Sunday, September 30, 2007
In our post about The Most Dangerous Roads in the World we mentioned a few roads that imperil the lives of motorists, or just make it really miserable. The following roads did not quite make the list, but continued to pop up in conversations around the world. They may not be "deadly" as such, but certainly require a keen concentration on driving, as the rock walls in many of them are not known to be a forgiving substance.
The road shown here is the Guoliang Tunnel in Taihang mountains (China). It has been built by villagers themselves, which is an inspiring story in itself:
"Before 1972, the path chiseled into the rock used to be the only access linking
the village with the outside world. Then the villagers decided to dig a tunnel through the rocky cliff. Led by Shen Mingxin, head of the village, they sold goats and herbs to buy hammers and steel tools. Thirteen strong villagers began the project. It took them five years to finish the 1,200-metre-long tunnel which is about 5 meters high and 4 meters wide. Some of the villagers even gave their lives to it. On May 1, 1977, the tunnel was opened to traffic."
The wall of the tunnel is uneven and there are more than 30 "windows" of
different sizes and shapes. Some windows are round and some are square, and they range from dozens of metres long to standard-window-size. It is frightening to look down from the windows, where strange rocks hanging form the sheer cliff above and a seemingly bottomless pit lying below. A village, opposite the tunnel, appears to hang on the precipice.
2. Taroko Gorge Road in Taiwan (Chungheng)
Another one of quite unforgiving roads, consisting of tunnels carved in the mountain rock.
3. Pasubio (Vicenza), Northern Italy
This is an ancient road, converted to a hiking trail. Mountain bikers love it for the spectacular views, cool tunnels and hair-raising precipices... Some cars (presumably small italian kind) climb the hairpins to service the guesthouse built there.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
North Yungas Road is hands-down the most dangerous in the world for motorists. If other roads could be considered impassable, this one clearly endangers your life. It runs in the Bolivian Andes, 70 km from La Paz to Coroico, and plunges down almost 3,600 meters in an orgy of extremely narrow hairpin curves and 800-meter abyss near-misses. A fatal accident happens there every couple of weeks, 100-200 people perish there every year. In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank named the La Paz-to-Coroico route "the world's most dangerous road."
Among the route there are many visible reminders of accidents, wreckages of lorries and trucks lie scattered around at the bottom...
Apparently some companies make business on the road's dubious fame by selling the extreme bike tours down that road. "Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking" is one of them.
If you are nuts enough to consider it, please be advised that you will be only adding to the road hazards, as it's hard to spot a cyclist on the road's hairpin curves, and your shrieks (as you fall down the abyss) will disturb the peace and quiet of the villagers nearby.
2. Russian Siberian Road to Yakutsk
This is the official federal-government highway to Yakutsk, and it is also the only one to get there. As there are no other roads, the intrepid motorists are doomed to wallow in this dirt, or wait in week-long 100 km car line-ups (they say women even gave birth there while waiting). This can turn into a major humanitarian disaster during rainy spells, when the usual clay covering of the road turns into impassable mud blanket, swallowing trucks and tractors alike. In the meantime the city has to partly airlift food products.
3. Russian-Georgian "Military" Mountain Roads
Sukhumi "Military" road in the former Soviet Georgia, in Caucasus mountains, which truckers and wine-drunk crazy "Lada" drivers navigate with the utter abandon, typical of the local mountain people...
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
A paper on the finding was published in September's issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, co-author Jack Horner said Friday after returning from Mongolia where he and his crew found 80 dinosaurs in a week. Horner is curator of paleontology at Montana State University's Museum of the Rockies. The paper's lead author was Brenda Chinnery, a former postdoctoral researcher with Horner.
Horner said he found the nearly-complete skeleton in 1983, but it was located in extremely hard rock and took a long time to prepare. He also had to wait about two decades before he found an expert who could identify it. That expert was Chinnery, who specializes in horned dinosaurs. Chinnery had worked for one of Horner's colleagues at Johns Hopkins University and then came to MSU. She left MSU about two years ago and is now a paleontologist at the University of Texas.
"I knew it was probably a new dinosaur, but it took someone that really knew what they were doing to be able to describe it," Horner said.
The dinosaur fossil has been stored in the Museum of the Rockies since its discovery, but it will be displayed this winter, Horner said. The skeleton has a reddish tinge because some of the original bone was replaced by jasper. It dates to the early part of the Late Cretaceous Period.
The dinosaur, nicknamed Cera, was named Cerasinops hodgskissi after landowner Wilson Hodgskiss. who gave him permission to collect the skeleton for the Museum of the Rockies, Horner said. The fossil was found about five miles south of Choteau, in a different area than the famed Egg Mountain site.
The C. hodgskissi is such a simple specimen that it's hard to describe in terms of distinguishing characteristics, Horner said. Tests, however, showed that it represents a very primitive species that shares characteristics of Neo-ceratopsian dinosaurs in North America and Asia. Ceratopsian dinosaurs have horns, but these do not.
Horner said he was looking at even more primitive dinosaurs on his recent trip to Mongolia. His team collected more than 80 skeletons, with 70 of them coming from one site. Last year, they collected 67 skeletons at the same site. The Mongolian project is a joint research project between MSU and Mongolia's Science and Technology University.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Montana State University and published by ScienceDaily LLC.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The Arctic sea ice extent on Sept. 16 stood at 1.59 million square miles, or 4.13 million square kilometers, as calculated using a five-day running average, according to the team. Compared to the long-term minimum average from 1979 to 2000, the new minimum extent was lower by about 1 million square miles -- an area about the size of Alaska and Texas combined, or 10 United Kingdoms, they reported.
