* A Nuclear Tourist in Chernobyl * Frugivorous Fish in the Forests * The Earliest North Americans? * Mysterious Mercury Meets Messenger * Climate Change in the Deep Future *

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A Nuclear Tourist in Chernobyl

chernobyl-control-room-cp-9893688-250x160.jpgThe control room of the Chernobyl reactor that exploded (Associated Press)
The ongoing struggle to get nuclear reactors under control at the earthquake and tsunami-damaged plant in Fukushima, Japan, triggers unsettling memories of the catastrophe in Chernobyl, Ukraine.  Nearly 25 years ago, an accident set off a series of explosions and fires at a Chernobyl nuclear reactor. The radiation killed dozens of people within weeks and the World Health Organization estimates there could be up to 4,000 other radiation-linked deaths in the long term. More than 100,000 people were forced to leave their homes permanently. But now Chernobyl has opened as Europe's least likely tourism destination.  Science journalist Charles Q. Choi heard that the Chernobyl plant had begun welcoming tourists and decided to see first-hand what was happening there now.  He journeyed past abandoned villages and inside the plant to get an intimate look at the corroding "sarcophagus" that houses the destroyed reactor and the remains of its control room. He describes the work underway to contain the sarcophagus in the long term.  He also details how the disaster still affects the region and the health of its residents, and in Chernobyl's experience, he finds lessons for Japan.

Related Links

  • Blog by Charles Q. Choi in Scientific American
  • Feature by Charles Q. Choi in Scientific American
  • Charles Q. Choi
  • Article on CBCNews.ca
  • Video of a Chernobyl tour guide on "The Very Worst Jobs in the World" (YouTube)
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Frugivorous Fish in the Forests

800px-Colossoma_macropomum_01.jpg Colossoma macropomum (Tino Strauss/Wikimedia Commons)
There are over 200 species of fruit eating fish.  One of those is Colossoma macropomum, which can reach 30kg and is related to the decidedly not fruit-eating piranha.  When large areas of Amazonian rainforest are flooded for periods of months these fish migrate from rivers into the flooded forests where they can eat fruit that falls into the water or from submerged branches.  Dr. Jill Anderson from the Department of Biology at Duke University in North Carolina studied colossoma over three consecutive flood seasons in Peru, and discovered that the fish works for the trees by dispersing huge numbers of seeds in its feces over great swathes of forest.  As a result she's concerned that overfishing of the colossoma may have unexpected impacts of the forest as a reliable route for seed dispersal disappears..  

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The Earliest North Americans?

BMC artifact plate2.resized.JPG

Pre-Clovis artifacts found in Texas.  (Courtesy of Michael Waters)
For decades the oldest reliable archeological evidence for human settlement in North America was the remains of the Clovis people, who date back to about 13,000 years before the present. But this week, Dr. Michael Waters from the Department of Anthropology and Geography at Texas A & M University, published on a large body of evidence of people living in North America more than two thousand years earlier. Dr. Waters has been excavating a site in Northwest Texas that has yielded nearly sixteen thousand artifacts, including knives, spear points, and chopping tools as well as adhesives for assembling tools. The tools are crafted from local flint stone and the oldest have been dated to 15,500 years before the present. They're generally smaller than the later Clovis tools, implying that these people were more mobile hunters and gatherers. One implication of this find is that people may have been in North American even earlier, given the time it took to reach this part of the continent. 


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Mysterious Mercury Meets Messenger  

messenger-NASA-resized.jpgArtist's depiction of Messenger orbiting Mercury (NASA)

On March 18, NASA's Messenger became the first spacecraft ever to enter the orbit of the planet Mercury -- one of the largely unexplored frontiers in our solar system.  Messenger carries a wide range of instruments to map Mercury and answer burning scientific questions about the closest planet to the Sun, such as: Why is Mercury so dense? What is its geologic history? And is there really ice on its poles?  Dr. Catherine Johnson, a geophysicist at the University of British Columbia is the only Canadian participating scientist on the Messenger mission. She will be using the data from Messenger to learn more about Mercury's magnetic field, which may reveal secrets about the planet's core.

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Climate Change in the Deep Future


Thumbnail image for deep_future_new_font_ta9p.jpgWhen we think about climate change, we often consider the world we'll be leaving for our children or grandchildren. Dr. Curt Stager, however, thinks we need to take a much longer view, and not just consider the future of our immediate family, but the future of our species. Dr. Stager is an ecologist, paleoclimatologist and professor at Paul Smith's College of the Adirondacks in upstate New York.  In his new book, Deep Future, The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth, he looks at the very long term impacts that our releases of greenhouse gases will have on the planet's climate.  He discusses the impacts on the biosphere of changing temperatures and acidifying oceans over the long scale of history.  One of his most intriguing insights is that after an intense period of warming, for a much longer period of the future we'll be facing an extended period of cooling.  Dr. Stager calls this the "climate whiplash." Once our emissions stop, the Earth's natural systems will slowly begin to bring greenhouse gas concentrations back to normal over a period of tens of thousands of years.  So while temperatures will still be higher than they are today for thousands of years, through much of the future our descendants will face a cooling, not a warming world.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0