell – its reproductive organs.

* Blue jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii). Similar in shape to C. capillata but is smaller with a blue bell through which radial lines can be seen. It has a mild sting.

* By-the-wind-sailor (Velella velella). Not a true jellyfish but a floating colony of individual creatures known as a hydranth. Can grow up to 10cm long and is blue-purple. Can occur in vast swarms.

*Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia physalis). Again, not a true jellyfish but a floating colony of microscopic hydrozoans. Its distinguishing feature is the oval-shaped, transparent float complete with crest, below which hang many "fishing polyps" that can be tens of metres long. The powerful stings are extremely dangerous. They are fortunately rare in British waters, but not unheard of.

Friday, July 27, 2007

100s of Oil-Covered Penguins in South America

Hundreds of oil-covered Magellanic penguins have surfaced off the Atlantic coast of South America in the past few weeks, according to an animal welfare organization.

Magellanic penguins are medium-sized South American penguins. The species is classified as "near threatened" because of its vulnerability to oil spills, which kill tens of thousands of the animals yearly off the coast of Argentina.

Oil spills harm numerous types of marine life, including seabirds. Oil interferes with their waterproofing abilities. This forces penguins, which are birds, out of the frigid waters in a state of hypothermia, leading to dehydration and sometimes starvation.

A continuous stream of oil from spills has created a chronic problem across South American waters and other parts of the world, said Rodolfo Silva of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, one of the agencies helping to treat the penguins.

This week, 36 Magellanic penguins were being treated at the Society for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Maldonado (SOCOBIOMA) center in Uruguay, where more than 40 of the penguins surfaced.

Using Web Tools, Amateurs Reshape Mapmaking

By Christopher Berkey for The New York Times

On the Web, anyone can be a mapmaker.

With the help of simple tools introduced by Internet companies recently, millions of people are trying their hand at cartography, drawing on digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound and videos.

In the process, they are reshaping the world of mapmaking and collectively creating a new kind of atlas that is likely to be both richer and messier than any other.

They are also turning the Web into a medium where maps will play a more central role in how information is organized and found.

Already there are maps of biodiesel fueling stations in New England, yarn stores in Illinois and hydrofoils around the world. Many maps depict current events, including the detours around a collapsed Bay Area freeway and the path of two whales that swam up the Sacramento River delta in May....

“What is happening is the creation of this extremely detailed map of the world that is being created by all the people in the world,” said John V. Hanke, director of Google Maps and Google Earth. “The end result is that there will be a much richer description of the earth.”

...Yet that is nothing compared with the boom that is now under way. In April, Google unveiled a service called My Maps that makes it easy for users to create customized maps. Since then, users of the service have created more than four million maps of everything from where to find good cheap food in New York to summer festivals in Europe.

More than a million maps have been created with a service from Microsoft called Collections, and 40,000 with tools from Platial, a technology start-up. MotionBased, a Web site owned by Garmin, the navigation device maker, lets users upload data they record on the move with a Global Positioning System receiver. It has amassed more than 1.3 million maps of hikes, runs, mountain bike rides and other adventures.

On the Flickr photo-sharing service owned by Yahoo, users have “geotagged” more than 25 million pictures, providing location data that allows them to be viewed on a map or through 3-D visualization software like Google Earth...


Google Maps: My Maps

Google Earth


Motionbased (GPS related)

Heat Kills One Thousand Cattle in S.D.

(A) More than 1,100 cattle are believed to have died during a two-day blast of heat and humidity in northeast South Dakota.

"It had to be the humidity," said John Braun of the Braun feedlot south of Warner, where the weather killed 85 to 100 of the 4,500 cattle in a feedlot.

The high on Monday in Aberdeen was 97. The heat index, which is related to humidity, hit 106. On Tuesday, the high was 92 in Aberdeen, with a heat index of 100...

According to reports from producers and others, the toll included about 400 cattle at three feedlots in the Warner area, 400 in Spink County, and at least 330 in Marshall County.

A 1,200-pound animal sold for slaughter at a current minimum market price of 80 cents per pound would represent a loss of $960.

Braun said his insurance adjuster told him Tuesday morning that he was not covered and that no insurance company offers coverage for loss of animals because of heat.

State Veterinarian Sam Holland said fat cattle on feed _ which, for the most part, are what died this week _ have difficulty cooling their bodies because of their fat condition.

Little or no wind and an abundance of flies also could be factors.

Braun said cattle in his feedlot huddled together to protect themselves from flies, adding to their warmth.

Producers have been spraying water on the animals to keep them cool.

"Aquafina labels to spell out source - tap water"

By Martinne Geller (Reuters) - PepsiCo Inc. will spell out that its Aquafina bottled water is made with tap water, a concession to the growing environmental and political opposition to the bottled water industry.

According to Corporate Accountability International, a U.S. watchdog group, the world's No. 2 beverage company will include the words "Public Water Source" on Aquafina labels.

"If this helps clarify the fact that the water originates from public sources, then it's a reasonable thing to do," said Michelle Naughton, a Pepsi-Cola North America spokeswoman...

Pepsi's Aquafina and Coca-Cola Co's Dasani are both made from purified water sourced from public reservoirs, as opposed to Danone's Evian or Nestle's Poland Spring, so-called "spring waters," shipped from specific locations the companies say have notably clean water.

Coca-Cola Co. told Reuters it will start posting online information about the quality control testing it performs on Dasani by the end of summer or early fall.

"Concerns about the bottled-water industry, and increasing corporate control of water, are growing across the country," said Gigi Kellett, director of the "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign, which aims to encourage people to drink tap water.

San Francisco's mayor banned city employees from using city funds to buy bottled water when tap water is available. Ann Arbor, Michigan passed a resolution banning commercially bottled water at city events and Salt Lake City, Utah asked department heads to eliminate bottled water.

Critics charge the bottled water industry adds plastic to landfills, uses too much energy by producing and shipping bottles across the world and undermines confidence in the safety and cleanliness of public water supplies, all while much of the world's population is without access to clean water....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fourth Warmest June on record (Worldwide)

From Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog

June 2007 was the fourth warmest June for the globe on record, and the period January - June of 2007 was the second warmest such period ever, according to statistics released by the National Climatic Data Center. The global temperature record goes back 128 years. The global average temperature for June was +0.55°C (+0.99°F) above the 20th century mean. Over land, June global temperatures were the third warmest ever measured. Ocean temperatures were a bit cooler (eighth warmest on record). All land areas, with the exception of Argentina, were warmer than average during the period January-June 2007.

June temperatures were particularly warm across Southeast Europe, where temperatures soared to 40°C (104°F). At least 40 deaths were blamed on the heat, and electricity demand reached record levels. Winter in the Southern Hemisphere was colder than average in Argentina and Australia, and Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, received its first significant snowfall since 1981 on June 27.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Toxic, Blue-green Algae Infesting Northeast Lakes

Algae closes Newton beach

NEWTON, N.H. -- A potentially toxic algae has hit a third pond in New Hampshire, and authorities have closed it.

