Kayleigh: Drivers have been warned that the freezing temperatures and snow could severely affect Britain's roads today. Most of Northern England and Scotland woke up to a blanket of snow this morning, and the weather is expected to continue for the rest of the day. The Highways Agency have urged drivers to check road conditions before they set out and avoid unnecessary journeys. Motorists have also been advised to wear warm clothing and to carry an emergency pack in their car containing items such as boots and a spade. Temperatures today are between 0 and 3 Celsius, however the wind will make it seem even colder. Snowfall is expected to be up to two inches (5cm) deep in parts of England and Wales. Scotland is expected to be the worst hit however, with predictions of up to six inches 20cm (15cm) by tonight. Helen Chivers, from the Met Office said: "There will be frost and ice all over the country, and we are likely to see some flurries of snow. "We could finally have a white winter almost anywhere in the country because the temperatures will be low enough, but the east of England and the Midlands are the best bets for a dusting of one to two centimetres. On the Chilterns and in some parts of Scotland, we could see up to five centimetres settling." Gritters and snowploughs already began clearing most of the UK's roads lastnight. Network Rail also said it had staff ready to clear the tracks to reduce disruption to Britain's rail tracks. Another Highway Agency spokesman stressed how important it was for drivers to be extra careful in these bad weather conditions. They said: "It can take ten times longer to stop when it is icy, so allow more room to slow down and stop. "Avoid losing control of your vehicle because of wheel spin, by using the highest gear possible. Avoid sudden braking, acceleration and sharp turns." The cold weather is not expected to last, with forecasters predicting temperatures of up to 8 Celsius tommorrow, and double figures by the weekend. However, the freezing temperatures are expected to return next week. Weather-Action said: "The winds from Siberia will return, making it one of the coldest winters for two decades."
Archive for the 'Nature' Category
Jeanne: Elephants appear to be better at keeping tabs on family members than some humans, it seems. In a recent study, scientists found that elephants were able to use their absent relatives’ scent to keep track of their location despite the fact that these relatives were not present in the group at the time. The research was carried out by examining the behaviour of wild elephants in Kenya and provides further evidence to suggest that certain members of the animal kingdom may be more developed than previously believed. Wild elephants often move in herds. However, they frequently leave the companionship of their pack and break off into smaller groups to compete with other elephants for good and grazing land. Elephants were shown samples of pack members’ urine and, in general, reacted with surprise when presented with the scent of a family member that they believed not to be in the area. Dr. Lucy Bates, one of the researchers involved in this study, elaborated on the phenomenon when speaking to the media:
"We reckoned that only if each elephant was continually updating its memory of where everyone was, and was able to identify specific individuals from their urine, would they show any different reaction to such cases."The elephants’ need to keep track of their fellow pack members has interesting parallels with human behaviour. Anybody with young children, for example, will know how difficult it can be to keep track of youngsters in a crowded area. As Dr. Richard Byrne of St. Andrews University comments:
"You think of a comparable human situation - perhaps a mum in the supermarket with three kids and a husband who'd rather be looking in the DIY section - keeping track of four or five people is really quite a strain. But our elephants are doing it in parties of 20 to 30 family members. It may be that where elephants really excel in memory is not remembering things for very long periods but in everyday working memory - where it is important to update and delete things rather than remember things forever."If only human parents could adopt a similar technique!
Kayleigh: The BBC has discovered that women are still having back street abortions even though they were made legal over 40 years ago. A BBC undercover reporter posed as an illegal immigrant who was 6 weeks pregnant and went 'for help' to special Chinese herb shops in East London. One of the staff who worked at the Shanghai Herbal and Acupuncture Centre offered to help her. He said: "If you see the bleeding come out, that's fine, some people don't. I need to call another company, from China, [they will] deliver it to here, you understand?" He then sold her a drink for £40 so she would have a miscarriage. Currently in the UK, an abortion is only legal up to 24 weeks. Some desperate women, often teenagers and younger women, feel they have to turn to illegal abortions to get the help they need. Professional private abortions can cost between £350 and £750, so you can imagine it can be difficult for some to find this kind of money. Whilst I do not agree with illegal back street abortions, I do think the waiting list for abortions is far too long on the NHS and needs to be looked at. Abortion can be a traumatic experience for any woman to go through, and women shouldn't have to feel they have to turn away from their healthcare service in order to get one.
