Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mesolithic Fish Trap Discovered?

Archaeologist Michael Gibbons has discovered a complex series of weirs and dams that may date back to Mesolithic times on the Errislannan peninsula in Connemara. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy. Photo courtesy: irishtimes

A complex series of weirs and dams to trap rare fish on Connemara’s Errislannan peninsula may date back to the Mesolithic period, according to the archaeologist who made the discovery.

Significantly, one local resident is still making and using traps for the weir and dam system, modelled on pre-Christian design, archaeologist Michael Gibbons said. John Folan said he was unaware of the historical importance of the equipment, the coastal system, or the fish species, until contacted by Mr Gibbons. The National Museum of Ireland has now commissioned him to construct one of his traps for its folklife collection.

Mr Gibbons was walking on the north side of Errislannan, outside Clifden, when he came across the stone ponds, channels and dams linking Mannin Bay to several inner lagoons. He learned that the system was designed to enclose and trap a fish called “marin” or “mearachán”, which is similar to a smelt, and may be related to shad, which frequent the river Barrow.

Marine biologist Dr Cillian Roden said the fish type was “fascinating”, but its identity was uncertain. “It could be that these smelt do live in lagoons, and it would make the lagoons very important in environmental terms,” he said.

Mr Folan said he had learned from his father and grandfather how to make traps, known as “cochill”, which are placed in the upper end of the dam and weir system. He uses fencing or chicken wire and wood for a design that resembles an ice-cream cone. Formerly the traps were made of sally rods.

“It is going back generations,” he said. “People depended on the fish and you’d get hundreds of them sometimes, but only during early spring. You could boil them, fry them, cook them any way, and we’d often bring them into Clifden.” The arrival of Arctic terns close to the lagoons below Mr Folan’s house heralded the presence of the fish around St Patrick’s Day, at a time when food resources were low after winter.

Mr Gibbons said the system, dating back to Mesolithic times, had been adapted for contemporary use over centuries. “This is a very important part of the maritime history and archaeology, and shows how rich our coastline is in historical terms,” he said.

Via irishtimes

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lost Language Discovered in Peru Dig

A letter discovered in northern Peru in 2008 showing a column of numbers written in Spanish and translated into a language that scholars say is now extinct, is seen in this undated photo released by archaeologists September 22, 2010. REUTERS/Handout. Photo courtesy: yahoonews

Archaeologists say scrawl on the back of a letter recovered from a 17th century dig site reveals a previously unknown language spoken by indigenous peoples in northern Peru.

A team of international archaeologists found the letter under a pile of adobe bricks in a collapsed church complex near Trujillo, 347 miles north of Lima. The complex had been inhabited by Dominican friars for two centuries.

"Our investigations determined that this piece of paper records a number system in a language that has been lost for hundreds of years," Jeffrey Quilter, an archaeologist at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, told Reuters.

A photograph of the letter recently released by archaeologists shows a column of numbers written in Spanish and translated into a language that scholars say is now extinct.

"We discovered a language no one has seen or heard since the 16th or 17th century," Quilter said, adding that the language appears to have been influenced by Quechua, an ancient tongue still spoken by millions of people across the Andes.

He said it could also be the written version of a language colonial-era Spaniards referred to in historical writings as pescadora, for the fishermen on Peru's northern coast who spoke it.

So far no record of the pescadora language has been found.

The letter, buried in the ruins of the Magdalena de Cao Viejo church at the El Brujo Archaeological Complex in northern Peru, was discovered in 2008.

But Quilter said archaeologists decided to keep their discovery secret until the research showing evidence of the lost language was published this month in the journal American Anthropologist.

"I think a lot of people don't realize how many languages were spoken in pre-contact times," Quilter said. "Linguistically, the relationship between the Spanish conquistadors and the indigenous was very complex."

Via yahoonews

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Walrus Overcrowding Beaches as Pack Ice Melts

Photo courtesy: Care2

Thousands of walrus have appeared on Alaska's northwest coast in what conservationists are calling a dramatic consequence of global warming melting the Arctic sea ice.

Alaska's walrus, especially breeding females, in summer and fall are usually found on the Arctic ice pack. But the lowest summer ice cap on record put sea ice far north of the outer continental shelf, the shallow, life-rich shelf of ocean bottom in the Bering and Chukchi seas.

Walrus feed on clams, snails and other bottom dwellers. Given the choice between an ice platform over water beyond their 630-foot diving range or gathering spots on shore, thousands of walrus picked Alaska's rocky beaches.

"It looks to me like animals are shifting their distribution to find prey," said Tim Ragen, executive director of the federal Marine Mammal Commission. "The big question is whether they will be able to find sufficient prey in areas where they are looking."

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, September sea ice was 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000. Sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return, with a possible ice-free Arctic Ocean by summer 2030, senior scientist Mark Serreze said.

Starting in July, several thousand walrus abandoned the ice pack for gathering spots known as haulouts between Barrow and Cape Lisburne, a remote, 300-mile stretch of Alaska coastline.

The immediate concern of new, massive walrus groups for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is danger to the animals from stampedes. Panic caused by a low-flying airplane, a boat or an approaching polar bear can send a herd rushing to the sea. Young animals can be crushed by adults weighing 2,000 pounds or more.

Longer term, biologists fear walrus will suffer nutritional stress if they are concentrated on shoreline rather than spread over thousands of miles of sea ice.

Walrus need either ice or land to rest. Unlike seals, they cannot swim indefinitely and must pause after foraging.

Historically, Ragen said, walrus have used the edge of the ice pack like a conveyor belt. As the ice edge melts and moves north in spring and summer, sea ice gives calves a platform on which to rest while females dive to feed.

There's no conveyor belt for walrus on shore.

"If they've got to travel farther, it's going to cost more energy. That's less energy that's available for other functions," Ragen said.

Deborah Williams -- who was an Interior Department special assistant for Alaska under former President Bill Clinton, and who is now president of the nonprofit Alaska Conservation Solutions -- said melting of sea ice and its effects on wildlife were never even discussed during her federal service from 1995 to 2000.

"That's what so breathtaking about this," she said. "This has all happened faster than anyone could have predicted. That's why it's so urgent action must be taken."

Walrus observers on the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea have also reported more walrus at haulouts and alerted Alaska wildlife officials to the problems with the animals being spooked and stampeded.

If lack of sea ice is at the heart of upcoming problems for walrus, Ragen said, there's no solution likely available other than prevention.

"The primary problem of maintaining ice habitat, that's something way, way, way beyond us," he said. "To reverse things will require an effort on virtually everyone's part."

Via usatoday

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dogs Find Work in Cheetah Conservation

Photo courtesy: naturescrusaders

Everyone wins when a problem is solved using co-operation between opposing forces and natural resources. That's why I love this project in Africa so much. Both sides win AND both sides have prospered.

In South Africa, there has been a war raging between cattle ranchers and herdsmen against cheetahs. Along the South African border with Botswana there have been confrontations between the cattle ranchers/herdsmen and the cheetah looking for an easy meal.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there wasn't much of a problem because few wild cheetahs were seen in those parts. In recent years, the numbers have increased; and, it is believed, these extra cheetah have moved from Botswana (which has had a great deal of success with conservation projects) to the South African side of the border.

