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Friday, 19 Dec, 2008

Environment

Bush Administration Intends to Protect Seven Penguin Species

The Bush administration took the decision to protect seven species of penguins. As the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed, six penguin species should be referred to threatened species and the seventh to endangered ones.

However, it didn't take proper measures to protect three other types such as northern rockhopper penguins and the emperor, which became popular after the release of "Happy Feet" and "March of the Penguins".

As local officials said, protective measures in relation to endangered species of the United States were rather limited as penguins inhabited mostly remote places like New Zealand, South Africa, Antarctica and South America. But there is no doubt that new regulations included in the act will draw public attention to these species supplying the U.S. with the necessary leverage in the course of international negotiations which should help to take immediate actions protecting animals from fishing and habitat loss.

Environmentalists approved the decision to list six species of penguins, but were rather critical about the disregard of other species such as the emperor, world's largest penguin, which needs sea ice to get food and to breed. As for southern rockhopper penguins it was mentioned that only a part of their population was under protection of law.

"Penguin populations are in jeopardy, and we can't afford to further delay protections," said Brendan Cummings, director of the oceans program which suggested the administration in 2006 that a dozen of penguin species should be protected. The government stated that the information about two of the species was not sufficient to approve the program.

The regulations presented by Bush administration haven't come into force yet and are exposed to the public eye. The Obama administration will have to make the final decision even if it requires a complete review of the act.

As the administration explained, there were not enough reasons to regard the emperor as a threatened species, although ecologists predicted an increase in temperature which could cause the melting of Antarctic ice, thus reducing populations of penguins.

At present, about 390,000 emperor penguins inhabit Antarctica. Although many populations are high in number, a dozen of species fall to decay and the main reason is global warming according to a recent research.

The Bush administration has also taken the polar bear under protection as this species was threatened by global warming. However, the administration included a number of regulations to provide that the law can't forbid projects which may contribute to climate change.


Thursday, 18 Dec, 2008

Science

New Traces of Giant Dinosaurs Discovered in Sahara

Pterosaur bonesPaleontologists continue studying the depth of unrecorded times when dinosaurs dominated in animal world. This year scientists managed to find the fossils of pterosaur and sauropod in the Sahara Desert.

The remains that could probably belong to a new species of pterosaur included a large segment of a beak, but the presumed sauropod could be identified by a 3 feet bone, which means that the animal itself was about 65 feet long. It's believed that these giant reptiles inhabited earth about 100 million years ago. The excavations took place in south-eastern part of Morocco and lasted about a month.

Nizar Ibrahim, a graduate student from University College Dublin, led the whole expedition supported by researchers from University of Portsmouth and Moroccan scientists. As he said, the discovery of two different specimens at a time was a real success as both could represent new species of dinosaurs.

The bone of giant sauropod will be subjected to a close study as it might reveal features of a new sauropod species. The remains of pterosaur require a particularly careful analysis as their bones adjusted to flying are quite fragile and difficult to preserve.

"Most pterosaur discoveries are just fragments of teeth and bones so it was thrilling to find a large part of a beak, and this was enough to tell us we probably have a new species," explained Ibrahim.

The group of researchers went through many trials driving about 5,000 miles across the Atlas Mountains, but natural disasters such as floods and sandstorms only strengthened their desire to go till the end. Having found the bone of giant sauropod, the team was in need of plaster and water to protect the precious remains. As it turned out, they had to cross flooded rivers in order to get to the closest town.

Transportation of the fossils was especially difficult as members of the team manhandled them in plaster cover down the mountain with the help of a wooden barrow. It took researchers five days to retrieve sauropod bone and bring it down the mountains, noted Ibrahim.

On the road back the car loaded with heavy bones had to make its way through sand dunes. Besides the team found itself in the middle of a snowstorm, but everyone agreed that the treasure was worth it, said Martill, a researcher from University of Portsmouth.

According to information provided by LiveScience, the team also discovered some dinosaur footprints, samples of their teeth, specimens of new fish species and giant crocodiles.

Ibrahim was amazed by the fact that the Sahara Desert was once a green paradise inhabited by giant dinosaurs and other reptiles. Such unexpected findings are thrilling even for experienced paleontologists investigating prehistoric times.

Zouhri, a geologist from the University Hassan II in Casablanca, said that after a thorough analysis the fossils will be displayed in Morocco.


Tuesday, 16 Dec, 2008

Environment

Global Warming Puts Butterflies at Threat

According to a recent research, butterflies inhabiting Europe could go extinct if global climate change keeps progressing.

These beautiful insects will have to fly longer distances while migrating to the north as their habitats may be destroyed as a result of deforestation. Besides, large water areas could also present significant obstacles to their flights.

Josef Settele, ecologist and lead author of the study, explained that butterflies would have to cover about 40 kilometers at a time which could be too long. Even if some species managed to survive during migration, the growth of their population in new habitats could slow down as they might be unable to propagate intensively.

The authors of the study say that a great number of butterflies which can't take part in migrations may disappear if the temperature rises. As scientists predict, both plants and animals affected by global warming will have to change their habitats and move to cooler northern regions. It is believed, that those species which don't migrate will not be able to preserve their existence. However, another viewpoint takes into consideration adaptive capacity of certain species. Settele admitted that some insects could develop quite quickly which raised scientists' hopes.

The information about the research is presented in the journal Biorisk. The idea of the Mapping European Butterflies project belonged to Otakar Kudrna and attracted a great number of volunteers, reported National Geographic.

