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Modern Infrastructures Said 'vulnerable'

LONDON, Sept. 18 (UPI) — Britain’s electrical system, financial networks and transport infrastructure could be paralyzed by a solar flare or a nuclear attack, a U.K. official says.

U.K. Defense Secretary Liam Fox is expected to deliver that warning next week at a summit of scientists and security advisers who believe the infrastructure that underpins modern life in Western economies is potentially vulnerable to electromagnetic disruption, The Daily Telegraph reported Saturday.

Such disruptions can be caused by man-made nuclear blasts or natural events on the surface of the sun.

Fox will tell the conference he believes there is a growing threat, and he wants to address the “vulnerabilities” in Britain’s high-tech infrastructure, the newspaper said.

“As the nature of our technology becomes more complex, so the threat becomes more widespread,” he will say.

The electrical grid, computers, telephones, transportation, water supply and food production are all vulnerable to a major solar flare or an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear detonation, another expert says.

“Our electrical infrastructures are so ubiquitous that an EMP or geomagnetic storm could shatter nations all over the Earth, and we cannot wait for disaster to spur us to action,” Avi Schnurr, a former U.S. government adviser who works for the Israel Missile Defense Association, said.

The Electric Infrastructure Security Council and the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank, are jointly hosting the summit meeting.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Other, Solar, Transportation0 Comments

Ban & Jerry's Weighs in on Genetic Foods

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 (UPI) — Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has joined the debate in Washington over genetically modified salmon, observers said.

Speaking at a Washington protest Thursday, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim said his company won’t use products consumers are not interested in buying, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News reported.

“Most Americans do not want to eat food made from genetically engineered animals. … Ben & Jerry’s certainly has no interest in using foods from animals that are genetically engineered in our product,” Solheim said.

“Today it’s a fish that we’re talking about, but very soon it will be a genetically engineered pig, a chicken, even, God forbid, our beloved cows,” he said.

The protest in Washington was organized by people opposed to the genetically modified salmon produced by Canadian company Aqua Bounty at its facility near Prince Edward Island.

Aqua Bounty is approaching the end of a long process to have its genetically modified salmon approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A coalition of groups from both the United States and Canada organized the Washington rally.

A report by scientists from the FDA concluded the Aqua Bounty salmon, engineered to grow at twice the normal rate, are not significantly different from other salmon as a food.

The FDA will hold public hearings on the fish Sunday and Monday.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Fish, Other0 Comments

Shape of Fish, Shrimp Shoals Examined

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Sept. 16 (UPI) — Schools of fish and swarms of ocean krill get together in almost identically-shaped shoals, seeming to follow an unknown “rule,” Scottish researchers say.

A study published online in Current Biology says shoals of fish and swarms of krill hang out in groups that take on the same overall shape, not a simple sphere, cylinder or ovoid but something more akin to an irregular crystal, the researchers say.

“The fact that several species of fish and krill that live in very different locations — from the tropics to polar oceans — form shoals that are the same shape suggests that the same forces are at play in diverse ecosystems; there is a common ‘rule’ for shoal shape,” Andrew Brierley of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said.

Sonar used to record the three-dimensional shape of Antarctic krill swarms found they had the same ratio of surface area to volume even as the overall size and density of the group varied. Studies of fish like sardines and anchovies from diverse locations turned up the very same pattern, Brierley said.

Using computer modeling, researchers came up with an apparently simple explanation — individual fish and krill juggle their access to oxygen-rich water at the outer boundaries of the shoal or swarm against the risk of being eaten by predators.

If oxygen availability is a major driver of shoal shape, Brierley says, then changes are in store. Oxygen concentrations are declining as the world’s oceans warm so shoals will have to adapt accordingly, becoming smaller or less densely packed.

“The ease (or difficulty) with which fishermen can catch pelagic fish and crustaceans — catchability — can vary as a function of shoal size, so understanding the response of shoals to changing oxygen concentration will be of commercial as well as ecological importance,” the researchers wrote.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Fish, Other0 Comments

Otters in Calif. Falling Prey to Sharks

SACRAMENTO, Sept. 16 (UPI) — California wildlife officials say they collected a record number of sea otters killed or injured by shark bites off the state’s coast in August.

