russian SCIENTISTS HAVE PATENTED A PROCEDURE THAT HELPS DETERMINE WHETHER A CLOUD CAN PRODUCE LIGHT DRIZZLE, RAIN OR HAIL STORM
Climate is changing. This is an established fact. The forecasts that global warming will bring frequent and heavy precipitation to Russia are coming true. A case in point is this year's rainy summer. Rain is not at all a bad thing as long as it is not accompanied by hail. We can wait it out under a roof, but it can seriously affect our plants and harvests. Therefore, hail clouds should be seeded in advance so that hail falls in an area that is away from a vineyard, for example. In order not to use a sledge hammer to crack a nut and not to throw money to the wind, it would be a good idea to know exactly what a particular cloud can bring.
Associates at Russia's Scientific Research Institute of Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring and their colleagues at Planeta, a scientific research center for space hydrometeorology, know that well. The procedure for accurately forecasting hail storms, which they have developed recently, does not require any additional observation equipment or new experimental data — those provided by space satellites are quite sufficient for the purpose.
"Rain and hail storm forecasting is based on data about the earth's thermal emission," Mikhail Bukharov, Cand. Sc. (Phys./Math.), a research associate with the Planeta center and one of the authors of the new procedure, explains. "Its measurements from a polar orbiting satellite, in different bands enable us to calculate atmospheric transparency (cloud cover) parameters that can produce rain and hail storms. These parameters, in turn, can be used to estimate the intensity of precipitation and even the diameter of hailstones."
The basic parameters here are the temperature on the upper edge of the cloud and the air temperature at the earth's surface below the cloud cover. They are calculated with the help of satellite-borne radiometers. A microwave radiometer can measure earth temperature beneath a cloud. Another instrument, AVHRR [Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) can gauge the temperature on the upper part of a cloud.
It is noteworthy that both the satellite and the instruments are U.S.-made, but the measurements them- selves are easily available to scientists and researchers in all countries. The question, however, is what to do with these data. Thus far forecasts made on their basis have not been particularly accurate. But this is exactly what Russian scientists have learned to do now.
"The main thing is to accurately determine the altitude at which the temperature in a cloud is exactly zero (degrees Centigrade)," Mikhail Bukharov says. "Below this mark you only get tiny drops of water. But the higher, the more droplets will turn into snowflakes or even pieces of ice. Until recently it was generally believed that this altitude could not in principle be determined. It seemed such a futile exercise that our colleagues throughout the world even stopped trying. But we have made it."
The procedure patented by Russian scientists helps assess whether a particular cloud can produce light drizzle or rain or hail storm. If it is hail, the procedure helps estimate the size of the hail stones. "Right now this forecast is not particularly prompt, however: The satellite orbit passes over the earth's poles: it takes one hour and 4o minutes to make an orbit, so we cannot make forecasts more often than every one and a half to two hours," Mikhail Biikbarov explains.
Today, scientists are trying to adapt geostationary satellites for their purposes. These can be used to diagnose clouds every 30 or even 15 minutes. Then meteorologists will be able to identify a hail cloud with an almost 80- percent probability, while cloud-seeding specialists will be able to get rid of it in good time. Russian scientists, however, are unable to make the main forecast — i.e., to say when this is going to happen. Thus far their procedure has only been adopted in the faraway Argentina.
( By Olga Maksimenko THE MOSCOW NEWS)
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CAN BIRD FLU BECOME HUMAN?
What is this new disease that has appeared on our planet so suddenly? What causes it, how is it transmitted and how dangerous is it?
Bird flu has always existed in nature and mostly wild birds were its victims. Sometimes, poultry also caught it. But people have never got sick or died of it.
This viral disease has been prevalent mostly among wild birds and is transmitted mainly through droppings. One gram of dried droppings of a sick or contaminated bird contains 1.5 million doses, that is, one gram can theoretically kill an enormous number of poultry. Droppings dry, then are pulverized in the air or dissolved in the water and from there get to other birds, wild or domestic. The latter are more susceptible to the virus.
But now people have begun to die of this disease and there's talk of human epidemics and even pandemics. Is this true?
