AmeriScan: February 19, 2007

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Oil Tanker Barge Explodes in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, February 19, 2007 (ENS) - The body of a welder aboard a barge that exploded and caught fire Saturday near Venice, Louisiana was recovered Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The tank barge, carrying about 17,000 gallons of crude oil, burst into flames during a welding operation. One man was killed, another was injured, and an unknown amount of crude oil spilled into the water.

A rescue helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Pompano, pollution and accident investigation teams from Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, and the Plaquemines Parish fire boatcrew Authority One responded.

The Coast Guard medevaced the injured man to Baton Rouge by helicopter. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Coast Guard Lt. Com. Cheri Ben-Iesau confirmed that a slick of oil was spilled, but it burned off and left no pollution, she said.

The barge was moored with a crane barge, which caught fire and was destroyed. It took more than four hours to put out the fire on the tank barge, said the Coast Guard.

Both barges were owned by Forest Oil Corp. of Lafayette, Louisiana, which is cooperating with state officials and the Coast Guard in investigating the accident.

Forest is a $3 billion publicly traded company that ranks as one of the largest independent exploration and production companies in the United States.

Forest's principal reserves and producing properties are located in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming and Alaska, and in Canada.

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Five Satellites Launched to Study Geomagnetic Substorms

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, February 19, 2007 (ENS) - For the first time on Saturday, NASA launched five satellites aboard a single rocket from Cape Canaveral.

The mission will help resolve the mystery of what triggers geomagnetic substorms. Substorms are atmospheric events visible in the Northern Hemisphere as a sudden brightening of the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis. The findings from the mission may help protect commercial satellites and humans in space from the adverse effects of particle radiation.

It is known as the THEMIS mission for the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms.

During the next two years, THEMIS' satellite constellation will line up along the Sun-Earth line, collect coordinated measurements, and observe substorms. Data collected from the five identical probes will help pinpoint where and when substorms begin, a feat impossible with any previous single satellite mission.

"The THEMIS mission will make a breakthrough in our understanding of how Earth's magnetosphere stores and releases energy from the sun and also will demonstrate the tremendous potential that constellation missions have for space exploration," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, THEMIS principal investigator at the University of California, Berkeley.

"THEMIS' unique alignments also will answer how the Sun-Earth interaction is affected by Earth's bow shock, and how 'killer electrons' at Earth's radiation belts are accelerated," said Angelopoulos.

The bow shock is the boundary at which the solar wind abruptly drops as a result of its approach to the Earth's magnetic envelope.

The Earth's bow shock is about 100 to 1,000 kilometers (60 to 600 miles) thick and located about 90,000 km (56,000 miles) from the Earth.

The Mission Operations Center at the University of California, Berkeley, will monitor the health and status of the five satellites. Instrument scientists will turn on and characterize the instruments during the next 30 days. The center will then assign each spacecraft a target orbit within the THEMIS constellation based on its performance. Mission operators will direct the spacecraft to their final orbits in mid-September.

During the mission the five THEMIS satellites will observe an estimated 30 substorms in process. At the same time, 20 ground observatories in Alaska and Canada will time the aurora and space currents.

The relative timing between the five spacecraft and ground observations underneath them will help scientists determine the elusive substorm trigger mechanism.

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Polls: American Public Believes Global Warming Exists

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 19, 2007 (ENS) - A majority of Americans agree with most scientists that the Earth is getting warmer, but they are divided over the seriousness of the problem, according to surveys conducted by Jon Krosnick, professor of communication and of political science at Stanford University.

Their uncertainty is based on a belief - shared by two-thirds of the population - that scientists themselves disagree about global warming.

"Americans are very much on the same wavelength with the scientific community about the basics of the issue," Krosnick said. "But they lack certainty" about how bad the problem really is.

Krosnick blames this uncertainty on media efforts to give equal weight to opposing sides of the debate. Nevertheless, he said, public consensus is growing that society must tackle global warming.

"The news media have been committed to covering this story in a 'balanced' way," he said, giving a small minority of scientists who discount the crisis equal play with the "99 percent of experts who agree we have a serious problem."

Krosnick dubs the result "balance as bias," and it leads most Americans to believe that the scientific community itself is divided over this critical issue.

Krosnick detailed his survey findings on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science during a symposium titled "Perception, Persuasion and Climate Change: Can Science Induce Urgent Action?"

To take action on such a huge, complicated issue, Krosnick said, people must believe it exists and will cause severe problems if it is not addressed. But they also must be optimistic that something can be done to alleviate it. "You have to be certain of these two views," he said. "That's where the breakdown comes - certainty for Americans on these issues is either moderate or low."

Krosnick has three more surveys in progress. They include an update to a joint ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford poll on global warming released last March, which showed that public concern about global warming has spiked over the last decade and that 70 percent of people think global weather patterns have become more unsettled recently.

Krosnick said the new survey results, to be released in April, will gauge how public perception on global warming has changed during the last year.