Seven more in September have been added to the total of 19 for last month, a Department of Fish and Game release said.

The 10-year average for August is seven, officials said.

Scientists say they believe cooler-than-average ocean temperatures from an unusually mild summer are creating an ideal condition for white sharks.

“White sharks do not typically feed on sea otters,” Michael Harris, a DFG environmental scientist, said.

“Their preferred prey is seals and sea lions. This would explain why the majority of the otters collected have a single bite mark. These bites are more investigative — like a taste test.”

White sharks inhabit mostly cold, temperate seas with a surface temperature of 50 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. As they grow, they transition from feeding on fish as juveniles to feeding on marine mammals like seals and sea lions.

“Without much data on the white shark population off California, we can only speculate as to the cause for the increase in the otter bites,” Harris said. “But perhaps there are more juvenile sharks in the area, testing various prey items as they transition.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Fish, Mammals, Other0 Comments

Va. Company to Market Spaceflight Tickets

SEATTLE, Sept. 15 (UPI) — Aerospace company Boeing says it’s joined with a private spaceflight marketing firm to sell seats for future spaceflights in the company’s space capsule.

Space Adventures in Virginia will market passenger seats on commercial flights aboard the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft, being designed for travel to the International Space Station as well as other future private space stations, SPACE.com reported Wednesday.

Tickets could go to space tourists, individual companies or other non-government groups, as well as U.S. federal agencies other than NASA, Boeing said.

“We want to expand beyond flying astronauts just to the ISS,” Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s space exploration division, said. “Very few people have made it to orbit of our species — probably a little over 500 out of 6 or 7 billion people. That’s not enough. We want to see many more have that opportunity.”

Seven spaceflight participants have flown on missions contracted by Space Adventures to the International Space Station.

The two companies have yet to set a price per seat on the Boeing capsule, but did say it will be competitive with the current Russian launches on Soyuz spacecraft used by Space Adventures.

The last passenger trip to the International Space Station — the October 2009 trip of Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte — cost about $40 million, Space Adventures officials said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Other, Transportation0 Comments

Invasive Fish Not As Fearsome As Thought

NORFOLK, Va., Sept. 14 (UPI) — Despite efforts to wipe them out, a species of invasive fish, Asian carp, in the Potomac River nicknamed “Frankenfish” is here to stay, scientists say.

The northern snakehead, native to China, Korea and Russia and resembling a cross between an eel, a snake and a piranha, has been found in wide areas of the Potomac basin, the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot reported Tuesday.

“We’re talking about 100 miles of waterway, in all these creeks and canals,” John Odenkirk, a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said. “There’s just no way you could eradicate all of them.”

Snakeheads have been found in almost every creek and tributary from Washington, D.C., south to the Chesapeake Bay.

Snakeheads are a popular, relatively cheap food fish in Southeast Asia, and because they can breathe oxygen and live out of water, they are believed by some to have medicinal benefits.

Scientists say they do not appear to be taking over the ecosystem, as some officials feared six years ago when the first population of wild, reproducing Asian carp was confirmed in the Potomac.

So far they have not damaged the Potomac’s prized largemouth bass population, or that of any other fish, bird or amphibian on which they feed.

“We haven’t seen any of the really bad, negative ecological effects,” Steve Minkkinen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Fish, Other0 Comments

Toxin Blamed in Death of Calif. Sea Otters

SANTA CRUZ, Calif., Sept. 13 (UPI) — A toxin produced by green blooms of freshwater bacteria has been flowing into the ocean and poisoning sea otters off California’s coast, wildlife officials say.

Scientists at the California Department of Fish and Game and the University of California, Santa Cruz, reported at least 21 sea otters, a federally listed endangered species, have been killed near Monterey, Calif., by the toxin microcystin, an article in the online journal of the Public Library of Science said.

A type of cyanobacteria called Microcystis, also known as “blue-green algae,” produces the toxin.

“This study is significant because it is the first to establish a connection between freshwater contamination by microcystin and marine mammal mortality,” Melissa Miller, a senior wildlife veterinarian with the state fish and game department, said. “This land-to-sea link has important implications for marine life and human health.”