The minimum also breaks the previous minimum set on Sept. 20 and Sept. 21 of 2005 by about 460,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Texas and California combined, or five United Kingdoms, they found. The sea ice extent is the total area of all Arctic regions where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean surface.
Scientists blame the declining Arctic sea ice on rising concentrations of greenhouse gases that have elevated temperatures from 2 degrees F to 7 degrees F across the arctic and strong natural variability in Arctic sea ice, said the researchers.
The CU-Boulder research group said determining the annual minimum sea ice is difficult until the melt season has decisively ended. But the team has recorded five days of little change, and even slight gains in Arctic sea ice extent this September, so reaching a lower minimum for 2007 seems unlikely, they reported.
Arctic sea ice generally reaches its minimum extent in September and its maximum extent in March. The researchers used satellite data from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as data from Canadian satellites and weather observatories for the study.
"The amount of ice loss this year absolutely stunned us because it didn't just beat all previous records, it completely shattered them," said CU-Boulder senior scientist Mark Serreze of NSIDC.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Each time he returns to the dive boat, Kimura said, he is more convinced than ever that below him rest the remains of a 5,000-year-old city.
"The largest structure looks like a complicated, monolithic, stepped pyramid that rises from a depth of 25 meters [82 feet]," said Kimura, who presented his latest theories about the site at a scientific conference in June.
But like other stories of sunken cities, Kimura's claims have attracted controversy.
"I'm not convinced that any of the major features or structures are manmade steps or terraces, but that they're all natural," said Robert Schoch, a professor of science and mathematics at Boston University who has dived at the site.
"It's basic geology and classic stratigraphy for sandstones, which tend to break along planes and give you these very straight edges, particularly in an area with lots of faults and tectonic activity."
And neither the Japanese government's Agency for Cultural Affairs nor the government of Okinawa Prefecture recognize the remains off Yonaguni as an important cultural property, said agency spokesperson Emiko Ishida.
Neither of the government groups has carried out research or preservation work on the sites, she added, instead leaving any such efforts to professors and other interested individuals.
Yonaguni Jima is an island that lies near the southern tip of Japan's Ryukyu archipelago, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) off the eastern coast of Taiwan.
A local diver first noticed the Yonaguni formations in 1986, after which a promontory on the island was unofficially renamed Iseki Hanto, or Ruins Point.
The district of Yonaguni officially owns the formations, and tourists and researchers can freely dive at the site. Some experts believe that the structures could be all that's left of Mu, a fabled Pacific civilization rumored to have vanished beneath the waves.
On hearing about the find, Kimura said, his initial impression was that the formations could be natural. But he changed his mind after his first dive.
"I think it's very difficult to explain away their origin as being purely natural, because of the vast amount of evidence of man's influence on the structures," he said.
For example, Kimura said, he has identified quarry marks in the stone, rudimentary characters etched onto carved faces, and rocks sculpted into the likenesses of animals.
"The characters and animal monuments in the water, which I have been able to partially recover in my laboratory, suggest the culture comes from the Asian continent," he said.
"One example I have described as an underwater sphinx resembles a Chinese or ancient Okinawan king."
Whoever created the city, most of it apparently sank in one of the huge seismic events that this part of the Pacific Rim is famous for, Kimura said.
The world's largest recorded tsunami struck Yonaguni Jima in April 1771 with an estimated height of more than 131 feet (40 meters), he noted, so such a fate might also have befallen the ancient civilization.
Kimura said he has identified ten structures off Yonaguni and a further five related structures off the main island of Okinawa. In total the ruins cover an area spanning 984 feet by 492 feet (300 meters by 150 meters).
The structures include the ruins of a castle, a triumphal arch, five temples, and at least one large stadium, all of which are connected by roads and water channels and are partly shielded by what could be huge retaining walls.
Kimura believes the ruins date back to at least 5,000 years, based on the dates of stalactites found inside underwater caves that he says sank with the city.
And structures similar to the ruins sitting on the nearby coast have yielded charcoal dated to 1,600 years ago—a possible indication of ancient human inhabitants, Kimura added.
But more direct evidence of human involvement with the site has been harder to come by.
"Pottery and wood do not last on the bottom of the ocean, but we are interested in further research on a relief at the site that is apparently painted and resembles a cow," Kimura said.
"We want to determine the makeup of the paint. I would also like to carry out subsurface research."
Toru Ouchi, an associate professor of seismology at Kobe University, supports Kimura's hypothesis.
Ouchi said that he has never seen tectonic activity having such an effect on a landscape either above or below the water.
"I've dived there as well and touched the pyramid," he said. "What Professor Kimura says is not exaggerated at all. It's easy to tell that those relics were not caused by earthquakes."
Boston University's Schoch, meanwhile, is just as certain that the Yonaguni formations are natural.
He suggests that holes in the rock, which Kimura believes were used to support posts, were merely created by underwater eddies scouring at depressions.
Lines of smaller holes were formed by marine creatures exploiting a seam in the rock, he said.
"The first time I dived there, I knew it was not artificial," Schoch said. "It's not as regular as many people claim, and the right angles and symmetry don't add up in many places."
