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Himalayan warming 'may trigger floods' Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK The Himalayas' temperature has shown a marked recent rise
By Alex Kirby BBC News Online environment correspondent
Scientists say more than 40 Himalayan lakes could soon overflow, imperilling tens of thousands of people.
They say the lakes are filling up because rising temperatures are melting the surrounding glaciers and snowfields that feed them.
Regional air temperatures are 1C higher than they were in the 1970s.
Work has started to lower the water level in one lake in Nepal.
The scientists work for the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod).
Surendra Shrestha of Unep said: "Our findings indicate that 20 glacial lakes in Nepal and 24 in Bhutan have become potentially dangerous as a result of climate change.
"We have evidence that any one of these could, unless urgent action is taken, burst its banks in five to ten years' time.
"These are the ones we know about. Who knows how many others, elsewhere in the Himalayas and across the world, are in a similar critical state?"
The lake where remedial work has begun is Tsho Rolpa, which researchers say is six times larger now than in the late 1950s. It was identified as critical by ground surveys and satellite images.
Pradeep Mool of Icimod said: "A flood from this lake could cause serious damage down to the village of Tribeni, which is 108 km (67 miles) downstream, threatening about 10,000 people, thousands of livestock, agricultural land, bridges and other infrastructure."
A network of sensors and sirens has been built to link the lake to threatened villages. Engineers hope to lower the lake level by 30 m (95 feet).
Mr Shrestha said his team was working to help Nepal and Bhutan to identify potentially dangerous lakes, develop early warning systems and reduce the threats.
He said: "Some donor country governments are backing our efforts, but much more aid is needed. Solving this problem is going to be costly, because glacial lakes are situated in remote areas which are difficult to reach."
The UN has declared 2002 the International Year of the Mountains.
Dr Klaus Toepfer, executive director of Unep, said: "Mountains were once considered indomitable, unchanging and impregnable. But we are learning that they are as vulnerable as the world's oceans, grasslands and forests.
"It is not just the risk to human lives, agriculture and property that should worry us. Mountains are the world's water towers, feeding the rivers and lakes upon which all life depends.
"If the glaciers continue to retreat at the rates being seen in places like the Himalayas, many rivers and freshwater systems could run dry."
Unep says there is evidence that glacial lake outburst floods (glofs, as they are known) have been happening more often over the last thirty years.
It says data from 49 Nepalese monitoring stations shows temperatures in the high Himalayas have been rising over that period by an average of 0.06C annually.
The research into lakes at risk began in 1999, and is based on topographic maps, aerial photographs and images from Landsat, Spot and IRS satellites.
The scientists say that glaciers in Bhutan are retreating at 30-40m annually. One glacier, Tradkarding, which feeds the Tsho Rolpa lake, retreated 100m last year.
Scientists from Bhutan and Nepal worked with Unep and Icimod on the survey. An international conference on protecting the world's mountains is being held in late October in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
Quarter of mammals 'face extinction' Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Siberian tigers may vanish within three decades
By Corinne Podger BBC science correspondent
Almost a quarter of the world's mammals face extinction within 30 years, according to a United Nations report on the state of the global environment.
The destruction of habitats and the introduction of alien species from one part of the world to another are blamed for the threatened loss to biodiversity.
The United Nations Environment Programme report identifies more than 11,000 endangered animal and plant species - including more than 1,000 mammals, nearly a quarter of the world's total.
One in eight bird species is also in danger of extinction, and more than 5,000 different plants.
The species likely to vanish within three decades include well-publicised cases such as the black rhinoceros and the Siberian tiger, and less well-known animals such as the Philippine eagle and the Asian Amur leopard.
The UN report is a review of the past 30 years in terms of environmental damage.
Based on that assessment, the UN says that all the factors which have led to the extinction of species in recent decades continue to operate with "ever-increasing intensity".
The encroachment of human settlement into wilderness regions, rainforest and wetlands destruction, and the impact of industry, have had a dramatic impact on the survival of threatened animals and plants.
The report says many problems could be rectified if governments implement the treaties and conventions passed since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
These include the Kyoto protocol on climate change and the Convention on Biodiversity.
Climate scientist ousted Friday, 19 April, 2002, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Sceptics claimed the IPCC had become too political One of the most outspoken scientists on the issue of global warming has been ousted from his job.
