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Intriguing Archaeological Sites, Isolated Lake Targets of Kuril Expedition
Ученые и студенты из США, России и Японии провели шесть недель в июле - августе на Курильских островах, чтобы найти ключ к разгадке заселения Америки и появления первых жителей на островах.
Intriguing archaeological sites that may go back 15,000 years and a mountain lake pierced by a volcanic cone that has been isolated for at least 30,000 years are among the primary targets for an international team of researchers heading for the North Pacific in the sixth year of the International Kuril Island Project.
Scientists and students from the University of Washington, Russia and Japan will spend six weeks in July and August in the remote island chain that stretches for about 750 miles between the northern tip of Japan and Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. Ted Pietsch, UW fisheries professor and curator of fishes at the UW's Burke Museum, says this is the first Kuril expedition to have a major archaeological component, following successful seasons studying the flora and fauna of the islands. All the expeditions have been funded by the National Science Foundation.
UW assistant archaeology professor Benjamin Fitzhugh, three UW students and other colleagues from the U.S., Russia and Japan plan to survey the region for clues about early residents of the islands and, perhaps, links to the peopling of the Americas. The possible spread of seafaring people from the Kurils to Alaska's Aleutian Islands intrigues scientists who theorize that the earliest Americans may have found their way to the continent by sea as well as via the Bering land bridge.
"We know people from Japan and Kamchatka interacted back and forth through the historic period", said Fitzhugh. "We suspect an even earlier Aleutian-Kuril connection. For example recent finds in the central Aleutians include prehistoric artifacts belonging to the Ainu culture of northern Japan or the Kuril Islands. These connections may have existed far into the past. People would have traveled by boat along the coast and we are looking for an old link between Japan and Kamchatka".
A site on Onekotan Island in the northern Kurils features a number of curious circular mounded earth rings 9 to 13 meters in diameter. The rings could date back several hundred years to when the Ainu people were known to have traveled between Japan and Kamchatka, he said. Or they might be of considerably younger vintage, remnants of a Japanese Word War II anti-aircraft gun site, although there is no recorded evidence in Japan of gun emplacements at that location.
On Chirpoi, in the central Kurils, the archaeologists will focus on depressions left by approximately 40 pit houses in an area where hunter-gatherer implements have been dated back 3,000 to 4,000 years. Throughout the chain, geoarchaeologists will seek preserved landforms that could hold archaeological remains dating back as far as 15,000 years ago.
How early humans may have altered the fragile balance of species makes the archaeological work pertinent to the efforts of scientists studying biodiversity in the Kurils, expedition leader Pietsch says. Large terrestrial mammals, for example, are all but absent from the islands and raise the possibility of prehistoric human impacts in this fragile ecological domain. Each of the chain's 56 islands has its own biological history after haven been separated from the mainland and each other by channels of swift-moving water or miles of open ocean for millions of years. Scientists are particularly interested in the differences that evolved in species isolated on single islands, Pietsch says. For the first time this year, for instance, scientists will make a concentrated study of a high-elevation lake on Onekotan that sits isolated, 1,200 feet above sea level in the crater of a volcano. The slowly growing volcanic cone at the center of the crater now rises 3,000 feet out of the center of the vast lake. Scientists estimate the lake is relatively old, perhaps more than 30,000 years, and Pietsch said it is reasonable to expect to find species that are quite distinctive even from what's found elsewhere on the island.
Researchers already have published or submitted for publication descriptions of 40 new species. Hundreds of others are likely to be found among the 350,000 specimens that are being sorted, curated and sent out around the world for identification. There are 200 spiders, for example, that the group's expert on Pacific Rim spiders is unable to name.
