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Stories of modern science ... from UPI

By ELLEN BECK, United Press International   |   Dec. 24, 2002 at 7:45 AM   |   Comments

MONSOON SYSTEM CHANGING

Meteorologists at the Indian Institute of Technology and Wesleyan University say new research shows a link between the increasing strength of the northeast monsoon and decreasing strength of the southwest monsoon, and increased glaciation of the Northern Hemisphere during the Plio-Pleistocene. Writing in the Geological Society of America's January issue of Geology, they say changes in seasonality had a major effect on the biota in the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean. They used records over the past 5.5 million years from Ocean Drilling Program Site 758 in the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean. Information on bottom-dwelling faunas of unicellular, eukaryotic organisms, indicators for changes in oceanic productivity and seasonality, was combined with oxygen isotopic data, indicative of changes in the size of the polar ice sheets. The failure of the Indian monsoon system this year caused widespread droughts as well as floods in Asia. Global warming and the El Nino Southern Oscillation are possible causes of the failure of the southwest or summer monsoon. Longer time-scale oscillations in this monsoon have been linked to changes in the North Atlantic circulation.


NEW PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS URANUS RINGS

Astronomers recently got a great photo from the VLT ANTU telescope at the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile that looked like Saturn -- lord of the rings of the solar system -- but really was Uranus, the next giant planet further out -- about 20 times the distance between Earth and the sun. The photo shows Uranus surrounded by its rings and some of the moons, as they appear on a near-infrared image that was obtained in the Ks-band at wavelength 2.2 ┬Ám with the ISAAC multi-mode instrument on the telescope. Photos from the Voyager-2 spacecraft in 1986 showed a multitude of very tenuous rings around Uranus, almost undetectable from the Earth in visible light. This new picture, however, shows the contrast between the rings and the planet is strongly enhanced. At this wavelength, the infalling sunlight is almost completely absorbed by gaseous methane in the planet's atmosphere, and the disk of Uranus therefore appears unusually dark. At the same time, the icy material in the rings reflects the sunlight and appears comparatively bright.


GENDER DIFFERENCES FOUND IN SICKLE CELL DISEASE

Women with sickle cell anemia have up to two times more nitric oxide than men who have the disease, according to research by the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. This could help explain gender differences in survival, researchers report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disorder in which normally round red blood cells become misshapen like sickles and clog vessels. An estimated 1 in 500 African-Americans have the genetic condition. "Like coronary artery disease, sickle cell disease seems linked to inflammation in the arteries," says Dr. Mark Gladwin of NIH. "Sickle cell disease's connection to inflammation made us want to investigate the molecule nitric oxide, which is 'the WD-40' of the blood vessels." The body makes NO and uses it to dilate blood vessels so blood can flow easily. When the body attempts to repair injured areas of the blood vessels -- such as in a sickle cell crisis -- NO prevents the inflammatory white cells of that repair process from sticking to cells that line the arteries. "The men appear to have problems both in making nitric oxide and with increased destruction of nitric oxide," Gladwin says. When the men were given a substance containing NO, their blood flow increased by 86 percent, while women's blood flow increased 171 percent.


UC-IRVINE UPGRADES IT DEPARTMENT

The University of California Board of Regents has elevated UC-Irvine's Department of Information and Computer Science to school status, creating the first computer science school within the UC System. ICS enrollment has grown by more than 125 percent since 1998, with more than 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students. ICS ranks 15th among all public university computer science graduate programs, according to U.S. News & World Report. The new designation also enhances the relationship between ICS and The Henry Samueli School of Engineering and its Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. A new joint degree in computer science and engineering is planned, and research is under way.

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(EDITORS: For more information on MONSOON, contact Joan Manly at jmanly@geosociety.org. For URANUS, Richard West at 49-893-200-6276 or e-mail rwest@eso.org, for SICKLE CELL, Carole Bullock, (214) 706-1279 or carole.bullock@heart.org, and for UC IRVINE, Michelle Williams, (949) 824-1562 or micwilli@uci.edu)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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