The cyanobacteria was discovered Tuesday near the town beach in Country Pond. State environmental officials are advising the public to avoid the water and keep pets away.

Showell Pond in Sandown and Willand Pond in Somersworth were closed this month because of the algae. It contains toxins that can cause everything from skin irritation, vomiting and diarrhea to liver and central nervous system damage.

Quebec's famous lakes teeming with blue-green algae

Unsightly and potentially toxic, blue-green algae has infested Quebec's prized lakes, fed by fertilizers that keep summer home lawns plush and green and local residents and authorities fretting.
With its half-a-million lakes, Quebec is nirvana to fishermen and boaters fleeing inner city stress for the peace and calm of summer cabins and mansions on the shores of cool lakes.

But this summmer, a pall has fallen over this idyllic paradise and over the surface of many lakes in the form of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria.

Besides turning the lake surface a putrid shade of green, the pond scum or bloom, as cyanobacteria is also called, can be toxic, causing skin irritation on contact and liver or nervous system problems when swallowed.

The Quebec government has posted warnings on the Internet for 72 lakes and rivers people should not drink from -- three times the number from last year.

"For two weeks, they've been providing us with water for drinking and cooking. At the beginning of the summer it was bottled, but since last week it comes in tanker trucks," said Cowansville Mayor Arthur Fauteux, whose 12,500 citizens live some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Montreal.

Most of the polluted lakes in Quebec are resort areas where decades of growing human activity has battered ecosystems to the point of fragility.

"They've built houses and cut down trees to get better views of the lakes, they've replaced natural vegetation with lawns that need fertilizing. There are many factors that over the years have wrought a change in the quality of the lake waters," Department of Environment biologist Marc Simoneau told AFP.

Blue-green algae chiefly get their nourishment from phosphorous, which is rarely found in water but becomes abundant in the presence of fertilizer that washes off lawns and farms...

"Quebec is no more polluted than other regions around the world," David Bird, a cyanobacteria specialist with the University of Quebec, Montreal, told AFP.

"These precautions are the result of global awareness to the real danger of toxic cyanobacteria after all those people died in Caruaru, in Brazil."

In 1996, some 50 people at a blood dialysis center in Brazil died after getting injections of cyanobacteria contaminated water in their veins.

"Ozone cuts plant growth, spurs global warming: study"

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The affects of greenhouse gas ozone, which has been increasing near Earth's surface since 1850, could seriously cut into crop yields and spur global warming this century, scientists reported on Wednesday.

Ozone in the troposphere -- the lowest level of the atmosphere -- damages plants and affects their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, another global warming gas whose release into the atmosphere accelerates climate change, the researchers wrote in the journal Nature.

While carbon dioxide is blamed for global warming, it also has a beneficial effect on plant growth, and ozone counteracts this effect, said Stephen Sitch, a climate researcher at Britain's Met Office, which deals with meteorology.

"As CO2 (carbon dioxide) increases in the atmosphere, that stimulates plant growth," Sitch said by telephone. He noted that many scientific simulations that predict the impact of global warming have included this effect but "they haven't included the other effect, the negative effect of ozone damaging productivity."

Plants and soil currently slow down global warming by storing about a quarter of human carbon dioxide emissions, but that could change if near-surface ozone increases, the researchers said.

Projections of this rise in ozone "could lead to significant reductions in regional plant production and crop yields," they said in a statement.

Carbon dioxide's fertilizing effect can be powerful, Sitch and his colleagues reported, pushing global plant productivity by 88.4 billion tons a year.

This figure does not take into account the depressing effect of ozone; with that factored in, the fertilizing power of carbon dioxide is 58.4 billion tons, the scientists wrote.

Without accounting for increased ozone, earlier simulations have underestimated the amount of carbon dioxide that will remain in the atmosphere, Sitch said.

Ozone's damaging effect on plants means they will suck up less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, leaving more of this chemical to contribute to greenhouse warming, he said.

"Carbon dioxide is the largest greenhouse warming gas but ... (ozone) is reducing plant productivity by an appreciable amount," Sitch said.

Ozone has doubled since the mid-19th century due to chemical emissions from vehicles, industrial processes and the burning of forests, the British climate researchers wrote. Carbon dioxide has also risen over that period.

Unlike carbon dioxide, which is directly caused by these human-spawned emissions, ozone is a so-called secondary air pollutant, produced by reactions with other chemicals like nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide.

Tropospheric ozone is different from stratospheric ozone, which contributes to a protective layer high above Earth's surface that guards against harmful solar radiation.

Drought in the Amazon

By Geoffrey Lean / from nzherald.co.nz

Deep in the heart of the world's greatest rainforest, a nine-day journey by boat from the sea, Otavio Luz Castello is anxiously watching the soft waters of the Amazon drain away.

Every day they recede further, like water running slowly out of an immense bathtub, threatening a worldwide catastrophe.

Standing on an island in a quiet channel of the giant river, he points out what is happening. A month ago, the island was under water. Now, it juts 5m above it.

It is a sign that severe drought is returning to the Amazon for a second successive year. And that would be ominous. New research suggests that one further dry year beyond that could tip the whole vast forest into a cycle of destruction.

The day before, top scientists delivered much the same message at a remarkable floating symposium on the Rio Negro, on the strange black waters beside which Manaus, the capital city of the Amazon, stands.

They told the meeting - convened on a flotilla of boats by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Greek Orthodox Church, dubbed the "green Pope" for his environmental activism - that global warming and deforestation were pushing the entire enormous area towards a "tipping point", where it would start to die.

The consequences would be awesome. The wet Amazon Basin would turn to dry savannah at best, desert at worst. This would cause much of the world to become hotter and drier.

In the long term, it could send global warming out of control, eventually making the world uninhabitable...

At one point in the western Brazilian state of Acre, the world's biggest river shrank so far that it was possible to walk across it.

Millions of fish died, and thousands of communities whose only transport was by water were stranded.

And the drying forest caught fire; in September, satellite camera images showed 73,000 blazes in the basin.

This year, says Otavio Luz Castello, the water is draining away even faster than last year - and there are still more than three months of the dry season to go.

It is much the same all over Amazonia. In the Jau National Park, 18 hours by boat up the Rio Negro from Manaus, local people who took me out by canoe at dawn found it impossible to get to places they had reached without trouble just the evening before.

Acre received no rain for 40 days recently, and sandbanks are beginning to surface in its rivers.

Flying over the forest - with trees in a thousand shades of green stretching, for hour after hour, as far as the eye can see - it seems inconceivable that anything could endanger its verdant immensity.

Until recently, scientists took the same view, seeing it as one of the world's most stable environments.

Though they condemned the way that, on average, an area roughly the size of Wales is cut down each year, this did not seem to endanger the forest as a whole, much less the planet.

Now they are changing their minds in the face of increasing evidence that deforestation is pushing the Amazon and the world to the brink of disaster.