The study team found high concentrations of microcystin in lakes bordering Monterey Bay and in rivers that flow into the bay.

“The toxin itself is extremely stable,” Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean sciences at UC Santa Cruz, said.

“In laboratory studies, we found that microcystin didn’t degrade much even after three weeks in ocean water,” she said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Fish, Other0 Comments

Canadian Scientists Claim 'muzzling'

OTTAWA, Sept. 13 (UPI) — Canadian scientists say the country’s government is trying to muzzle them, controlling what they say and who they talk to.

Scientists with Natural Resources Canada say they were told this spring they would need “pre-approval” from the office of Minister of Natural Resources Christian Paradis to speak with national and international journalists, Postmedia News reported.

Documents show the rules apply not only to contentious issues but benign subjects, such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago, Postmedia said.

Under the rules, critics say, Canadians are being cut off from scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest on issues like fish stocks, genetically modified crops or mercury pollution in the Athabasca River.

“We have new media interview procedures that require pre-approval of certain types of interview requests by the minister’s office,” Judy Samoil, NRCan’s communications manager, wrote in an e-mail to colleagues.

The policy applies to “high-profile” issues such as “climate change, oilsands” and when “the reporter is with an international or national media organization,” she wrote.

The ministry defended the new rules.

“The minister is the primary spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada. As such, he needs to be made aware of issues in the media which involve the department so he can effectively fulfill his role,” a statement from the minister’s office said.

“It’s Orwellian,” said Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at University of Victoria.

“The sad reality is that these guys in Ottawa think federal scientists work for them.They don’t, they work for the people of Canada,” he said.

“This is science funded by Canada for the public good. It is not science funded to produce briefing notes for ministers so they can get elected in the next federal campaign.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Fish, Journalists, Other0 Comments

Flying Fish Give Up Secrets in Wind Tunnel

SEOUL, Sept. 10 (UPI) — Researchers in South Korea say a study of flying fish aerodynamics shows them ideally suited to both flying and swimming.

Flying fish can remain airborne for more than 40 seconds, covering distances of almost 500 yards at speeds of 40 mph.

Haecheon Choi, a mechanical engineer from Seoul National University, South Korea, decided to find out how these unexpected fliers stay aloft and published the discovery that flying fish glide as well as birds in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

By mounting stuffed fish with their fins extended in a wind tunnel Choi and his colleague Hyungamin Park tested their aerodynamics.

Calculating the fish’s lift-to-drag ratios — a measure of the horizontal distance traveled relative to the descent in height during a glide — Choi and Park found that the flying fish performed remarkably well, gliding better than insects and as well as some birds.

They also found that the fish were very stable as they glided. However, when they analyzed the stability of the fish with its fins swept back in the swimming position it was unstable, exactly what is needed for aquatic maneuverability.

So flying fish are superbly adapted for life in both environments, Choi and Park determined.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Birds, Fish, Other0 Comments

FDA View on Salmon Draws Criticism

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 (UPI) — Opponents of genetically modified foods are criticizing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for saying genetically modified salmon are safe to eat.

FDA documents just released say salmon raised by Canada’s Aqua Bounty Technologies are as safe to eat as other Atlantic salmon, with similar vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Friday.

Aqua Bounty Technologies began its attempt to have the salmon approved by the FDA 15 years ago. The salmon have been genetically modified to grow twice as fast as other Atlantic salmon.

If the salmon is approved for consumers, it would be the first genetically modified food animal on the market.

Reaction to the release of the FDA documents was swift.

“The United States could be approving a genetically engineered fish with really inadequate data, and … this opens the door to other genetically engineered animals,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

Some took issue with plans by Aqua Bounty to produce fish outside the United States for American consumers.

“By approving the fish to be raised in Canada and Panama instead of the U.S., the FDA is sidestepping a full assessment of the environmental risks,” said Jaydee Hanson of the U.S.-based Center for Food Safety.

Groups opposed to selling the salmon in the U.S. say they hope to stall the FDA approval process at public meetings set to start in 10 days.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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