The cheetahs' numbers have declined rapidly - down from 100,000 a century ago - to about 10,000 worldwide. Unfortunately, most cheetahs in southern Africa live outside of protected areas.

The cheetahs began killing the livestock, putting them at danger of retaliatory attacks from farmers. At Knipe’s ranch, some 50 to 70 young goats a season were perishing, almost all by cheetahs visiting his pastures for an easy meal. Some farmers in the area became so frustrated that they would illegally shoot the cheetahs, poison them or leave them to die in traps set for jackals.

“Cheetahs have been persecuted in this area,” says Peter Knipe.

On his 18,500-acre ranch, Knipe keeps cows and goats as well as wild game such as kudu, impala, gemsbok and giraffes, which he breeds and sells. Knipe says that while he would never kill a cheetah, he lamented the “huge losses” of his goats, which are like sitting ducks for predators. So he decided to get a dog.

Neeake is an Anatolian shepherd dog, a Turkish breed renowned for its ability to guard livestock, and was donated to Knipe under a program run by the conservation group Cheetah Outreach. The idea is that the dogs will help farmers protect their livestock, so the cheetahs will no longer be targeted by angry farmers, who are one of the biggest threats to their survival. It’s an innovative way to help an animal classified as “vulnerable” on the global list of endangered species.

Since Neeake came to the ranch at Molopo River a year and a half ago, Knipe hasn’t lost any goats under the dog’s watch. He has been able to increase the size of his herd from 250 to more than 400.

“We’ve got zero losses where we use the dogs,” says Knipe, who recently got another Anatolian puppy to help him with his growing herd of goats.

Anatolian shepherds are big, powerful dogs that were bred to protect livestock from bears and wolves in central Turkey. They do just as well against the cheetahs in Africa, in addition to the leopards, caracals, brown hyenas and jackals also in the area along the South Africa-Botswana border. The dogs are highly intelligent and independent and their short hair makes them well-suited for keeping cool on hot African days.

On Knipe’s farm, Neeake was placed with the goat kids when he was a puppy and grew up next to them, developing a strong and loyal bond. Now he stays with the goats all day, keeping watch for intruders as they graze and sleeping with them in their corral at night, although in a dog house.

“He stays out with the goats. That’s his place,” says Knipe.

Knipe also keeps Rottweiler dogs as pets, but says that Neeake is different. Like a protective mother goat he is constantly vigilant and on the lookout for predators, and not easily distracted. “He’s not like a normal house dog,” says Knipe.

The Cheetah Outreach program tells of the amazing feats of Anatolians in protecting their livestock from cheetahs and other predators.

A young dog named Crickey fought off a leopard to save his herd. He was badly injured, and after a visit to the vet, was taken into the farmhouse to recover. But Crickey had other ideas, and that night he escaped from the house and walked 9 miles to return to his herd. Another Anatolian shepherd, Uthaya, was seen gently dragging an old and sickly ewe in his herd into the shade on a hot day.

Cyril Stannard, coordinator for the Anatolian shepherd project, says that at first some farmers were skeptical of the program. “It was a new concept and so we had to prove it,” he says. “Luckily the dogs we have placed have proved themselves.”

The dogs have reduced livestock losses by 95 to 100 percent, according to Stannard. They mostly guard sheep and goats, but some have been trained to protect cattle. The farmers say that as long as they’re not losing livestock to cheetahs, they aren’t tempted to hunt the wild cats. “The farmers have become tolerant,” Stannard says.

Stannard says that 76 dogs have been placed since 2005 in the three areas where the program is active in South Africa, along the borders with Botswana and Zimbabwe. It’s an area he describes as “the last frontier for free-ranging cheetahs” in South Africa.

Cheetahs are the fastest animal in the world, hitting speeds of up to 70 miles per hour in explosive but short bursts of energy. Cheetah cub mortality is as high as 90 percent, largely due to attacks by predators such as lions.

Their habitat has been dramatically reduced in the past 100 years, as it has for all other wild animals in Africa. But unlike other animals, cheetahs don’t do very well on nature reserves.

While they are keen hunters, they are poor fighters because of their small jaws and teeth, and they lose much of their prey to more aggressive animals such as hyenas and lions. Cheetahs tend to run away rather than fight.

In Swaziland, which is bordered on three sides by South Africa, a man plead guilty in court recently for shooting and then eating a cheetah that had killed 10 of his 14 goats, according to the Times of Swaziland.

In Knipe’s area, the view towards cheetahs is changing. With the Anatolian shepherd dogs came education programs for farm staff, and awareness about cheetahs has spread out into the community. For example, people in the area who were once fearful of cheetahs are learning that the animals rarely attack humans.

Knipe concluded, “the farmers are becoming cheetah-friendly.”

Via globalpost

Friday, August 27, 2010

Asparagus Sucks Peru's Wells Dry

A worker weighs asparagus at a processing plant in the Peruvian city of Ica. Photograph: Pilar Olivares/Reuters. Photo courtesy: guardian

Asparagus grown in Peru and sold in the UK is commonly held up as a symbol of unacceptable food miles, but a report has raised an even more urgent problem: its water footprint.

The study, by the development charity Progressio, has found that industrial production of asparagus in Peru's Ica valley is depleting the area's water resources so fast that smaller farmers and local families are finding wells running dry. Water to the main city in the valley is also under threat, it says. It warns that the export of the luxury vegetable, much of it to British supermarkets, is unsustainable in its current form.

The Ica Valley is a desert area in the Andes and one of the driest places on earth. The asparagus beds developed in the last decade require constant irrigation, with the result that the local water table has plummeted since 2002 when extraction overtook replenishment. In some places it has fallen by eight metres each year, one of the fastest rates of aquifer depletion in the world.

The UK is the world's sixth largest importer of "virtual water", that is water needed to produce the goods it buys from other countries, according to WWF. Much of the UK's thirst is directly related to the boom in high-value food imports in recent years. The market in fresh asparagus is typical; it barely existed before the end of the 1990s. Now the UK is the third largest importer of fresh Peruvian asparagus, consuming 6.5 million kilos a year.

Peru meanwhile has become the largest exporter of asparagus in the world, earning more than $450m a year from the trade. Around 95% of that asparagus comes from the Ica valley.

The expansion of the agricultural frontier in the region was made possible thanks to multimillion dollar investments by the World Bank from the late 1990s on. In just 10 years asparagus cultivation has exploded to cover nearly 100sq km of reclaimed desert. Some of the largest producers have received loans from the World Bank's commercial investment arm totalling $20m (£12m) or more over that period. The trade has created around 10,000 new jobs in a very poor area, contributing significantly to Peru's growth, but it has already provoked conflict. When a World Bank executive went to investigate complaints about the water shortages in April he was shot at.

"The water tragedy unfolding in this region of Peru should set alarms bells ringing for government, agribusiness and retailers involved in Ica's asparagus industry," said report author Nick Hepworth.

The report accuses supermarkets and investors, including the World Bank, of failing to take proper responsibility for the impact of their decisions on poorer countries' water resources. "We need action now to ensure water is used sustainably in Ica and beyond," said Hepworth .

Two wells serving up to 18,500 people in the valley have already dried up. Traditional small- and medium-scale farmers have also found their water supplies severely diminished.