International Kuril Island Project:
Copyright 1995-2000 ScienceDaily Magazine
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Science / Volume 290, Number 5499, Issue of 15 Dec 2000, pp. 2043-2045
Spy Conviction Strains Science Collaborations
CAMBRIDGE, U.K. -- The conviction last week in Russia of U.S. businessman Edward Pope on charges of espionage may add to already growing tensions in scientific collaborations between the two
countries, according to officials on both sides. The recent strains appear to be a reaction to a broad range of national security concerns in each nation.
© 2000 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science
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The New York Times / December 15, 2000
Russia Will Allow Norway Inspection
Россия разрешит Норвегии инспектировать захоронения отработанного ядерного топлива и радиоактивных отходов
OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Russia will allow Norway to inspect a Russian storage area for spent nuclear fuel and radiocative waste, the Norwegian government said Friday.
Norway considers the site, located in the Russian arctic near the Norwegian border, to be a threat.The area has been off limits because it's near a key submarine base on Russia's Kola Peninsula, the foreign ministry said Friday.
"This is a breakthrough", deputy foreign minister Espen Eide was quoted as telling the Norwegian news agency NTB by telephone from Moscow, where he met this week with Russian foreign ministry officials.
"For several years, we have been sitting on 20 million kroner ($2.1 million) that have been earmarked for cleaning up of Andreeva Bay", he said. Andreeva Bay is considered one of the world's most radioactively dangerous places. There are more than 100 nuclear submarines at Russian's Northern Fleet bases on the Kola Peninsula, which borders Norway. Most are rusted hulks, often with nuclear fuel on board, according to Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group that specializes in the issue.
Many containers at Andreeva are leaking, Bellona claims.
Norway is concerned because Andreeva is just 28 miles from its northeast border.
Eide said Norwegian assistance during the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster, in which 118 Russian sailors died off the Kola Peninsula last August 12, may have influenced the decision. Norway twice sent deep-sea divers to the wreck site to confirm that the crew was dead and then to recover some bodies.
Wealthy Norway, the world's second-largest oil exporter and a member of the NATO military alliance, has been willing to held fund a cleanup.
"The Russians admit improper storage, but they wanted the money to clean up themselves", Eide was quoted as telling NTB. "We, the whole time, have wanted access"
He said one hurdle was Russian reluctance to have NATO visitors see advanced nuclear submarines docked nearby.
Copyright © 2000 The New York Times Company
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Science / Volume 290, Number 5497, Issue of 1 Dec 2000, p. 1665.
Microbes for Peace
Микробы на службу мира
Former Soviet bioweapons researchers are teaming up with a young U.S. biotech firm to hunt for exotic organisms in Russia. Fueled by $1 million in start-up money from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the partners will set up the Ecological Biotrade Center to scour Russian ecosystems for interesting organisms in such locations as Lake Baikal, the Volga River, and the Kamchatka Peninsula. The players include Diversa Corp. of San Diego, the Institute of the Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms in Pushchino, south of Moscow, and three other Russian institutes. Diversa, known for collecting the DNA of a heat-tolerant microbe found in a hot spring at Yellowstone National Park, has sent or plans to send bioprospectors to Alaska, Australia, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Iceland, Indonesia, and Mexico. The potential applications span everything from pharmaceuticals, to agriculture, to industrial chemistry, says spokesperson Hillary Theakston. DOE's William Toth says the department wants to keep potential bioweapons experts employed in peaceful work and help them find a sustainable source of income. The work will start next month.
© 2000 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science
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UniScience / 18-Dec-2000
Air Pollution Effects Worst in Soil under the Trees
Российские ученые обнаружили, что промышленные загрязнения атмосферы оказывает большее воздействие на флору и почву под деревьями и на деревьях, чем на пространство между кронами деревьев.
Russian scientists have found that industrial contamination of the atmosphere has more impact on flora and soil under trees -- and on the trees themselves -- than on the spaces between the crowns.
The study was funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and a President's grant.
People normally consider a tree a natural umbrella, particularly good for hiding from the rain. A branchy firtree is able to hold up to a half of all the water pouring on it from the sky.