"I am most concerned about the species restricted to extremely small areas in Europe and not known to live elsewhere," said Otakar Kudrna. He underlined that those species were highly fragile and could become extinct in no time as they didn't possess any reserves.

At the worst an average temperature in Europe may rise up to 4.1 degrees Celsius by 2080 according to the report. If it happens, 70 species of butterflies could lose 95 percent of habitats as the climate would be too hot for existence. At best the temperature can rise to 2.4 degrees Celsius which means that 50 percent of habitats would be intolerable for 147 species.

Camille Parmesan, ecologist from the University of Texas, has studied butterflies that had to change ranges of population under the influence of global warming on the territory of the United States and Europe. She found that more enduring species could migrate in conditions of climate change. However, the more sedentary insects didn't dislocate.

Parmesan is concerned about butterfly species inhabiting isolated mountaintops which haven't been studied so far.

Vincent Devictor from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris pointed out that birds moved 56 miles in the north, but the temperature covered 170 miles. It's worth mentioning that even if animals could move faster, they might not have the necessary food and habitats.


Saturday, 13 Dec, 2008

Current Events

Switzerland Entered Schengen Zone

Passport controls at the borders of Switzerland will no longer be a routine for EU citizens and frontier guards as on Friday the country became the 25th member of border-free Schengen zone. Its accession filled a gap in the center of the European continent which extends from the Mediterranean area up to the Artic Region.

Now travelers from Germany, Austria, Italy and France can freely go over Switzerland's frontiers as these neighboring countries have already signed the Schengen agreement. Passport controls on planes will stop in 2009, reported Associated Press.

Border guards working at Bardonnex checkpoint in Geneva were ordered to hand around 40,000 leaflets in order to prepare travelers for the new rules. Gaetan Grimand, one of the commuters, said that frontier control showed a significant improvement after Switzerland had decided to transfer to border free travel.

Non-European citizens residing in Switzerland will also get their advantages as they will not have to apply for a visa in order to get access to the area of open borders. Michel Bachar, spokesman for Geneva's border guard corps, said that Bolivian residents in Switzerland were allowed to spend about three months in France without getting a visa. Therefore, tourists from other countries, who need to stop in Switzerland while traveling to Italy or France, will have to apply only for Schengen visa.

The change didn't affect citizens of the United States as they had already received the opportunity to travel without visa through the Schengen zone.

The alterations were also introduced in the work of law enforcement agencies, which had to improve their cooperation. Switzerland received the right to use the Schengen Information System, which includes complete information about wanted offenders and stolen merchandize. Bachar described Schengen as a powerful machine, saying it helped Belgian law enforcement authorities to catch a couple, searched for kidnapping.

However, the agreement can be suspended if nationalists manage to cancel a contract between Brussels and Bern which permits citizens of European Union to reside and work in Switzerland. A referendum dedicated to this issue is to take place in February.

It's worth mentioning that Switzerland will have to patrol the frontier with Liechtenstein according to the agreement. This microstate bounded by Austria and Switzerland is planning to enter the Schengen zone by 2009. Meanwhile, its border with Switzerland which stretches for 26 miles will stay under day and night control of border patrol and closed-circuit television.


Friday, 12 Dec, 2008

Environment

California Takes Drastic Actions to Fight Global Warming

A new radical program has been adopted on Thursday in California setting an aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As Associated Press reported, it contained a number of regulations that should bring changes in every sphere of human life, such as functioning of production enterprises, utilities, construction materials and fuel.

The plan was approved by the Air Resources Board without a dissenting vote, although it was noticed that such a costly project could become a heavy load for businesses in conditions of progressing economic crisis. California expects a $41.8 billion gap in the budget by mid-2010.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, said the new rules should give an impulse to the economy of the state and set a good example for the whole country.

"When you look at today's depressed economy, green tech is one of the few bright spots out there, which is yet another reason we should move forward on our environmental goals," stated Schwarzenegger.

The project is based on 31 regulations that affect different aspects of life. Special attention should be drawn to the cap-and-trade program that will start in 2012. According to its terms, big enterprises, power stations and oil refineries will have the possibility to obtain and offer the right to produce gases that retain heat. Besides, it could stimulate plants to cut down emissions of carbon dioxide.

As Air regulators pointed out, it was possible to offer Californians better mass transport, housing closer to educational institutions and offices, energy-conserving utilities and more fuel-saving cars. However, these improvements could become too expensive for average consumers. Electricity rates will get higher as utilities use renewable energy sources; houses constructed from power-saving materials and petrol, modified to emit reduced quantities of carbon dioxide, could also become quite costly.

The regulations included in the plan reflect at large the state's intentions to act in accordance with the law approved in 2006, which showed California as the most active state in the fight against global warming. According to this law, the state was required to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the standards of 1990. Although California is known as the most densely peopled state, it took the lead in the movement struggling for environmental protection and imposed the tightest restrictions on traffic pollution. The state's regulations can work in other parts of the country, forcing manufacturers from other states to adapt new products in order to comply with high standards set in California.

John Kabateck, executive director of the branch of the National Federation of Independent Business in California, opposed the new plan saying it could bring more pressure on local business during economic slowdown. Mary Nichols, chairwoman of Air Resource Board, considers that the plan will definitely serve for the benefit of residents and their enterprises. She said, California was the one to promote higher standards of energy efficiency, which help not only to economize, but also to raise the economy on top level.

