Science News

Gambling Can Tell Us a Lot About Climate Change

Sun, 3rd Feb 2002

Results from a betting contest in Alaska are helping scientists from Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire, understand how our climate has changed over the past century. Since 1917, people living near the Tenana River in Alaska have been betting on the exact time when a special tripod breaks through the layer of winter ice. Records of this contest this contest show that the river now thaws five days earlier than when the competition first started. Reports from amateur nature watchers turn up about once a month, says climate researcher Tim Sparks from the Centre of Hydrology and Ecology from Monks Wood. And they get put to uses that their authors would never have dreamed of, building up a picture of the timing of biological events. They tell us that many natural events in the northern part of the world, such as bird migrations, are happening much earlier than they did 20 years ago. Tim Sparks has got his hands on some amazing records, many due to the British obsession with collecting things and keeping records. He has a diary spanning 200 years from the Marsham family, landowners from Norfolk. This records all sorts of details about when the rooks start nesting, and when the oaks first get leaves. So if you find Grandad's old fishing diary in the loft - don't throw it out - you never know what it might tell us.
HOW TO COMBAT GLOBAL WARMING - SAVE ELECTRICITY
So we've heard the evidence that the world is warming up, and as most listeners probably know, global warming is mainly caused by carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels like coal and gas, to produce electricity. So what can we do about it. Well, it turns out that about a third of the electricity produced in this country is used up in people's homes? And so by making small changes in the way you run your household, you could cut down on your electricity bill, and do your bit for the planet too. Here's the first tip - about 1/5 of your electricity bill goes on lights. But you could switch to "energy saving" light bulbs. They cost about £5 but they last up to 12 times longer than normal bulbs. You would save about £10 a year by doing this. It doesn't sound like much, but if everyone in the country were to do this, it would be enough to build several new schools and hospitals.
You could save a huge amount of energy just by making sure that your hot water tank and pipes were properly insulated. Poorly insulated tanks and pipes waste energy by allowing heat to leak away. To avoid this, fit an insulating jacket on your hot water tank that is at least 7 cm thick. You could also lag the pipes between your boiler and hot water cylinder - you can buy the tubing at your local DIY store. You would save about £20 a year by doing this. If you're really keen you could fit a solar panel to your roof that would heat your water simply using the sun's rays. You could get at least half of your hot water this way. The panel would cost £1,500 to install but you'd be saving £200 a year, so it would be well worth your while in the long term. You can find out where your local solar club is on www.cse.org.uk. More tips at www.saveenergy.org.uk and www.globalactionplan.org.uk.
How much prehistoric plant matter is needed to make one gallon of petrol ?
BEING MARRIED IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH !
If you and your partner are thinking about tying the knot then you should listen to this next item. According to a report in the Guardian this week, marriage is great for your health! New statistics show that married people live three years longer than single people. Not only that, but "smug-marrieds" (that's Bridget Jones-speak) have lower blood pressure, eat better and are generally in a better mental state than "singletons". And they earn more too! But don't go rushing off to the registry office yet - unmarried couples live longer than "singletons" too, although they can't compete with the "smug marrieds".
EARTH'S OLDEST CITY FOUND IN INDIA
Human civilisation could be thousands of years older than we previously thought, according to a report in last week's New Scientist. Archeologists working off the coast of India have uncovered a site that could be the worlds earliest "city". They've found all sorts of things - bits of pottery, wood and even human teeth. According to a technique called "radio-carbon dating" these relics are almost ten thousand years old (9500). Until now, archeologists thought that the world's first city was built in Mesopotamia three thousand years ago. But the new findings show that ancient Indians were around six thousand years before the Mesopotamians.
A NEW INVENTION TO HELP YOU BE FOUND IF KIDNAPPED
Kidnapping is an ever present threat in some parts of Latin America. But digital tracking technology may now be able to help potential victims. What's involved is a surgically implanted identification chip that establishes precisely who you are, and a wearable device about the size of a cassette tape. The technology uses the US Global Positioning System (GPS) to track your position. If you are abducted, these gadgets can help rescuers to locate you. In partnership with risk management firms in three undisclosed Latin American countries, the company aims to offer that extra bit of personal security to business executives and others potential abduction and ransom targets. This presumes the kidnappers do not discover and remove the GPS device in the first place. Apparently this technology may be used in the NHS soon to keep track of wandering patients.
FIXING THE MILLENIUM BRIDGE BY CURING THE WOBBLE
An unusual scientific experiment has been carried out on the Millennium Bridge in London this week. This bridge had to be closed a few days after opening because it swayed slightly, forcing people to walk in step, which reinforced the wobble. Since then, £5 million has been spent trying to fix the swinging motion. On Wednesday two thousand employees of the construction company Arup, who built the bridge, were recruited to see if the wobble had been fixed. Engineers attached damping devices to the side of the bridge to stop it swaying, and beneath the walkway, to stop it bouncing up and down. As the Arup employees walked up and down the 325 metre bridge, sensors measured how much it was moving. The data is now being analysed, and if the anti-swing devices were successful then the bridge could be open very soon

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