He emphasizes that he is not accusing anyone of deliberately falsifying evidence.
But many of the photos tend to give a perfect view of the site, making the lines look as regular as possible, he said.
Schoch also says he has seen what Kimura believes to be renderings of animals and human faces at the site.
"Professor Kimura says he has seen some kind of writing or images, but they are just scratches on a rock that are natural," he said.
"He interprets them as being manmade, but I don't know where he's coming from."
But Kimura is undeterred by critics, adding that the new governor of Okinawa Prefecture and officials from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization have recently expressed interest in verifying the site.
"The best way to get a definitive answer about their origins is to keep going back and collecting more evidence," he continued.
"If I'd not had a chance to see these structures for myself, I might be skeptical as well."
NGC 1672, visible from the Southern Hemisphere, is seen almost face on and shows regions of intense star formation. The greatest concentrations of star formation are found in the so-called starburst regions near the ends of the galaxy’s strong galactic bar. NGC 1672 is a prototypical barred spiral galaxy and differs from normal spiral galaxies in that the spiral arms do not twist all the way into the centre. Instead, they are attached to the two ends of a straight bar of stars enclosing the nucleus.
Astronomers believe that barred spirals have a unique mechanism that channels gas from the disk inwards towards the nucleus. This allows the bar portion of the galaxy to serve as an area of new star generation. It appears that the bars are short-lived, raising the question: will non-barred galaxies develop a bar in the future, or have they already hosted one that has disappeared?
In the new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, clusters of hot young blue stars form along the spiral arms, and ionize surrounding clouds of hydrogen gas that glow red. Delicate curtains of dust partially obscure and redden the light of the stars behind them. NGC 1672’s symmetric look is emphasised by the four principal arms, edged by eye-catching dust lanes that extend out from the centre.
Galaxies lying behind NGC 1672 give the illusion they are embedded in the foreground galaxy, even though they are really much farther away. They also appear reddened as they shine through NGC 1672’s dust. A few bright foreground stars inside our own Milky Way Galaxy appear in the image as bright, diamond-like objects.
NGC 1672 is a member of the family of Seyfert galaxies, named after the astronomer, Carl Keenan Seyfert, who studied a family of galaxies with active nuclei extensively in the 1940s. The energy output of these nuclei can sometimes outshine their host galaxies. The active galaxy family include the exotically named quasars and blazars. Although each type has distinctive characteristics, they are thought to be all driven by the same engine – supermassive black holes – but are viewed from different angles.
The new Hubble observations, performed with the Advanced Camera for Surveys aboard the observatory, have shed light on the process of starburst activity and on why some galaxies are ablaze with extremely active star formation.
NGC 1672 is more than 60 million light-years away in the direction of the Southern constellation of Dorado. These observations of NGC 1672 were taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys in August of 2005. This composite image contains filters that isolate light from the blue, green, and infrared portions of the spectrum, as well as emission from ionized hydrogen.
Monday, September 17, 2007
The record for the deepest free dive is held by Jacques Mayol. He dove to an astounding depth of 282 feet without any breathing equipment.
The deepest spot on Earth, Challenger Deep, is 35,802 feet (11,034 m) deep. It is found in the Mariana Trench, one of the many deep valleys of the Pacific Ocean. The pressure here is over 8 tons per square inch.
Movie director James Cameron ventured to 12,378 feet below the surface of the Atlantic, in a submersible with a nine-inch-thick porthole, to film the movie "Titanic."
The highest tides on Earth are found in the Bay of Fundy east of New Brunswick, Canada. The channeling effect of the bay is responsible for the amazing difference between high tide and low tide, which, during spring tides, can reach 53.5 feet. This is almost as tall as a four-story building.
Amazing Features of the Ocean Floor
The longest mountain range on Earth is really the Mid-Ocean Ridge. It extends from the Arctic Ocean, down the middle of the Atlantic, winding into the Pacific Ocean.
The largest waterfall on Earth is actually underwater. It is found in the Denmark Strait, and slowly cascades downward for 2.2 miles. This is over three times as tall as Angel Falls, in Venezuela, which is the tallest land waterfall.
The tallest mountain on Earth is also (you guessed it!) partly underwater. Mauna Kea, an inactive volcanic island in Hawaii, stands 33,465 feet tall when measured from ocean floor to summit.
The elements oxygen and hydrogen are 96.5% of ocean water. The other 3.5% is dissolved elements, such as chlorine, sodium, and other salts.
About 97% of all of the Earth's water is saltwater.
The oceans cover about 71% of Earth's surface.
The thermocline is an ocean zone in which the temperature drops very rapidly. It is usually found at around 300 to 800 meters deep, between the relatively warm surface zone and the cold deep zone. The thermocline blocks sonar, so it is a favorite hiding place of submarines.
The temperature of most ocean water is about 39 degrees Farenheit (4 degrees Celsius), which is just above freezing!
Previous climate model studies have shown that heavy rainstorms will be more common in a warmer climate, but few global models have attempted to simulate the strength of updrafts in these storms. The model developed at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies by researchers Tony Del Genio, Mao-Sung Yao, and Jeff Jonas is the first to successfully simulate the observed difference in strength between land and ocean storms and is the first to estimate how the strength will change in a warming climate, including "severe thunderstorms" that also occur with significant wind shear and produce damaging winds at the ground.