According to a board report, an average family could spare up to $400 each year using more fuel-saving cars and energy-efficient appliances. Bob Epstein, co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs, mentioned that private investors gave over $2.5 billion to support new companies in California which shows their recognition of the state's goals to improve ecologic situation.

Bill Mcgavern, director of California's Sierra Club, said that Barack Obama urged to stimulate the economy. He also added that the president-elect together with the Congress could rely on the program accepted in California, which is a good model to follow.

The plan depends to a considerable degree on the national government, which gives California the authority to push automakers to produce cleaner vehicles. It should be mentioned that the Bush administration didn't allow the law to come into force, however Californian officials expect Obama to suggest a different approach to the solution of environmental problems.


Thursday, 11 Dec, 2008

Environment

The Conflict in Darfur Has a Negative Impact on Environment

The armed conflict in Sudan causes a considerable damage to the environment by chopping trees and reducing farming lands, reported Reuters.

According to information presented in the U.N.'s Environment Program people inhabiting the Darfur region were forced to cut down forest lands in order to supply materials for building industry which prospered during the crisis.

The conflict broke out on the basis of tribal discrepancies in 2003 on the territory of a poor and arid region. The cause of war lied in the fact the Arabs moved further to the South in search of water and oppressed black Africans whose main occupation was farming. As a result, the Sudan Liberation Movement together with the Justice and Equality Movement raised a revolt against the government claiming that it ignored the Darfur region favoring the Arab tribes. In response to these actions a militia group, the Janjaweed, consisting of Arabs and being controlled by the Sudanese government started air bombardment killing thousands of people and destroying villages. However, the government denied any connection to the Janjaweed. Local authorities even say that the conflict has been puffed up by news media and foreign states.

It’s worth mentioning that the crisis is still in progress affecting civilians living in camps and the environment. As the United Nations reported, local forests became extremely thin forcing people to travel long distances searching for wood. Clive Bates, UNEP's Sudan country director, said that environmental protection in Darfur should become a matter of paramount importance. He also added that it was necessary to plant more trees and implement different technologies in the field of power resources and construction.

According to the UNEP report, the amount of wood used in the biggest towns of the region such as El Fasher, El Geneina and Nyala has increased since the beginning of the conflict. It was also mentioned that the number of lumber mills and brick kilns rose considerably to provide construction materials for accommodation and peacekeeping bases required for U.N. personnel. Each year 52,000 trees are burnt for brick-making, which is a threat to ecological balance.

"The brick kilns are occupying and in many cases destroying valuable agricultural land by digging up clay soils around towns," said the report.

The report entitled 'Destitution, distortion and deforestation' said that the majority of farmers, who had to leave their lands because of the conflict, started regarding timber trade as the only way to make a living. It should be mentioned that more than 2.5 million people were displaced according to the data provided by international experts. They found shelter in special camps placed around the main towns under the auspices of major humanitarian organizations.

As it was mentioned in the UNEP report, the growth of urban population caused an expansion of demand for fuel wood. Militias and soldiers under control of government made their profit from selling different kinds of hardwood trees such as mahogany.

Kunduwa forest in Nyala was completely destroyed although it was possible to prevent its destruction.


Monday, 08 Dec, 2008

Environment

Ancient Tribes Celebrated on Grave Sites

A new research in South America showed that ancient tribes organized celebrations and barbeques right on the graves of their departed chiefs. Archeologists excavated a large number of ovens built on the place of burial hills. The findings date back to the 12th and 13th century.

"After they buried an important person on the burial grounds, they feasted on meat that had been steamed in the earth ovens and drank maize beer," said Jose Iriarte, study co-author.

The ovens were created across the generations and built in such a way that they surrounded burial mounds and included paths directed to the center.

"This monumental tradition spread across kilometers, from southern Sao Paulo state in Brazil to Rio Grande del Sur in Argentina," explained Iriarte, who teaches archaeology at the University of Exeter. Iriarte added that people inhabiting that area used to drink liquors made of honey and maize and that they performed their festivities in the year when pine nuts and maize were plentiful.

As evidence, researchers presented bowls and other vessels used for drinking. These vessels showed presence of corn remains. They also found remnants of animals which haven't been identified yet. Detailed information about this discovery is presented in the journal Antiquity.

It was traditionally believed that the population was small in number and led a nomadic life. However, Iriarte considers that in the context of recent discoveries this theory is not supported by facts. As he stated the population was quite numerous and lived within the limits of one region.

It should be mentioned that, aside from ovens, archeologists also discovered big underground houses supplied with roofs. According to Iriarte, an expert in culture of people, that region was an attractive place for settlers as it abounded with different kinds of plants and animals. he outlined that settlers managed to mix hunting and gathering, horticulture, fishing, as well as slash-and-burn agriculture so they could maintain large populations.

Michael Heckenberger, a professor from the University of Florida, confirmed that environmental conditions in the South of Brazil were considered unfavorable for the life of large settlements. Nevertheless he considers that Iriarte together with his team proved that those tribes were far from being marginal.

Heckenberger said that celebrations held by could be described as permanent and active in comparison with other peoples inhabiting the region.

The burial ceremonies were held when eminent chiefs passed away. In this case the son of the chief was supposed to make a feast for everybody. In such a way he paid a tribute to his ancestors and confirmed his social status.

The research was supported by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.

Iriarte discovered in his study that burial mounds built by the served to defend the boarders of the territory from the tribes migrating through the highlands of Argentina and Brazil.


