Underwater robot measures Antarctic sea ice

WASHINGTON (Reuters): Measuring the thickness of Antarctic sea ice, an important gauge of environmental conditions in this remote polar region in a time of global climate change, has proven to be a tricky task. But an underwater robot is providing a nice solution. Satellite measurements can be skewed by surface snow, and some ice floes are simply too difficult to reach by ship, even icebreakers, to make direct measurements by drilling into them. Scientists on Monday unveiled the first detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice, based on measurements of the underside of ice floes by a remote-controlled submarine’s upward-looking sonar.
 The measurements, covering an area of about 5.4 million square feet (500,000 square meters), were made in 2010 and 2012 using a so-called Autonomous Underwater Vehicle dubbed SeaBED launched off a British and an Australian ship at three sites around the Antarctic Peninsula. The scientists found sea ice thickness in some places up to about 55 feet (17 meters), with average thickness much less. The findings indicate the ice cover may be thicker in some areas than previously thought. “Sea ice thickness and its variability in the Antarctic remains one of the great unknowns in the climate system,” said sea ice expert Ted Maksym of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Unlike in the Arctic region, where large declines in thickness have been measured in recent decades, scientists do not really have a good handle on the average Antarctic sea ice thickness or on any possible trends there, Maksym said. “By demonstrating that detailed mapping of the thickness of the ice over large areas is possible deep in the ice pack, this represents and important step towards greater understanding of the processes that control the ice volume, particularly in areas that have been difficult to access,” Maksym added. The twin-hull underwater robot, about 6 feet (2 meters) long, operated at a depth of 65 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters). “While we have not measured all Antarctic sea ice thickness and cannot state if Antarctic sea ice is getting thicker, this study is a huge step towards the sort of expanded and more routine measurements we will need to do to truly answer these questions,” said polar oceanographer Guy Williams of the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies in Australia. The research was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Extreme El Nino weather stunted growth

OSLO (Reuters): Children in Peru on the front line of a severe cyclical warming of the Pacific Ocean in 1997-98 suffered stunted growth, showing how extreme weather can cause lasting damage to health, a study said on Tuesday. The study of 2,095 children born between 1991 and 2001 in villages around Tumbes in northern Peru found that those born during or just after the El Nino weather system, which caused floods, damaged crops and triggered illnesses such as malaria and diarrhoea, grew less than normal. “The El Nino had a big effect by reducing food availability,” William Checkley, one of the authors at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, told Reuters. Children aged under three, a crucial period for growth, were hardest hit.
Overall, children in areas apparently hardest hit by floods were 4 cm (1.6 inches) shorter than normal by the age of 10, he said. Stunting has been linked with decreased mental and physical capacity in later life. “If adverse weather events affect a significant portion of young children of a country, then they have the potential to adversely affect the future of a community as a whole,” said the study by scientists in the United States, Peru and Britain, published in the journal Climate Change Responses. A U.N. report this month said downpours linked with El Nino events, which typically happen every three to seven years and can disrupt weather worldwide, may intensify because of climate change. Officials from almost 200 governments will meet in Lima from Dec. 1-12 for U.N. talks about ways to slow global warming. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said last week that the tropical Pacific was showing renewed signs of El Nino conditions. Another report on Tuesday suggested that investments in nutrition for children were among the best ways to safeguard health in developing nations, yielding benefits of $45 for every $1 spent because of higher expected earnings. Avoiding stunting “should be a top development priority”, wrote the authors, Susan Horton of the University of Waterloo in Canada and John Hoddinott of Cornell University in New York state. “It turns out that what looks like a good idea morally is also really good economically,” said Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which commissioned the study. 

Cambodian capital’s only working elephant retires

PHNOM PENH (AFP): Phnom Penh’s only working elephant was blessed by a crowd of chanting Buddhist monks Tuesday as she prepared for a life of comfortable jungle retirement after three decades of giving rides to tourists. Sambo, a 54-year-old female, had been a fixture at the Cambodian capital’s Wat Phnom temple since 1980.  She was forced to stop giving rides in 2012 after suffering a foot infection - and after local officials accused her of causing traffic jams. Her owner and campaigners wanted to see the faithful pachyderm rewarded for years of loyal service with a retirement away from the blaring city, a wish that was eventually made possible by international funding.