Rushda: It's official: organic food really is better than non-organic food. A new study funded by the European Union has found startling differences between the nutritional content of the two types. The study which cost £12m and lasted four years is the biggest ever study into organic foods and it has found that not only is organic food "more nutritious" than ordinary produce but eating it may actually lengthen people's lives. It is hoped that these results will finally settle the long debate over whether organic food really is what government calls "a lifestyle choice" or actually something scientifically shown to be better for you. The research found that organic fruits and vegetables contain as much as 40% more antioxidants than ordinary food. Antioxidants have long been known to protect against killer diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Not only that but they also have higher levels of important minerals such as iron and zinc. In fact, head researcher on the project Professor Carlo Leifert said that the difference was so great that eating organic would even compensate for not eating the five recommended portions of fruits and vegetables a day. He says:
"If you have just 20% more antioxidants and you can’t get your kids to do five a day, then you might just be okay with four a day."Furthermore, the study has also found that even in milk, the antioxidants from organic herds were up to 90% higher than milk from ordinary herds. These results show that the government was most likely wrong when it claimed that there was no significant effect of having organic foods. Now the Food Standards Agency has confirmed that it is reviewing the above evidence before considering changing its official advice to consumers.
Rushda: Over the last 4 days, wildfires have destroyed many parts of California with a staggering 500,000 people being evacuated from their homes in what is now officially a state of emergency. Though so far the fires have claimed few lives, they have been devastating - 1,500 homes have been destroyed and damage is estimated to be £1bn. As you can see from this video, firefighters are desperately trying to calm the monster but the scale of the disaster is so great that there has been little progress, especially as the strong winds have been sweeping the fires along all the way from Santa Barbara to Mexico. Indeed 400,000 acres have been scorched - "an area bigger than New York City." Thankfully the winds are now slowing down so the fires will be more easy to control in the next few days. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, has praised the efforts of the hundreds of firefighters who are trying to control the fires. Similarly, President Bush has made a speech in which he announced the signing of the disaster declaration for 7 California counties, which will mean government funds will be available to help residents to recover after the fires have died down. He says:
"I will continue to make sure that our efforts are coordinated, and that we are responsive to the needs of people... we offer our prayers and hopes that all will turn out fine in the end."Let us hope that Californian residents will be able to get their life back together soon after such an unanticipated catastrophe.
Rushda: New research from the US into how we recognise others' emotions has found some remarkable things about human psychology. Apparently we are more sensitive to noticing fear than happiness as a look of horror will grab our attention many times quicker than a smile. The study, which was conducted at Vanderbilt University in the US and published in the journal Emotion, examined volunteers, found that fear is the emotion we pick up on the quicker than any other feeling such as joy. Furthermore, what is even more interesting is that this result remained the same even when volunteers were shown pictures of faces where only the eyes were showing, which means we are very perceptive when it comes to subtle facial changes. Indeed, it has been found that the brain responds to facial expressions at the rate of less than 40 milliseconds. The researchers believe that the results about detecting fear were as anticipated and can easily be explained by how we evolved to make instant decisions in life threatening situations. Smiles signal safety so they do not require immediate attention in the same way. As Dr David Zald, associate professor of psychology at the institution, explains:
"We believe that the brain can detect certain cues even before we are aware of them, so that we can direct our attention to potentially threatening situations in our environment."Now the team will be doing research on how we respond to other emotions such as anger to find out the bigger picture.
Rushda: It is one of the mysteries of life that no one has really been able to answer before - do fish go to sleep or do they just "rest"? Since fish have no eyelids, the question has baffled scientists and laymen alike, but now we finally have the answer! A study has found that not only do fish sleep but they also enjoy a good lie-in, particularly after a rough night. The study, which was conducted at Stanford University in the United States, consisted of observing the behaviour of zebrafish. Scientists repeatedly disturbed the fish with "mild electric shocks" to keep them awake at night and the results showed that the disturbed fish tried to "catch up" on sleep they lost after they were left in peace. Not only have these results helped us understand the lifestyle of fishes, but the researchers believe that they will also help us with human sleep disorders. Zebrafish were selected because they have a similar central nervous system to mammals such as humans, so by analysing how they develop sleep disorders will mean we can make progress on the science of sleep in general. According to the researchers:
“Sleep disorders are common and poorly understood. Further, how and why the brain generates sleep is the object of intense speculations. In this study, we demonstrate that a bony fish used for genetic studies sleeps.”So perhaps the next time you come down past the fish tank in the middle of the night, you should be quiet so as not to disturb the sleeping fish!