Apparently the bird flu virus is now able to cause the disease in the human organism when it gets there. Just imagine Asia, with a population of over 2 billion. The number of poultry runs into many billions and enormous masses of people live in constant contact with the birds. And they consume much more poultry than in Europe or America. In the past eight years, about 150 persons have caught the disease and 60 of them died. The ratio is about 1 to 1.5 million, and the death rate is even lower. Here, in Moscow, it's much more probable to die from an icicle falling on one's head. Although the bird flu virus can cause a person to fall ill or even die, it is unable to cause an epidemic, let alone a pandemic.
To be able to do this, the virus should mutate, that is, undergo changes so that it will be transmittable from man to man. I don't exclude such a possibility. But this can only be some time in the future, and the disease will not be bird flu. As a result of mutations in (lie existing virus (called H5N1). another one can appear that could strike humans en masse. But this will not necessarily be so. Nobody can predict it now. However, proceeding from the possibility of mutation, a special vaccine is now being created. This is rather senseless, because after mutation it will be another virus with different properties.
Yet people are greatly concerned over the possibility of catching bird flu not only in Asia, and not only due to an epidemic or pandemic, but simply because of eating the meat of contaminated poultry.
It has been proved that the virus can be transmitted to man only through eating uncooked poultry. The thermal processing of meat kills the virus, which cannot survive temperatures above 70 degrees. Our culinary traditions save us from catching the disease. In Asia, there is a long tradition of eating half-cooked poultry; the meat is only soaked in vinegar, for example. This is the main reason for catching bird flu in Asia. Cases of the disease and deaths from it have been recorded mainly in Vietnam.
Why then is there such a hysterical explosion of information about the disease in the mass media?
I think the reasons are both political and economic. Here in Russia, we have had only one case of bird flu, on the Utyatino poultry farm. But the case was not fully confirmed, because the farm received an enormous insurance bonus for the culling of poultry. One-tenth of it was enough to restore the entire flock. Thus, there was an obvious economic interest.
What then can be said about big companies producing poultry meat on a large scale and supplying it to various countries, and about pharmaceutical firms making big profits on flu vaccines? As a result of the bird flu "attack" on mankind, South American and North American poultry suppliers have lost about 20 per- cent of their incomes (although there have been no cases of the disease registered there). In Russian firms, this figure is about 40 percent. Russian farms are producing mainly cooled meat. They don't have sufficient deep-freezing installations. So, they have to lower prices and suffer big losses. The American deep- frozen chicken, for instance, can be pre- served for a long time. So, despite the fact that their consumption in the West is being reduced, their producers and dealers can earn much more by supplying chicken meat to Russia.
The profits of pharmaceutical companies, whose products are in greater demand with the mass hysteria caused by bird flu, are quite natural. I don't mean that tins situation has been provoked by pharmaceutical experts and overseas suppliers of chicken meat; but there is no doubt that they are using it to their advantage. There have been hints about the participation of these companies in creating and tanning this hysteria. Everything is possible when billions of dollars are involved.
Do you mean the outbreak of bird flu that started in Western Siberia in the summer of 2005?
Yes, exactly, the one which first appeared near Novosibirsk in the middle of July 2005.
Are there any grounds to believe that it was not migratory birds that were to blame for it?
It should be recalled that the first signs of the loss of poultry were noticed not far from Novosibirsk on July 11. Then the epizootic began to spread. Within a fortnight it was registered in the Altai Territory to the south of Novosibirsk and in the western part all the way to the Urals. At first glance, it seemed that migratory birds brought the virus from China. But bird migration does not take place in the middle and end of July. That is the end of reproduction and the season when young birds learn to fly. The direction of bird migration from China does not coincide with the spread of the disease. Why did the epizootic of poultry begin three months after the end of the spring migration? Why did this epizootic appear only in 2005, although the virus has been "on the rampage" in Asia since 1997? Nothing prevented birds from bringing it into Russia earlier. A thorough analysis of the facts brings us to a most interesting conclusion.
