Random Samples

Science  15 Jun 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5831, pp. 1547

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    Humidity cracked this medieval wooden altarpiece. CREDIT: ROMAN KOZLOWSKI/EC/NOAH'S ARK

    If you plan to see the Coliseum, Notre Dame, and other European landmarks, the new Vulnerability Atlas might help you decide which ones to visit first—before climate change ruins them. Aimed at policymakers and preservationists, the atlas roughly maps how climate change caused by global warming could harm the continent's historical monuments, statues, and buildings over the next century. Produced by Noah's Ark, a 3-year, €1.2 million project sponsored by the European Commission, the atlas marries climate modeling with research on how wood, stone, glass, and other materials are damaged by climate-influenced factors. For example, it shows where in Europe attacks by wood-destroying fungi may increase because of warmer, wetter weather.

    Cristina Sabbioni, a physicist at the Institute for Sciences of the Atmosphere and Climate in Bologna, Italy, who coordinated the project, says it's a “shame” that more attention has been paid to the impact of climate change on the skiing industry than on Europe's historical treasures. But attitudes may be changing. Later this month, UNESCO will call for research on how climate change endangers cultural heritage globally, notes May Cassar of University College London's Centre for Sustainable Heritage. “Noah's Ark just scratched the surface,” she says.


    More than one kind of snow blows through Rome. CREDIT: ALESSANDRO BIANCHI/CORBIS

    Trace amounts of cocaine are wafting through the air in some cities, according to a study released last month. Conducted by the Institute for Atmospheric Pollution of the Italian National Research Council, the probe examined three cities: Rome, Taranto in southern Italy, and Algiers in Africa. Algiers was “clean” and Taranto had little cocaine in its air, says Ivo Allegrini, director of the institute. But in Rome, which is home to more than 10,000 cocaine users, levels reached 0.1 nanograms per cubic meter in spots. In some locations, the concentration of cocaine was more than 10 times higher than that of dioxin, a ubiquitous pollutant, notes Angelo Cecinato, coordinator of the work.

    Levels are likely similar in other major cities, Allegrini says. And although media reports have jumped on the fact that the highest concentrations of cocaine were found near a university, Allegrini stresses that “we have not suggested any cause-relation.” Caution is warranted, says Norbert Frost of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon. “Air is a volatile medium, and I do not believe air analyses could be a good way of tracking drug addiction,” he says. “Analyses on wastewaters are surely a more reliable survey tool.”


    Particle physicists' most coveted prize, the Higgs boson, has been spotted again—according to Internet gossip. In January, bloggers reported that physicists working with CDF, one of two particle detectors fed by the Tevatron collider at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, had seen signs of the particle. Now, researchers with Fermilab's D0 detector supposedly see stronger evidence, albeit at a different mass. Terry Wyatt, a physicist at Manchester University in the U.K. and D0 co-spokesperson, says only that “it's not science until it's been approved” for official release.

    With the brawnier Large Hadron Collider starting up next year in Switzerland and the Tevatron facing obsolescence, such rumors will likely proliferate, says Tommaso Dorigo, a CDF member from the University of Padua in Italy. “Rumors cannot be controlled because high-energy physics is a small world, and people have friends and like to talk about their work,” he says. Dorigo should know: He reported both rumors on his blog.

  4. NETWATCH: Botany's Wayback Machine

    The classic literature in botany dates back to the early days of the printing press. Check out some of these hoary texts at Botanicus, an online library run by the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. The site features digitized versions of almost 200 titles published between 1480 and 1935 on plant systematics. You'll find works by German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, Harvard botanist Asa Gray, and Joseph Hooker, Darwin's confidant and defender. Many texts feature lavish illustrations, such as this painting of the water lemon (Passiflora laurifolia), which comes from a 19th century series that catalogs exotic plants in British gardens.