This information can be derived from the temperatures and humidities predicted by a climate computer model, according to the new study published on August 17 in the American Geophysical Union's Geophysical Research Letters. It predicts that in a warmer climate, stronger and more severe storms can be expected, but with fewer storms overall.
Global computer models represent weather and climate over regions several hundred miles wide. The models do not directly simulate thunderstorms and lightning. Instead, they evaluate when conditions are conducive to the outbreak of storms of varying strengths. This model first was tested against current climate conditions. It was found to represent major known global storm features including the prevalence of lightning over tropical continents such as Africa and, to a lesser extent, the Amazon Basin, and the near absence of lightning in oceanic storms.
The model then was applied to a hypothetical future climate with double the current carbon dioxide level and a surface that is an average of 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the current climate. The study found that continents warm more than oceans and that the altitude at which lightning forms rises to a level where the storms are usually more vigorous.
These effects combine to cause more of the continental storms that form in the warmer climate to resemble the strongest storms we currently experience.
Lightning produced by strong storms often ignites wildfires in dry areas. Researchers have predicted that some regions would have less humid air in a warmer climate and be more prone to wildfires as a result. However, drier conditions produce fewer storms. "These findings may seem to imply that fewer storms in the future will be good news for disastrous western U.S. wildfires," said Tony Del Genio, lead author of the study and a scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York. "But drier conditions near the ground combined with higher lightning flash rates per storm may end up intensifying wildfire damage instead."
The central and eastern areas of the United States are especially prone to severe storms and thunderstorms that arise when strong updrafts combine with horizontal winds that become stronger at higher altitudes. This combination produces damaging horizontal and vertical winds and is a major source of weather-related casualties. In the warmer climate simulation there is a small class of the most extreme storms with both strong updrafts and strong horizontal winds at higher levels that occur more often, and thus the model suggests that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common with warming.
The prediction of stronger continental storms and more lightning in a warmer climate is a natural consequence of the tendency of land surfaces to warm more than oceans and for the freezing level to rise with warming to an altitude where lightning-producing updrafts are stronger. These features of global warming are common to all models, but this is the first climate model to explore the ramifications of the warming for thunderstorms.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Leif Toudal Pedersen from the Danish National Space Centre said: "We have seen the ice-covered area drop to just around 3 million sq km which is about 1 million sq km less than the previous minima of 2005 and 2006. There has been a reduction of the ice cover over the last 10 years of about 100 000 sq km per year on average, so a drop of 1 million sq km in just one year is extreme.
"The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need to understand better the processes involved."
Arctic sea ice naturally extends its surface coverage each northern winter and recedes each northern summer, but the rate of overall loss since 1978 when satellite records began has accelerated.
The most direct route of the Northwest Passage across northern Canada is now fully navigable, while the Northeast Passage along the Siberian coast remains only partially blocked. To date, the Northwest Passage has been predicted to remain closed even during reduced ice cover by multi-year ice pack – sea ice that survives one or more summers. However, according to Pedersen, this year’s extreme event has shown the passage may well open sooner than expected.
The previous record low was in 2005 when the Arctic area covered by sea ice was just 4 million sq km. Even then, the most direct Northwest Passage did not fully open.
The Polar Regions are very sensitive indicators of climate change. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed these regions are highly vulnerable to rising temperatures and predicted the Arctic would be virtually ice free by the summer of 2070. Still other scientists predict it could become ice free as early as 2040 due to rising temperatures and sea ice decline.
Because sea ice has a bright surface, the majority of solar energy that hits it is reflected back into space. When sea ice melts, the dark-coloured ocean surface is exposed. Solar energy is then absorbed rather than reflected, so the oceans get warmer and temperatures rise, making it difficult for new ice to form.
The Arctic is one of Earth’s most inaccessible areas, so obtaining measurements of sea ice was difficult before the advent of satellites. For more than 20 years, ESA has been providing satellite data to the cryosphere communities. Currently, ESA is contributing to the International Polar Year (IPY) – a large worldwide science programme focused on the Arctic and Antarctic.
Since 2006, ESA has supported Polar View, a satellite remote-sensing programme funded through the Earthwatch GMES Service Element (GSE) that focuses on the Arctic and the Antarctic.
In 2009, ESA will make another significant contribution to cryosphere research with the launch of CryoSat-2. The observations made over the three-year lifetime of the mission will provide conclusive evidence on the rates at which ice cover is diminishing.
The U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center tracked the odyssey of the bird as part of an ongoing collaborative effort with colleagues in California and New Zealand. The scientists were hoping to better understand potential transmission of avian influenza by migratory birds.
The bird, dubbed "E7" after the tag on its upper leg, was captured along with 15 other godwits in New Zealand in early February 2007. There each bird was fitted with a small, battery-powered satellite transmitter. USGS scientists hoped the transmitters' batteries would last long enough to track the birds' northward migration to Alaska.
On March 17, E7 departed Miranda on the North Island of New Zealand and flew non-stop to Yalu Jiang, China, completing the 6,300-mile-long flight in about eight days. There she settled in for a 5-week-long layover before departing for the breeding grounds.
On the evening of May 1, she headed east out over the Sea of Japan and the North Pacific, eventually turning northeast towards Alaska, crossing the end of the Alaska Peninsula en route to her eventual nesting area on the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta in western Alaska. This flight was also accomplished non-stop, covering some 4,500 miles in five days.