But, the scientists warn, in industrial zones, one should not use a firtree as an umbrella. Rain is contaminated in those zones, and after it is filtered through the crown of the tree, it is even more polluted.
This is the conclusion drawn by V. Nikonov and N. Loukina, researchers at the Institute of Industrial Ecology Problems of the North, Kolsky Scientific Center, Russian Academy of Sciences.
From 1991 to 1997, Nikonov and Loukina investigated acidity and composition of atmospheric precipitation in the pine and fir tree forests of the Kolsky Peninsula, where the SEVERONIKEL copper-nickel industrial complex is located.
This industrial complex is one of the most significant sources of air contamination in Northern Europe. Due to its impact, a major part of northern coniferous forests has been affected by acid precipitation, and the dust, containing heavy metals, mainly copper and nickel, spreads afar and accumulates on the crowns of the trees.
Rainwater normally changes its composition when flowing through a crown. Water washes away dust, insect excrement and plant egesta from the crown. Different chemical elements (for instance, carbon, calcium, manganese) are also washed out of rainwater.
Thus, precipitation under spruce trees is more acidic and contains more of various chemical elements than that in the open spaces among the trees: up to ten times more. In pine tree forests, the difference is not so marked.
But frequent acid rains falling onto the forests in the vicinity of industrial centers corrode conifer needles and wash out even more ions of calcium, magnesium and manganese. Consequently, the rain becomes more acidic after it has passed through spruce tree branches, with nickel and copper content increased 50 to 100 times. As a result, vegetation and soil under the trees are contaminated to a greater extent than those in the open spaces between the trees. That is why the most heavily polluted areas have been found under the trees, especially under spruce trees. And that's why the trees are gradually dying and the forests are getting sparse, the researchers declare.
Snow is another form of precipitation falling on the northern coniferous forests. Snow covers the trees for 100 to 200 days a year and accumulates and concentrates all atmospheric pollution. Nevertheless, rain has the most negative effect on the trees, the Russian scientists say.
Normally, ecologists examine and analyze only open spaces when studying the precipitation effect on the northern coniferous forests. Nikonov and Lukina believe that such analysis produces inaccurate results. In their opinion, it is the soil under the trees on which the research should focus.
© Copyright 1995-2000 UniSci. All rights reserved
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The New York Times / December 4, 2000
In Russia, the Ill and Infirm Include Health Care Itself
Плачевное состояние здравоохранения в России
Almost anywhere, a trip to the hospital is an unsettling experience. But Mr. Ivanov had cause to be nervous: In Russia these days it can be a life-threatening one.
Russian hospitals - almost all of Russian health care, in fact - are in a perilous state. Drugs are in short supply; if available, they are often too costly for the average citizen to afford. By one 1999 estimate, at least 20,000 cancer patients die annually because they cannot afford medicine. By another, some 200,000 diabetics are unable to get insulin, even though the government guarantees a free supply, because local and regional governments cannot afford to buy it.
With life expectancy falling, there is rising concern here and in the West that Russia is struggling to preserve the well-being of its people. Should it fail - and health care is one determinant of success - American and other experts say Russia faces a grim future, and could even require an international rescue effort.
Doctors and nurses are astonishingly underpaid, as much as a third below the national average. The best leave for better jobs. Those who stay battle a lack of money, medicine and equipment.
The problem is not just that Russia's health care system is ancient (one in 10 hospitals was built before 1914) or ill equipped (one in five hospitals have no running water). Nor is it that it is huge and inefficient (12,000 hospitals and 20,000 clinics).
That was true when Soviet leaders ruled. The new problem is that there is no health care system, not like there was before.
"In the Soviet Union, we used to have a good system of health care", said Rafael G. Oganov, director of the government's National Center for Preventive Medicine. "The quality wasn't good, of course, but the system was accessible to everyone and free. When the Soviet Union collapsed, they began reforms. These reforms have mostly destroyed what existed before, and nothing has replaced it".
