Stories of Modern Science ... from UPI

ALEX CUKAN, UPI Science Writer


In Afghanistan, airstrikes have been made against the wrong buildings, against civilians or on friendly forces, perhaps because troops transmit the wrong target coordinates, New Scientist says in an exclusive report. To address the problem, the Pentagon has commissioned a new battlefield targeting system controlled by a


hand-held pocket PC. It will go into service with U.S. Special Forces in 2003. The super-palmtop, called JEDI for Joint Expeditionary Digital Information, will combine laser rangefinding, Global Positioning Satellite, a satellite phone and text messaging. The Pentagon wants JEDI to help simplify the way soldiers send target coordinates and other information from the battlefield to control centers. "It has to be designed so it's easy to use," says Peter Batcheller, of Booz Allen Hamilton, the Virginia-based technology company developing the system. "Troops can't call up an IT desk if it goes wrong." A soldier spotting a target vehicle will use binoculars to get a reading on its position, speed and direction of travel. This data is collected by the Pocket PC, while the soldier identifies the type of vehicle by pointing to icons on the screen. The information is sent in a text message via a satellite mobile phone system. Soldiers currently call in the coordinates by radio and describing targets verbally.



Designers of navigation systems for the visually impaired can tap new evidence of the mind's ability to update its internal "maps" relative to the body, using audio sounds or verbal directions with equal effectiveness. Two groups of blind and sighted participants were asked to walk across a field to find a target using two different auditory stimuli. The research, in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, has two major findings. First, participants reached just about the same stopping points whether they t ook direct or indirect routes, evidence of "spatial updating" -- the ability to mentally keep track of the target location without concurrent perceptual information. "Once participants formed a spatial image, it stayed fixed in the environment," says co-author Jack Loomis, Ph.D., of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "That's different from cognition such as thoughts or daydreams, which move with us." In the second finding, both groups reached the target equally well whether they used spatial-language or 3-D sound stimuli, indicating that once people internally represent, or encode, a location, they can update that representation using either stimulus mode.


In the past four years, a Virginia Tech professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences, has propagated more than a quarter million endangered mussels and returned them to the wild at a cost of less than $1 each. Richard Neves works with endangered mussels from rivers in Virginia and adjacent states. Saving endangered mussels is vital, because mussels are the natural biological filters in the river system, according to Neves. They remove sediment, contaminants, and particles, ingesting some and releasing the rest into mucus strings. Some water insects feed on these strings, and the mussels themselves serve as a food source for raccoons, muskrats, river otters, and diving ducks. "Mussels are excellent water quality monitors," Neves says. "Because they live so long and move so little, we can take a piece of tissue, analyze for contaminants, and tell what's been going on in the water system for 50 or more years." Using a hypodermic syringe to harvest the mussel larvae, he deposits the larvae onto the gills of a type of fish that mussel prefer. The larvae, which are parasitic, must attach to fish, from which they extract the nutrients required for them to transform from the larval stage to the free-living juvenile stage.



Britain's wildlife reserves need to expand into 'buffer zones" to allow for the effects of global warming, according to one of the world's leading experts on climate change, The London Times reports. "Scores of rare species will be at risk unless the conservation areas where they live are given room to grow as rising temperatures and sea levels alter their character," says Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas. "Habitats such as coastal wetlands, estuary mudflats, woodlands, heathlands and mountain forests will change or disappear." If Britain's climate warms over the next 30 years, many of its reserves will be in the wrong places for the wildlife that they are meant to protect. According to Parmesan, the solution is to create buffer zones or corridors close to existing reserves, into which wildlife could migrate as temperatures rise. "We need to look closely at the surrounding habitat areas that will need to be colonized over the next 30 years," she says. "If you have a saltmarsh habitat, with urbanization behind it right up to the coast, then as the sea level rises the marshes, the species will have nowhere to go but if you leave that land fallow, the saltmarsh can move backwards."


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