Juan Alvarez's experience is typical. His family has farmed the Ica valley for four generations. He employs 10 people through the year, with up to 40 jobs for workers in peak asparagus season, but he says those livelihoods are under threat.

The wells on his farm used to hit water at 55 metres and he could pump 60 litres of water a second from them. Now some have dried out and where there is still water he has to drill down to 108 metres and can extract only 22 litres a second even at that depth.

Alvarez told researchers: "Agroexporters came with new government policies and tax exemptions. They bought water rights and started buying wells very far away. They have created jobs and that's important, but the reality is they are depleting the water resources and when the water is gone they will leave. But what future is there for us? We will never leave."

For smaller farmers the crisis is even more acute. Elisa Gomez and her family own a small farm next to one of the largest asparagus exporters and have to buy water for irrigation from the local canal, but the industrial production has made it hard to survive. "We pay for water for 15 days twice a year. But the soil is not as productive as before and dries out in just three days. Now the land is so dry the water drains away much faster."

The rights to the wells in their part of the valley have all been sold to the exporter. "Those of us who didn't sell land suffered water shortages, so many people were forced to sell anyway. The exporters just wait for people to get tired and sell them cheap dry land," she said.

The large-scale exporting companies are not immune from the crisis of overextraction either. They are facing rising costs for their water. They have been deepening existing wells, buying up old ones from neighbouring land and piping water across huge distances. Some are also alleged to have got round a ban on new wells by paying off officials.

One of the largest and most modern of Peru's fresh asparagus producers, which supplies 18% of exports to the UK, spoke to Progressio researchers anonymously. It has received loans from the World Bank's lending arm. Its chief executive said that the water levels in some wells were falling by as much as two metres a year. All its wells are licensed and legal but he said regulation was weak and there was no inspection of what people extracted.

"Peru provides the world with the best example of how to mismanage water. We desperately need to rationalise water use in the Ica. We are spending huge sums just to survive."

He argued that big businesses such as his were at the forefront of science to use water efficiently but traditional farmers used water carelessly.

Competition for diminishing global water resources is emerging as one of the most pressing concerns for business as well as development organisations. Leading retailers have told the Guardian privately water shortages in the areas where they source fresh fruit and vegetables out of season is top of their list of priorities when they check how sustainable their businesses are.

The water shortages on Peru's Pacific coast are expected to get worse as climate change shrinks the glaciers that feed the Ica river system.

Promoting food for export has been a key plank in World Bank policy for developing countries. Its investment arm, the International Finance Corporation, said in a statement that it aims to promote sustainable development through investment in private sector companies, which it requires to commit to minimising their water use: "We define sustainability as providing economic growth opportunities for the poor and protecting the environment and the rights of vulnerable communities."

How far the policy helps the poorest in those countries remains a subject of fierce debate among international development experts. Progressio is not calling for an end to the asparagus export business. "The area relies on asparagus for employment. We are not saying the trade itself is wrong but supermarkets and investors have to take responsibility for finding more of a balance," said Petra Kjell, an environmental policy officer.

We asked the leading UK retailers to comment but only two were able to do so in the time available. M&S said: "We have a range of responsible water use projects under way and have strengthened our farming standards to include greater focus on water efficiency."

Tesco said: "We are pleased that Progressio has highlighted Tesco's role in raising industry standards in water management in areas such as the Ica Valley.

"We have a strong record in this area and our Nurture standard is regularly reviewed and improved. We acknowledge there is more to do and so we are continually working with our suppliers to help them minimise their environmental impact, including water use."

The names of farmers in the above story have been changed. In the following true story, the family's names have all been changed.

Alicia Flores and her family live in the village of Callejón de los Espinos in Peru's Ica Valley. Each house in the village normally receives water for about one hour, three times a week.

They used to get two hours' water four times a week, but about four years ago the water pressure dropped off dramatically, as agricultural exporters extracted more and more groundwater. Then the 2007 earthquake exacerbated the problem by damaging infrastructure. Now, when the water is on, the family is only able to collect half the amount of water they used to, so they are reduced to 10 litres of water per person, per day. The World Health Organisation says a person needs five times that amount to maintain health.

Like most people in the village, Alicia's husband works for the asparagus exporters. They say the working conditions are good but pay and benefits have been cut since the global economic crisis.

"We have seen water pressure dropping in the past years since the agro-exporters came, but if the water runs out and they leave, we will have no work and no water. What will happen to our children then?" asked one villager.

Via guardian

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Quotable Quotes

"There must be progress, certainly. But we must ask ourselves what kind of progress we want, and what price we want to pay for it. If, in the name of progress, we want to destroy everything beautiful in our world, and contaminate the air we breathe, and the water we drink, then we are in trouble."

- Marjory Stoneman Douglas, American environmentalist.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quotable Quotes

"Every action in our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity."

- Edwin Hubble Chapin

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

Photo courtesy: yahoonews

This story really struck a chord with me. When I was a young teenager, I kept fish. One of the fish I had was a goldfish that I had put in a large tank. My goldfish grew larger, I upsized the tank, the fish grew larger... That was when I found out that goldfish will grow as large as the container you keep them in. I also discovered that not many people knew this.

The day came when I had to move and I reluctantly had to find new homes for my fish. I was concerned about getting a good home for them; but, especially my goldfish. I approached a chinese restaurant in town explaining my situation, emphasizing that this was no small goldfish; and, asking if they want to give my fish a home.

They set up their tank and I delivered the fish. This giant goldfish lived a life of luxury on the counter where the new owners proudly showed off their "lucky" acquisition to everyone who even looked in that direction.

I had to finally stop eating at that restaurant because from the day I delivered the fish, they never allowed me to pay for another meal.

Anyway, on with the story...

Young children everywhere now have a new image to fuel their nightmares about what happens to their pet goldfish after they flush it down the toilet. A photo of an alleged 30-pound, bright orange carp, caught by a French fisherman, has surfaced - to much speculation.

The fish in the photo actually appears to be a Cyprinus carpio, usually called common carp or koi, which is distinguishable by the two short whiskers (called barbels) surrounding its mouth and large scales covering its body, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The fish also has dorsal (back) and anal (bottom rear) fins, as well as a single thick fin running down its spine.

The fisherman in the photo, Raphael Biagini, reportedly claims the carp he caught and posed with for a photo (before setting it free back into the water) weighed about 30 lbs (13 kilograms). Biagini caught the mega fish at a lake in the south of France.

It seems a carp could really weigh that much. The world's largest carp on record weighed in at 94 lbs (42 kg) and was caught in 2010 in Rainbow Lake near Bordeaux in France, according to The Daily Telegraph, a U.K. newspaper.

The previous record-holding carp, which weighed 88 pounds (40 kg), was caught in Rainbow Lake in 2007. (The fisherman named his catch Kylie after the popular Australian singer Kylie Minogue.)

While it seems record-breaking carp come from France, New York's carp can grow to weigh more than 40 pounds (18 kg), according to the DEC. The largest carp found in New York waters weighed in at 50 pounds 4 ounces (22 kg).

Goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus) are part of the carp family; but, do not have barbels around their mouths. They vary in their fin configuration; coloration; and, in their body size, which is directly influenced by their environment.

When they are kept as pets in small fish tanks and aquariums, goldfish tend to stay about 1-2 inches long and never grow larger than 6 inches (15 centimeters), according to the DEC. However, in the wild, goldfish often reach 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 cm) in length.