Dr Antonio Nobre, of Brazil's National Institute of Amazonian Research, told the floating symposium of unpublished research which suggests that the felling was drying up the entire forest and helping to cause the hurricanes that have been battering the United States and the Caribbean.

The hot, wet Amazon, he explained, normally evaporates vast amounts of water, which rise high into the air as if in an invisible chimney, drawing in wet northeast trade winds, which have picked up moisture from the Atlantic.

This, in turn, controls the temperature of the ocean - as the trade winds pick up the moisture, the warm water left gets saltier and sinks.

Deforestation disrupts the cycle by weakening the Amazonian evaporation which drives the whole process.

One result is that the hot water in the Atlantic stays on the surface and fuels the hurricanes.

Another is that less moisture arrives on the trade winds, intensifying the forest drought...

Brazilian politicians say their country has so many other pressing problems that the destruction is unlikely to be brought under control, unless the world helps.

Calculations by Hylton Philipson, a British merchant banker and rainforest campaigner, reckon that doing this would take US$60 billion ($80 billion) a year - less than a third of the cost of the Iraq war.

About a fifth of the Amazonian rainforest has been razed completely. Another 22 per cent has been harmed by logging, allowing the sun to penetrate to the forest floor, drying it out.

Add these two figures together and the total is perilously close to 50 per cent, predicted as the "tipping point" that marks the death of the Amazon...

The Amazon now appears to be entering its second successive year of drought, raising the possibility it could start dying next year. The immense forest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50 per cent.

Nepstead expects "mega-fires" rapidly to sweep across the drying jungle. With the trees gone, the soil will bake in the sun and the rainforest could become desert.

Deborah Clark from the University of Missouri, one of the world's top forest ecologists, says research shows "the lock has broken" on the Amazon ecosystem and the Amazon is "headed in a terrible direction".

Study: Obesity is Socially Contagious

A new study finds that when the scale reads "obese" for one individual, the odds that their friends will become obese increase by more than 50 percent.

The study, published in the July 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that obesity is "socially contagious," as it can spread among individuals in close social circles. The likely explanation: A person's idea of what is an appropriate body size is affected by the size of his or her friends.

Conversely, the researchers found that thinness is also contagious.

"Social effects, I think, are much stronger than people before realized," said co-author James Fowler, a social-networks expert at the University of California-San Diego. "There's been an intensive effort to find genes that are responsible for obesity and physical processes that are responsible for obesity, and what our paper suggests is that you really should spend time looking at the social side of life as well."

...Fat-fueling factors were taken into consideration. For instance, the researchers made sure the effect wasn't a case of "birds of a feather flocking together." Body measurements were taken throughout the study period, showing when individuals became obese and whether they began the study with obese readings.

"It's not that obese or non-obese people simply find other similar people to hang out with," Christakis said. "Rather, there is a direct, causal relationship."

They also ruled out the idea that an outside factor, and not the friendship, caused the fatness. If an environmental factor were affecting both individuals in a friendship, then it shouldn't matter whether individuals are mutual friends or just one individual labels the other as a friend.

The study, however, found that it does matter which way the friend arrow points: If subjects named an obese person as a friend, they tended to be affected by that person's obesity.

But when the person on the receiving end did not label the first person as a friend, there was no "obesity contagion" effect in the other direction. The distinct variable here is who calls whom a "friend."

"The fact that it only has an effect when I think you're my friend is very strongly suggestive to me," Watts said. "That's about as good as you can do in terms of identifying a causal relationship."

Perhaps friends just spend a lot of time together and so would eat similar foods and engage in the same physical activities. But they found the results held no matter the geographic proximity of friends.

"So friends that are thousands of miles away have just as large an impact on you as friends who are right next door," Fowler told LiveScience.

The scientists suggest the findings can be explained if friends are influencing one another's norms for body weight.

"What appears to be happening is that a person becoming obese most likely causes a change of norms about what counts as an appropriate body size," Christakis said. "People come to think that it is OK to be bigger since those around them are bigger, and this sensibility spreads."


I've thought that this was probably the case.

In a somewhat related issue is this article about cultural norms favoring obesity in Mauritania ->

In Mauritania, to make a girl big and plump, ‘gavage’ — a borrowed French word from the practice of fattening of geese for foie gras — starts early. Obesity has long been the ideal of beauty, signaling a family’s wealth in a land repeatedly wracked by drought.

Mint was 4 when her family began to force her to drink 14 gallons of camel’s milk a day. When she vomited, she was beaten. If she refused to drink, her fingers were bent back until they touched her hand. Her stomach hurt so much she prayed all the animals in the world would die so that there would be no more milk.

By the time Mint was 10, she could no longer run. Unconcerned, her proud mother delighted in measuring the loops of fat hanging under her daughter’s arms.

“My mother thinks she made me beautiful. But she made me sick,” says Mint, who suffers from weight-related illnesses including diabetes and heart disease. She asked that her full last name not be disclosed because she feels embarrassed.

A quarter of the 1.5 million women in Mauritania — a barren, dune-enveloped country in northwest Africa more than twice the size of Texas — are obese, according to the World Health Organization. That’s lower than the 40 percent of American women who the WHO says are obese, but surprisingly high in a country that has not a single fast-food franchise...

To end the brutal feeding practices, the government has launched a TV and radio campaign highlighting the health risks of obesity. Because most Mauritanian love songs describe the ideal woman as fat, the health ministry commissioned catchy odes to thin women.

These efforts, combined with the rising popularity of foreign soap operas featuring model-thin women, has helped reduce the practice, especially among the country’s urban elite.

Only one in 10 women under the age of 19 has been force-fed, compared to a third of women 40 or older, according to a survey conducted by the National Office of Statistics in 2001, the most recent available.

Those still forced to eat were overwhelmingly from the country’s rural areas.

But although the canon of beauty is changing, entrenched values are hard to uproot.

“My husband thinks I’m not fat enough,” complained Zeinabou Mint Bilkhere, explaining that her husband found her pretty during the last months of her pregnancy. Since giving birth, the weight has dropped, however, and with it his desire for her....

“When I was little, my mother hit me to eat because I didn’t want to be fat. Now I want to be big because men like that,” said Bilkhere, who wants to gain more than 20 pounds.

But many men say they prefer voluptuous women.

Isselmou Ould Mohamed says he loves his wife’s 200-pound body and was pleased when she began adding even more weight during pregnancy. When he learned she had started walking around the soccer stadium to try to shed the extra pounds, he was revolted.

“I don’t like skinny women. I want to be able to grab her love handles,” said the 32-year-old. “I told her that if she loses a lot of weight, I’ll divorce her.”

Although Mauritania is the only culture known to force-feed girls, obesity is popular across much of the Arab world. Nomadic peoples struggling to survive the harsh desert came to prize fatness as a sign of health.

Fifty-two percent of women over 15 in Kuwait are obese, as are 46 percent in Egypt and approximately a third of women in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, according to the WHO. That contrasts sharply with most sub-Saharan countries, including Mauritania’s neighbors, Senegal and Mali, where only 9 and 6 percent of women are obese...

