Random Samples

Science  24 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5939, pp. 373
  1. A Streetcar Named Darwin


      Some streetcar riders in Cologne, Germany, are getting a dose of evolutionary biology during their daily commute. Twenty art students at the University of Cologne, directed by biologist Daniel Dreesmann, artist Volker Saul, and art professor Silke Leverkühne, celebrated the Darwin Year by creating the “Evolution Erfahren” (experience evolution) streetcar, which will run for the rest of the year on the city's regular routes. The car is covered inside and out with artwork exploring Darwin-related themes, including the evolution of birds, evolution and medicine, and “evolution in our backyard”—for example, a recently evolved fish species that lives in the Rhine. “It's not a moving textbook,” Dreesmann says. “It's designed to make people curious.” For those who can't catch the streetcar in person, the Volkswagen Stiftung, which funded the project, this week published a catalog of the artworks created for the project (www.evolution-erfahren.de).

    1. Dam Threatens Cranes


        Conservationists are blasting plans to dam Poyang Lake, the largest freshwater lake in China and a mecca for migratory birds, including most of the world's Siberian cranes. The lake rises during the summer flood season and drops by as much as 10 meters in winter, offering vast shallows and mudflats where hundreds of thousands of waterfowl feed on fish and dig for tubers. A dam would keep the water level up year-round.

        Chen Qixing, an official of Jiang Xi Province, says the project will control water levels so the ecology won't be harmed. But attendees at this month's International Congress for Conservation Biology in Beijing denounced the plan. No other wetland in China offers conditions so favorable to water birds, says James T. Harris, vice president of the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. “All the areas where the Siberian crane and other birds feed would be deeply flooded,” says Chen Kelin, director of Wetlands International. Food supplies would become unpredictable, he says. Vegetation would shift to the edges of the lake, but this would force birds to move to shore areas where disturbance from human activities would be much greater. Last month, Chen and 15 other scientists sent a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao protesting the plan.

      1. Engineer to Head E.U. Parliament


          Jerzy Buzek, former Polish prime minister and a strong supporter of research, has been elected the new president of the European Parliament. Buzek, 69, made headlines last week as the first citizen of a former Eastern Bloc nation to hold the office, one of the three top posts in the European Union (E.U.). A chemical engineer by training, Buzek was active in the Solidarity trade union movement in Poland and was the country's prime minister from 1997 to 2001.

          “Jerzy Buzek's election is a blessing” for the future of the European Research Council (ERC), a grantmaking body formed in 2005, says ERC Vice-President Helga Nowotny of the Vienna Science and Technology Fund. Nowotny says Buzek could help ERC gain more financial autonomy from the E.U. It will be “an arduous political process” requiring Parliamentary approval, Nowotny says, so “we must get it done [while] Buzek is in office.” That doesn't leave much time. In a political compromise typical of the E.U., Buzek, a member of a center-right party, won by agreeing to serve just 2.5 years of the 5-year term. He is expected to be succeeded by Germany's Martin Schulz, a leader of the Parliament's Social Democrats.

        1. China's Human Volcano


            China is apparently trying to catch up with Mount Pinatubo in dirtying the stratosphere, researchers say.

            The country's explosive increase in sulfur pollution has penetrated Earth's most remote and seemingly pristine reaches. In an upcoming paper in Geophysical Research Letters, atmospheric scientist David Hoffman of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, and colleagues finger Chinese coal burning for a steady increase since 2000 of the sulfurous haze 20 to 30 kilometers up. Mount Pinatubo's powerful 1991 eruption boosted stratospheric haze, shading and cooling the globe for a few years while destroying ozone. But 50 million tons or so of global annual sulfur emissions hadn't made a noticeable dent until China's economy took off, increasing its sulfur emissions more than 60% between 2000 and 2005. That accounts for the observed 4% to 7% per year thickening of stratospheric haze, the group reports.

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