Stories of modern science ... from UPI

June 20, 2002 at 5:32 AM
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The artificial racket created by ships and other human sources could be interfering with whale reproduction and population recovery, marine scientists report. Scientists from several universities in the United States and Mexico studied fin whale courtship songs, which occur at sound frequencies far below the range of human hearing. Natural sounds that low often can travel many hundreds -- if not thousands -- of miles under water. But so can very-low-frequency, human-made noises that have increased dramatically in the last 100 years of motorized shipping. "Twenty to 25 million years of evolution are being undone in a hundred years," scientists said. "There are 100-year-old whales alive today who can probably remember when the ocean was a much quieter place, and they could communicate with colleagues across grand expanses of ocean (and) some of these questions of human noise impact may be unanswerable in one (human or cetacean) lifetime."


As firefighters struggle to defeat the wildfires sweeping across Colorado, one company is planning to develop a new way of fighting fires from the air. Wetzone Engineering, of Huntingdon Beach, California, is proposing to develop gigantic airships to drop massive amounts of water on fires. The ships would be kept topped up by passing drop-planes or helicopters. "It'll be like having a non-stop artificial rainstorm," company officials said. They suggested using 900-feet-long, propeller-powered airships carrying nearly a million gallons of water. Adjustable valves on their undersides, much like large shower heads, would pump out the water over the fire. The ships also could have water cannons to use against persistent hot spots. The scheme might not be so far-fetched, Wetzone officials said in an article in New Scientist magazine. Heavy lifting airship companies already have craft capable of lifting such loads.


NASA researchers have used a rainfall-measuring satellite to confirm that urban "heat islands" create more summer rain around major cities. They took measurements of Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio and Nashville and found that the urban areas, with their high concentrations of buildings, paved roads and other artificial surfaces retain enough heat to promote rising air and alter nearby weather. "Cities tend to be one to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding suburbs and rural areas and the added heat can destabilize and change the way air circulates around cities," researchers said. Rising warm air helps to produce clouds that result in more rainfall. The satellite data also showed that rainfall rates within 18 to 36 miles downwind of the cities averaged 28 percent higher than the upwind regions. In some cities, the downwind area exhibited increases as high as 51 percent.


A team of scientists from Purdue University has developed a new strain of tomato that contains as much as three and a half times more of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene. The team was working to develop a tomato for food processing that would delay their ripeness. They accomplished that, but in the process discovered the new tomato also contained much more of the antioxidant. Lycopene is a pigment that gives tomatoes their characteristic red color. It is one of the chemicals called carotenoids that color fruits and vegetables red, orange or yellow. The most familiar is the beta-carotene, which is found in carrots. Lycopene has been the focus of researcher's attention since 1995, when a six-year study of nearly 48,000 men by Harvard University found men who ate at least 10 servings of foods per week containing tomato sauce or tomatoes were 45 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.

(Editors: For more information on WHALES, contact Roger Segelken at 607-255-9736 or For AIRSHIPS, Claire Bowles in the U.K. at +44-207-331-2751 or For HEAT ISLANDS, Cynthia M. O'Carroll at 301-614-5563 or For TOMATOES, Beth Forbes at 765-494-2722 or

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