“A man’s goal is to marry a woman that fills his house. She needs to decorate it like an armoire or a TV set,” said Seif l’Islam, 48, curator of a library of ancient Islamic manuscripts, which include numerous love poems to plump women.


It's interesting because it shows how a society can affect values. Of course - women and their health seem to be valued very little. Valuing obesity past the point of ill health is just like valuing thinness to the point of anorexia and death.

I was brought up with the value of good health - and I wouldn't tolerate someone who encouraged me to be unhealthy - for his vanity or for any other reason.

"Front-yard veggie gardens taking root"

I planted an herb/veggie garden in my front yard this year. I'm growing tomatoes and basil, lettuce, and herbs. I also got one going with asparagus and lily of the vally. I like to have some flowering things mixed in.

It is very handy for being able to keep track of what is available and how it's doing. It's much easier to attend to than our garden way the heck in the back of the back yard.

I also tried mixing some vegees in with some of the plants around the pond - they have not been as fruitful, however.

I think lawn codes/neighborhood codes that "outlaw" any sort of garden are backwards and should all be abolished (or ignored if necessary).


Proponents hope it's an idea that will grow on you...

Dedicated vegetable gardeners are ripping out their front lawns and planting dinner.

Their front-yard kitchen gardens, with produce ranging from vegetables to herbs and salad greens, are a source of food, a topic of conversation with the neighbors and a political statement.

Leigh Anders, who tore up about half her front lawn four years ago and planted vegetables, said her garden sends a message that anyone can grow at least some of their food. That task should shift from agribusiness back to individuals and their communities, said Anders, of Viroqua, Wis.

"This movement can start with simply one tomato plant growing in one's yard," she said.

People have been growing food in their backyards forever, but front-yard vegetable gardens are a growing outlet for people whose backyards are too shady or too small, as well as those who want to spread their beliefs one tomato at a time. Many hope their gardens will revive the notion of victory gardens, which by some estimates provided 40 percent of America's vegetables during World War II.

The topic has gotten more buzz nationally as bloggers chronicle their experiences and environmentalists have scrutinized the effects of chemicals and water used to grow lawns. A book called "Food Not Lawns," published last year, inspired several offshoot groups.

Fritz Haeg, an artist and architect, has done yards in Kansas, California and New Jersey as part of a project called "Edible Estates."

Haeg, who is working on a book due out in 2008 called "Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn," says he has been overwhelmed by the response. He gets hundreds of e-mails every month from people who want to be next.

"People are obsessed with their homes, creating these cocoons that isolate them," he said. "This project is about reaching out, getting them connected to their streets."

Some of the neighbors are less than thrilled. Some municipal codes limit the percentage of a yard that can be planted with anything other than trees and grass....

"Voracious jumbo squid invade California"

MONTEREY, Calif. - Jumbo squid that can grow up to 7 feet long and weigh more than 110 pounds are invading central California waters and preying on local anchovy, hake and other commercial fish populations, according to a study published Tuesday.

An aggressive predator, the Humboldt squid — or Dosidicus gigas — can change its eating habits to consume the food supply favored by tuna and sharks, its closest competitors, according to an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

"Having a new, voracious predator set up shop here in California may be yet another thing for fishermen to compete with," said the study's co-author, Stanford University researcher Louis Zeidberg. "That said, if a squid saw a human they would jet the other way."

The jumbo squid used to be found only in the Pacific Ocean's warmest stretches near the equator. In the last 16 years, it has expanded its territory throughout California waters, and squid have even been found in the icy waters off Alaska, Zeidberg said.

Zeidberg's co-author, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute senior scientist Bruce Robison, first spotted the jumbo squid here in 1997, when one swam past the lens of a camera mounted on a submersible thousands of feet below the ocean's surface.

More were observed through 1999, but the squid weren't seen again locally until the fall of 2002. Since their return, scientists have noted a corresponding drop in the population of Pacific hake, a whitefish the squid feeds on that is often used in fish sticks, Zeidberg said.

"As they've come and gone, the hake have dropped off," Zeidberg said. "We're just beginning to figure out how the pieces fit together, but this is most likely going to shake things up."

Before the 1970s, the giant squid were typically found in the Eastern Pacific, and in coastal waters spanning from Peru to Costa Rica. But as the populations of its natural predators — like large tuna, sharks and swordfish — declined because of fishing, the squids moved northward and started eating different species that thrive in colder waters.

Local marine mammals needn't worry about the squid's arrival since they're higher up on the food chain, but lanternfish, krill, anchovies and rockfish are all fair game, Zeidberg said.

A fishermen's organization said Tuesday they were monitoring the squid's impact on commercial fisheries.

"In years of high upwellings, when the ocean is just bountiful, it probably wouldn't do anything," Zeke Grader, the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "But in bad years it could be a problem to have a new predator competing at the top of the food chain."

"China grapples with epic flooding"

By Mitchell Landsberg / from the LA Times

HUAINAN, CHINA — Heavy rains have inundated the central part of the nation, affecting 100 million people. More than 1million have been evacuated.

For days, the rain had come in warm, drenching sheets. It swelled the Huai River and turned the heavy clay soil along its watershed into a sticky muck that sucked the shoes off people's feet.

Zheng Zhaojun had lived here long enough, all of his 32 years, to know the danger the river posed. So when the Communist Party secretary for his village came calling, Zheng moved quickly.

"They told us the water is rising fast — go," Zheng recalled as he stood in the doorway of the blue canvas tent that has been his family's temporary home for nearly two weeks. The tent, and dozens around it, stood about 10 feet from a small, hastily built earthen levee. Behind it, water stretched nearly to the horizon, covering Zheng's house and farm and the properties of thousands of others.

Zheng's story is a common one this summer. Heavy rains have inundated central China, causing the worst flooding in half a century. More than 100 million people have been affected, and some of them have witnessed rainfall of mind-boggling ferocity, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Nearly as mind-boggling have been the size and scope of the evacuation....

The flooding along the Huai was caused by various factors, including levees that broke, were opened intentionally or were too low for the rising waters. The New China News Agency said today that more than 500 embankments were in danger of being breached in Anhui province.

People walked, rode motorbikes or got rides in cars, trucks and tractors to reach higher ground, where they either moved in with friends and relatives or sought shelter in government centers...

"All our belongings are in the water now," he said. The most valuable are the crops, including corn, beans and sweet potato, which account for much of the family's economic output.

"If the water goes down now, they might be saved," he said.

That, weather officials say, is unlikely. Forecasts call for continued rain, and the flooding is expected to continue for days.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hungarian heatwave kills 500 in a week

THE heatwave in central and southern Europe killed an estimated 500 people in Hungary last week, the country's chief medical officer announced today.

Ferenc Falus said that during the week from July 15 to July 22 the heat in central Hungary “contributed to the early death of 230 people, which nationally means about 500 deaths”.

The announcement of hundreds of deaths comas as heavy rain and extreme temperatures continue to batter Europe.