Dr Robert Watson was voted out of the chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Friday and will be replaced by one of the current vice-chairs, Dr Rajendra Pachauri.
Dr Watson's removal will spark a huge political row - environmentalists accuse the US Government of orchestrating a campaign to have the scientist sidelined.
They say Washington disliked Dr Watson's willingness to tell governments what he believes to be the unvarnished truth - that human activities are now contributing dangerously to climate change.
Government representatives attending an IPCC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, voted 76 to 49 for the engineer and economist Dr Rajendra Pachauri to take the chair.
Dr Pachauri, the director of the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi, was the US administration's favoured candidate.
President Bush repudiated the international climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, which is the only political instrument so far to result from the IPCC's work.
The president took the view that the protocol would do enormous damage to the US economy.
Green groups believe Mr Bush is unduly influenced by the energy lobby in America, and point to a memo forwarded to the White House by ExxonMobil last year.
The document raised the question of whether Dr Watson could be replaced as the US representative on the IPCC. Environmentalists claimed the outcome of Friday's vote was proof of ExxonMobil's power behind the scenes in Washington.
"It's just extraordinary that Exxon can tell the US what to do and then they go and do it," said Cindy Baxter of the StopEsso campaign. She claimed the company did not like the science coming out of the IPCC, "so they changed the scientist".
"Luckily, the science of the IPCC is very strong," she added. "No matter what Exxon and the US tries to do - they cannot change that."
What the environmentalists do fear, however, is that documents produced for politicians may now be less forceful in their presentation - they are not convinced that Dr Rajendra Pachauri will be so strong an advocate for change in global energy policies as Dr Watson.
Many critics of the IPCC believe this should not be a role the panel assumes anyway. They think it should stick simply to assessing the facts of climate science.
Many sceptics were deeply critical at what they saw as the politicisation of the UN group under the chairmanship of Dr Watson.
They claim humanity's influence on the climate has been overstated - that the changes we see around us today are the products of natural variability.
ExxonMobil has told BBC News Online that the White House memo was not written by one of its employees and that it merely passed the document on. The company said it had no official position on the post of IPCC chair.
'Time for a change'
Dr Watson spoke to the BBC after the vote.
"I'm obviously extremely disappointed, but my job now is to maintain the integrity of the IPCC," he said.
"I believe Dr Pachauri does have integrity - I hope he has the integrity. He is an economist; he is a technologist. I thought co-chairing with Dr Pachauri was an appropriate solution but we have a democratic process and a majority of the countries in the world thought it was time for a change."
He continued: "We have to continue to press the case that climate change is a serious environmental issue, both for developed and developing countries.
"I'm willing to stay in there, working as hard as possible, making sure the findings of the very best scientists in the world are taken seriously by government, industry and by society as a whole."
Bread and crisps in cancer risk scare Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK Hidden dangers in fried, carbohydrate-rich foods Staple foods including bread, chips and crisps, may contain high levels of a substance believed to cause cancer, a study suggests.
Tests showed they all contain high quantities of acrylamide, a chemical which is classified as a probable human carcinogen.
Researchers in Sweden found acrylamide was formed when carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes, rice or cereals are heated.
Such foods could pose a potential health risk to millions of people around the world.
The research was deemed so important that scientists took the unusual step of going public with their findings before the details had been officially published in an academic journal.
The study was carried out by Stockholm University in collaboration with experts at Sweden's National Food Administration, a government food safety agency.
Leif Busk, head of the Food Administration's research department, said: "I have been in this field for 30 years and I have never seen anything like this before."
The study found that an ordinary bag of crisps may contain up to 500 times more of the substance than the top level allowed in drinking water by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Fried food risk
French fries sold at Swedish franchises of US fast-food chains contained about 100 times the one microgram per litre maximum permitted by the WHO in drinking water, the study showed.
One milligram, or 0.001 gram, contains 1,000 micrograms.
The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies acrylamide, a colourless, crystalline solid, as a medium hazard probable human carcinogen.
Acrylamide induces gene mutations and has been found in animal tests to cause benign and malignant stomach tumours.
It is also known to cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system.
Mr Busk said: "The discovery that acrylamide is formed during the preparation of food, and at high levels, is new knowledge.