Although pet goldfish are usually amber-hued or white with scarlet spots, most wild goldfish are a dull olive green color that allows them to blend in at the bottom of ponds and lakes when hiding from predators.

The title of largest pet goldfish goes to Goldie, who was 15 inches (38 cm) long, 5 inches (12 cm) wide, and weighed over 2 lbs (0.9 kg) in 2008, according to the BBC. Goldie's owner told the BBC that the fish was only an inch long when she bought it for 99 cents, and 15 years later it had ballooned into a record-breaking size, despite being kept in a small tank.

Via yahoonews

Monday, August 23, 2010

A $30,000 Bridge for Dormice?

Photo courtesy: allcreatures

The British are in the midst of massive budget cuts; yet a local borough council in neighbouring Wales has approved almost $300,000 to build three walkways that will allow dormice to safely cross a busy highway. These suspension-type bridges will hang over the Church Village Bypass. I think the Mad Hatter would approve.

Bridge for dormice near Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taf,Wales. Photo courtesy: theworld

Reactions range from outrage (“It’s obscene”) to joy (“Wonderful to do something for the little critters”).

Officials say that planning permission for the bypass was conditional on the dormouse bridge and other considerations for local wildlife. An enlightened decision on part of council, if you ask me.

Since dormice live in trees; and, not on the ground, their bridge must be suspended between trees. Photo courtesy: theworld

Dormice are not the same as regular mice; but, they are rodents who are remarkable for their extra-long periods of hibernation – up to six months a year. That’s how the most famous of all dormice – the little guy who shows up at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland– is portrayed as going to sleep all the time. They get their name, dormouse, not because they look like mice, but from the old Anglo-Norman word “dormeus” meaning “sleepy one.”

Dormice live for about five years, are super-cute (just look at that face in the picture), and don’t have nearly as many litters as your regular kind of mouse.

Via allcreatures

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Quotable Quotes

This quote is from one of my favourite authors. If you haven't read anything by him yet, I recommend that you dust off your library card and check out one of his books. You won't be sorry.

"You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give."

- Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, August 21, 2010

On The Lighter Side

The best things in life are free...or have no interest or payments for one full year.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The DWI Chair Up For Sale Again

Photo courtesy: wcco

In Proctor, Minnesota, USA, police auctioned off a motorized reclining chair they confiscated from a man who was "driving" it while intoxicated. The "DWI Chair", as it's become known, was first advertised a a well-known brand and attracted online bids of up to $43,000. When it was discovered it wasn't actually manufactured by the brand stated, it was reposted as the "DWI Chair", and it eventually netted a price of about $10,000. Police Chief Walter Wobig says the recliner is powered by a lawnmower engine and comes equpped with a stereo, cup holders and lights. Its original owner pled guilty to driving while intoxicated.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Got a Hair in Your Eye?

Adult female Brachypelma smithi, showing a bald patch after kicking hairs off her abdomen. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

A British man had a red, watery eye; and, prolonged treatment by his doctor didn't improve the situation. But, when ophthalmologist Dr. Zia Carrim looked more closely at the man's eye, he could see tiny hairs embedded in the cornea. That's when his patient remembered his pet tarantula had spewed microscopic hairs into his face when he was cleaning the creature's tank.

The hairs were too tiny to pull out; but, steroid drops have improved the situation. Carrim says it's hoped the hairs will eventually break down and disappear. And, he warned owners to wear goggles if their tartantula becomes agitated because flicking the barbed hairs is a defense mechanism of the spider.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A New Filter Shaped Like a Tea Bag

Photo courtesy: Care2

A group of researchers in South Africa has developed a new way to obtain clean drinking water. The recently revealed filter looks like a tea bag; but, contains activated carbon that removes dangerous chemicals found in water. The filter sits inside a tube that can be fitted on top of any bottle filled with contaminated water. As the water is poured into a cup through the filter, the contaminants are removed making the water safe for drinking.

In addition, it costs only half a cent to use, a remarkable feat considering other technologies can cost at least $100.

"We are coming in here at the fraction of the cost of anything else that is currently on the market," says Dr Cloete on BBC World Service.

According to him, the filter will not only stop harmful bacteria from getting into the water, it will kill them as well.

"We cover the tea bag material with nano-structured fibres, and instead of tea inside the tea bag, we incorporate activated carbon.

"The function of the activated carbon is to remove most of the dangerous chemicals that you would find in water."

He says that the function of the fibres is to create a filter where harmful bacteria is physically filtered out and killed."

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number of people who can access clean drinking water has been improving steadily across the globe. But there are millions of people - many in Sub-Saharan Africa - who still do not have access to drinkable water.

The filter will also improve the taste of the water says Dr Cloete. "If you take ordinary tap water that you get in the city," he says, "that is chlorinated for instance."

The filter will purify water directly from the bottle; but, with the new filter, "the activated carbon will remove the chlorine so the water will actually taste better," he says.

Dr Cloete says his team wants to have an impact on 1.2 billion people around the world who do not have access to safe drinking water.

He says there have been extensive interest about the filter since the invention was announced.

"We have had many, many inquiries from aid organisations and from philanthropists who are quite prepared to sponsor these filters to people that need them most," he says.

But there are also commercial potentials, "for those people who go camping and those people who go hiking and so on," he adds.

Unfortunately, one filter can only be used for 1 liter of water before it needs to be discarded. Still, this is a significant development for the nearly 1 billion people without access to clean drinking water and 2.6 billion without access to sanitary facilities.

Dr. Eugene Cloete and his team at Stellenbosch University explain their "tea bag" filter in the video:

Via Care2, bbc

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Amazon River at Lowest Level in 40 Years

The drop has been caused by a lack of rain and high temperatures Photo: CORBIS. Photo courtesy: telegraph

Officials in the Peruvian city of Iquitos said the mighty Amazon river level had fallen to a mere 14.4ft, a point not seen in more than four decades; and, all indications are that the level is to drop further.

These record low water levels have brought economic havoc to areas of Peru that depend on the Amazon for shipping. In many cases, there is literally not enough water and/or navigable water to float their boats. This is not the only problem either. The lack of water as denies boats usable ports and harbours.

Over the past three weeks, at least six boats have run aground and been stranded due to lack of river flow. This crisis has forced several shipping companies to suspend service leading to economic hardships in the parts of Peru that depend on the Amazon for shipping.

Global warming would appear to be the cause of this problem. Environmentalists think that lack of rainfall coupled with high temperatures have led to the lack of water in the Amazon.

Map showing the Amazon drainage basin with the Amazon River highlighted. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The map above gives an idea of just how many countries are affected by this river; and, the number of people that can potentially be impacted by any further water loss in the Amazon.. The Amazon is the second-longest river in the world, after the Nile; but, discharges far more water at its mouth than any other.

It also drains more territory than any other. The Amazon drains Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela before running across Brazil and into the Atlantic.

Via telegraph

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bronze Age Gold Bracelets Found

Still coated with earth, the two gold bracelets discovered on road site. Photo courtesy: express

These beautiful Bronze Age gold bracelets are the highlights of finds at the site of a new road.

The bracelets, nearly 3,000 years old, were spotted lying on top of a pile of earth dug up from a trench.

