Random Samples

Science  14 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5980, pp. 797

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  1. Explosive Visuals


      Wondering where to get your red-hot lava fix? Try Volcano Picture Of the Week (www.vpow.org), a Web site launched last week featuring awe-inspiring shots, such as this one of Japan's Sakurajima, by amateur volcano photographers worldwide.

      Enthusiasts strike “a balance between how good an image you can get and the safety aspect,” says the site's editor, Richard Roscoe, a patent examiner in Munich, Germany, who has captured 23 eruptions at 14 volcanoes. (His flight to visit Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull was canceled.) “One has to take the chance there's going to be lava flying around.”

    1. Shape of Things To Come?


        If you're a woman with a waist 70% as wide as your hips, rejoice: Most studies of body-shape preference show yours is the most fetching figure. But waist-to-hip ratio is only part of the story, says Rob Brooks, a biologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “All sorts of other properties of the body also influence attractiveness,” he says. So this spring, Brooks launched bodyLAB (www.bodylab.biz), an online experiment designed to tease out those other factors.

        Participants view 30 different computer-generated bodies, like those shown above (with a Volkswagen Beetle for scale). Members of either sex can rate males, females, or both, on a scale of −3 (most unattractive) to +3 (most attractive). Raters enter their age, sex, sexual orientation, location, and family origin so researchers can see how those factors affect raters' tastes. So far, about 650 have signed up.

        Brooks will use the body shapes rated most attractive as “parents” of the next generation of bodies for testing. Participants' opinions will “mimic the power of sexual selection” to evolve ideal bodies, he says. The process is somewhat artificial, Brooks acknowledges. “There is plenty more to attractiveness and eventual parenting decisions than body shape.”

      1. Weathering the Years


          Some families have heirlooms. The Smileys, owners of the Mohonk Preserve, a lake and nature area in upstate New York, have a thermometer. Three generations have daily noted the temperature at a weather station installed in 1896. Now Paul Huth (right), a friend and employee, carries on the work. In 114 years, they've never missed a day.

          “There are a lot of weather stations that are as long-running, but what really makes [Mohonk] stand out is the stewardship and continuity of the observers,” says climatologist Ben Cook, whose father, tree-ring scientist Edward Cook, took him hiking in Lake Mohonk as a high school student.

          Now Cook and colleagues at the Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, have collaborated with the Mohonk Preserve to analyze the data up to 2006. “The temperature trends follow the changes we've seen at the regional and global level really closely,” Cook says. The readings show warming until the 1950s, cooling until 1970, and sharper warming since then, with a total 2.45°C rise in mean temperature, the team reports in the current Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. The surrounding land has barely changed, implying “what was happening at Mohonk Lake was reflective of larger scale” phenomena, Cook says.

          The consistent measurements make the Mohonk data “an extremely valuable record,” says Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. The data could help scientists “understand how changes on the regional and global scales are likely to affect us on the local scale,” she says.

        1. Under Pressure


            Archaeologists have long marveled at the sophistication of Maya art, mathematics, and astronomy. Now two researchers are uncovering a lesser-known Maya achievement: plumbing. In the partly excavated city of Palenque, Mexico, archaeologist Kirk French and hydrologist Christopher Duffy of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, have found the earliest known pressurized water system in the New World.

            The system, which operated between 450 and 750 C.E., consists of a buried limestone conduit at least 66 meters long that runs from an upland spring down a steep slope to a residential area. By drastically narrowing the conduit at the bottom, Maya engineers obtained 6 meters of hydraulic head. “Basically, it's the same concept we use to get water pressure in our homes today,” Duffy says. They report the find in the May Journal of Archaeological Science.

            Researchers are now examining why the system was built. Palenque possessed numerous aqueducts and nine constantly flowing waterways; its residents were never more than 100 meters away from water. It's possible that the pressurized system ended in a spectacular fountain, says French. “I think it's a display of power and wealth and knowledge, something that says ‘we are able to do this.’”

            George Stuart, an archaeologist at the Boundary End Archaeology Research Center in Barnardsville, North Carolina, calls the discovery exciting. “It shows more and more just how sophisticated the Maya were in terms of planning their cities and settlements,” he says.