SMITHSONIAN: AMAZON DEFORESTATION ACCELERATES
A research team from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has provided evidence that rates of forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon have accelerated over the last decade. Contrary to the claims of the Brazilian government that threats to Amazonian forests have fallen in recent years because of improved environmental laws and public attitudes, the Smithsonian team asserts that rates of deforestation have risen sharply since 1995. The Brazilian government plans to invest over $40 billion in new highways, railroads, hydroelectric reservoirs, power lines, and gas lines in the Amazon over the next few years. However, the government claims that these projects will have only limited effects on the Amazon. "There's no way you can criss-cross the basin with all these giant transportation and energy projects and not have a tremendous impact on the Amazon," says William Laurance, a Smithsonian researcher. "When you build a new road in the frontier, you almost always initiate large-scale forest invasions by loggers, hunters, and slash-and-burn farmers." The report appears in the journal Environmental Conservation.
UNITED KINGDOM FREE OF FOOT AND MOUTH
Eleven months after the first reported case of foot and mouth disease and after slaughtering more than 4 million animals, the United Kingdom has declared itself free of the disease, New Scientist reports. "After months of devastation from the biggest epidemic of foot and mouth in any country since records began, the last county in the United Kingdom will be foot and mouth free," it was announced in the House of Lords. The announcement follows testing of more than 3 million sheep and that there has been no outbreak in the last three months. However, cleansing and disinfection on individual farms will continue until the end of February, according to government officials. Meat and live pigs can currently be exported abroad from some counties in the United Kingdom under controls but the European Union Standing Veterinary Committee is expected to consider easing export controls. According to government figures, more than 4 million animals were slaughtered on more than 7,000 farms in a mass cull aimed at destroying infected livestock and slowing the spread of the highly infectious virus
SPACE SURVEY OF CALIFORNIA'S FAULTS
A space-based survey completed by researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. and Rice University in Houston offers new insights into the history of central California's earthquake hazards. The researchers examined years of data from precise space-based surveying methods to find a strong correlation between the degree to which the Pacific tectonic plate and its adjacent Sierran microplate push against one another. "This precise positioning data is allowing us to better understand why central California's coastal mountains are where they are and where they're growing," says Dr. Donald Argus. "We found the greater the rate of convergence, the larger the size and extent of the mountains." The report, published in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, finds most of coastal California rides on the Pacific plate, while the Sierran plate serves as a buffer zone for the North American plate, which carries the rest of the continental United States. In most places, the plates are converging at rates up to 3.3 millimeters per year, horizontally shortening Earth's crust across the fault and raising California's coastal mountains.
NEW TEST FOR SYNTHETIC DRILLING FLUIDS
A University of Houston researcher is working with the oil industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that synthetic-based fluids used to lubricate oil-drilling equipment are environmentally safe. An EPA ruling says that synthetic-based drilling fluids can be used in drilling operations in the Western Gulf of Mexico if they are biodegradable and non-toxic. When drilling for oil in the Gulf, drilling operators pump a special mixture of materials, called a drilling mud, down through the drill pipe to cool and lubricate the rapidly rotating pipe and drill bit. The mud carries most of the drilling waste and rock cuttings back up to the surface. Traditionally, the liquid component of the drilling mud, called the drilling fluid, has been water-based or petroleum-based. Since about 1990, however, the oil and gas extraction industry has developed synthetic-based drilling fluids that enable faster, more efficient drilling and have less of an environmental impact. "This test determines whether a particular compound will biodegrade sufficiently in the Gulf, basically, if the microbes in the Gulf sediments eat it, it's OK to use," says Deborah Roberts, an environmental microbiologist.
(EDITOR: For more information, about AMAZON, call 202 786-2094 ext. 8252; about DRILLING, call 713 743-8192.)