Britain was experiencing its worst flooding in living memory, while across the continent in the Balkans people were warned to stay indoors to avoid searing temperatures with deaths reported in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, and Romania.

Temperatures in the region were recorded at 40C and above, with Greece expecting a high of 45C today and Italy just behind at 44C, hours after Rome recorded one of its warmest nights ever on Monday at 27.1C.

Bulgaria has also experienced its hottest temperatures since records began with the mercury shooting above 45C in parts of the country, and more than 860 people reportedly fainting in the streets in Romania.

"Floody hell! Why is the weather so bad?" (UK)

The floods that have wreaked havoc on the UK for much of the summer can be blamed on an errant jet stream, according to climate experts.

The jet stream is a band of fast-moving air which is created when southern warm air collides with northern cold air at about 30,000 feet.

Its position has a large bearing on UK weather and this year it has not moved as far north as it usually does.

Meteorologist Marco Petagna said: "This year it has been much further south for much of the summer and we have seen areas of low pressure right across the UK."

Low pressure, which tends to accompany the jet stream, has caused the heavy rainfall.

Another theory for the relentless bad weather is that the Azores high - a band of high pressure over the mid-Atlantic that normally pushes north into the UK during the summer - has been prevented from doing so by the jet stream.

Mr Petagna said there were many possible explanations about why the jet stream is behaving this way but one is that the La Nina phenomenon in the Equatorial Pacific may be to blame...

He said both phenomena were linked to climate change - another possible explanation for the inclement UK weather.

See also:

Human activity linked to heavier rainfall

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are causing global shifts in rainfall patterns and contributing to wetter weather over the UK, climate scientists say today.

Their study is the first to find a "human fingerprint" in the rainfall changes which have been detected in a belt of the northern hemisphere stretching from the Mediterranean to the UK to Norway.

The results, based on a global comparison of weather records going back to 1925, suggest that levels of rainfall across the UK have increased steadily by an average of 6.2 millimetres every decade. At least half of the extra rainfall and possibly up to 85% is caused by the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, the scientists conclude...


350,000 without clean water as flood threat moves to Thames Valley

One third of a million people in the west of England will remain without clean running water for at least a week as a result of the worst floods to have struck the UK in the last 60 years.

Severn Trent Water said this morning that 350,000 customers would remain dependent on 3 million litres of bottled water delivered by the Army each day, and on a fleet of 900 mini-tankers parked in flood-stricken locations to dispense drinking water.

Gloucestershire County Council said several bowsers were being vandalised amid frustrations over the water supply.

With supermarket stocks running low as far as Bristol, hundreds of people gathered outside a Tesco supermarket at Quedgeley in Gloucester, awaiting the arrival of thousands of bottles of water. The water was set to arrive with an Army escort to ward off looters.

Army Brigadier Jolyon Jackson urged the public to stay calm and added: “There is enough water for everyone.”

Meanwhile, residents along the Thames Valley were warned to remain on high alert for the next two days to protect their homes from the river, which it is feared has yet to reach its high water mark...

Forecasters predict better weather today but more showers this week and heavy rain on Thursday, and the Environment Agency has warned that if these are substantial it would not take much for river levels to start to rise again.


We've been having an odd jet stream this summer as well. It seems to have been going high out west - like Montana - and low in the Midwest. For us, it has meant cooler weather and lower humidity than usual.

..the Race Is on for the ‘God Particle’

By DENNIS OVERBYE / from the New York Times

...As the analyses proceed and the Tevatron hums its trillion-electron-volt tune, this is a summer of rumors, hope and hype. Whatever the outcome for this particular Higgs rumor, the buzz about it illuminates the galloping expectations, tensions and rivalries roiling physicists as they await the inauguration next summer of the Large Hadron Collider, a giant accelerator at CERN, the nuclear laboratory outside Geneva expressly designed to find the Higgs particle and explore new realms of nature.

The excitement has been ratcheted up by the speed and ubiquity of information on the Internet...

Confirming the rumored bump would confirm a profound conjecture about how nature works, cementing into place the last missing piece of the so-called Standard Model and perhaps pointing the way to a deeper theory that could answer questions the current model leaves open — such as why the universe is full of matter but not antimatter — a New World of physics...

Unfortunately, the model does not say how heavy the Higgs boson itself — the quantum personification of this field — should be. And so physicists have to search for it the old-fashioned train-wreck way, by smashing subatomic particles together to create primordial fireballs and then seeing what materializes out.

The Higgs, if formed, would decay into smaller jets of quarks or other particles, depending on its mass. The heavier it is, the more kinds of particles it can decay into. These would be recorded and counted by the detectors.

Unfortunately, as Dr. Weinberg pointed out, ordinary collisions also produce showers of the same particles coming out, and so the game has changed.

Once upon a time, physicists would look for what they called “a gold-plated event.”

“You looked at a bubble chamber and saw tracks and decays,” Dr. Weinberg recalled. “You knew what you were seeing: ‘Aha! This is the omega minus,’ ” referring to a famous particle whose discovery clinched the case for quarks in 1964.
Now, he explained, high-energy physics is all statistical. Out of 100,000 events, are a few more at various energies statistically significant? The job, he said, is to build up statistics to the point where a definite statement can be made...

The first and most famous bump in the Higgs race happened at CERN’s Large Electron-Positron Collider, or L.E.P., just before it was shut down in 2000 to make way for the new collider. It suggested that the Higgs might be waiting to be discovered just above 114 billion electron volts, in the energy-mass units physicists prefer to use...

Rather than undercutting the rationale for CERN’s collider, finding the Higgs at Fermilab would only whet the world’s appetite for the bigger machine, physicists on both sides of the Atlantic said. The best Fermilab can hope for is a glimpse of the Higgs, and probably a hint of new mysteries and discoveries to be made...

If it is a Higgs, theorists say, it is probably not the one prescribed by the Standard Model, which would not be produced plentifully enough to be seen yet.

The leading alternative is that it would be one of five Higgs bosons predicted by a theory called supersymmetry, which theorists have been yearning for as the next step toward a more all-embracing, unified theory of nature. One bonus of supersymmetry is that it predicts the existence of more, yet undiscovered elementary particles, one of which might be the mysterious dark matter that binds galaxies together in the universe. All this would fall into the lap of the Large Hadron Collider scientists, if it exists, which is one reason the CERN physicists will be happy no matter what the outcome....

“I don’t know if we pinned down nature, or if nature has pinned us down, but there are many corners you can’t get into anymore,” Dr. Lykken said.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Paris Buys Citizens Bikes" (Rental Program)

Paris, France has adopted an innovative, yet wonderfully simple, approach to reducing congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions in city limits. It's buying its citizens bikes.

22,000 of them.

The program, paid for by an outdoor advertiser in exchange for the exclusive use of 1,628 urban billboards, allows people to rent the large gray bicycles at a rate 1 euro ($1.38) a day; a week pass costs 5 euros ($6.90) and a yearly subscription, 29 euros ($40). The fee gets you a maximum of 30 minutes' bike use at a time; ride for longer in one trip, and there's a small incremental fee. The time limit is intended to keep the bikes in circulation; however, you can use the program as many times as you like within the period for which you've bought a pass.