But not for lack of trying. Since 1990, Russia has decentralized its Soviet health bureaucracy, then tried to recentralize it; thrown the door open to private health insurers, then moved to close it; guaranteed free medicine to those who needed it, then limited free medicine to the neediest. Eight different health ministers have tried to run the system during the last 10 years.
"In typical Bolshevik fashion, they decided that this major reform had to be introduced overnight, with no training and no funds to support it", said Christopher Davis, an Oxford University economist who has studied Russian health care.
Russia's near-depression in the early 1990's, which decimated tax revenues, delivered the coup de grace. "If you have inadequate funding", Mr. Davis said, "you try to put it in the most crucial areas - pay the wages of doctors and nurses, get the most vital drugs. You can't spend a lot of money on supporting reforms".
In theory, doctors have more technology and training than ever, and yet they yearn for the days when basic drugs were always in stock and when equipment, however outmoded, at least worked. Patients detest bribing doctors and buying medicines, yet cherish the freedom to choose better, if costlier, treatments.
The system seems destined to linger in this economic purgatory unless Russia's leaders give it more money and attention.
Soviet health spending ran between 3 and 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product for decades, barely a third of the rate in Europe generally. Russia now spends perhaps 5 percent of a gross domestic product vastly shrunken from Soviet days. In 1995, that amounted to $148 a person, 25 times less than was spent on the average American.
"Funding for health care was always poor; in the last 10 years, it's really gone to hell in a hand basket", said James Smith, executive director of the American International Health Alliance, which has worked on Russian medical care for a decade. "There's not much infrastructure in the United States or anywhere else that can sustain that for very long. It's cumulative, and it shows".
Indeed it does inside the trauma ward at N. I. Pirogov Municipal Hospital No. 1, a rambling 1,500-bed institution on the edge of downtown Moscow.
Today it is a Russian version of New York's Bellevue: Moscow's biggest public hospital, taking all 35,000 comers a year, some rich but most poor. Last year's budget was about $4.1 million, somewhat more than it sounds, as it was spent largely on cheaper Russian products and salaries.
Differences in American and Russian health care make comparisons risky. Still, Catholic Medical Services in Brooklyn, a complex of four hospitals with a similar number of beds - 1,584 - spent $565 million last year to treat 38,000 patients.
A newcomer could be forgiven for failing to realize that Hospital No. 1 is a very well-regarded research and teaching hospital, head and shoulders above most public hospitals outside the capital and St. Petersburg.
"The people who work here are fanatics", an X-ray technician said. "Either that, or they're fools".
It is unclear how much a collapsing health-care system contributed to Russia's soaring death rate during the 1990's.
Demographers and experts like Mr. Oganov, the preventive-medicine expert, say not much: those dying young in Russia - alcoholics, victims of heart-attacks, homicides - needed help long before they reached an emergency room.
Others like Mr. Davis, the Oxford economist, dispute that. And in fact, scattered data suggests that some indicators of health care, like the percentage of cancer patients who die within a year of diagnosis, have worsened since the Soviet demise.
"If you cut health-care funding", he said, "and then introduce all these reforms that aren't implemented, I'd say the impact could be substantial".
The major fault lies in the bizarre municipal health care planning that allocated a CAT scanner to another hospital 40 minutes away, and not to this one, with its constant stream of head injuries.
Oleg V. Rutkovsky, the chief doctor and a former Russian health minister, insists that patients here do exceedingly well. "We have a 3 percent mortality rate", he said, "despite the fact that the trauma unit takes some very severe cases". The 1998 rate for American hospitals was 2.6 percent.
"Despite great differences in technology and drugs and insurance systems between your country and ours, patients in Russia do get better", Dr. Letvena agreed. "Despite a lack of medicine, nurses and doctors manage to do many things and reach the same results that American doctors do".