But first of all, let's keep in mind two important facts. First, the virus is very hardy and can exist for a long time. Second, Novosibirsk is a kind of Chinese air gate between the Urals and Irkutsk. I am sure that the virus was brought to Russia from China by planes loaded with food products, fodder, poultry or clothing that somehow had touched the droppings of sick birds. In Novosibirsk, the cargo from China is reloaded onto trucks and transported to other parts of Siberia. This was why the first outbreak of the disease was registered near Novosibirsk, and then farther to the south and west. It can be seen on the map that the spreading of the disease does not coincide with the direction of the bird migration, but it coincides with the direction of the migration of people and the transportation of goods, that is, with big highways. This is why I am sure that wild birds are not to blame for epizootic in Russia. Incidentally, their role in spreading the disease has not been fully established, and in many cases they have nothing to do with it. This is admitted by many scientists, but most people blame wild birds for it.
Nevertheless, it is they who suffer mainly. Demands are heard more and more often to kill wild migratory birds and in some places these sanitary" shootings have already begun. Are they justified?
Migratory birds are a part of nature, and it is very convenient to blame nature for any phenomena, instead of investigating, studying and analyzing facts more thoroughly.
Shooting birds will not bring the desired results. On the contrary, it may contribute to the spreading of the disease. If the bird tin virus is educed only with the droppings, there will also be drops of contaminated blood, down and feathers from shooting them. Apart from them, some of the birds killed will not be found, and will be eaten by dogs, crows or seagulls, which will also become contaminated and spread the disease. This process could snowball and be impossible to stop. The mass media reported that about 145 million birds had been killed so far to combat bird flu. This is a monstrous figure! Even if it is not exact, the essence of problem remains the same. This senseless slaughter should be stopped immediately, because it jeopardizes the very existence of the rare species of birds and causes extra spending. Besides, it contradicts the legislation on hunting and environmental protection and has a negative influence on the moral climate. The UN has appealed to all countries to stop the slaughter of wild birds.
In general, scientists have noticed some strange properties of this virus. It appears suddenly in different places of the planet. Perhaps its life, like the life of many other organisms, has a cyclic character: it appears, and disappears according to its own laws. This may be connected with the laws of nature that man has not vet grasped. Thus, its emergence in, say, the Tula Region, does not necessarily mean that it has been brought there by birds or people with goods.
If we assume that migratory birds are to blame for bird flu it should be recalled that enormous flocks of birds migrate from Western Siberia to tile Caspian Sea basin, the Volga River and other places, but so far there have been no traces of bird flu. The two villages in our country that have allegedly been contaminated by birds are definitely a great exaggeration of this threat.
It's clear how people could protect themselves: to refrain from eating badly cooked meat and observe the elementary sanitary and hygienic rules. But how can the appearance and spreading of this disease among poultry be prevented?
There is another important aspect for man: vaccination against ordinary flu is recommended because then the possibility of the mutation of the bird flu virus will be minimized in human organism.
First of all, it is necessary to correctly establish the cause of birds' death and only then take measures. There have been many cases of wild birds' death due to other diseases that were ascribed to the bird flu. The recent death of swans in the Volga delta and Kalmykia was caused by the virus of bird flu, as it was established by a laboratory in Saratov. But the dead birds looked as if frozen in a strained posture that was very strange for the disease. The death of chickens in the Crimea was also ascribed to the bird flu virus. But the dead chickens looked as if they had fallen into lethargy. I can state with assurance that those features are characteristic of bird cholera, which is caused by a different bacteria that causes death in several hours. In 2004, about 10.000 teals died of this disease in South Korea.
To find the bird flu virus in a dead bird does not necessarily mean that it died precisely of it. In Moldova too the death of poultry was attributed to the bird flu, but later it was established that it had been cholera. On a lake in Buryatia 200 ducks died within a short time. The first analyses have not found the bird flu. But this fact has not been reported, and no information was given about the real cause of their death. Even those centers that need the most reliable information on the situation do not have it. The reason may be elementary negligence or intended concealment.
In this connection, what should we demand from the authorities?
It is necessary at least to set up a reliable and effective system to study the diseases of Wild animals and birds and conduct proper research in this field. Experts should get express information on the results of examination of sick animals and birds. The senseless shooting of wild birds under the pretext of combating the bird flu should be categorically banned under law.