The program is part of an effort by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who is aiming to reduce car traffic in the city by 40 percent by 2020. The number of bikes in Paris has increased by 50 percent in the last six years; thanks to the principle of critical mass (the more bikers there are, the safer they are), the number of accidents has stayed roughly the same.

Yellow-bike and similar programs have met with mixed success in the US. Perhaps what the Paris experiment demonstrates is that it takes a massive show of will (and prioritization of dollars) to create the critical mass we need to revolutionize our transportation system.

Glaciers and Ice Caps Quickly Melting Into the Seas

BOULDER, Colorado - Sea level rise this century may be greater than previously thought, posing risks to hundreds of millions of people who live close to the world's oceans, concludes a new study of ice loss from glaciers and ice caps. The researchers say that in the near future, the giant Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will contribute less to sea level rise than glaciers and ice caps.

Scientists with the University of Colorado-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, INSTAAR, and the Russian Academy of Sciences conclude that glaciers and ice caps now contribute about 60 percent of the ice melting into the oceans and the rate has been accelerating over the past decade.

"One reason for this study is the widely held view that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will be the principal causes of sea-level rise," says lead author Emeritus Professor Mark Meier, former INSTAAR director and CU-Boulder professor in geological sciences.

"But we show that it is the glaciers and ice caps, not the two large ice sheets, that will be the big players in sea rise for at least the next few generations, he says.

Alaska's Columbia Glacier, now discharging about two cubic miles of ice into Prince William Sound every year, is a good example says study co-author Robert Anderson, a CU-Boulder geology professor and INSTAAR researcher.
The Columbia Glacier has thinned up to 1,300 feet in places. It has shrunk by about nine miles since 1980 and is expected to shrink by another nine miles in the next two decades.

The team estimates the accelerating melt of glaciers and ice caps could add from four inches to 9.5 inches of additional sea level rise globally by 2100.

This does not include the expansion of warming ocean water, which could potentially double those numbers.

A one foot rise in sea level rise typically causes a shoreline retreat of 100 feet or more, and about 100 million people now live within about three feet of the world's shorelines.

Anderson says that although the volume of ice locked up in Greenland is equal to roughly 23 feet in sea level rise, only a small fraction of that amount is likely to be "pulled out" during the next century, most of it through outlet glaciers.

The glaciers and ice caps are presently contributing about 100 cubic miles of ice annually to sea level rise - a volume nearly equal to the water in Lake Erie. This volume is rising by about three cubic miles per year, the study shows.

By contrast, the CU-Boulder team estimated Greenland is now contributing about 28 percent of the total global sea rise from ice loss and Antarctica is contributing about 12 percent....

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"FEMA Suppressed Health Warnings for Workers, Katrina Victims"

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has suppressed warnings from its own Gulf coast field workers since the middle of 2006 about suspected health problems that may be linked to elevated levels of formaldehyde gas released in FEMA-provided trailers, lawmakers said today.

At a hearing this morning of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, investigators released internal e-mails indicating that FEMA lawyers rejected environmental testing out of fear that the agency would then become legally liable if health problems emerged among as many as 120,000 families displaced by Hurricane Katrina who lived in trailers.

FEMA's Office of General Counsel "has advised that we do not do testing," because this "would imply FEMA's ownership of this issue," wrote a FEMA logistics specialist on June 16, 2006, three months after news reports surfaced about the possible effects of the invisible cancer-causing compound and one month after the agency was sued.

Another FEMA attorney on June 15 advised, "[d]o not initiate any testing until we give the OK. . . . Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them."

Committee Chairman Henry L. Waxman (D-Calif.) called FEMA's bureaucratic neglect of storm victims "sickening."

Nearly 5,000 pages of documents turned over to the committee "expose an official policy of premeditated ignorance," Waxman charged. "Senior officials in Washington didn't want to know what they already knew, because they didn't want the legal and moral responsibility to do what they knew had to be done."

"Eat A Steak, Warm The Planet"

A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef causes more greenhouse-gas and other pollution than driving for three hours while leaving all the lights on back home, according to a Japanese study. A team led by Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, calculated the environmental cost of raising cattle through conventional farming, slaughtering the animal and distributing the meat, New Scientist reports in next Saturday's issue.
Producing a kilo (2.2 pounds) of beef causes the equivalent of 36.4 kilos (80.08 pounds) in carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, Ogino found.

Most of these greenhouse-gas emissions take the form of methane, released from the cow's digestive system.

That one kilo (2.2 pounds) of beef also requires energy equivalent to lighting a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. The energy is needed to produce and transport the animals' feed.

A Swedish study in 2003 suggested that organic beef emits 40 percent less greenhouse gases and consumes 85 percent less energy because the animal is raised on grass rather than concentrated feed.

The study appears in full in a specialist publication, Animal Science Journal.

"Violent Thunderstorms Kill Dozens In China"

At least 32 people died as thunderstorms of unprecedented intensity rocked southwestern China, smashing rainfall records and paralysing transportation, state media reported Wednesday. Lightning struck more than 40,000 times in the Chinese metropolis of Chongqing during a frightening 16-hour downpour on Tuesday, the Beijing News reported. Heavy rains continued on Wednesday and were expect to rage on for at least another day, the Xinhua news agency said.
It said 32 deaths had been reported so far and 12 people were missing in the storms that have affected more than five million locals and forced more than 250,000 to flee their homes.

The storms dropped 226.6 millimetres (10 inches) of rain on the city centre, the largest 24-hour total since records were first kept in 1892, smashing the old record of 206.1 millimetres.

So far more than 19,600 homes have been destroyed, at a cost of more than 2.1 billion yuan (282 million dollars) said Xinhua.

"A storm of this intensity is unprecedented for Chongqing," the Beijing News quoted local meteorologists as saying, a year after the region was plagued by a rare drought.

The storms stranded 5,000 passengers at the city's airport, a major hub for the region.

At least 240 flights were affected, some delayed more than seven hours, while several more were diverted to other cities, Xinhua said.

More than 400 people have died and at least another 105 are missing so far in rainy-season flooding across the country that began several weeks ago.

Another 3.17 million people have been left homeless.

"Invasive crab crawls slowly toward Maine"

By JOHN RICHARDSON / from pressherald.mainetoday.com

Mainers are being asked to keep an eye out for a strange crab that has furry claws and can live in both fresh and salt water.
The Chinese mitten crab appears to be spreading up the East Coast, and so is its reputation for displacing native animals, fouling fishing nets and destabilizing riverbanks.

Scientists think the crabs may be breeding in Chesapeake and Delaware bays. In May, Chinese mitten crabs were found in the waters near New York's Tappan Zee Bridge.

"They're as close as the Hudson River in New York, and vigilance is really the first line of defense," said Paul Gregory, an invasive- species expert for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The crab is named for the fur on its pincer claws. It spends much of its life in freshwater rivers, returning to coastal estuaries to spawn. It's regarded as an aggressive invasive species because it can take over habitats in estuaries and rivers, clog commercial fishing nets and water intake pipes and accelerate erosion by burrowing into shorelines and embankments.