© 2000 The New York Times Company
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The Associated Press / Sunday December 3 9:23 PM ET
First Solar Wing Unfurls
- By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Space shuttle Endeavour's astronauts attached the world's largest, most powerful set of solar panels to the international space station on Sunday, then watched with delight and relief as the first glittering wing unfurled.
It was a task as monumental as the wings themselves: The future of space station construction hinged on the astronauts' ability to install the $600 million solar panels, which will provide much needed power to the newly inhabited outpost.
With a few computer keystrokes, shuttle skipper Brent Jett Jr. commanded the right wing to open more than five hours after it was bolted onto space station Alpha by spacewalkers Joe Tanner and Carlos Noriega.
"Ah, it looks beautiful", Noriega exclaimed as the wing finally opened after a delay caused by a computer software problem.
"More power to the station", said Tanner.
It took less than 14 minutes for the first folded wing to spread to its full 115 feet, and it soon began generating electricity. Some of its tension cables were slack, however, a problem that had flight controllers debating how best to proceed.
A computer software problem initially left Jett unable to command the latches and retention pins on the wings to open so the panels could unfurl. New software was sent up, and Jett was able to open all the latches and pins except one on the left wing. He continued to send commands in an effort to free the stuck pin.
At the start of their 71/2-hour spacewalk, Tanner and Noriega had helped Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau, the shuttle robot arm operator, line up the wings for installation. The spacewalkers, positioned on either side of the attachment point, gave Garneau instructions for closing the final 3 feet.
With no direct view himself, Garneau needed the spacewalkers' eyes. He also needed their hands to drive the capture latches.
Before the wings could be unfurled to their full 240 feet and begin generating electricity, Tanner and Noriega had to release all the bolts and pins that were used to secure the payload for Thursday's launch aboard Endeavour.
The blue and gold-colored wings, made of silicone cells and thin Kapton layers, were folded like an accordion for liftoff.
Alpha's shiny wings, covering half an acre, will be the largest structure ever deployed in space and will make the station one of the brightest objects in the night sky. The larger the wings, the more sunlight that can be collected for conversion into electricity.
Each wing is 38 feet wide and covered with 32,800 solar cells, and has power-storing batteries and radiators at the base. The combined wingspan - 240 feet - exceeds that of a Boeing 777 jetliner.
NASA expects the solar panels to generate 65 kilowatts at peak power - four times what currently is produced by the small Russian-built solar wings already on the space station. Without this extra electricity, the space agency could not launch its Destiny science lab in January - or any other power-hungry pieces.
By the time the space station is completed in 2006, NASA will have installed three more sets of these solar wings. Each is designed to last 15 years and will keep operating even if individual solar cells are pierced by bits of space junk.
Alpha commander Bill Shepherd and his two Russian crewmates were mere observers to all the action 235 miles above Earth on Sunday. The hatches between the docked spacecraft remained sealed because of the difference in cabin air pressure.
Two more spacewalks are planned this week by Tanner and Noriega, on Tuesday and Thursday, to finish wiring the solar wings and to install other equipment on the space station. If all goes well, the two crews will meet on Friday.
Sunday's spacewalk featured something new: helmets equipped with small cameras that provided live views of what the astronauts were seeing. They were dubbed "Joe-cam" and "Carlos-cam"
"We promise to make all of our movements nice and slow and steady so nobody gets sick looking at the pictures", Tanner said before the flight.
© 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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/ Wednesday December 13 10:50 AM EST
Mir Backers Will Shift Focus to ISS
- By Leonard David
Senior Science Writer, SpaceCom
WASHINGTON, -- MirCorp, an international company that has been devoted to keeping the Mir space station open for commercial business is now turning its attention to the International Space Station (ISS) to help foster public space travel.
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MirCorp, a joint venture between the Gold & Appel Transfer S.A. holding company and RKK Energia - Russia's largest space systems manufacturer.
