Science  23 May 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5623, pp. 1215

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  1. Russia Returns to the Arctic Ice

    MOSCOW—Russian polar scientists are set to resume studies at their first Arctic research station since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia hasn't based scientists on the Arctic's floating ice since 1991, when a budget freeze closed its last station. Now, a 12-member team is outfitting a new outpost, dubbed North Pole 32, with a goal of starting studies next month.

    The station will have “a broad set of tasks and targets,” ranging from atmospheric studies to marine research, says Vladimir Sokolov of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg. One goal: to collect climate data that can be compared to decade-old numbers tallied by the last station. “That could tell us a lot about climate change,” Sokolov says. Russia's state hydrology and meteorology agency and the private Russian Association of Polar Explorers are funding the expedition, which is expected to last a year.

  2. Soot Risks Restated

    Scientists who last year found a computational problem with key air pollution studies have released new results, finding that soot is linked to only half as many deaths as they once believed. The corrected results will allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move ahead with a delayed review of the risks posed by fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5.

    In 1997, EPA moved to regulate PM2.5 after studies found that daily death rates in polluted cities rise slightly with spikes in emissions of fine soot from vehicles and power plants. But last year, Johns Hopkins University scientists studying the issue in 90 cities discovered a glitch in a statistics software package they and others used (Science, 14 June 2002, p. 1945). A reanalysis has concluded that death risks rose only half as much as the Hopkins team had previously estimated. Soot risks also declined in 37 other studies reviewed.

    The results “won't necessarily change [the EPA soot standard] dramatically,” because it also rests on other data, says Dan Greenbaum of the Health Effects Institute in Boston, which oversaw peer review of the reanalyses. But the corrected estimates will allow EPA scientists to complete a review of particulate risks, now due out in June. And under a proposed settlement reached last week with environmental groups, EPA now has until December 2005 to update its soot regulation. That task was supposed to be completed last year.

  3. Smithsonian Seeks to Boost Fellowship at Natural History

    Curators at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History consider visiting doctoral and postdoctoral fellows the lifeblood of their institution. Over the past decade, however, shrinking budgets have squeezed the flow, reducing visiting fellows to about a half-dozen. But museum director Cristián Samper hopes to restore it with a $20 million initiative included in his 2005 budget request, which the Smithsonian is just beginning to assemble.

    The fellowships initiative is just one of several ideas for invigorating Smithsonian science. Another calls for spending $15 million on a program to develop molecular fingerprints for existing and newly discovered species. And the museum would like $20 million to create a molecular genetics inventory of tropical forests and their pollinators and herbivores. That work will involve the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute in Panama. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland, meanwhile, hopes to develop a new focus on invasive marine species.

    Samper emphasizes that the efforts are still in the planning stage. (The White House won't approve the 2005 budget request until late this year.) Still, Smithsonian scientists say they like the ideas; museum paleontologist Kay Behrensmeyer is particularly pleased “that the fellowships came out on top.”

  4. Update: Stranded Chinese Physicist Gets Visa

    After an 8-month wait for a visa, a Chinese physicist is finally returning to her research at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

    Last fall, fifth-year doctoral student Xiaomei Jiang returned to China after her parents died, for what she expected to be a brief visit (Science, 20 December 2002, p. 2305). But post-9/11 security reviews stalled her return visa and those for thousands of other foreign students and researchers. The National Academies protested the delays, saying that they were having “serious, unintended consequences for American science.”

    Bush Administration officials have been working to clear the backlog, and Jiang reported this week that she had received her visa. She hoped to fly back to Salt Lake City within days and restart a life that had been put on an unexpected hold.