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Education

Desert Downpours, Swimming Giraffes, Chemical-Free Smells

by Bethany Halford
January 17, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 3

Attention criminal masterminds, your evil plot to control the weather might be closer to becoming a reality, provided you can snag one of the GIANT IONIZERS deployed in the Abu Dhabi desert last year. According to a Jan. 3 article in the U.K.-based newspaper the Daily Mail, the machines—described as “stripped down lampshades on steel poles”—created more than 50 rainstorms in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) state’s eastern Al Ain region during the typically dry summer months.

“People living in Abu Dhabi were baffled by the rainfall, which sometimes turned into hail and included gales and lightning,” the article notes.

The rainmakers were created in secret by scientists with the Swiss firm Metro Systems International at the behest of U.A.E. President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The giant ionizers work by generating charged particles that rise in the hot desert air, picking up dust. If humidity is above 30%, moisture will condense around the dust particles and form rain clouds.

Although no rainfall was predicted by the emirate’s weather experts at the time of the giant ionizers’ use, rain fell on 52 occasions. Still, because Abu Dhabi is a coastal state that can experience rainfall, some are treating the results with caution.

Chemical weather-generating methods, such as cloud seeding, have been employed to control the weather in the past. China, for example, used such technology to initiate and then prevent rainfall during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

Generating freshwater is big business in desert regions. Although building a desalination plant costs around $1.3 billion, the price to create an ionizer system is only about $11 million, the article points out.


Land lover:
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Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN
Simulation suggests giraffes should stay in the shallow end.
8903ns_giraffe2cxd1.jpg
Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN
Simulation suggests giraffes should stay in the shallow end.

Wetter weather looming on the horizon could be bad news for giraffes. “Giraffes are often stated to be unable to swim, and while few observations supporting this have ever been offered, we sought to test the hypothesis that giraffes exhibited a body shape or density unsuited for LOCOMOTION IN WATER,” write Donald M. Henderson of Canada’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and Darren Naish of England’s University of Portsmouth in a July 2010 paper in the Journal of Theoretical Biology (DOI: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2010.04.007).

Using computational modeling and comparisons with immersed horses, Henderson and Naish predicted the swimming ability of giraffes. The news is not good for the long-necked mammals.

“A swimming giraffe—forced into a posture where the neck is sub-horizontal and with a thorax that is pulled downwards by the large fore limbs—would not be able to move the neck and limbs synchronously as giraffes do when moving on land, possibly further hampering the animal’s ability to move its limbs effectively underwater,” the researchers note. “While it is not impossible for giraffes to swim, we speculate that they would perform poorly compared to other mammals and are hence likely to avoid swimming if 
possible.”


Something smells funny in Pittsburgh: the local magazine Shady Ave. Or so thought one reader, who penned a letter to the editor, which appeared in the Holiday 2010 issue, complaining of “an unpleasant chemical-y smell” emanating from the magazine’s pages.

Although the Newscripts gang bristles at the words “unpleasant” and “chemical” in such close proximity, Newscripts fan David A. Dzombak points out that the editor’s response also illustrates a LACK OF CHEMICAL UNDERSTANDING.

“The editor responded with an explanation that the magazine is printed with ‘vegetable-based ink on uncoated paper’ and offered the assurance, ‘But it is not chemicals you are smelling,’ ” Dzombak writes. “I wonder what the editor thinks produces smell and is sensed by olfactory glands.”

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