Archaeologists are digging on the site of the planned road near Ramsgate, Kent, before builders move in.

The bracelets are among 10,000 finds unearthed so far.

The dig on the East Kent Access Road on the Isle of Thanet between Ramsgate and Sandwich is the biggest archaeological excavation in the country this year, involving 150 archaeologists supported by 91 volunteers. It has revealed a huge amount about how people were living on the Isle of Thanet from earliest times.

The remains of prehistoric burial monuments, Iron Age enclosures and a village which would have seen the Roman invasion are among the remarkable discoveries made by the dig, now almost complete.

Simon Mason, Kent County Council’s principal archaeological officer, found the bracelets, dating back to around 700 BC.

He said: “It was incredible – a really exciting find. I couldn’t believe it when I saw them. It’s the first time I have found gold in 20 or 30 years as an archaeologist. “They looked too good to be real. When we washed them and cleaned them we realised they were something special.”

It is thought they were child?ren’s bracelets that may have been buried as a worship offering. They were found together, one pushed inside the other.

There is evidence of a Bronze Age settlement on the find site, and five hoards of bronze objects of a similar age have been found in the same area. Mr Mason added: “Their real value to me as an archaeologist is how they contribute to the story we are putting together from our excavations on the road.

“With all the thousands of everyday objects we have dug up they are really helping to shed new light on the lives of prehistoric, Roman and Saxon people in Thanet.”

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick from Oxford Wessex Archaeology said: “The gold bracelets are stunning.”

Via express

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Another Earth?

An artist's impression of two Saturn-like planets orbiting the star Kepler-9. Image courtesy: NASA

A newly-discovered planetary system orbiting a sunlike star may conceal a rare super-Earth, according to data from NASA's Kepler space telescope. My thoughts on this are that I am glad that right now it would appear uninhabitable by humans; or else, we would colonize and destroy that poor planet as well.

But I digress. On with the story.

Kepler was designed to look for extrasolar planets, aka exoplanets; and, put into service in March 2009. The way these exoplanets are found is via transits. Transits are the periodic dimming of light emitted from stars when planets pass in front them blocking the light as seen from the vantage point of the Kepler telescope.

After analyzing seven months' worth of data from Kepler, a team led by Matt Holman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found two transiting exoplanets orbiting the star Kepler-9. Kepler-9 is approximately 2,300 light-years from Earth or 135,208,383,583,222,990 miles.

One of the planets, dubbed Kepler-9b, takes just over 19 days to orbit its star. The other, Kepler-9c, takes almost 39 days to complete an orbit.

The researchers noticed that both planets' orbital periods speed up and slow down at regular intervals indicating the two planets are locked in gravitational "resonance". Or in other words, each planet's gravity is affecting the other's orbit.

Using that data, the scientists were able to calculate the masses of the planets, and they found that both worlds are slightly less massive than Saturn.

When the astronomers accounted for the amount of stellar dimming the two planets should cause, they found what they consider to be another faint source of interference.

This signal could mean that a third planet, smaller and nearer to the host star, is transiting Kepler-9 every 1.6 days. The third planet would be about 1.5 times the mass of Earth and made of rocks rather than gas.

But the researchers know better than to celebrate just yet. They know that interference from background stars or stellar companions can look a lot like the signals of transiting exoplanets.

"At this point, we have a very, very interesting candidate, and I hope soon we may be able to see something more," Holman said.

And even if the unknown object turns out to be a super-Earth, humans won't likely be colonizing it: Based on its tight orbit, the planet's surface temperature would be about 2,200 Kelvin (3,500 degrees F, or 1,900 degrees C).

Via nationalgeographic

Saturday, August 14, 2010

San Diego's Frozen Zoo

There are only eight northern white rhinoceroses left in the world, but the Frozen Zoo hopes to boost the population. Photograph: Benedicte Desrus/Alamy/Alamy. Photo courtesy: guardian

The inside of a metal box filled with liquid nitrogen and frozen to -173C (-280F) is hardly the ideal habitat for a large African mammal. But, as a test tube is fished out of the frigid container amid a billowing cloud of white gas, a note written on its side is unequivocal about its contents. "This is a northern white rhino," says Scripps research scientist Inbar Ben-Nun as she reads out the label and holds the freezing vial with thick gloves that look like industrial-grade oven mitts.

Ben-Nun is holding no ordinary scientific sample. For the frozen cells in that test tube could one day give rise to baby northern white rhinos and help save the species from extinction. They would be living specimens of one of the most endangered species on Earth, who after a few months would be trotting into wildlife parks, and maybe, just maybe, helping repopulate their kind on the African grasslands. No wonder that the place where the sample came from is called the Frozen Zoo.

The Frozen Zoo was founded in 1972 at San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research as a repository for skin-cell samples from rare and endangered species. At the time that the first samples were collected and put into deep freeze it was not really known how they would be used and genetic technology was in its infancy. But there was a sense that one day some unknown scientific advance might make use of them and it was better to be safe than sorry. Now, thanks to a team at the nearby Scripps Research Institute, that day has come a lot closer.

Genetic scientists at Scripps, working from an anonymous-looking building in a business park in San Diego's northern suburbs, have succeeded in taking samples of skin cells from the Frozen Zoo and turning them into a culture of special cells known as induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells. Stem cells are a sort of all-purpose building block of life that can then become any other sort of cell. By creating IPS cells from a species it is now theoretically possible to use them to create egg cells and sperm cells. Those two could then be combined via in vitro fertilisation to form a viable embryo. And long-dead animals whose species are almost extinct could create new life. The breakthrough, so far, has come with creating IPS cells for the silver-maned drill monkey, a primate native to just a few parts of West Africa and which is the continent's most endangered monkey. On 1 June this year, the stem cells morphed into brain cells, proving their viability.

"The Frozen Zoo was a wonderful idea. They just thought: 'Well, something might happen, so we should preserve some samples for the future'," says Dr Jeanne Loring, who is leading the Scripps team of which Ben-Nun is a part. "This is the first time that there has been something that we can do."

The implications of Loring's breakthrough are clear for those trying to save endangered animals. If the technology is perfected and IPS cell cultures can be established for many of the species held in the Frozen Zoo, then conservationists will not just have to rely on preventing extinction by coaxing a few remaining individuals to breed. Instead, cell lines preserved in the Frozen Zoo can be added to the possible gene pool, increasing the chances of healthy reproduction.

"If we could use animals that were already dead – even from 20 years ago – to generate sperm and eggs then we can use those individuals to create greater genetic diversity. I see it as being possible. I see no scientific barrier," Loring says.

It has also raised another prospect among some observers: that of a Jurassic Park scenario. If viable cell samples could be harvested from the remains of extinct animal species, such as stuffed Tasmanian tigers in museums or the woolly mammoth corpses dug up from the Siberian tundra, then perhaps scientists would one day be able to reverse extinction. It is not a prospect that many scientists involved want to encourage. But ever since news of Loring's work with the drill monkey cells was revealed, the Jurassic Park headlines have been coming thick and fast.

Loring's lab at Scripps holds samples from the northern white rhino and the drill monkey, but the real Frozen Zoo, just a few miles away, is on a much larger scale. Housed in a building inside San Diego Zoo, its freezers contain samples from 8,400 animals, representing more than 800 species. They include Gobi bears, endangered cattle breeds such as gaurs and bantengs, mountain gorillas, pandas, a California grey whale and condors. The entire gigantic menagerie is housed in four deep-freeze tanks, representing a staggeringly important slice of some of the world's most rare wildlife.