The crab has slowly made its way from Asia to Europe to the United States, first causing problems on the West Coast and only recently appearing on the East Coast.

"The leading theory is that it's moved around by ship ballasts," Gregory said.

Large cargo ships fill ballast tanks with sea water in one port and then empty the water in another port. Critters that survive the move may find a new home with plentiful food and no natural predators.

The mitten crab made news this week in Maryland when scientists reported another troubling find: two females with eggs...

An adult has a shell that's 4 inches across. Legs included, it's roughly dinner-plate size. It's the only crab that you'll find in fresh water well upriver from the ocean. And, of course, there are the fur-covered claws.

Maine officials want anyone who finds one to hold onto it, alive or frozen, and call (207) 633-9539.

Increase In Creeping Vines Changes Southern US Forests

A new study of bottomland hardwood forests in the southeastern United States suggests that the increased growth of vines may change the landscape of these forests. Researchers charting the growth of vines in two forests in South Carolina found up to a 10-fold increase in the number of vines in just two decades. Vines commonly found in both forests include grapevines, trumpet vine, poison ivy and Virginia creeper. Most of the vines use adhesive roots or tendrils to climb trees.
The patterns observed in the south add to a growing number of studies that found similar patterns in temperate and tropical forests, said Bruce Allen, the study's lead author and a recent doctoral graduate of Ohio State University's School of Environment and Natural Resources.

"Collectively, we're talking about an increase of more than 500 vine stems in 27 acres of forest area that we studied," he said. "And all of the growth is within the last 10 to 20 years. Old photographs from the sites indicate there may have been fewer vines historically.

"There are now so many vines that they're starting to change the makeup of the forest," he continued. "It appears that as the number of vines increase, the density of small trees decreases at a fairly uniform rate."

Although the specific reasons for this shift aren't fully understood, Allen and his colleagues say possible mechanisms include increases in carbon dioxide concentrations, which have been shown to increase vine growth more than tree growth.

"Many vines thrive on elevated levels of carbon dioxide," he said. "Several studies suggest that vines like poison ivy benefit more than other plants from higher CO2 levels."...

(I've read that doctors are seeing an increase in poison ivy patients.)

"Meduzot" (translation "Jellyfish")

A movie written by Shira Geffen, directed by Shira Geffen & Etgar Keret - recently released in Israel.

Cannes prizewinner Jellyfish finds sales
Nancy Tartaglione-Vialatte in Paris

Pyramide International has completed a sale of its Cannes Camera d'Or winner Jellyfish to Nanni Moretti's Sacher in Italy. The film was also recently acquired in the US by Zeitgeist.
Moretti is known for buying very few films but had a soft spot for Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret's drama, according to Pyramide chief Eric Lagesse.

The film, which won the SACD prize in Critics' Week this year, has also been acquired by Shani in Israel where the film opens this month. Other territories to have picked it up include Korea, Germany and Switzerland.

"The Deep"

Book Showcases Previously Unseen Sea Creatures

French wildlife journalist Claire Nouvian has put together a book of newly discovered sea life called "The Deep." Her work demonstrates new techniques scientists are employing to discover and document these creatures.

SPENCER MICHELS: While the deep sea has long tantalized humans, it's only been in the last century that exploration has been technically possible. And only recently have scientists started realizing the immensity of what lies far below the surface.

French wildlife producer and journalist Claire Nouvian became obsessed with life in the deep ocean about five years ago, after a visit to California's Monterey Bay Aquarium. She started going on ocean expeditions, and she began to collect photographs taken by scientists of life that exists in darkness far below the surface.

She's put 200 of the most spectacular into a new book called "The Deep," photos of exotic and never-before-seen animals: a rare jellyfish; an almost cute octopus; heat-loving worms; and a variety of scary-looking fish. Many of these creatures have not even been named, they are so newly discovered.

CLAIRE NOUVIAN, Author, "The Deep": That's really where we come from. Life originated in the water.

SPENCER MICHELS: I talked with her in an underwater observation tunnel at San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay.

CLAIRE NOUVIAN: I had been doing wildlife films, so I thought I knew what animals were pretty much like on this planet, and I was really amazed to see that there was this huge chunk of my wildlife culture that was missing. I just was really stunned. I mean, my mind was blown.

SPENCER MICHELS: Water makes up 70 percent of the Earth's surface, with ocean depth averaging more than two miles, a huge habitat that scientists say may contain from 10 million to 30 million new species.
Steve Haddock, a marine biologist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, took many of the photos in Nouvian's book. He and other MBARI scientists use unmanned, remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, tethered to a surface ship to explore and photograph deep canyons off Monterey on the California coast.

STEVE HADDOCK, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute: With a remotely operated vehicle, we may have 12 scientists there watching, experiencing the dive simultaneously. So we can have an expert on squid and an expert on jellyfish there, kind of weighing in on what they're seeing. And we have high-definition video now, and we have the ability to collect these really fragile animals in excellent shape.

SPENCER MICHELS: Haddock says ocean researchers have to be good, quick photographers.

STEVE HADDOCK: If you talk to people who work on jellyfish, you find out that a lot of them actually end up being photographers. And it's almost a requirement, because most of these animals, once you get them up on deck, you can't preserve them. They're so fragile that you can't just pick them and put them on a shelf and study them later.

SPENCER MICHELS: He snapped the picture of a two-inch-long creature called an arrow worm.

STEVE HADDOCK: Supposedly one of the second most abundant organisms out there in the ocean, but, you know, probably seems pretty foreign to most people...

Boat Pools (to avoid stinging jellyfish)

BY KIRK MOORE / from Asbury Park Press

When David Nolte got his family a 32-foot Catalina sailboat, he knew they'd need one more piece of equipment to enjoy Chesapeake Bay. A few years later, he bought the company that makes it.

Now an alarming northward advance of stinging sea nettle jellyfish is bringing the Nettle Net Boat Pool company new business from New Jersey. Boaters and waterfront homeowners along Barnegat Bay, the Navesink River and other Shore waterways are a growth market for the 30-year-old Severna Park, Md., business that makes jellyfish-proof swimming enclosures starting at $480.

"I was at the Annapolis boat show, and the first several people who bought pools were from New Jersey. I thought, what's up with this? And they told me there was a big issue emerging with jellyfish in the Barnegat Bay region," Nolte said.

Inventor David Dianich developed the Nettle Net in the 1970s, after he moved into a waterfront house on Chesapeake Bay and learned his two daughters couldn't swim off the dock because of stinging jellyfish.

Over the years, he built a small regional business, selling inflatable rings with fine-mesh netting that allow Chesapeake boaters to jump in without fear of getting stung. Nolte, 48, got to know Dianich after buying one of his nets, and about a year ago he bought the company.