"It may now be possible to explain some of the cases of cancer caused by food."
The Food Administration said fried, oven-baked and deep-fried potato and cereal products may contain high levels of acrylamide.
Experts at Cancer Research UK believe the study is highly significant.
One crisp danger
The charity's carcinogens expert Professor David Phillips said: "We know already that the 'Western diet' leads to a different spectrum of cancers from those that are common in other parts of the world.
"It is likely that many aspects of our diet, rather than a single culprit, are responsible for this.
"We do not know for sure what the impact on human health of these levels of acrylamide in food is, but because it is a known animal carcinogen it is advisable that its formation during food preparation or production be minimised."
Cancer Research UK advises consumers to avoid a diet excessively high in fat and fried food.
It suggests people eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and avoid overcooked or burnt food.
"For the food industry there is now a responsibility to monitor acrylamide formation in food products and to find ways of minimising its formation," said Professor Phillips.
Margareta Tornqvist, an associate professor at Stockholm University's department of environmental chemistry said the consumption of a single potato crisp could take acrylamide intake up to the WHO maximum for drinking water.
However, she said the product analysis, based on more than 100 random samples, was not extensive enough for the Administration to recommend the withdrawal of any products from the supermarket shelves.
Stefan Eriksson, marketing manager for Burger King's subsidiary in Sweden, said: "We have received the information and we are evaluating what it will mean."
Exact Uncertainty New Scientist 2002
Exact uncertainty sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that is what governs the quantum free-market world, according to a theoretical physicist economy who has created an improved version of the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Heisenberg worked out that there is a degree of inherent fuzziness to the world. You cannot measure both the position and the momentum of any particle with perfect accuracy. The better the accuracy of your momentum measurement, the more uncertain your position measurement must be, and vice versa.
Heisenberg quantified this in the uncertainty relation, which says that the product of the two uncertainties must always be greater than a certain fixed amount. This does not say how big the uncertainty might actually be, however.
Michael Hall, who is a visiting fellow at the Australian National
University's Institute of Advanced Studies in Canberra, wondered
whether this could be quantified more exactly. He
supposes that quantum systems can be broken down into two parts: there is a classical part that can in principle be measured exactly, and a quantum part that has only probabilities of having different values. In other words, it is fuzzy and cannot be measured precisely.
To quantify this quantum uncertainty, Hall keyhole surgery borrowed a mathematical tool developed in 1925 by British statistician Ronald Fisher. Fisher worked out how to quantify differences between "Personalised" human populations by sampling a few members of brain atlases each. This kind of method gives you an uncertainty in your results, and Hall saw that making measurements on quantum particles was a mathematically similar process.
The result is an expression that looks like Heisenberg's original relation, but gives the exact uncertainty in the measurements of position and momentum. Hall says it is an equation rather than an inequality, which is "a far stronger relation".
So strong, in fact, that in a paper published this month in Journal of Physics A, Hall and Marcel Reginatto of the Physical-Technical Institute in Braunschweig, Germany, have managed to derive the basics of quantum mechanics from it, including the Schrödinger equation that describes the behaviour of quantum-mechanical wave functions.
"I find it remarkable that the Schrödinger equation no longer has to be god-given," says Wolfgang Schleich, who studies the foundations of quantum mechanics at the University of Ulm.
You still have to make the assumption that there is some quantum uncertainty, but this is much simpler than assuming Schrödinger's equation.
Unusually for work in such fundamental physics, the new formulation might even have practical applications. Hall says it implies a tight relationship between uncertainty and energy that makes it easier to understand why, in quantum mechanics, systems have a minimum kinetic energy even if there aren't any forces acting. "There's a kind of quantum kinetic energy that comes from the uncertainty," he says. G
What's more, the new uncertainty equation makes it possible to estimate the minimum energy that a given quantum system should have. This is useful in cases when it's not possible to calculate the lowest energy levels precisely, particularly in complicated systems such as atoms with many orbiting electrons.
Three expecting cloned babies ROME CLONING - The Italian fertility expert whose avowed aim is to create the first human clone says three women are pregnant with clones.