E7 was then tracked to the coast of the Yukon Delta where she joined other godwits preparing for their return flight to New Zealand.
On the early morning of August 29, she took off southeast back across the Alaska Peninsula, went out over the vast North Pacific and headed towards the Hawaiian Islands. When less than a day's flight from the main Hawaiian Islands, she turned southwest, crossing the Hawaiian Archipelago over open ocean 125 miles west of Kauai, heading towards Fiji. She crossed the dateline about 300 miles north-northeast of Fiji, and then appeared to fly directly over or slightly west of Fiji, continuing south towards New Zealand.
In the early afternoon of September 7th she passed just offshore of North Cape, New Zealand, and then turned back southeast, making landfall in the late evening at the mouth of a small river, eight miles east of where she had been captured seven months earlier.
The last leg of E7's journey is the most extraordinary, entailing a non-stop flight of more than eight days and a distance of 7,200 miles, the equivalent of making a roundtrip flight between New York and San Francisco, and then flying back again to San Francisco without ever touching down.
Since they are land birds, godwits like E7 can't stop to eat or drink while flying over open-ocean. The constant flight speeds at which E7 was tracked by satellite indicate that she did not stop on land.
Godwits do not become adults until their 3rd or 4th year and many live beyond 20 years of age. If 18,000 miles is an average annual flight distance, then an adult godwit would fly some 288,000 miles in a lifetime.
The study that recorded E7's epic flight is a collaborative effort led jointly by USGS and Point Reyes Conservation Science, with cooperators from Massey University and Miranda Shorebird Centre, New Zealand, and The Global Flyway Network. The project is funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the USGS, Alaska Science Center, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
“When I first saw it,” said Park Superintendent Donna Garde, “I was totally amazed. What ran through my mind was that this looked like something out of a low-budget horror movie, but I was looking at something five times as big as what you’d see on a Hollywood set.”
Stumped as to the web’s origin, the initial consensus of arachnologists and entomologists who saw an online photo of the web sent by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Mike Quinn was that it may have resulted from a “mass dispersal” event. In such an event, millions of tiny spiders or spiderlings spin out silk filaments to ride air currents in a phenomenon known as “ballooning.”
Quinn collected a sample of spiders Aug. 31 from in and around the gigantic web and took them to Texas A&M University in College Station for analyses. Entomology Department researcher Allen Dean identified 11 spider families from the sample. The most prevalent species was the Tetragnatha guatemalensis, or what Quinn dubbed the Guatemalan long-jawed spider, since this species didn’t have a common name. Guatemala was the country in which it was first documented.
“I drove 50 to 100 spiders to A&M on Saturday,” Quinn said. “Spider experts tend to specialize in one or few families of spiders. There are nearly 900 species of spiders known from Texas, so no one is an expert on all the species.”
Quinn described the Lake Tawakoni web as “sheet webbing” since it covers a large area of trees, which is more typical of a web spun by a funnel web spider rather than the classic Charlotte’s web, or orb web, like that produced by long-jawed spiders. He speculates that the park’s spider population exploded due to wet conditions this summer that resulted in an abundance of midges and other a small insects upon which the spiders feed.
The Guatemalan long-jawed spider ranges from Canada to Panama, and even the islands of the Caribbean. According to Quinn, the spider is about an inch in length with a reddish-orange head- and-thorax. Spiders, like mites and scorpions, are arachnids, a group of arthropods with four pairs of legs, saclike lungs and a body divided into two segments.
So popular was the monster Lake Tawakoni spider web phenomenon that it ran as the lead story in the Nation section of the Aug. 31 New York Times, and was the newspaper’s most e-mailed article that day. The nightmarish quality of the story prompted satirical takes on several Internet Web sites and led to national coverage on Fox News, the Discovery Channel, CNN and other networks. Quinn termed the degree of news coverage “remarkable.”
Dr. Norman Horner, a retired dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, was on his way to the park mid-week to study the “not very common” phenomenon, when he received a call from park staff telling him that a heavy overnight rainstorm had made the trail impassable and knocked down much of the giant web.
“So far,” Horner said, “we have been informed of webs of this nature occurring in Florida, California, Canada, Italy, Ohio and now Texas. In all cases, they appear to have been produced by tetragnathids, but have other species associated with them.”
Superintendent Garde said Sept. 5 that the crowds coming to see the wondrous creation had slowed to a trickle, and that they were not being allowed to access the nature trail due to the sloppy conditions.
“It was fun, but we were really tired,” Garde said. “The spiders are great little guys. They put our park on the map.”
These are just a few of the questions that are being addressed by a new environmental marine research team from Tel Aviv University and the non-profit research and education organization, EcoOcean.
The team, headed by EcoOcean's Andreas Weil and Prof. Sven Beer of Tel Aviv University, are working to uncover new secrets about civilization and climate change from the depths of the sea floor. They are also a conducting a large-scale study on the health of the Mediterranean Sea with Ph.D. students they sponsor. The work is being done aboard "Mediterranean Explorer", a floating marine vessel.
"When I was looking for a partner, I needed to find a team of marine scientists who were leaders in their fields," says Weil, a Swedish environmental philanthropist who helped conceive and fund the idea of giving a free, floating marine research lab to any scientist who needed it. "I didn't want us to be just another Greenpeace group of environmental activists. My dream was to build the foremost research vessel for high-level scientific marine research. I wanted to be able to help provide hard scientific data and education about the real state of affairs of our oceans."