Dr Oliver Ryder, the geneticist who heads the Frozen Zoo programme, welcomes the news of Loring's work, which itself built on a breakthrough in 2007 by Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka. For Ryder it is confirmation that the zoo's founding as a sort of "bet" on the science of the future now has great prospects of paying off. "We wondered if one day pigs would fly. Well, now pigs are flying. I am very excited by the results," Ryder says.

But Ryder does not appreciate some of the wilder headlines that have sprung from the potential implications of the research. The words "Jurassic Park" get short shrift from the plain-spoken scientist. He has little time for those who advocate bringing back long-dead species or those fringe figures who dream one day of recreating a dinosaur just like in Steven Spielberg's movie. Apart from the fact that the science of extracting viable DNA for such animals is virtually impossible, he believes it distracts from the Frozen Zoo's primary aim: to stop species becoming extinct in the first place. "What would be the benefit of bringing back something that has been extinct for some 10,000 years? It is intriguing and evocative but it plays to human hubris. What's the motivation? Is this for personal benefit or society saying: 'We have arcane powers and the world is our oyster'?" he asks.

When it comes to species still on the brink, with perhaps just a few individuals left, however, Ryder is insistent that humanity has a duty to save them and that the Frozen Zoo can play a crucial role. Especially close to Ryder's heart is one of the species that Loring is working on: the northern white rhino. There are just eight of the animals left alive on earth and not all of them are viable breeders. To put it bluntly: the northern white rhino's gene pool is more accurately a rapidly drying-up gene puddle. But, if Loring's work succeeds in creating northern white rhino IPS cells and then turning them into sperm and eggs, that gene pool can be deepened again.

It is a race against time. Unlike with the drill monkey, Loring's efforts with rhino cells have not yet worked. But at least Loring thinks she knows why. The drill monkey samples were coaxed into becoming IPS cells using viruses loaded with carefully selected human genes that can trigger that reaction. Loring suspects it worked with drill monkeys because – as fellow primates – they are genetically close enough to humans for the introduced human genes to work properly. Rhinos, she thinks, may be too distantly related. However, she plans to try again, this time perhaps using genes from a closer animal relative to the rhino, the horse.

Ryder makes no secret of how emotionally attached he is to saving the northern white rhino while there are still living animals, rather than just reviving some later entirely from a test tube. He recalls witnessing the birth of a female northern white rhino more than 20 years ago and watching it being introduced to its herd: something that would be lost for ever if the last northern white rhino died before Loring's technology is perfected. "I saw her meet the rest of the rhino herd. There was a clear sense of how to meet the baby. If we wait until there are no white rhinos and then one is created from a test tube, to whom are we going to introduce it?" he says. "My feelings about the rhino come straight from the heart. I am not ready to give up on this rhino."

Sadly, it is already too late for other species. The Frozen Zoo already holds samples from animals that are now extinct. One such is the po'ouli bird, a species of honeycreeper that lived in Hawaii and was only discovered in 1973. Unfortunately, the last recorded sighting of the po'ouli was in 2004, and it is thought to be extinct, assailed by habitat loss and the introduction of disease by humans. Now it resides only in the Frozen Zoo in the form of its skin cells preserved and frozen. Ryder, sticking with his belief that there is no point in rescuing the already extinct, hopes instead that studying the po'ouli bird's genes will help conservationists prevent other related and endangered species from following the same path. "Maybe we cannot bring back the po'ouli, but we can use its secrets to help others," he says.

Ryder believes the importance of the Frozen Zoo cannot be overestimated in the face of the vast pressures that humanity is putting on the creatures with which it shares the planet. In fact the Frozen Zoo's collection of samples is so valuable that a secret duplicate collection has been established in case a natural or manmade disaster were to strike the original. "No time that people have kept something safe in just one place has it worked. This is a globally important depository and its importance is not going to decrease. Over time there is going to be a big disaster. So we have to insure against that," he says. He is also keen on reaching out to other, smaller frozen zoos that exist elsewhere, such as one at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans and one at the University of Nottingham. He hopes one day a global network of frozen zoos will be established to provide the ultimate insurance policy to carry the earth's rarest animal species into the future. "Having a duplicate site is an important step but in the long run we need to have a global network," he explains. "The future will thank the present generation for saving what we can save. We have to look beyond the current moment. People who are not yet born will greatly appreciate what we can do."

That opinion holds true for Loring, too. Her success in creating IPS cells has the potential to unlock the whole Frozen Zoo as a powerful tool for breeding and conservation. She is already thinking of getting a third species from the zoo to add to the Scripps research on drill monkeys and the northern white rhino. She, too, is seeing the big picture and says there is a moral imperative to use the animals kept in the Frozen Zoo to preserve rare species as part of a living, breathing global ecosystem.

"The idea of doing it has become a reality," Loring says. "This is something that can be done and should be done. We should make up for the damage that we have caused."

Via guardian

Friday, August 13, 2010

20 Interesting Facts About Water

Photo courtesy: discovermagazine

1. Water is everywhere—there are 332,500,000 cubic miles of it on the earth’s surface. But less than 1% of it is fresh and accessible, even when you include bottled water.

2. And “fresh” can be a relative term. Before 2009, federal regulators did not require water bottlers to remove E. coli.

3. Actually, E. coli doesn’t sound so bad. In 1999 the Natural Resources Defense Council found that one brand of spring water came from a well in an industrial parking lot near a hazardous waste dump.

4. Cheers! The new Water Recovery System on the International Space Station recycles 93% of astronauts’ perspiration and urine, turning it back into drinking water.

5. Kurdish villages in northern Iraq are using a portable version of the NASA system to purify water from streams and rivers, courtesy of the relief group Concern for Kids.

6. Ice is a lattice of tetrahedrally bonded molecules that contain a lot of empty space. That’s why it floats.

7. Even after ice melts, some of those tetrahedrons almost always remain, like tiny ice cubes 100 molecules wide. So every glass of water, no matter what its temperature, comes on the rocks.

8. You can make your own water by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in a container and adding a spark. Unfortunately, that is the formula that helped destroy the Hindenburg.

9. Scientists have a less explosive recipe for extracting energy from hydrogen and oxygen. Strip away electrons from some hydrogen molecules, add oxygen molecules with too many electrons, and bingo! You get an electric current. That’s what happens in a fuel cell.

10. Good gardeners know not to water plants during the day. Droplets clinging to the leaves can act as little magnifying glasses, focusing sunlight and causing the plants to burn.

11. Hair on your skin can hold water droplets too. A hairy leg may get sunburned more quickly than a shaved one.

12. Vicious cycle: Water in the stratosphere contributes to the current warming of the earth’s atmosphere. That in turn may increase the severity of tropical cyclones, which throw more water into the stratosphere. That’s the theory, anyway.

13. The slower rate of warming in the past decade might be due to a 10% drop in stratospheric water. Cause: unknown.

14. Although many doctors tell patients to drink eight glasses of water a day, there is no scientific evidence to support this advice.