Dr Severino Antinoni yesterday complained that the babies willl be viewed as freaks by a hostile society. Calling himself the "cultural and scientific coordinator" of the cloning projects, he said that one of the pregnancies was in the tenth week, one in the seventh and one in the sixth. "One thing is certain," Antinori said. "In the country where these babies will be born, if the climate of persecution does not change ... at the first birth everyone will say, 'This is a monster'."
The doctor denied that he was in charge of any of the three pregnancy cases and would not say where the women were, but indicated that one lived in an Islamic nation.
Antinori caused disdain in scientific circles, religious outrage and legal confusion when he talked more than a year ago of his desire to clone humans to help infertile couples. Now exiled from the scientific community for not abandoning his research, Antinori said 40 people in 18 countries were involved in the project. "I am not isolated," he said. "There is fear to talk about these issues"
Antinori said the women, who had had successful ultrasound screenings in recent weeks, were volunteers who had paid nothing to become pregnant with clones. However, a former colleague cast doubt on the pregnancy, saying that none of Antnion's original team was participating. "I don't believe what he has said," Panos Zavos sai. Zavos is continuing his own cloning research for childless couples. Scientists have condemned human cloning as irresponsible because of the risk of deformities.
Why humans are brainier than chimps Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 19:53 GMT 20:53 UK Chimps and humans share almost 99% of their DNA
By Ivan Noble BBC News Online
A new study sheds light on why humans are so much more intelligent than chimpanzees despite sharing almost 99% of the same DNA. Though humans have much the same genes as chimps, it seems that these genes can behave differently in the two species. When researchers looked how genes operate in human and chimp livers, brains and blood, they found the biggest differences in the brains. The work could help understand how humans evolved and why some diseases affect the two species differently, Dr Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told BBC News Online. Medical potential Chimpanzees infected with HIV tend not to contract AIDS. The species also tends to contract different types of cancer. "Chimpanzees tend to have a lot fewer tumours in epithelial tissues like the breast, colon, and prostate but just as much leukaemia," said Dr Pääbo. An insight into why this happens might have the potential to lead to new therapies. Dr Pääbo's team compared brain and liver tissue samples from three humans and three chimpanzees, all of whom had died of natural causes. 'Gene chip' analysis They also took blood samples from live subjects. They used microarrays known as "gene chips" to examine how each of around 12,000 human genes was functioning in the tissue. The reason that the human-chimp differences were biggest in the brain tissue samples, is, they suspect, that the way human genes work in the brain changed rapidly during human evolution. This adaption might explain how humans came to be so much more intelligent than their ape counterparts. Mountain to climb It also serves to highlight the complexity of the task of making sense of the mountains of data produced by endeavours such as the human genome project. Scientists need to do more than know how many genes we have and where they lie on our chromosomes. They also need to discover how these genes work in living bodies. For, as the Leipzig study shows, the same genes can work in different ways. "We're going to be looking now at why the differences exist. "We want to focus much more on the brain and find out if there are bits of the brain which did not undergo accelerated development in humans," Dr Pääbo said. He and his colleagues describe their work in the journal Science.
Monsanto's View On GM Crop Safety
From Sheryl Jackson [email protected] 4-14-2
In case you were in doubt about Monsanto's motives for producing GE crops:
A Monsanto official told the New York Times, October 25, 1998, that the corporation should not have to take responsibility for the safety of its food products. "Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food," said Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications. "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."
China's women-only language under threat Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
The secret language is only spoken by elder women China plans to spend $1m to save what is believed to be the world's only language used exclusively by women.
The language, on the verge of extinction, is spoken only by elder women of the Yao ethnic group in Hunan province.
Some linguists say the language may be one of the oldest in the world.
Now China plans to set up a special protection zone and a museum in Hunan province's Jiangyong county.
The Xinhua news agency says the museum will house written examples of the language, which has 1,200 characters, though fewer than 700 are still in use.
Experts believe much of the language's written heritage, mainly preserved on paper fans and silks, has already been destroyed.
Zhang Xiasheng, of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, says the language was handed down from mothers to daughters and developed in cut-off rural areas.
Men were not interested in the secret coded-language, he says.
A publishing house in Hunan is putting together a dictionary covering the language's history and the pronunciation, meaning and written style of its characters.
According to China's People's Daily, the Yao ethnic group has a total population of 2.9 million.