The first and only institution that came to mind was Tel Aviv University (TAU), internationally famous for its work in marine biology. "Besides being the only university in Israel that has a dedicated marine unit, its researchers are leaders not only in Israel, but the world," says Weil, who brought a crew of TAU scientists on board as EcoOcean advisors. They include Professors Yossi Loya, Micha Ilan, Yehuda Benayahu, and Sven Beer, with Beer appointed as the chief partner and chief scientific advisor for EcoOcean.
Prof. Beer was part of the team on board "Mediterranean Explorer" that recently headed to the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey, the site where historians believe the great biblical flood occurred. EcoOcean and an international team believe they have found evidence to substantiate what is written in the Bible.
Says Weil, "We found that indeed a flood happened around that time. From core samples, we see that a flood broke through the natural barrier separating the Mediterranean Sea and the freshwater Black Sea, bringing with it seashells that only grow in a marine environment. There was no doubt that it was a fast flood -- one that covered an expanse four times the size of Israel. It might not have been Noah, as it is written in the Bible, but we believe people in that region had to build boats in order to save their animals from drowning. We think that the ones who survived were fishermen -- they already had the boats."
The action and adventure never seem to stop aboard "Mediterranean Explorer", which often plays host to visiting scientists from institutions abroad, including New York's Columbia University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution near Boston, McMaster University in Canada, and Istanbul Technical University.
Next week the team will sail out to take underwater footage for evidence of an ancient tsunami thought to have destroyed the port city Caesarea generations ago. They will also be looking for deep-sea sea grasses, algae and sponges that had been observed earlier by researchers but were never properly investigated. "This is very interesting," says Weil, "because sea grasses are normally not found at these depths. Maybe one day one of these organisms can provide us with a new drug."
Dan Schaffer, the operations manager for EcoOcean and captain of the ship, has been working with EcoOcean for nearly four years. "I am doing a lot more than driving the boat," jokes Schaffer, who sums up the point of EcoOcean quite well. "The way I see it, we are working on three different venues. One is in education -- we are teaching children who will be our future environmental stewards. The second thing is that we have brought this research vessel to Israel and have created a platform that academics in Israel and abroad can use for maritime research. The third is that we have created a floating classroom for students in higher education. Not only can these students do science, but they learn how it is done properly in the field of oceanography."
Schaffer adds that EcoOcean is proving to be an important matchmaker to help scientists cross more than the great big seas. "Prof. Yehuda Benayahu from Tel Aviv University wanted to go to Eritrea to work on a joint project with Eritrea University," he relates. "We made that happen by bringing the know-how and encouraging USAID to supply the funding. It is a perfect story for how research between people and across continents should be done. We are looking forward to more international collaborations."
Now, telltale signs of what's called the Sudbury impact of southern Ontario — including shocked quartz, once-molten rock spherules and extraterrestrial iridium — are ruling out a comet and making a strong argument that it was an asteroid that struck southern Canada all those eons ago.
"It was a Himalaya-sized object that slammed into the Earth," said geologist Peir Pufahl of Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
In the millions of years since then, the crater itself has been eroded and buried, and much of the more remote debris from the impact has done the same. Even the shape of the crater has changed as the crust has been pushed and pulled.
In northern Michigan, across Lake Huron from the impact zone, Pufahl and his team drilled down into the Earth to find rocks containing signs of the impact. The most obvious were long, teardrop-shaped blobs in rocks that were once molten rock flying through the air just after the impact. They also found that the fallout material was quite jumbled.
"It looks like the impact caused a mega-tsunami that reworked deposits of the impact," said Pufahl. He and his team published their discovery in the September issue of the journal Geology.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
At least one new species, a tiny crustacean called a seed shrimp, is likely new to science, researchers said.
Another exciting find was a "spiral poo worm," an animal first identified in 2005 that deposits spiral-shaped feces, some of which have been found in the fossil record dating back hundreds of millions of years.
"We found lots of these primitive species," said expedition leader Monty Priede, director of the Oceanlab research center at Britain's University of Aberdeen.
The expedition brought together an international team of 31 scientists coordinated by the Norway-based MAR-ECO project and the global Census of Marine Life program initiative.
"It was like going to a new country," Priede said.
Using the latest technology, including remotely operated underwater vehicles, the researchers were able to observe creatures living between depths of 2,600 and 11,500 feet (800 and 3,500 meters).
Until now this region of the ocean had scarcely been explored because of its remoteness and depth.
But the latest findings show that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is teeming with life. Many species found in abundance there had only recently been discovered and were thought to be very rare. "The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is roughly equivalent in size to the European Alps and is one of the largest areas of habitat available in the ocean," Priede said.
Compared to long, thin sections of the ocean floor that lie closer to continents, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is much larger and more varied, he said.
The ridge is thought to have a major effect on ocean currents, which influences the productivity and biodiversity of the ocean.
And as is the case with mountain ranges on land, some species prefer one side to the other, Priede said.
"We see different species living on the American and European sides of the ridge," Priede said.
The team brought back thousands of specimens for analysis and left behind six automatic observing stations to provide a continuous feed of measurements and photos over the next two years.
Further voyages planned for 2008 and 2009 will retrieve this equipment and collect more samples, Preide said.