The company, which is also backed by wealthy entrepreneurs Chirinjeev Kathuria and Walt Anderson, is expected to announce a new strategy for the firm given the likely deorbiting of Russia's Mir station early next year.
Rumors are circulating that MirCorp has worked a deal between Russia's Energia and Spacehab [SPAB], a U.S. firm, to fund and utilize the yet-to-be-built and launched Enterprise module - which Spacehab and the Russian company RKK Energia first announced plans to build in December 1999.
Other sources contend that the company may build and fly a separate module near the ISS
Let's make a deal?
But Shelly Harrison, Spacehab's chairman and chief executive officer, told SPACE.com that any agreement regarding use by MirCorp of the Enterprise module is news to him. As for MirCorp wanting to fund the Enterprise module, no such deal has been struck. "If they have that interest, they haven't yet clearly voiced it to me", Harrison said. "If they want to be a customer, or have some closer involvement, we are willing to have that discussion, but we would appreciate that they do it not in the press, but do it as business to business" Harrison said that MirCorp's business prospects on Mir "are terminal" "They are finally reconciled to the fact that Mir is coming down and that's it for their aspirations to run things on Mir", he said.
An enterprising idea
In 2003, Spacehab and Energia are slated to make available the first commercially developed and operated module to the ISS. Attached to Russia's side of the ISS, the Enterprise module will be 27 feet (8.2 meters) long and 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) in diameter and provide over 1,800 cubic feet (51 cubic meters) of working volume on board the ISS. The interior of the commercial module will be partitioned into three segments: one outfitted to host a variety of microgravity research facilities; an area for stowage and/or crew support and a large volume that will serve as the multimedia center housing the first media studio in orbit.It is from this module that Spacehab will conduct business-to-business transactions. Accommodations will also be available on the module's outside surface for un-pressurized stowage and research. In a press statement issued December 12, MirCorp confirmed that, due to the demise of the Mir station, the company will "cease the marketing" of the Russian complex. MirCorp's board of directors touted its own success in "attracting major customers in tourism and in the media", and reaffirmed its intention to continue MirCorp operations.Among a roster of new objectives noted in the statement, MirCorp is to pursue the development and use of a human-tended module capable of docking with the ISS. Also, the group plans to create a commercial infrastructure that supports the ISS, such as use of communication satellites and a space tether. The MirCorp board stated that where possible, all existing customers will have their programs fully implemented.
Bags packed, Mr. Tito?
Spacehab's Harrison said that MirCorp could work through Enermedia, a joint venture between Energia and Spacehab's Space Media, Inc. Space Media has been established to create proprietary content from and about space for television broadcast and Internet distribution via the Enterprise module. Target audiences range from students and space enthusiasts to major corporations. Enermedia has been formed to bridge the period between now and when the Enterprise module is linked to the ISS, Harrison said. By working through Enermedia, he said, Spacehab might explore ways to help MirCorp fulfill its interest in flying Dennis Tito as a paying customer. However, Peggy Wilhide, NASA's associate administrator in the Office of Public Affairs, told SPACE.com that MirCorp had not approached the space agency about flying people to the ISS. Wilhide said that there are both bilateral and multilateral organizations that must okay individuals destined to board the ISS. "These groups must approve all individuals traveling to the ISS whether or not they are expedition crews or visiting crews", Wilhide said Non-interference basis Spacehab's Harrison said the Enterprise module will be open for business as a commercial spot attached to the Russian side of the ISS.To avoid any obstructions, the other ISS member states will coordinate with NASA.The Enterprise module will actually add value to NASA and its partners, Harrison said.
"We're more the steady player and have learned to do things on-shuttle, and we're now doing things on the station. We're moving along and building a venue and a capability up there. We're open to customers coming to us", Harrison said.
"What MirCorp is doing, I don't know. If they are a good customer and they play by the rules, we welcome them to come in and talk to us. If they want to be a customer aboard Enterprise - and that makes sense - then fine".