Cloud Enlightenment

scientist_Scientists are suggesting 2009 may prove a bumper year for northern hemisphere noctilucent clouds – high-altitude pre-dawn and post-sunset features illuminated by the Sun from below the horizon. According to New Scientist, skywatchers last week snapped the first examples of the clouds, although NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft got the first indications back on 22 May.

Noctilucent clouds occur at around 80km up in the atmosphere. They were first spied hovering above polar regions in 1885, “suggesting they may have been caused by the eruption of Krakatoa two years before”. However, they have of late been creeping towards the equator, now appearing at latitudes as low as 40°. Why this is happening is unclear. Some suggest “it could be due to an increase in greenhouse gases… because the gases actually cause Earth’s upper atmosphere to cool, and the clouds need cold temperatures to form”.

Back in 2007, AIM principal investigator James Russell III of Hampton University suggested the increased frequency of Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMCs, as they’re known when viewed from space – see pic) might be due to “a connection with global changes in the lower atmosphere, and could be an early warning that our environment is being altered”. He said: “It is clear that PMCs are changing, a sign that a distant and rarified part of our atmosphere is being altered, and we do not understand how, why, or what it means.”

New Scientist, though, notes that “their abundance also seems to rise and fall with the Sun’s 11-year cycle of activity”, elaborating: “The clouds thrive when the sun is quiet and spews less ultraviolet radiation, which can destroy water needed to form the clouds and can keep temperatures too high for ice particles to form.” The Sun has in recent years been relatively quiet, prompting AIM lead scientist Scott Bailey to predict around twice as may noctilucent clouds as when the Sun hits peak activity.

But no one’s really sure what to expect. New Scientist adds that the clouds’ activity “seems to peak roughly a year after solar activity hits its minimum, which researchers believe happened in December 2008″. Bailey, though, noted that “the exact time lag between solar minimum and peak cloud activity is uncertain, and researchers aren’t entirely convinced a lag even exists”. He concluded: “There’s no explanation for it. Every model says the clouds should respond immediately to what the sun is doing.” Accordingly, those of you hoping to enjoy some noctilucent cloud action might get the best chance between mid-June and mid-August – or not, as the case may be

Kidney Disease Soars

kidney_diseaseTHE rate of Australians receiving dialysis and kidney transplants has shot up by more than a quarter, new figures show. Chronic kidney disease was a factor in nearly one in 10 deaths in 2006 and more than one million hospitalizations in 2006-07, according an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released today.

Between 2000 and 2007, the rate of people receiving dialysis and kidney transplants for the treatment of end-stage kidney disease rose by 26 per cent. Over the same period, the number of new cases of end-stage kidney disease attributed to diabetes increased by almost two thirds in people aged 55 years and older.

The institute’s Claire Ryan said the risk factors for chronic kidney disease in Australia are high, including smoking and obesity. “Statistics like these obviously indicate that chronic kidney disease is a common and serious problem in Australia,” she said.

Chronic kidney disease is particularly common among indigenous people, who also have a high rate of diabetes. Aboriginal people are six times more likely than non-indigenous people to receive dialysis and kidney transplants. The death rates from the chronic kidney disease for indigenous men and women were seven and 11 times those of their non-indigenous counterparts.

Fun Family Vacation Spot

circus_in_las_vegasDoes anybody of you here have plan to experience the taste of elegance right in the heart of Las Vegas, Nevada where every thought out detail was created to bring you a wondrous and satisfying experience? Its graceful beauty will surround you with its spacious suites, food and entertainment. Well, for potential Vegas visitors who have the available funds for a Sin City trip, the local casino – hotel industry is offering some enticing discounts on rooms and vacation packages. Room rates at Las Vegas hotels are running at 30 – 50% below those observed at this time last year and are at levels not seen for several years.

One of many challenges the Vegas tourism industry will continue to face is potential consumer confidence or willingness to spend money on Vegas vacations. The tightness of money at home for prospective visitors is evident in the dwindling visitation numbers, significantly reduced occupancy rates, and lowered spending by those who do visit. All those latter indicators have forced Las Vegas gaming and tourism entities to send out some recently unprecedented room and package deals with freebies attached in order to entice patrons to show up and drop some bucks.

The depth of their efforts to entice visitors to Vegas has been ongoing for several months now and will continue into the unforeseeable future. Las Vegas has indeed reassumed its role as a bargain destination city and because of those developments now is the time to consider taking a family vacation in Las Vegas.   Not often thought of as a family destination, it has much to offer those looking for a fun family vacation spot.

Promoting RP Tourism

rp_tourismTHE National Association of Independent Travel Agencies is promoting volunteer vacations to further promote tourism in the country.

Robert Lim Joseph, Naitas chairman emeritus, said his group has tied up with Hands On Manila for “Hands On Volunteer Vacations” in various provinces of the country.

Joseph, who is also consul general of Latvia to the Philippines , said Naitas will provide logistical support for the vacation aspect of the program. The Philippine Tour Operators Association will also be tapped for the same assistance.

He said this new Naitas advocacy will promote to the local and foreign travelers who prefer to go to communities where they can be of help and contribute while enjoying the sights and the company of local people and appreciating the indigenous arts and culture.

Volunteer vacations are not new in other countries where travelers do not only lend helping hand literally but also share their expertise and knowledge, but are only being introduced here.