Now experts at the institute are studying the feasibility of transporting the survivors to a natural preserve in a Noah's Ark-like operation, said Wang, one of China's leading authorities on the nearly decimated species.
The sighting provides a small ray of hope for scientists who had previously given up on the baiji.
"The baiji is functionally extinct," concluded August Pfluger, head of the Swiss-based baiji.org foundation and co-organizer of the 2,200-mile (3,500-kilometer expedition), at the time.
"It is a tragedy, a loss not only for China, but for the entire world."
According to Wang, baiji dolphins apparently lived and flourished in the Yangtze for more than 19 million years before humans arrived on the scene.
Beat Mueller is a geochemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology who was also part of the 2006 baiji expedition.
"The disappearance and extinction of such highly evolved endemic mammals as the white Yangtze River dolphin [baiji], the finless porpoise, or the Chinese sturgeon from the Yangtze River can be attributed to a multitude of circumstances, such as the deterioration and loss of their natural habitats, overfishing of the river, the heavy freight ship traffic, and others," Mueller said.
"Increasing concentrations of anthropogenic chemicals may just be one additional factor," he added. But Wang said he and others at the hydrobiology institute are now convinced that the last survivors of the dolphin might be found along small tributaries of the Yangtze in eastern China's Anhui Province, where the amateur video was shot in mid-August.
Call to Action
Conservation specialists at the hydrobiology institute, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, are preparing to search those waterways, pending approval from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
"We may try to catch the baiji dolphins and move them into our semi-natural Tian-e-Zhou Reserve, which is located along an oxbow [U-shaped curve] of the Yangtze River, to put them under full protection," Wang said.
According to Karen Baragona, a specialist on the Yangtze at the World Wildlife Fund, the keys to the survival of the baiji are conserving oxbow lakes in the central Yangtze, creating a network of nature reserves along the river, and managing the river's entire ecosystem from a holistic perspective.
"This sighting presents a last hope that the baiji may not go the way of the dodo bird," Baragona said in a statement.
"Other species have been brought back from the brink of extinction, like the southern right whale and white rhinos, but only through the most intensive conservation efforts."
Wang, with the help of the baiji.org group, might even attempt to engineer the recovery of the dolphins through a captive breeding program.
The Baiji Conservation Aquarium has already scored small successes with a similar breeding scheme aimed at averting the extinction of the endangered Yangtze finless porpoise.
Two finless calves have been born at the aquarium since it was set up two years ago.
But Wang warned that the battle to save the baiji is anything but guaranteed.
"The chances of saving the baiji are really small," he said. "But we have to try our best to save the last baiji, even if we know it may be a mission impossible."
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
The winners were voted for by Internet and phone, American Idol style. The other six new wonders are the Colosseum in Rome, India's Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Jordan's ancient city of Petra, the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, and the ancient Maya city of Chichén Itzá in Mexico.
The contest was organized by the New7Wonders Foundation—the brainchild of Swiss filmmaker and museum curator Bernard Weber—in order to "protect humankind's heritage across the globe." The foundation says the poll attracted almost a hundred million votes.
Yet the competition has proved controversial, drawing criticism from the United Nations' cultural organization UNESCO, which administers the World Heritage sites program (pictures of the newest World Heritage sites).
"This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by [the] public," UNESCO said in a statement.
Constructed between the fifth century B.C. and the 16th century, the Great Wall is the world's longest human-made structure, stretching some 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers). The best known section was built around 200 B.C. by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di.
The wall was among the winners of the New7Wonders poll announced during a televised ceremony in Lisbon, Portugal. However the Chinese state broadcaster chose not to broadcast the event, and Chinese state heritage officials refused to endorse the competition.
The only finalist from Europe to make it into the top seven—the Colosseum in Rome, Italy —once held up to 50,000 spectators who came to watch gory games involving gladiators, wild animals, and prisoners.
Construction began around A.D. 70 under Emperor Vespasian. Modern sports stadiums still resemble the Colosseum's famous design.
European sites that didn't make the cut include Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
The Vatican in Rome accused the competition's organizers of ignoring Christian monuments, none of which was featured among the 20 finalists. Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, head of culture and archaeology at the Vatican, called the omission of sites such as the Sistine Chapel “inexplicable.”
Petra is famous for its many stone structures such as a 138-foot-tall (42-meter-tall) temple carved with classical facades into rose-colored rock. The ancient city also included tunnels, water chambers, and an amphitheater, which held 4,000 people.
The desert site wasn't known to the West until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt came across it in 1812.
Jordan has taken the New7Wonders competition seriously. Petra is an important attraction in a country where tourism has recently suffered due to troubles in the Middle East region, particularly in neighboring Iraq.The Jordanian royal family backed a campaign promoting Petra's selection.
The ruined city is among the best known remnants of the Inca civilization, which flourished in the Andes region of western South America. The city is thought to have been abandoned following an outbreak of deadly smallpox, a disease introduced in the 1500s by invading Spanish forces.
Hundreds of people gathered at the remote, 7,970-foot-high (2,430-meter-high) site on Saturday to celebrate Machu Picchu's new “seven wonders” status.
The winners were revealed at a soccer stadium in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where Machu Picchu reportedly got one of the biggest cheers.The other two Latin American selections were Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Chichén Itzá, Mexico.
Chichén Itzá is possibly the most famous temple city of the Mayas, a pre-Columbian civilization that lived in present day Central America. It was the political and religious center of Maya civilization during the period from A.D. 750 to 1200.