15. The misinformation might have come from a 1945 report recommending that Americans consume about “1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food,” which amounts to 8 or 10 cups a day. But the report added that much of that water comes from food—a nuance many people apparently missed.

16. Call waterholics anonymous: Drinking significantly more water than is needed can cause “water intoxication” and lead to fatal cerebral and pulmonary edema. Amateur marathon runners have died this way.

17. Scientists at Oregon State University have identified vast reservoirs of water beneath the ocean floor. In fact, there may be more water under the oceans than in them.

18. Without water, ocean crust would not sink back into the earth’s mantle. There would be no plate tectonics, and our planet would probably be a lot like Venus: hellish and inert.

19. At the other end of the wetness scale, planet GJ 1214b, which orbits a red dwarf star, may be almost entirely water.

20. Recent evidence suggests that when the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago, comets had liquid cores. If so, life may have started in a comet.

Via discovermagazine

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Did You Know That...

In Russia the keen eyesight of the pigeon is put to a very practical use. At one factory in Moscow, they are used to sort ball-bearings. After four or five weeks of special training, the birds inspect the ball-bearings as they pass on a conveyor. If any show the least blemish, the pigeons peck a special plate which operates a reject sign. The faulty bearing is removed and the birds is rewarded with a few millet seeds.

The Russians claims the pigeons are so expert that they can even detect a fingerprint on a bearing and can inspect 4,000 an hour.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Found - A Fragment From the Amber Room

Photo courtesy: Russia-Info Centre

Kaliningrad archaeologists have come across a remarkable find in the famous Fort 5 of old Konigsberg.

It is a plank made of amber; and, most probably is directly related to the world-famous Amber Room.

The panel is 20 cm long and 10 cm wide. It is decorated with an ornament of antique style. Most likely, the panel is a detail of the palace decking.

The Amber Room before WWII. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The Amber Room was (and has been restored to) a complete chamber decoration of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors. Due to its singular beauty, it was sometimes dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

The Amber Room was created by German and Danish masters for the Prussian King Frederic I. Its furnishing was mainly made of amber. The masterpiece consisted of amber panels, ornaments and pictures. Subsequently the Prussian King presented the room to the Russian Emperor Peter I. The room contained 6 tons of amber.

During WWII, German soldiers looted the Amber Room; and, took the treasures to Königsberg. Knowledge of the Amber Room's location was lost during the chaos of the war and its aftermath.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Road is Planned to go Through the Serengeti National Park

The proposed highway would cut the Serengeti in half. Photo courtesy: Wildlife Extra

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have both stepped into the growing controversy over the proposed Serengeti Highway (Published in Wildlife Extra in June). Both renowned establishments are requesting that the Government of Tanzania reconsider the proposed construction of a commercial road through the world's best known wildlife sanctuary - Serengeti National Park - and recommend that alternative routes be used that can meet the transportation needs of the region without disrupting the greatest remaining migration of large land animals in the world.

At issue is the proposed Arusha-Musoma highway, slated for construction in 2012. According to the proposed route, the highway would bisect the northern portion of the park and jeopardize the annual migration of wildebeest and zebra, a spectacle comprising nearly two million animals. The Serengeti is a World Heritage Site and is universally regarded as one of world's great natural wonders.

"The Serengeti is the site of one of the last great ungulate migrations left on Earth, the pre-eminent symbol of wild nature for millions of visitors and TV viewers, and a hugely important source of income for the people of Tanzania through ecotourism," said Dr. James Deutsch, Executive Director of the WCS's Africa Program. "To threaten this natural marvel with a road would be a tragedy. We implore the Tanzanian government-known around the world for its commitment to conservation-to reconsider this proposal and explore other options."

"A commercial road would not only result in wildlife collisions and human injuries, but would serve to fragment the landscape and undermine the ecosystem in a variety of ways," said Prof. Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation Programmes for ZSL, which partners with WCS in the long-term monitoring and conservation of Serengeti's cheetahs. "To diminish this natural wonder would be a terrible loss for Tanzania and all future generations."

The red line shows the proposed route of the new highway; and, the green line is an alternative route. Photo courtesy: Wildlife Extra

WCS and ZSL are two of numerous organizations - including the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) - in growing opposition to the proposed road. Supporters of the proposed road point to the need for linkage between the districts of Serengeti and Loliondo, one of the poorest regions of Tanzania, and the national road system, as well as a need for increased transport infrastructure between the coast and the hinterland. However it is possible to achieve these objectives without bisecting the Serengeti. Conservationists predict that building the road through Serengeti National Park would not only result in a catastrophic decrease in numbers of wildebeest, zebra, and other species as a result of the interruption of the migration. It could also potentially cut Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve off from the migration, jeopardizing that country's most important tourism destination.

WCS, ZSL, and other conservation groups acknowledge and support Tanzania's need for infrastructure development, specifically to benefit the country's industries and agricultural markets. An alternative southern route, they assert, would better meet these objectives, and provide more benefits for more people while maintaining the integrity of Tanzania's foremost wildlife attraction and the tourism dollars it generates.

"We recognize that there is an obvious need for infrastructure development in Tanzania," said Markus Borner, Africa Program Director for FZS which has worked in the Serengeti since the 1950s. "A far better option than the current proposal is placing a road to the south of the park. Such a road would be both cheaper to construct and would serve a much larger number of people without interrupting the migration and jeopardizing the iconic status of the Serengeti National Park."

There is an online petition that you can join in protest to the proposed highway.

Via Wildlife Extra

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dry Water?

It sounds like a contradiction in terms; but, scientists have created 'dry water'.

Each particle of dry water contains a water droplet surrounded by a sandy silica coating. In fact, 95% of dry water is 'wet' water. One of its key properties is a powerful ability to absorb gases.

A sample of 'dry water' which looks like powdered sugar and is expected to make a big commercial splash. Photo courtesy: MailOnline

Scientists believe dry water could be used to combat global warming by soaking up and trapping the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Tests show that it is more than three times better at absorbing carbon dioxide as ordinary water. Dry water may also prove useful for storing methane and expanding the energy source potential of the natural gas.

Dr Ben Carter, from the University of Liverpool, presented his research on dry water at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston. He said: "There's nothing else quite like it. Hopefully, we may see dry water making waves in the future."

Another application demonstrated by Dr. Carter's team was using dry water as a catalyst to speed up reactions between hydrogen and maleic acid. This produces succinic acid, a key raw material widely used to make drugs, food ingredients, and consumer products.

Usually hydrogen and maleic acid have to be stirred together to make succinic acid; but, this is not necessary when using dry water particles containing maleic acid. This makes the process greener and more energy efficient.

"If you can remove the need to stir your reactions; then, potentially you're making considerable energy savings," said Dr. Carter. The technology could be adapted to create 'dry' powder emulsions, mixtures of two or more unblendable liquids such as oil and water, the researchers believe.

Dry emulsions could make it safer and easier to store and transport potentially harmful liquids.

Via MailOnline

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thompson's Gazelle Mutation?

Very strange looking Thompson's gazelle. Photo copyright Paolo Torchio

If it were April 1st, everyone would have just had a good laugh at the photo and commented on the wonderful Photoshop job done by the hoaxers. These two images appear to show a Thompson's gazelle that has been bred by crossing a gazelle with a goat or some other equally hairy creature. However, the folks at Wildlife Extra were immediately suspicious of the authenticity of the pictures as they seem just too extraordinary.