Sunday, 07 Dec, 2008

Current Events

Ladies' Wear Helped Robbers to Steal Precious Jewellery

One of the greatest hold-ups took place in Paris. Four robbers using ladies' wear and acting like two couples stole jewellery worth £70 million from the fashionable Harry Winston boutique.

Holding guns, the thieves pushed customers into corners and ordered scared members of staff to collect all precious stones, rings, necklaces and other items of jewellery in sacks. They also took the contents of a secret vault which treasured gems of the highest value.

As police reported, the robbery which occurred on the exclusive Avenue Montaigne had been thoroughly planned. The gangsters turned out to be "terrifyingly efficient" as they gathered complete information about the store including names of its employees.

It should be mentioned that the raiders didn't take any shots, however several employees were struck with gun butts. As it was reported, the thieves threatened to fire a grenade before they escaped with their multimillion trophy.

The name of Harry Winston is well-known among celebrities. Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry and Jackie Kennedy were his frequent visitors. The Shah of Iran also purchased items which present honor and prestige of the company. Winston was the one who polished one of the world's largest diamonds which was bought by Richard Burton for his wife in 1969.

The store became international renown after Marilyn Monroe sang her famous hit "Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend" in 1953.

"Talk to me, Harry Winston, tell me all about it!" sang Monroe.

The police arrived to the place of heist with a delay as the alarm system was controlled by a security service located in Switzerland.

It's worth mentioning that it was the greatest gem hold-up in the history of France as its losses were three times higher than in case of a raid on a bank in Nice which obtained "theft of the century" title in 1992. Yet the absolute record belongs to a robbery in Belgium when raiders stole cash and diamonds from 120 safe-deposits totaling 90 million pounds.

According to evidences provided by witnesses, the gangsters spoke French and another language which could be Serbo-Croatian or one of Russian dialects as police supposed.

"The problem we have with jewels is that they are very easy to smuggle across mainland Europe,"said an official representative.

"It is possible that the gang involved in this raid had eastern European connections. Eastern Europe is an Eldorado for jewellery thieves. They were clearly professional criminals and knew exactly what they were doing,"he added.

As it turned out, the robbery occurred after three Serbs were sentenced by a French court to 6-15 years in jail for a series of gem robberies. It is considered that they belong to Pink Panther gang which became famous for a series of hold-ups all over the world with the total profit of 100 million pounds.

According to information provided by Telegraph Harry Winston's boutique was robbed a year ago, when the theft made £ 7 million. A reward of 350,000 pounds was offered, but the robbers were never found.

As Police reported, the jewellery, after being dismantled, would probably be sold on underground markets in eastern Europe. However, its selling price will be considerable lower than its actual market value.


Friday, 05 Dec, 2008

Environment

How old is human race? New data

New archeological evidences have been found in Ethiopia. As it turned out, the human race may be 80,000 years older than scientists previously believed.

It took archaeologists more than 35 years to determine the age of tools discovered in the Ethiopian Rift Valley. With the help of modern techniques they revealed that those tools could be at least 276,000 years old. Until that moment the oldest samples of Homo sapien bones were found to have 195,000 years.

The discovery was made due to argon-argon dating. This reliable method is used to compare isotopes of argon in order to define more precisely the age of geological materials.

Paul Renne, director of Berkeley Geochronology Center, said that making of small blades found in Gademotta required manual dexterity, as well as integrated cognitive capabilities. As scientists suppose, these tools can be referred to the beginning of Homo sapiens development.

"It seems that we were technologically more advanced at an earlier time that we had previously thought," said Leah Morgan, study co-author.

According to the information provided by National Geographic, Gademotta, the place of discovery, offered favorable living conditions for settlers as it had access to fresh water from the Lake Ziway and supplied them with black rock glass called obsidian.

"Due to its lack of crystalline structure, obsidian glass is one of the best raw materials to use for making tools," said Morgan.

It's interesting to note that researchers came across a gap about 300,000 years ago over the period of Stone Age. Large-seized unpolished stone-axes representing Acheulean period gave way to finer blades of the Middle Stone Age which varied in form. Referring to the Afar region in Ethiopia, it should be mentioned that the change of technology happened about 160,000 years ago.

"A modern analogy might be the transition from ox-carts to automobiles, which is virtually complete in North America and northern Europe, but is still underway in the developing world," expressed his opinion Renne.

According to Leah Morgan from the University of California, the technological progress started earlier in Gademotta due to available sources of obsidian. However, it's still difficult to say, who created those tools. Some experts suppose it could be Homo sapiens. Their opponents claim that a different human species could have the necessary intellectual abilities and manual nimbleness. Nevertheless, these findings are of paramount importance for science.

"The new date for Gademotta changes how we think about human evolution, because it shows how much more complicated the situation is than we previously thought," said Laura Basell, an archaeologist from the University of Oxford.

The study carried out in Gademotta was funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. Results of the investigation will be presented in the journal Geology.


Tuesday, 02 Dec, 2008

Environment

Ecological Summit in Poland Discusses Ways of Fighting Climate Change

The United Nations opened this year's ecological summit in Poznan which will last till the 12th of December. As delegates said at the opening on Monday, fighting global warming should become a priority for every country even in conditions of economic crisis.

"Our work on the natural environment should be timeless irrespective of the economic situation," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk emphasizing the importance of the problem.

Climate talks in Poland gathered about 10,700 delegates from 187 nations including representatives from government and non-governmental organizations. They're going to discuss major environmental problems and consider ways of their solution. However, reduction of poisonous emissions remains the central question at the summit. The participants will also discuss means of rainforest protection.