At the city's heart lies the Temple of Kukulkan (pictured)—which rises to a height of 79 feet (24 meters). Each of its four sides has 91 steps—one step for each day of the year, with the 365th day represented by the platform on the top.
The New7Wonders competition was launched in 1999, and the voting process beginning in 2005. Nearly 200 nominations that came in from around the world were narrowed down to 21.Unsuccessful finalists included the giant statues of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean; the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia; and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
Construction began in 1632 and took about 15 years to complete. The opulent, domed mausoleum, which stands in formal walled gardens, is generally regarded as finest example of Mughal art and architecture. It includes four minarets, each more than 13 stories tall.Shah Jahan was deposed and put under house arrest by one of his sons soon after the Taj Mahal's completion. It's said that he spent the rest of his days gazing at the Taj Mahal from a window.
The Egyptian pharaoh Khufu built the Great Pyramid in about 2560 B.C. to serve as his tomb. The pyramid is the oldest structure on the original list of the seven wonders of the ancient world, which was compiled by Greek scholars about 2,200 years ago. It is also the only remaining survivor from the original list.
The Great Pyramid is the largest of three Pyramids at Giza, bordering modern-day Cairo. Although weathering has caused the structure to stand a few feet shorter today, the pyramid was about 480 feet (145 meters) high when it was first built. It is thought to have been the planet's tallest human-made structure for more than four millennia.
Initially the Giza Pyramids were top contenders in the Internet and phone ballot to make a new list of world wonders. But leading Egyptian officials were outraged by the contest, saying the pyramids shouldn't be put to a vote.
"This contest will not detract from the value of the Pyramids, which is the only real wonder of the world," Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass told the AFP news agency.Instead competition organizers withdrew the Pyramids from the competition in April and granted them "honorary wonder" status.
In contrast to the pyramids, the colossus was the shortest lived of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Completed in 282 B.C. after taking 12 years to build, the Colossus of Rhodes was felled by an earthquake that snapped the statue off at the knees a mere 56 years later.
The towering figure—made of stone and iron with an outer skin of bronze—represented the Greek sun god Helios, the island's patron god. It looked out from Mandráki Harbor on the Mediterranean island of Ródos (Rhodes), although it is no longer believed to have straddled the harbor entrance as often shown in illustrations.The Colossus stood about 110 feet (33 meters) tall, making it the tallest known statue of the ancient world. It was erected to celebrate the unification of the island's three city-states, which successfully resisted a long siege by the Antigonids of Macedonia.
Constructed on the small island of Pharos between 285 and 247 B.C., the building was the world's tallest for many centuries. Its estimated height was 384 feet (117 meters)—equivalent to a modern 40-story building—though some people believe it was significantly taller.
The lighthouse was operated using fire at night and polished bronze mirrors that reflected the sun during the day. It's said the light could be seen for more than 35 miles (50 kilometers) out to sea.The huge structure towered over the Mediterranean coast for more than 1,500 years before being seriously damaged by earthquakes in A.D. 1303 and 1323.
The statue, completed by the classical sculptor Phidias around 432 B.C., sat on a jewel-encrusted wooden throne inside a temple overlooking the city. The 40-foot-tall (12-meter-tall) figure held a scepter in one hand and a small statue of the goddess of victory, Nike, in the other—both made from ivory and precious metals.
The temple was closed when the Olympics were banned as a pagan practice in A.D. 391, after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.The statue was eventually destroyed, although historians debate whether it perished with the temple or was moved to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in Turkey and burned in a fire.
The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II supposedly created the terraced gardens around 600 B.C. at his royal palace in the Mesopotamian desert. It is said the gardens were made to please the king's wife, who missed the lush greenery of her homeland in the Medes, in what is now northern Iran.
Archaeologists have yet to agree on the likely site of the hanging gardens, but findings in the region that could be its remains include the foundations of a palace and a nearby vaulted building with an irrigation well.The most detailed descriptions of the gardens come from Greek historians. There is no mention of them in ancient Babylonian records.
The famous tomb at Halicarnassus—now the city of Bodrum—was built between 370 and 350 B.C. for King Mausolus of Caria, a region in the southwest of modern Turkey. Legend says that the king's grieving wife Artemisia II had the tomb constructed as a memorial to their love.
Mausolus was a satrap, or governor, in the Persian Empire, and his fabled tomb is the source of the word "mausoleum." The structure measured 120 feet (40 meters) long and 140 feet (45 meters) tall.
The tomb was most admired for its architectural beauty and splendor. The central burial chamber was decorated in gold, while the exterior was adorned with ornate stone friezes and sculptures created by four Greek artists.The mausoleum stood intact until the early 15th century, when Christian Crusaders dismantled it for building material for a new castle. Some of the sculptures and frieze sections survived and can be seen today at the British Museum in London, England.
In addition to its 120 columns, each standing 60 feet (20 meters) high, the temple was said to have held many exquisite artworks, including bronze statues of the Amazons, a mythical race of female warriors.
A man named Herostratus reportedly burned down the temple in 356 B.C. in an attempt to immortalize his name. After being restored, the temple was destroyed by the Goths in A.D. 262 and again by the Christians in A.D. 401 on the orders of Saint John Chrysostom, then archbishop of Constantinople (Istanbul).Today the temple's foundations have been excavated and some of its columns re-erected.