Random Samples

Science  09 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5852, pp. 893

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  1. RARE-TIGER PHOTO FLAP MAKES FUR FLY IN CHINA

    Flat cat? CREDIT: ZHOU ZHENGLONG

    A few weeks ago, tiger researchers celebrated the news that a South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) had been spotted—and photographed—in the wilds of Shaanxi Province. But netizens in China and elsewhere have declared it only a “paper tiger” after scrutinizing the two available images.

    Although the species has been declared “functionally extinct,” reports of tiger activity in the heavily forested Qinba Mountains prompted Shaanxi officials to offer a reward to anyone able to photograph one of the tigers.

    At a 12 October press conference in Xian, Zhou Zhenglong, a former hunter, told a rapt audience of his quest to photograph the beast, crawling to within 20 meters of one and snapping 71 images. When the camera's flash went off, the tiger roared and disappeared, he said.

    Skeptics, citing factors such as the tiger's tame-looking expression and unreal coat color—as well as the fact that the two photos portray exactly the same tiger but differently positioned foliage— think it's more likely that someone planted a cardboard tiger in the bushes. Fu Dezhi, a botanist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, adds that the plants are not to scale in relation to the tiger. Zhou, who was paid 20,000 yuan ($2666) for the images, says, “I guarantee with my head that the photographs are authentic.”

    The Shaanxi Forestry Bureau is pushing ahead with plans for a thorough survey and a tiger reserve. “It's tremendously exciting news, if it can be substantiated,” says tiger expert Gary Koehler of Washington state's Department of Fish and Wildlife (Science, 7 September, p. 1312). But first, “they need to look for hair snags or scat” for genetic verification.

  2. LEAN TIMES FOR LAKE SUPERIOR

    This fall, the water level of Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, dipped below the record it set in the Dust Bowl days of 1926. In September, the 1540-square-kilometer lake on the Canadian border was at its lowest since record-keeping began in 1860—with an average depth of 183 meters. October's level went up after several weeks of rain but was still 30 cm below the long-term average. Boats are resting on mud, docks are poking nothing but air, and fishermen and lakeside rice growers are watching their livelihoods dry up.

    Some factors that explain the mess: The surface temperature of the lake has mysteriously risen 4.5°C since 1978—twice as fast as the temperature of the surrounding air. Ice, which blocks evaporation, has become rare on Superior, and precipitation has dropped 15 cm a year from the annual average of 77 cm.

    But the big picture remains unclear. “We know how it's happening, but the why—I don't know,” says hydrologist Cynthia Sellinger of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. One reason, experts say, is that climate models aren't very good at predicting greenhouse effects at regional scales.

  3. MICROMINI RADIO

    CREDIT: K. JENSEN, ZETTL RESEARCH GROUP/LBNL AND UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY

    A carbon nanotube 10,000 times as thin as a human hair turns radio waves into music, acting like a tiny radio, in this image (wavy lines added) taken by researchers at the University of California, Irvine. AM radio waves cause the tube to vibrate; then an electric field forces electrons—that is, an electrical current—out of its tip. The current detects the vibrations, converting the waves to sound. This month in Nano Letters, Peter Burke and Christopher Rutherglen report using the device to transmit music wirelessly almost a meter from an iPod to a speaker. Scientists are finding that radio frequencies are well-suited to manipulating nanometer-sized parts, further opening up new horizons in nanotechnology.

  4. DINO DELIGHT

    CREDIT: WALTERS AND KISSINGER/CMNH

    A breathtaking panorama will greet visitors to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when the 100-year-old Dinosaur Hall reopens on 16 November after a lengthy $36 million renovation. Created by artists Robert Walters and Tess Kissinger of Philadelphia, the mural stretches 55 meters over two walls and is 4.5 meters high. It depicts life in the Jurassic Morrison Formation of western North America—which stretches from Saskatchewan, Canada, to New Mexico—and forms a backdrop for the newly mounted skeletons in the hall, including a giant sauropod defending her baby from an attacking Allosaurus. “It gives you a sense of one dramatic day 150 million years ago,” says curator Zhe-Xi Luo. “Everything looks so real.” Walters and Kissinger are working on a second mural, of the late Cretaceous Period, for another hall that will open next year.