This ecological conference should create the basis for signing a new climate treaty in Copenhagen which will come into force after expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

As Fogh Rasmussen, prime minister of Denmark, pointed out, financial crisis should not be an obstacle to environmental protection as it's an issue of primary importance.

"The EU countries are ready to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in 2020 as part of the global agreement," said Rasmussen.

However, Poland is in no haste to make ample promises as it depends greatly on coal-fired energy. It gets 93% of its energy from burning coal. Poland was awarded with a "Fossil of the Day" which is given to the most obstructing delegation.

A special interest was drawn to the position of the United States. It is worth mentioning that George Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol considering it unprofitable for economy as the country was among the world leaders in production of carbon dioxide. The president-elect Barack Obama suggested a new approach to the problem and was praised for his "ambitious" plans to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the level of 1990. Now their emissions are 14 percent above the standard, reported Reuters.

"I am delighted to see that Obama is planning ambitious climate and energy policies," said Rasmussen.

It should be mentioned that officials from Bush administration will represent the United States at the summit.

The position of China in negotiations is also of great importance. The country produces considerable amounts of carbon dioxide and is often blamed for its traditional industry which is the main source of poisonous substances. Chinese authorities lay the blame on European countries where the amount of emissions is considerably greater.

Naturally, the financial crisis couldn't escape observations as it influences climate change to a considerable degree.

"The financial crisis also means that less capital available on international market," said Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat. Nevertheless, he underlines the necessity of fighting global warming.


Monday, 01 Dec, 2008

Environment

Evolution of Turtle's Shell Retraced

The recent discovery of turtle fossils in southwestern China gave scientists the possibility to determine the origin of their shells. As they found out, ancestors of modern turtles had hardened skin on their backs instead of shells. The finding proved the hypothesis that the shell developed as an expansion of ribs and the backbone.

It should be mentioned that there was an alternative theory claiming that shells formed from bony plates contained in the skin of animals which are referred to as osteoderms. However, fossils of prehistoric turtles proved that they didn't have such plates.

"So far there is no direct evidence for the osteoderm theory," said Chun Li from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. "On the contrary, here, in our hands, there is an ideal missing link for turtle evolution. It has no osteoderms on its back, but only ossified neural plates and expanded ribs."

The 220-million-year-old turtle was called Odontochelys semitestacea which means half-shelled turtle with teeth. Its description was presented in the journal Nature. As it turned out, the oldest species of turtles differed greatly from modern ones. It's surprising that they had teeth instead of a bony plate as well as a long tail. Besides, the shell covered only their underside.

Robert Reisz of the University of Toronto noted that "turtles come from reptile ancestors with teeth so we expected this, but it's still a great thing to find."

The development of modern turtle embryos also supports the theory that breast plates or plastrons developed earlier than the shell on the back. As researchers explain, the presence of breast plates was conditioned by an aquatic lifestyle of turtles and served for their protection.


Sunday, 30 Nov, 2008

Current Events

Wal-Mart Employee Killed in a Rush of Customers

Wal-Mart, world's largest retail chain, put its reputation on the line as one of its employees was killed by a crowd of furious shoppers that swarmed into a New York store according to Reuters.

The police said that the man working for the Valley Stream Wal-Mart store was not far from the entrance at 5 a.m., when he was knocked off his feet by a number of customers who smashed down doors. Medical assessors are trying to ascertain the cause of his death.

It should be mentioned that the employee was not the only victim of blind cruelty. Four customers were injured and hospitalized as the police reported.

Wal-Mart's administration was greatly upset by the fact that its worker as well as customers suffered as a result of the incident. As Wal-Mart stated, "the safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority". According to its declaration the case was investigated by local police.

However, New York's workers union treated the incident as "Wal-Mart's failure to provide a safe workplace" and insisted upon thorough investigation under control of local, federal and state authorities.

Bruce Both, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, said that it was possible to avoid that incident. "This is not just tragic; it rises to a level of blatant irresponsibility by Wal-Mart", expressed his opinion Both.

In order to ensure safety of its customers Wal-Mart cooperated with local police and improved internal security. These measures could not have come at a better time as Black Friday is drawing on. It's considered the busiest day of retail trade before the beginning of Christmas sales.

U.S. shoppers had to stand in queues from the early morning waiting for a good bargain. In conditions of economic turbulence the majority of stores opened earlier to allow their customers discounts.


Thursday, 27 Nov, 2008

Environment

Secret of Dolphins' Speed Disclosed

Scientists have finally determined how dolphins reach such great speeds. Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of the United States have observed the movement of water around swimming dolphins. As a result of this investigation, they proved that dolphins can produce 400lb of force with the help of their tails.

This conclusion refutes completely the statement made by Sir James Gray, British zoologist who said in 1936 that dolphins were not strong enough to swim at high speeds as they couldn't overcome the drag. His theory didn't correspond to reality and was called "Gray's Paradox". As he explained it, the skin of dolphins contained certain properties that reduced the drag and allowed them to swim fast.

Professor Wei managed to find the missing part of this puzzle due to a new method that he initially worked out for measuring speed of Olympic swimmers. The method is based on Digital Particle Images Velocimetry showing the speed of water vibration around a dolphin or a human as they swim. This video-based technique is able to make about 1,000 frames per second.

"For the first time, I think we can safely say the puzzle is solved," said Tim Wei, head of the research. As he noted, dolphins have greater strength than Gray or other scientists could imagine.