It is also important to solve the problems of interaction with China at the government level to study and combat bird flu. The disease has had a foothold on Chinese territory for quite a long time. To have a clearcut picture of how the disease is transmitted, it is necessary to know the exact routes of birds' migration, but China is a virtual black hole for us in this respect. The Chinese never give us the rings from the legs of ringed birds, and all information in this field is kept secret there. Our government has to start negotiations with the Chinese authorities on a bilateral agreement on (lie matter, with experts from the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry for Emergency Situations, with environmental protection and ornithological institutions taking part.
(March 2006/ New Times )
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NATURAL DISASTERS ON THE RISE?
It is to be feared that extreme events which can be traced to climate change will have increasingly grave consequences in the future. This means that we must reckon with new types of weather risks and great approximately 30,000 deaths in Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. A premonsoon heat wave in Bangladesh. India, and Pakistan resulted in 1,500 deaths, while drought and record heat in Australia triggered bushfires that consumed over three million hectares. According to the World Meteorological Organization, "the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season saw the development of 16 named storms, which is well above the 1944-1996 average of 9.8, but consistent with a marked increase in the annual number of tropical systems since the mid- 1990s." The pattern continued in 2004 which saw devastating hurricanes sweep7 into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, where they claimed some 2,000 lives and left a trail of destruction. In 2003, Sri Lanka was hit by a cyclone that caused severe flooding, resulting in at least 250 deaths. In 2004 a record of at least 23 typhoons brewed in the western Pacific. Ten of them hit Japan, where they caused extensive damage and took more than 170 lives. Floods resulting from heavy monsoon rains affected nearly 30 million people in South Asia, especially Bangladesh. Millions were made homeless, almost three million were displaced, and more than 1,300 were killed. Several powerful earthquakes struck during 2003. On May 21, in Algiers, Algeria, a quake injured 10,000 people and left 200,000 homeless. At 5:26 a.m. on December 26, the earth quaked eight kilometers south of the city of Barn in Iran. The magnitude 6.5 quake devastated 70 percent of the city, claimed 40,000 lives, and left more than 100,000 homeless. It was the most lethal natural disaster of the year. It also turned much of Barn's 2,000-year-old citadel, Arge-Bam, into rubble, robbing the region of an economically important tourist attraction.
Exactly one year later, a magnitude 9.0 quake occurred just off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia, spawning by far the deadliest tsunamis in recorded history. The killer waves claimed over 200,000 lives and left many more injured, homeless, or both. Even the east coast of Africa, 4,500 kilometers or more west of the epicenter, came within the tsunamis' fatal embrace.
Are Darker Clouds on the Horizon?
Are such events a foretaste of what is to come? In regard to weather-related disasters, many scientists believe that human-induced15 changes in the atmosphere are altering the world's climate and contributing to more extreme weather. If true, this assessmentdoes not bode well for the future. Adding to the risk, more and more people now live in disaster-proneareas, by choice — or because they have no alternative.
Statistics indicate that 95 percent of all disaster-related deaths occur in developing lands. Wealthy nations, on the other hand, have a lower mortality rate but experience 75 percent of the economic losses. Some insurers even wonder whether their industry can remain solvent under this onslaught of mounting losses.
We will examine some of the natural processes that lead to disasters and ways that humans may be adding to their seventy. We will also consider whether mankind has the power and the will to effect the changes needed to make the earth a safer home for future generations.
The Human Factor
When a car is well maintained, it can provide safe transportation. But that vehicle when abused and neglected can be dangerous. In some respects, the same may be said of planet Earth.
In the opinion of a number of scientists, human-induced changes in earth's atmosphere and oceans have made our planet a dangerous place by contributing to more frequent and more severe natural disasters. And the future looks uncertain. "We're in the middle of a large uncontrolled experiment on the only planet we have," said an editorial on climate change in Science magazine. So that we can better grasp how human activity might be affecting the frequency and severity of natural disasters, we need to understand a little about the underlying natural phenomena. For example, what causes severe storms, such as hurricanes, to form?
In 1943 a corn farmer in Mexico saw something other than corn growing on his farm. While out in his field, he saw cracks, or fissures, opening up in the ground. By the next day, the fissures; had become a small volcano. During the following week, the cone grew 150 meters, and a year later it towered 360 meters. Eventually, the cone, which stands at 2,775 meters above sea level, attained a final height of 430 meters. The volcano, called Paricutin, suddenly stopped erupting in 1952 and has beer silent since.