Hope In A Dose Of Nature

green_teaOnce a day, Matthew Hudson takes a square of chocolate mixed with green-tea extract and lets it dissolve in his mouth. Hudson, who has leukemia, is skeptical of natural therapies. But he has been taking the concoction for more than three years, ever since his doctor at the Mayo Clinic suggested it. “My disease has not progressed since I’ve been taking it,” said Hudson, a retired lawyer and investor from northern Virginia. “What does that mean? I don’t know. It means I’m not going to stop taking it.”A study by Mayo Clinic researchers last week provided more reason for hope. They found that high doses of green-tea extract can have a positive effect on Hudson’s type of cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The saga of Daniel Hauser, the 13-year-old Minnesota boy with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has sparked public debate over the value of natural medicine, especially in cancer treatment. In labs at Mayo and elsewhere, scientists are putting those same questions to the test, training their microscopes on everything from shark cartilage to mistletoe and finding some surprising answers.

At last count, the National Institutes of Health’s center for complementary medicine had sponsored 47 cancer-related studies — on macrobiotic diets, soy, Reiki-energy healing, yoga, flaxseed, self-hypnosis, fish oil, massage, acupuncture and more. So far, most have focused on how alternative therapies can help ease the pain or side effects of cancer treatment, says Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. Studies that have looked for cancer-fighting properties have been disappointing, she said. “There have just not been good vigorous studies that have found these natural remedies to cure cancer,” said Kreitzer, who is both a scientist and a supporter of complementary medicine. The green-tea study shows the promise, she said, as well as the difficulties in trying to tap nature’s curing powers.

Nuclear North Korea

us-opposes_The US “will not accept” a nuclear-armed North Korea, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told an Asian summit.Mr Gates said the US would “not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region or on us”. A top Chinese army official attending the meeting called on all parties involved to remain “cool-headed”.

Earlier, the US said activity in the North could indicate plans for a new long-range missile test. Vehicle movements resembled the build-up to a test last month, the US said.

‘Potential arms race’

Speaking in Singapore, Mr Gates made it clear the US would take an extremely dim view of more nuclear or missile testing by North Korea. “The truth of the matter is if they continue on the path they are on, I think the consequences for stability in the region are significant. “I think it poses the potential for some kind of an arms race here in this region. “We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region or on us,” Mr Gates added. However, he said he did not consider North Korea to be a direct military threat to the US “at this point”. He insisted the next step in negating Pyongyang’s ambitions would be political, not military.

The Pentagon chief also argued for bolstering diplomatic relations with China, and cited common challenges facing regional Asian powers: counter-terrorism, piracy, energy security and disaster relief. “It is essential for the United States and China to find opportunities to co-operate wherever possible,” he said. The BBC’s Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, says Mr Gates’ speech is probably intended to reassure countries in the region that the new administration in Washington is committed to supporting its allies.

Some of Mr Gates’ words were echoed by Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army. “Our stand on the issue is consistent. We are resolutely opposed to nuclear proliferation. “Our view is that the Korean peninsula should move towards denuclearisation,” Mr Ma told the summit. “Our hope is that all parties concerned will remain cool-headed and take measures to address the problem.”

New test concerns

Before Mr Gates spoke, defence officials in Washington said US satellite photos had revealed vehicle activity at a site in North Korea used to fire long-range missiles. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US was closely monitoring the North’s missile sites and other sensitive facilities. However, a Pentagon official told the BBC that the US had noticed this type of activity on previous occasions which did not always lead to a missile being fired. The official said activity at this site had been going on for more than a couple of days, but did not know for how long exactly.

On Friday, Pyongyang also fired a short-range missile off its east coast, and warned of “self-defence” measures if the UN Security Council imposed sanctions over what it says was a successful nuclear test carried out earlier in the week. The North has been subject to international criticism, from the US, China and Russia among others, since the explosion, which, if confirmed, would be the North’s second atomic test.

The hardline communist state, under President Kim Jong-il, has threatened military action against the South after Seoul’s decision to join a US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), under which North Korean ships could be stopped and searched. US and South Korean troops are currently on high alert after the North said it was no longer bound by the truce that ended the Korean war in 1953. Pyongyang says Seoul’s decision to join the PSI is tantamount to an act of war.

Hundreds Dead, 500K Homeless In Asia

homeless-in_southeast-asiaHundreds of thousands of people flooded out of their homes by deadly Cyclone Aila crowded government shelters in eastern India and Bangladesh on Friday, and officials said the risk of disease outbreaks was growing. The death toll from Monday’s cyclone rose to 264 people in the two countries.

In India, the cyclone left 500,000 homeless, said B.C. Patra, a senior official in worst-affected West Bengal state’s Emergency Relief Department. More than 130,000 are crowded in government-run camps, and relief officials are using aircraft and boats to deliver food, water and medicine to others sheltering in schools, office buildings or friends’ homes, he said.

Bangladesh’s Food and Disaster Management Ministry has stopped announcing the number of displaced people, but on Friday said several thousand people were still in shelters. The ministry put the death toll at 147 in Bangladesh, though media reports said at least 178 people have died. Most drowned or were washed away when storm surges hit coastal areas. The official death toll in India stood at 117, Patra said.

Medical teams fear an outbreak of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid from a lack of clean drinking water. Many village wells have been submerged by salty water, making them unfit for drinking, officials said. The storm also caused devastation in the Sundarbans, a tangle of mangrove forests that is home to one of the world’s largest tiger populations. Conservationists have expressed concern over the tigers’ fate, though the extent of damage to their habitat remains unclear. It is believed that about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans and another 250 live on the Bangladeshi side.