Rushda: A pair of Britain's leading environmental scientists have proposed a way of solving the climate change problem using special technology under the sea. The idea is to increase the amount of CO2 the sea absorbs by installing special tubes underwater. Chris Rapley, head of London's Science Museum, and Gaia theorist Professor James Lovelock believe that cutting carbon emissions is becoming a lost cause and the most useful thing the government can do to sort out the problem is invest in "huge flotillas of vertical pipes in the tropical seas." Currently being investigated in the US, the installations would mean that less CO2 ends up in the atmosphere as more would be taken up by the sea. As Lovelock explains:
"We are taking the very strong line that we are not going to save the planet by the regular approaches like the Kyoto Protocol or renewable energy. What we have to do is to look at it in a systems sense, or a Gaian sense, and see if it's curable by direct action."Though the technology is quite complicated, the basic science of it is that the huge floating pipes which start at the surface of the ocean and go down will swell and bob up and down, causing cold water to come up onto the ocean's surface. A valve would block the reverse occurring so that the surface gradually becomes colder. Apparently, cold water contains more life as it can absorb more carbon, and this will help in the battle against climate change. The two scientists are not the first to come up with the plan. Indeed, Atmocean, a company in the US, has already started trials of the same technology. Although the research is in its early stages, the firm has high hopes. As Phil Kithil from Atmocean says:
"There is much yet to be learned. We need not only to move towards the final design and size (of the pipes), but also to characterise the ecological effects. The problem we would be most concerned about would be acidification. We're bringing up higher levels of CO2 along with the nutrients, so it all has to be analysed as to the net carbon balance and the net carbon flux."There are other pressing concerns as well, for example, the pipes could cause problems for marine life such as whales and dolphins. However, it is certainly an interesting and promising concept that may end up being many many times more productive than reducing carbon output.
Rushda: The River Cam in Cambridge is well known, especially amongst the students, for punting and lazing on the banks, and indeed many of us cross it every day without a second thought. However, recent studies have found that the river contains certain viruses which may actually help combat serious infectious diseases such as MRSA. A whole bunch of special viruses have been found in the river lately which have been said to be able to treat stomach infections in mice. This is great news as eventually they could be used as antibiotics in medicine for human use. The viruses, known as bacteriophages, were isolated from the water and tested by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The results show that a bacteriophage attaches itself to a bacterial cell and effectively explodes it, but leaves healthy cells intact. The effect is particularly striking when different types of bacteriophages are combined. As Dr Pickard from the research team explains, the river Cam is particular suited to finding these viruses because of the ideal water environment. He believes that scientists can eventually isolate the viruses for human use and they be very helpful in fighting antibiotic-resistant diseases such as MRSA. He says:
"Conventional antibiotic treatment has led to MRSA and other superbug infections becoming not only more prevalent but also more infectious and dangerous. Bacteriophage therapy offers an alternative that needs to be taken more seriously in Western Europe."As a Cambridge student who's always seen the river Cam as nothing but dirty, the news that it holds special disease-fighting secrets comes as a huge and welcoming surprise.
Rushda: An immaculately preserved Inca girl which was found by archaeologists in 1999 has gone on display in Argentina. The girl was originally discovered in an icy pit on top of Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano in north-west Argentina. It is believed that she was sacrificed by the Incas nearly 500 years ago. According to Dr Johan Reinhard, the leading archaeologist from the team that discovered her, she is the best preserved mummy in the world. The newly famous attraction, a picture of which can be seen here is named "la Doncella" ("the maiden"), and has attracted hundreds of tourists from Argentina and other parts of the world. It is believed that when the girl died in the Andes mountain range she was only fifteen years old; she was discovered along with remains of a younger boy and girl. The mummy is being kept in special conditions in a cold chamber that mimics the sub-freezing conditions in which she was found. Visitors have found the way in which she has been preserved remarkable and have commented that she looks like she may come alive any minute. Although some groups have disputed with the decision to put her on display, believing that it shows no respect for the dead, most have found the visit to be an intriguing and educational experience. Now, even in death, the Incan girl lives on, perfectly preserved and showing us a glimpse of what has long, long gone.