After researching news stories and scientific material about jellyfish problems in Barnegat Bay and other estuaries, Nolte set up display booths at both the Philadelphia and Atlantic City boat shows. "The response has been wonderful," he said. "I got a call this morning from a woman on the Navesink River. She says the jellyfish have shown up there, and now she's interested.

"It's a good time to be a jellyfish," Nolte added. "Overfishing of predators, warming water, eutrophication, they all create favorable conditions for jellyfish." ...

"This is a lot cheaper than putting in a swimming pool," Nolte observed.

For dockside use, he advises buyers to cover their dock pilings with cushions of old fire hose or carpeting, to protect the net's inflatable ring from sharp barnacles or splinters.

The company builds its nets in three sizes of 8 feet, 12 feet and 20 feet in diameter. All are designed to be deployed off boat transoms, so swimmers can step off the stern and jump right in. In deep water, the nets extend down to 8 feet below the surface.

A circular flotation ring, built of heavy-duty coated fabric used in aircraft life vests, is inflated with a foot pump that comes with the package.

The netting material is 1/16-inch mesh, fine enough to keep out jellyfish but able to allow water to pass through without ballooning the net to one side. The smooth polyester mesh is finished so jellyfish tentacles won't cling to it. That's an important point, the company tells potential customers, for it lets boaters quickly retrieve and stow the net without shaking bits of jellyfish and their stinging nematocysts all over the deck.

The 8-foot diameter model sells for $480 and accommodates two or three people, while the 12-foot model at $660 fits a family or four to six adults, according to company literature. The biggest model, 20 feet, which sells for $1,360, creates a 314-square-foot area in which it's possible to swim.

"Scientist wins award for research on glass atom-jellyfish link"

Mr Himanshu Jain, who first compared the fluctuations of atoms and of jellyfish, has received the world's top prize for glass science research.

The scientist compared the movements of atoms in glass to the wiggling of jellyfish in water, according to a news release made available yesterday.

Mr Jain, director at the International Materials Institute for New Functionalities in Glass at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, in neighbouring Pennsylvania, received the Otto Schott Research Award on July 2, at the International Congress on Glass in Strasbourg, France...

Lehigh's International Materials Institute for New Functionalities in Glass is supported by a grant from the US National Science Foundation.

The Donors' Association for the Promotion of Science in Germany, which administers the Schott award, also noted Jain's research into unique light-induced phenomena in glass, his studies of the corrosion of glass in nuclear environments, and his work with sensors, infrared optics, waveguides, photolithography, nanolithography and other photonic applications of glass.

Mr Jain was taking a boat ride to the Isle of Skye off Scotland's west coast 20 years ago, when he first conceived of the connection between jellyfish and atoms in glass.

Watching the hundreds of jellyfish in the Sea of the Hebrides, Mr Jain couldn't help noticing what many before had observed - that the invertebrates were not swimming but wiggling as they drifted in the water.

The fluctuations of the jellyfish caused Mr Jain to wonder anew at the movements of atoms in glass. When the temperature of a glass is lowered to 4 degrees Kelvin, or near absolute zero, he says, these atomic movements slow from a lively hop to a virtual standstill.

When he returned from Scotland, Mr Jain thought more deeply about the nuclear-spin relaxation studies that he had conducted with colleagues in Germany and the dielectric measurements of supercold glass that his former adviser had recently reported. Observing the supercold glass in the lab, he detected a weak signal with novel characteristics, indicating that some atomic movement was still occurring.

''What we saw at this extremely low temperature was clearly something different,'' says Mr Jain. ''We proposed that a group of atoms was sitting in one place but wiggling like a jellyfish, which does not swim but instead has small fluctuations of movement.'' Mr Jain initially called the phenomenon the ''jellyfish'' fluctuations for the AC (alternating current) conductivity of ionic solids at low frequency and low temperature.

He later coined the term, ''jellyfish fluctuations of atoms in solids.'' His theory met with resistance but has since gained acceptance and is described today in some textbooks on materials and their behaviours...

Jellyfish Recipes

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Brisbane

...One of Brisbane's most famous chefs, Lien Yeomans, says she's a fan of cooked jellyfish. But she says you have to be very particular about the type you eat.

"There's lots of kinds of different dishes but the two species of jellyfish that are used for eating are the Sua ro - Bizen Karuga (Rhopilema esculenta) and the Sua sen (Aurelia aurita).

"According to the Vietnamese, jellyfish is very good for people with high blood pressure or children who have stomach problems".

Lien says jellyfish aren't eaten fresh. "They usually just use the top part of the jellyfish and just dry them and then they fold them up in a piece of paper and sell it to you. When you get it home, you soak the whole thing in cold water; wash all the salt off and then cut them into little strips; then blend them in boiling water and they curl up and then you choose your favorite Vietnamese salad dish to go with it"!

"It's a very popular dish in spring and summer", adds Lien, "it's delicious and most people would like it if they didn't know what it was"!

Recipes 1 - Vietnamese jellyfish salad: (nom sua or goi sua)
Serves 4
200g salted jellyfish
1 green cucumber
1 large carrot
¼ cup sugar
50ml fish sauce
50ml lemon juice
1tspn finely chopped hot chilli
2tbspn crushed roasted peanuts
2tbspns crushed roasted sesame seed
100g chicken breast
100g pork butt
2 eggs beaten
2tbspns coriander leaves chopped

1. Wash, soak and rinse jelly fish in cold water. Drain well, roll up into a tight roll and cut into thin strips. Blanched in boiling water for 15seconds (until the jellyfish strips curl up). Leave aside.
2. Wash cucumber, cut into quarters lengthwise, seeded and cut into very thin diagonal strips, sprinkled with ½ sugar. Leave until sugar dissolves then squeeze dry.
3. Peel and shred carrot, sprinkle with the rest of the sugar. Leave until sugar dissolves, then squeeze dry.
4. Cut chicken and pork into thin slices, shallow fry; then cut into thin strips.
5. Grease a non-stick pan; make a thin omelette with beaten eggs. Let cool then roll up and cut into thin strips.
6. Mix prepared jellyfish, cucumber and carrot with fish sauce, lemon juice, chilli, crushed sesame seed and peanut and arrange the mixture on a platter and top with strips of chicken, pork, omelette and coriander leaves.
7. Mix well before serving. Adjust taste to achieve a balance of sweet, sour, salty, spicy and nutty.

Recipes 2 - Marinated jellyfish with green apple dressing
Ingredients (for 4)
400g salted jellyfish
1tbspn chilli oil
1tspn toasted sesame seeds
1tspn sea salt
Juice of 2 green apples
Juice of 1 lime
1tspn sugar
1 red Spanish onion, cut into thin slices.
100g snow peas cut into thin strips diagonally.
Coriander leaves, chopped

1. Wash, soak and rinse salted jellyfish. Drain well. Mix jellyfish with chilli oil, salt and sesame seed.
2. Mix apple juice, sugar and lime juice.
3. Mix snow peas and red onions; arrange this on a plate and top with jellyfish and coriander. Dress with apple and limejuice.