The photographer, Paolo Torchio, (click here to go to his website) was born in Italy; but, moved to Kenya 20 years ago, where he has made his name as a photographer and a conservationist. Photo credit Paolo Torchio.

They carefully looked at the images; and, have determined that there are no signs of any alterations that they could detect. However, probably the most compelling reason to believe that they are real is that Paolo Torchio, who took the photos, is a well-known and well-respected photographer.

Sometimes nature does create oddities and this gazelle would appear to be one of them. Two-headed snakes, while very unusual, are occasionally seen; and, there are well-documented cases of animals with extra legs, heads, eyes and other unusual mutations. Not surprisingly, they are more common where there are some environmental causes, often caused by humans, such as mercury poisoning. Wildlife Extra concludes that this gazelle is just an unusual one; and, that Mr. Torchio had one of those rarest of moments that every photographer strives for, a slice of luck.

Via Wildlife Extra

Friday, August 6, 2010

Quotable Quotes

"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."

- Mark Twain

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Greenland Ice Sheet Melting at Record Rate

Two satellite images provided by NASA and taken on July 28 and Aug. 5, show the Petermann Glacier in Northern Greenland. A giant ice island, seen in image at right, has broken off the Petermann Glacier. The floating ice sheet covers 100 square miles (260 sq. kilometres) - more than four times the size of Manhattan Photo: AFP/NASA

The University of St. Andrews team said 106 sq. mi. broke away from the Petermann Glacier at the beginning of August.

The massive ice island is is the largest single area loss observed for Greenland and suggests the effect of rising temperatures is affecting the Arctic faster than anticipated.

The finding immediately raises fears about the long term effect on rising sea levels and ultimately ‘positive feedbacks’ as water absorbs more heat than ice, therefore speeding up the warming effect.

Dr. Richard Bates, who is monitoring the ice alongside researchers from America, said the expedition had expected to find evidence of melting this year after “abnormally high” temperatures in the area. Climate change experts say that globally it has been the warmest six months since records began.

But he was “amazed to see an area of ice three times the size of Manhattan Island had broken off.

“It is not a freak event and is certainly a manifestation of warming. This year marks yet another record breaking melt year in Greenland; temperatures and melt across the entire ice sheet have exceeded those in 2007 and of historical records.”

The Petermann glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the northern hemisphere, has now retreated to a level not seen since 1962.

Dr. Bates and his team are currently in Greenland trying to determine whether the breakup has led to a further acceleration and thinning of ice.

The geophysicists uses time-lapse cameras overlooking the glacier from the top of its towering 900 m cliffs, as well as risking their lives trying to get as close as possible to the icebergs.

“It is very difficult logistically and expensive to get back,” he said. “The idea at present is to try and sail to close to the glacier with helicopter support on the passage up there; and, then for getting around when there. It could be a bit tricky doing this as it’s not only a long way; but, there will be ever-increasing ice to negotiate on the way north,” he said.

The new research comes as scientists from Pennsylvania State University warned that temperature rise of between 2C and 7C would cause the entire ice mass of Greenland to melt, resulting in 23 ft rise in sea level.

Via Telegraph

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cattle Being Cloned From Dead Cows?

Controversy: Dundee Paradise, the first cloned calf born in Britain. Photo courtesy: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1303317/Now-theyre-cloning-cows-cattle-dead.html

Cattle destined for the food chain in the U.S. are being cloned from dead animals.

Technicians take samples from slaughtered cows to assess meat quality; and, cells from the best are used to grow clones.

Researchers across the Atlantic said that Britain would have to put its reservations aside and adopt the controversial 'resurrection' practice or fall behind the rest of the world in food production.

The development comes after it emerged that three animals descended from cloned cows have found their way into the food chain in Britain with dozens more living on farms across the country.

All were descended from embryos of a cloned 'supercalf' that was created in the United States, where official regulators have said that cloned meat and milk is as safe as normal produce.

American scientists are far ahead of Britain on animal cloning and are replicating exceptional animals as breeding stock with the aim of improving the quality of beef, dairy and pig herds.

They use a range of techniques to make this assessment including productivity, longevity or meat quality, which cannot be done until the animal has been slaughtered.

The 'resurrection' technique is being carried out by leading animal cloning company J. R. Simplot. Brady Hicks of the Idaho-based firm said: "the animals are hanging on a rail ready to go to the meat counter.

"We identify carcasses that have certain characteristics that we want; but, it's too late to reproduce the genetics of the animal. But through cloning we can resurrect that animal."

In America cloned meat has entered the food chain on a small scale. There are roughly 1,000 clones among 100 million cattle, and farmers are still working out if it is economically viable.

Despite the ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug administration that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe to eat, supermarkets in the U.S. such as Whole Foods have placed a blanket ban on any cloned products.

Photo courtesy: MailOnline

Awhile ago, I wrote about genetically-engineered pork being grown in US labs. It appears that things are going well for Dr. Frank N. Stein as this article from MailOnline shows.

However, Mark Walton, president of the leading American animal cloning company ViaGen, said that the use of cloning in agriculture will eventually become the norm across the world.

"If I were a European farmer and my competitors in the U.S., China and South America were using the technology, I'd be concerned about losing all access to it," he said.

There is no evidence that meat from a clone or its offspring can cause any harm to health; although, the European Food Safety authority has flagged up a need for more research on this.

Opposition in Britain centres on whether the process is ethical and concerns that cloning can lead to animal suffering. There is evidence of miscarriages, early deaths, deformed organs and gigantism, where the young grow so large they have to be delivered by caesarean.

Artificial meat grown in the laboratory could be on supermarket shelves in just a decade, experts believe.

Produced in huge vats from muscle cells, the fake pork chops, sirloin steak and sausages would be kinder to the environment and to livestock than the real thing, say scientists. But it remains to be seen whether the fake meat, said to have the texture of a scallop, will be popular with the public.

The method invented by Dutch government-funded scientists involves incubating muscle cells extracted from pigs in a protein 'broth'.

The cells multiply and create a sticky tissue with the consistency of an undercooked egg. this is bulked up by passing an electrical current through it.

The fledgling technology is highlighted in a discussion paper in the journal Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society B.

Via MailOnline

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

All photos courtesy: odditycentral

Guinness Rishi, formerly known as Har Parkash, who lives in Delhi, India, is going to be one colourful guy when he successfully completes his latest feat. He is in the process of setting another Guinness World Book of Records record. This will be Guinness' third world record once he completes his latest undertaking. He changed his name to Guinness to show his determination to keep setting world records.

The 67-year-old plans to have the flag from every nation on Earth tattooed on his body. He will be covered with 220 different banners and expects the process to take three years. He already has flags on his face from Canada, Britain, India, the USA, Cypress and the Indian Congress Party. He says he can probably fit about 60 of the flags on his head; but, he intends to cover his entire body with the flags, instead.

Guinness is so dedicated to his mission in life that he plans to have his genitals tattooed once he decides what to put down there.

Rishi's two other claims to fame are that he built the tallest sugar cube tower in the world at 64" tall; and, he became the father of the world's oldest adoptee when he took guardianship of his 61-year-old brother-in-law.

Everyone has their own personal dream. Here are pictures of Guinness in varying stages of tattooing following his.