Primo and Puka were the two dolphins that participated in the research. They were videotaped while swimming through a water area full of tiny bubbles. With the help of advanced computer software Wei managed to track the movement of bubbles. Each bubble was assigned a definite color which gave the possibility to determine not only their speed, but also direction. Thus researchers could measure the force produced by each dolphin. Scientists calculated that in the upright position when dolphins stayed above water they produced 400lb of force.

In order to create this technology, Professor Wei modified force measurement concepts from aerospace studies and combined them with the technique of water measurement, BBC News reports.

Gray's Paradox has been solved, but Professor Wei is not going to stop. Now he will continue studying other species of sea animals.


Thursday, 27 Nov, 2008

Environment

Vatican Shows Interest in Energy Sources

As it turned out, the Vatican invocates not only salvation of our souls, but also environmental friendliness and efficient use of power resources. On Wednesday, it launched a new solar-powered system which could serve as an alternative energy source, reported Reuters.

The innovation included 2,400 photovoltaic panels which covered the 5,000 square meter roof of the "Nervi Hall". This building is used for giving audiences and performing concerts. Now it is supplied with energy necessary for heating, lighting as well as air conditioning. The roof is rather wavy which makes solar panels invisible from the ground. According to church officials, St. Peter's Basilica will stay unchanged.

The system had been tested for several weeks before it was put into operation at full capacity and allowed Pope Benedict to hold the "first ecological general audience in the Vatican", as officials call it. Due to the new system, 300 megawatt hours of energy will be produced a year which is enough for the "Nervi Hall" and neighboring buildings. Besides, it will be possible to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 225 tons. Therefore 80 tons of oil will be preserved each year.

It's worth mentioning that German enterprises SolarWorld and SMA Solar Technology elaborated and donated the system priced at 1.2 million euro.

"This is a very courageous initiative," said Carlo Rubbia, who won Nobel Prize in physics in 1984 and was invited to the official opening in the Vatican. As he said at the ceremony, the sun preserves 100,000 times the energy provided by terrestrial energy sources, that's why it necessary to investigate this field of science and to invest researches which have a direct connection with our future.

The Vatican is going to continue its activity. As Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the governor of Vatican City said the state was considering a new plan which was even more ambitious than the previous one. It's connected with the use of land to the North of Roma, which belongs to the Vatican and serves as a broadcasting center managed by Vatican Radio. Thanks to the new project the place called Santa Maria di Galeria can become an alternative exporter of energy.

"We are thinking of a solar energy system on 300 hectares (740 acres) at the site," said Giovanni Lajolo.

Pier Carlo Cuscianna, head of technical services for Vatican City, noted that as a result of this project it would be possible to get six times the energy necessary for activating transmission antennas. According to Cuscianna, it's "just an idea" at the present moment, but he really hopes this project will move to the development stage in the course of time.

As officials report, more retrievable power sources will be installed to cover 20 percent of the Vatican needs by 2020 in accordance with a suggestion made by the European Union.


Monday, 24 Nov, 2008

Environment

South Korea Destroys Wetlands for the Sake of Economic Growth

South Korea is planning a new land reclamation project on the territory of Saemangeum which should give rise to the country's economy. However, environmentalists are hostile to such perspective and consider it a threat to ecological balance.

According to the project, 400 square km of coastland will be reclaimed for the construction of waste water treatment facilities, golf-links as well as factories. This land will no longer serve as a feeding area for endangered bird species.

"This project is not about protecting the environment. It is about economic development. And we will do that in an environmentally sound way," said Park Hyoungbae, an official representative of the Saemangeum project.

As authorities say, North Jeollaa will turn from an agricultural province into an industrialized area in the course of this $3 billion project. In order to draw the interest of foreign investors, developers make ample promises, such as free lease of land for 100 years for certain production branches, accommodation as well as tax break.

As a result of human intervention in nature, a number of lakes will appear in place of riverbeds; natural wetlands will give place to artificial ones. Besides, project designers plan to build an amusement park, a casino and a convention center to make it an attractive place for tourists.

A reclamation project was initially planned for the Yellow Sea estuary several decades ago when the country's economy faced hard times. The idea was to expand farm lands in order to provide food for the population. However, reclamation began only in 1999 after several years of fierce disputes about means of land use. In 2006 the construction of the dyke was finally completed, reported Reuters.

It's worth mentioning that local farmers doubted the success of this project as there were no workers to farm the land because of the decrease of population. Besides, poor infrastructure had a negative influence upon major home industry. According to critics, the project was developed thanks to bureaucratic inertia as it offered jobs in the field of construction. Thus the area provided considerable power base for left-leaning presidents who were in power from 1998 to 2008. Lee Myung-bak, the current president, also gave hearty support to the project, considering it important for the country's development especially for its export-oriented economy.

The importance of wetlands from the ecological point of view is underestimated. According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, such areas as Saemangeum help to avert soil erosion, to maintain flood control, to accumulate greenhouse gases from the atmosphere of the Earth.

If we consider previous experiences, we'll see that the recent reclamation project carried out in Japan's Isahaya Bay led to horrifying consequences. As Japanese academics reported, the quality of sea water and soil went down. Soon after a Japanese court acknowledged that the project inflicted damage on the environment, especially local fisheries, and obligated the government to open gates at Isahaya.

Conservation groups say, the Saemangeum project has already exerted an adverse impact upon the environment because of wetland destruction which brings threatened species on the verge of extinction. Very often these tidal flats served as the only place where migrating birds could stop for refueling while traveling from Russia and Alaska to Australia and New Zealand.