Second, "New Scientist" magazine has commissioned a survey by Stanford and the think tank Resources for the Future that will assess how educating people about the cost of addressing global warming affects their support for specific solutions. Survey results will be released May 12.

Finally, Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment is funding a survey to be released this summer that will look at which effects of global warming the public is most worried about. These include both local effects, such rising sea levels and increased storm activity, and worldwide consequences, such as species extinction.

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Amphibian Ark Seeks Shelters for Healthy Frogs

ATLANTA, Georgia, February 19, 2007 (ENS) - Scientists from around the world met Thursday and Friday in Atlanta to further a worldwide effort to save amphibian species from extinction. One of the biggest threats facing amphibian species is a fungus that has caused extinctions and declines in species around the world.

In a conservation effort finalized last August called Amphibian Ark, zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens are being asked to shelter healthy specimens of threatened amphibians until the fungus can be stopped.

In Atlanta, scientists from the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria and from the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, CBSG, of IUCN-World Conservation Union met to further the Amphibian Ark project.

They assured zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens that each frog accepted for conservation under Amphibian Ark would be cleaned to ensure it does not introduce the fungus into a clean facility.

The Amphibian Ark group estimates it could cost up to $500 million to complete the project and is launching a fundraising campaign next year to create an endowment.

Nearly one-third of the 6,000 known species of amphibians are being pushed to the brink of extinction, and, in the case of 168 species, over the brink.

The status of many more amphibian species is unknown but believed to be imperiled, bringing the percentage of threatened species potentially as high as 50 percent, says the CBSG.

By comparison, 12 percent of bird species and 23 percent of mammal species are threatened.

Not the only threat, but one of the most dangerous threats to frogs and salamanders is the disease chytridiomycosis, caused by the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.

Chytridiomycosis was proposed as the cause of death in frog populations in the rain forests of Australia and Panama and was associated with the decline of frog populations in Ecuador, Venezuela, New Zealand, and Spain.

Researchers believe the fungus originated in the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, but in the wild this species does not show clinical signs of the fungus, nor has it experienced any sudden die-offs.

Large numbers of these frogs were wild-caught and exported around the world in the 1930s when they were found to be useful in research into human pregnancy.

After the introduction of nonbiologic pregnancy tests, the African clawed frog became important as a model for the scientific study of immunity and later in embryology and molecular biology.

As they were transported around the world, the African clawed frog could have carried the fungal disease with them, according to an international research team.

Wild populations of African clawed frogs were established in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 1960s, and in Chile in 1985. In the importing countries, escaped frogs, the water they lived in, or both, could have come into contact with local amphibian species, allowing transmission of the fungus, scientists suspect.

Other threats to amphibians include habitat lost to development, chemical pollution, and introduced fish species.

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BigBelly and Water Wheel to Clean Baltimore's Inner Harbor

BALTIMORE, Maryland, February 19, 2007 (ENS) - The Baltimore City Board of Estimates has conditionally approved funding for new garbage and debris collection technology which promises to improve sanitation in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

"I am very excited that Baltimore is going to benefit from the Water Wheel and BigBelly," said Mayor Sheila Dixon. "Millions of people visit the Inner Harbor every year, and it is Baltimore's showcase attraction. They will see Baltimore as innovative, resourceful, and - most importantly - clean!"

The new solar-powered BigBelly Compactors, produced by the Seahorse Power Company of Needham, Massachusetts, will be installed throughout the Inner Harbor promenade.

When full, the cordless 42 gallon bins automatically compact trash to one-eighth its original volume. The self-contained units will reduce odors and overflow from trash in high-traffic volume areas, Mayor Dixon said.

A $375,000 Water Wheel, designed by Clearwater Mills, LLC, uses a centuries-old technology to remove floating trash and debris from the water in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

John Kellett, the company's managing agent who is also the director of the Baltimore Maritime Museum, invented the Water Wheel system and said he hopes to have it in place this year.

The city will place the trash interceptor device at the mouth of the Jones Falls, where it will operate continuously unattended - even when the water level is low.

The interceptor will automatically collect garbage caught in the city's stormwater system after rain. Now, the city blocks garbage flowing down the stream into the harbor with a series of floating traps, or booms.

"Baltimore is demonstrating its commitment to clean and green technology," said Mayor Dixon.

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Non-Toxic Electronics Cleaner Works on Molecular Level

PASADENA, California, February 19, 2007 (ENS) - A new environmentally friendly enzyme-based cleaner has been developed for coated lenses that works by disrupting the molecular bonds that hold salt, grease, dirt and mineral deposits to surfaces.

Origin Laboratories LLC of Pasadena says its new PUROSOL organic cleaning liquid is non-toxic and hypo-allergenic.

It contains no detergents and no solvents of any kind, including alcohol, ammonia or chlorine, which can slowly strip away the coatings of plasma screens, camera lenses, and sunglasses.

Produced in a 100 percent clean room, the sterile aqueous solution is designed for cleaning high-end flat screen televisions, computer monitors and personal electronic screens, marine electronics, optical goods and jewelry.

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