Woman finds pet dog lost in Philippines typhoon

MANILA (AFP): A Filipino woman has been reunited with her dog a year after the pet went missing in the chaos of the country’s deadliest ever typhoon, she told AFP Tuesday.  The nine-year-old mongrel named Bunny survived giant waves wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan, but went missing in the upheaval that followed the November 8 tragedy, owner Ailyn Metran told AFP. “I never lost hope. God saved Bunny from the storm surge, so why would he let her die afterwards,” Metran said. Metran and her husband found their emaciated pet rooting through a trash bin in the central city of Tacloban last month. Tacloban bore the brunt of the storm, one of the worst disasters to hit the Southeast Asian nation, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing.
“We saw a dirty stray dog that looked like her. I called out her name and she came, asking to be cradled,” Metran said. Metran, 34, who works at a state health insurance company, said her family had fled their Tacloban home ahead of the typhoon but left three pet dogs behind.  Two of the dogs drowned, but somehow Bunny survived and when her owners returned two days later, they found her whimpering inside a bedroom. However they were forced to leave the city in the upheaval that followed. Unable to take Bunny with them, they left her in the care of relatives, but the dog soon went missing in the turmoil that gripped the city after the storm, Metran recounted. “For many victims who have lost nearly everything, their pets are important because they represent a semblance of their previous lives,” Anna Cabrera, executive director of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society, told AFP.

Texas university acquires Marquez papers

WASHINGTON (AFP): The University of Texas said Monday it has bought Nobel-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s manuscript for his masterpiece “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and a trove of other papers. A half-century of the acclaimed writer’s original manuscripts and personal papers, mostly in Spanish, are among the documents in the newly-acquired archives, which are to be housed at the university’s Harry Ransom Center. Born in Colombia, Garcia Marquez died in Mexico City in April at the age of 87. The Colombian government voiced disappointment that the papers would not stay in the author’s home country. Colombian Culture Minister Mariana Garces said in Bogota that the government had been in contact with the author’s family.”
 following his April 17 death “to express our interest in that work.” “If they had made a request indicating that there was interest in selling, of course the resources would have been found to acquire it,” Garces said. Her ministry issued a statement saying: “the government regrets that the papers will not be at home in Colombia, but respects the family’s decision.” The site that will house his papers at the University of Texas in the state capital Austin, is home to a humanities research center, a museum and a library. Officials there said they plan to hold a symposium next year on Garcia Marquez’s influence in the world of letters, timed to coincide with the collection being made available to researchers. “Garcia Marquez is a giant of 20th century literature whose work brims with originality and wisdom,” university president Bill Powers said in a statement. “The University of Texas at Austin - with expertise in both Latin America and the preservation and study of the writing process - is the natural home for this very important collection.” Powers did not say how much the center paid to obtain the collection, which includes more than 2,000 Garcia Marquez letters. The trove of documents includes drafts of his 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech and more than 40 photograph albums documenting all aspects of his life. Among the correspondence are letters from legendary writers Carlos Fuentes, Graham Greene, James Joyce and William Faulkner, university official said.

Santa’s little helpers break world record

BANGKOK Reuters): Hundreds of Thai schoolchildren on Tuesday clustered into the shape of the word “Siam”, the former name of the Southeast Asian country, as they broke the world record for the largest gathering of Christmas elves. As many as 1,792 of Santa’s little helpers, aged between nine and 15, donned red, green and white hats, matching T-shirts and pointy plastic elf ears, as they formed up outside a shopping mall in Bangkok, the Thai capital. They held their position for five minutes before being declared Guinness World Records winners. “It’s going to be hard for the next country to break this record,” said Guinness World Records representative Richard Stenning, who attended the event.
Fourteen children were disqualified for not putting on their elf ears. Participants cheered when five minutes had elapsed, and received certificates to show they had taken part. The previous record was 1,110 Santa’s elves, set in 2013 in Wetherby in Britain. “I’m happy to have helped break the world record and steal the title from England,” said a disabled child, Theerathep Noonkao, 11, who joined the event in his wheelchair. Although Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, the commercial aspect of the Christian holiday is widely exploited, with shops and hotels putting up tinsel and Christmas trees during the festive season. (Reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez) Word Count: 231

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