A research carried out by conservation groups Birds Korea and Australasian Wader Studies Group demonstrates that the number of shorebirds has declined at Saemangeum. The loss of wetlands caused a significant reduction of the endangered Spotted Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper populations.

"We anticipate the declines will not only continue but become more obvious in other species," said Nial Moores, director of Birds Korea.


Thursday, 20 Nov, 2008

Current Events

New Digital Library Started Its Work

It looks like Europeana is going to become a serious competitor of Google. This new digital library was launched by the European Union this Thursday. Now with a single click of your mouse you can get access to the world's cultural heritage.

The website (www.europeana.eu ) provides an impressive multi-lingual collection of two million books and other digitized items that were treasured in European museums and archives. This is just the beginning. By 2010 you'll be able to find about 10 million items at this unique online library.

"Europeana offers a journey through time, across borders, and into new ideas of what our culture is. More than that, it will connect people to their history and, through interactive pages and tools, to each other," said Viviane Reding, EU Information Society Commissioner.

The popularity of Europeana grows with incredible speed. It had 10 million visitors just in an hour. This fact demonstrates that people are really interested in the new project.

Jill Cousins, Europeana's director, explained that Europeana was not developed with the gold of competing with Google. Its mission is to offer people a reliable source of information provided by serious institutions with long-standing reputation.

Speaking about Google's reaction to the project, it should be mentioned that it was quite positive. Santiago de la Mora, head of Google's book partnerships in Europe, said that such projects show that it's very important to provide public access to the world funds of knowledge and authors, editors as well as technology enterprises can do it together.

The question of copyright remains vital. Google in its turn paid $125 to sign a contract with authors and publishing firms. In order to evade this problem, Europeana will offer works of public ownership at the first stage. As the European Commission said, negotiations with rights holders are under way and very soon copyright works will replenish the library's stock.


Thursday, 20 Nov, 2008

Environment

Furbys Still Exist in Nature

Those who played with Furby toys, remember these nice fluffy creatures. As it turned out, their prototypes still exist in wild life. They're called pygmy tarsiers. This primate species was found in Indonesia although many scientists believed it became extinct. For more than 70 years scientists could not track down this tiny nocturnal animal that easily fits in a human palm. According to Texas A&M University, three pygmy tarsiers were captured on Mount Rorekatimbo in the National Park of Indonesia.

Sharon Gursky-Doyen, head of the expedition, explained that they found the tarsiers in the mountains at the height of 1,800 meters. Habitat conditions proved to be quite dangerous.

Pygmy tarsiers represent rare species inhabiting Asia and the Pacific region. They have big eyes which make them look like popular Furbys. But real tarsiers are considerably smaller in size weighing about 2 ounces and measuring 4 inches in length. Unlike talking Furby toys, they don't produce sounds.

The search for pygmy tarsiers began long ago. As the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species confirmed, two specimens of these animals were discovered in 1916 and 1930. Indonesian scientists managed to find the third one on Mount Rorekatimbo in 2000, but unfortunately it lied dead in a rat trap. However, primatologists didn't give up and continued looking for live tarsiers, but failed to find any.

Gursky-Doyen studies not only behavior of nonhuman primates, but also means of their conservation. She has spent many years learning how to trap different species of tarsiers. Together with her colleagues she set 276 mist nets to catch those three pygmy tarsiers which inhabited forested mountainsides. After that the animals were supplied with radio collars which helped to keep them under observation.

Pygmy tarsiers possess a number of features that distinguish them from the rest of primate species. They have claws in place of nails. But it's still unclear why they preserved this characteristic feature in the process of evolution. Besides, pygmy tarsiers don't mark their territory or produce sounds to attract each other. Scientists still try to understand the way they communicate. The key to this mystery is closer than we expect. Researchers noticed that tarsiers open their mouths in the wild, which means that they produce specific sounds which humans can't hear.

Gursky-Doyen hopes that government officials will double their efforts to protect tarsiers' habitats. These rare species are at great risk as about 60 villages are located on the territory of the national park and some of them are getting too close to mountain areas inhabited by different kinds of tarsiers. This time the research was supported by the Conservation International Primate Action Fund, the National Geographic Society, Texas A&M as well as Primate Conservation Inc..


Thursday, 23 Oct, 2008

Environment

Bar-tailed Godwit Becomes a New Bird Record-Holder

A new study reported, the record for the longest nonstop bird flight has been broken. A bar-tailed godwit dubbed "E7" flew 7,257 miles across the Pacific Ocean without intermission. The previous record belonged to a Far-Eastern curlew, which flew 4,038 miles nonstop.

It is quite surprising that the bird didn't even glide.

"Bar-tailed godwits use forward flapping flight and seldom ever glide," lead author Robert Gill, Jr., told Discovery News. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that continuous wing-flapping helps birds to preserve their energy.

Robert Gill and his team followed migrations of bar-tailed godwits from their summer breeding places in the western Alaska tundra to New Zealand where they remain till the next year. In order to track these birds scientists had to implant females with transmitters, while males, which are generally smaller, were supplied with external transmitters. It is interesting to note that these migrating flights continued between 5 and 9.4 days.

According to Proceedings of the Royal Society B oceans, mountain ranges, deserts, ice fields and other open territories do not always present obstacles for bird migration as it had been considered before. On the contrary, they might offer convenient and smooth air-routes. During a flight the birds encounter few predators and are safe from different infestations that take place on earth.

Flights across the Pacific Ocean are preferred by most bar-tailed godwits, but the birds have to prepare a fuel supply for such a long journey. So they consume plenty of tiny clams to store body fat.

"Their bodies can consist of 55 percent fat at this time," said Gill. However, it doesn't spoil their airplane-like shape.

However, both Gill and Rob Schuckard, a team leader at the Ornithological Society of New Zealand feel concern about the godwit's future. The number of birds that flew from the north to the south dropped from 155,000 to 70,000 since 1990s. As Gill supposes, the main cause of this problem is habitat loss. However, the role of climate change can not be underestimated. If airflow direction changes, the birds might benefit from tailwinds, but such shifts may also cause greater headwinds, which will postpone their migration.

Gill hopes to continue his investigation of bar-tailed godwits in order to study the effect of climate change on these species and to learn more about their efficient metabolism.


Wednesday, 22 Oct, 2008

Current Events

Wal-Mart Loses Confidence in Chinese Products

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., an American public corporation, declared that the recent child sicknesses in China caused by over toxic milk products necessitate setting up new requirements for Chinese suppliers.

It is worth mentioning that the United Nations in their turn published a report that suggests China to improve its food safety system. It also underlines that enterprises should bear the responsibility for the quality of their products.

Mike Duke, vice chairman of Wal-Mart's international division said the company is looking for "greater transparency from our supplier partners". This means Chinese suppliers will have to submit detailed information including names and location about every business enterprise involved in production of goods sold by Wal-Mart. This kind of cooperation should give the possibility to solve problems quickly and effectively. As Duke said, new standards will be applied to apparel in the first place, after which they will be used on all the products.

Wal-Mart's decision is well founded as there were several scandals concerning product safety violation which signals that China may lose its largest retailer if necessary measures are not taken. Last year, the scandal arose because of high levels of industrial toxins detected in different products.

As for China, it is still recovering after a hideous disclosure when the chemical melamine which is usually used in production of plastics and fertilizers was found in baby food in order to increase nitrogen content and to sell it as a high-protein product. This negligence caused four baby deaths and about 54,000 incidents of infantine diseases.

However, cases of contamination continued. Poisonous substances were found in powered and liquid milk, yogurt and other products. Safety hazard made several countries remove Chinese products made with milk from sale in order to test them for melamine. Thousands of cribs manufactured in China were recalled after the deaths of two babies as it was suspected that these cribs didn't have safety pegs.

According to health experts, large quantities of melamine can give rise to formation of kidney stones and even cause kidney failure.

In its report, the United Nations paid attention to an integral food safety law that should be introduced in order to control the whole industry. It recommended China to focus on high-risk areas of the food chain to avoid recontamination.

"The national system needs urgent review and revision," U.N. Resident Coordinator in China Khalid Malik said.

The report said that China also needs an integrated regulatory authority as well as an agency providing people with reliable information.

Government officials said late Tuesday that in the southern Chinese territory of Macau three more children suffered from kidney stones. Thus the total number of sick children makes seven now. As it turned out, two girls consumed milk produced by Chinese dairy Yili Industrial Group Co. It was confirmed that those products contained melamine.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, melamine was found in five egg products imported in South Korea from China. As a result of this South Korea prohibited imports of the products. The ministry as well as Drug Administration plan to collect and destroy the imported products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that less than 2.5 parts per million of melamine can be harmful if detected in baby food. It is interesting to note that only one of the five products in South Korea contained a portion higher than that level.


Thursday, 16 Oct, 2008

Environment

High Technology Protects Amazon

Brazilian police has performed a brilliant operation on capture a drug dealer. A high-tech spy plane flying thousands of feet above the clouds informed them about every movement of the pilot whose drug-smuggling plane had landed in the Amazon rain forest. Thanks to new technologies the police managed to arrest the pilot and to confiscate 300kg of cocaine. After this bust police intend to confine the whole international drug gang.

In order to preserve the Amazon Brazil focused on technological progress in its struggle against clandestine activities. Marcelo de Carvalho Lopes, head of the Amazon Protection System, or Sipam, said in an interview that intelligence support was needed to keep the whole region under control.

Sipam started its work in 2003 at a cost of $1.4 billion. It was equipped to analyze satellite images and aerial photography. This information helps authorities to combat deforestation, forest fires as well as drug trafficking. Hundreds of climate detectors and broadband Internet connections are now placed over the whole territory of the Amazon which is larger than the European Union.

Images taken with infrared cameras from Air Force planes are used as evidence against lawbreakers, such as illegal loggers. According to the environment ministry, only 8 percent of all penalties for deforestation are collected. The supersensitive images provide information about places intended for logging which gives the possibility to avert forest destruction. According to Wougran Soares Galvao, Sipam Operations Director, such images present a potential breakthrough.

As analysts predict, 86 percent of the Amazon will have been scanned by the end of this year. High technologies should help Brazil to raise legislation and conservation works to a higher level.

Ricardo Augusto Silverio dos Santos of Brazil's secret service agency said that the new law passed in 2004 that allowed the air force to bring down alleged planes promoted the decrease of drug trafficking by air.

Now Brazil has to solve a new problem as drug gangs smuggling cocaine started coming from Columbia by boat instead of plane. In response to these actions, Sipam sets up new surveillance scopes along central waterways and plans drug-related operations.

Although deforestation decreases, vast areas are still cut down every year. The country needs more resources to liquidate illegal logging. Foreign countries offer Brazil considerable subsidies for this purpose. Norway pledged Brazil $1 billion grant over 7 years.

Now only Canada and Germany can have images from radars that pierce the clouds.


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