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Straight ahead "Our World," sounding the tsunami warning ... an anniversary on Mars ... and restoring old sound
TEASE (segue original to restored music) (:09)
a new way to play old records, plus blood pressure in black and white. I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."
It's been two weeks since a major earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami, devastating parts of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and several other countries as far away as the Horn of Africa.
As cleanup and relief operations continue in the affected areas, we'd like to look foward to see what might be done to mitigate the effects of future tsunamis.
The Pacific rim has a well-developed tsunami warning system, including undersea sensors to detect the huge waves, and public awareness campaigns so people know how to respond. There is no such system in the Indian Ocean region, even though destructive tsunamis do occur there. In part, says Dr. Frank Gonzalez of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that's because tsunamis are just one of many threats facing a region with limited resources.
GONZALEZ (:17) "It's primarily a resource and priorities issue. I think we have to understand that in many parts of the world, such as the Indian Ocean, tsunamis are one of perhaps a dozen or so natural hazards, and many of them occur more frequently than a tsunami."
Most tsunamis are caused by undersea earthquakes, and Professor Jack Harrald of George Washington University says a system is in place to detect earthquakes. But that is only the start of the tsunami warning system.
HARRALD (:24) "There is the technology around the Indian Ocean basin to detect the earthquake. The earthquake was detected, the tsunami was not. Tsunami detection takes a set of buoys and radio transmitters off of satellites. But that technology, knowing that the hazard exists, knowing that the event occurred, in and of itself doesn't create the warning system to warn the people. And that's where, even if the technology is put in, that's only part of the solution."
Also key to the system are undersea maps that help scientists predict how a tsunami will behave. Using sophisticated computer models, they can determine what areas are most at risk. Russian-born Elena Suleimani creates tsunami models at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, starting with known undersea earthquake zones.
SULEIMANI (:12) "There are very specific places where we can expect them to come from. And we create a hypothetical tsunami scenario for this community, and then we calculate the extent of flooding."
Predicting how the tsunami will behave as it approaches land requires accurate maps of the ocean floor in coastal areas. Elena Suleimani has very detailed maps of the Alaska coastal areas she studies, where data is available with five-meter resolution.
SULEIMANI (:15) "And this is a very, very good dataset, but of course for Indian Ocean, the only one that we have right now is about maybe four kilometers. So for one four-by-four kilometer square, we have just one datapoint."
But high-tech sensors are only part of the solution. Even experts who monitor these sophisticated networks stress the importance of educating people who might be affected: What to do in case a tsunami is heading your way... how to recognize the danger signs. Timothy Beach, who heads the Center for the Environment at Georgetown University, relates a story of 10-year-old Tilly Smith, whose quick-thinking showed the value of such lessons.
BEACH (:21) "Another classic example of this was a little girl [from] England, who told her family vacationing on the beach at Phuket in Thailand that she'd seen the ocean go out and her geography teacher in England had told her that this is a prediction of a tsunami wave coming in. She told her parents, her parents warned everybody on the beach, people pulled out, and nobody on that particular beach died."
Knowing the signs of an impending tsunami are especially important for those closest to the earthquake's epicenter, where a tsunami wave could hit before any technical system could sound the alarm. And, according to Walter Dudley, who heads the Marine Center at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, unlike some other natural disasters, tsunamis can come along without a severe weather warning.
DUDLEY (:12) The areas that are within half an hour or an hour away may never have a chance for adequate warning. But if people along the coast recognize these initial signs from nature, they might have a chance to save their lives.
As the population of vulnerable coastal areas continues to rise, tsunami warning systems will have to be expanded beyond the Pacific if lives are to be saved. U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman Thursday proposed legislation to fund a worldwide warning system, beginning with $30 million, and seven and a-half million a year for ongoing operations.
LIEBERMAN (:15) "Measured against 150,000 dead from the South Asia tsunami and billions of dollars in damages, this modest investment is obviously well worth it."
The proposed warning system would include ocean sensors in the Atlantic and Caribbean areas, as well as the Indian Ocean.
MUSIC: "20 Going On..." (Tsunami Bomb)
U.S. doctors have long warned their black patients about the dangers of high blood pressure, or hypertension. It's a serious conditions that's much more common among African Americans than among whites. But new research from Loyola University in Chicago indicates it's about the American lifestyle, more than race. Dr. Richard Cooper compared the prevalence of high blood pressure among 85,000 people in 10 countries.
COOPER (:28) "The main finding is that, if you compare the different populations starting from Europe, you find that the highest rates of high blood pressure are in northern and eastern Europe. And then the next-highest are in African-Americans in the United States. Canadians and white Americans are sort of in the middle along with the populations of some of the black island nations from the Caribbean, like Jamaica. And then the lowest rates are in West Africa, particularly Nigeria."
High blood pressure may be more common among black Americans than whites, but it's twice as common among American whites as it is among Nigerians. Hypertension is often called a "lifestyle disease," and Dr. Cooper stresses that the cause is mainly in what we eat.
COOPER (:24) "It results from lifelong high intake of salt - high sodium in the diet. It also is encouraged by a diet that doesn't have very many fruits and vegetables in it. So, a diet that's high in animal fat particularly is one of the causes of high blood pressure. And then, being overweight or obese and not getting enough physical activity are [also] the primary causes.
High blood pressure is dangerous because it can lead to heart disease and stroke.
As Dr. Cooper said, diet is an important part of disease prevention. Americans are forever going on diets to lose weight. For obese people -- and obesity is on the rise in many countries -- losing weight has important health benefits. But research published this week indicates what most dieters already know -- sticking with a weight-loss regimen can be a real challenge.
Researcher Michael Dansinger of Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston studied 160 people who followed popular diet plans. All of them had risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure.
Dansinger (:09) "We found that all 4 diets worked for weight loss and heart disease risk factor reduction, but only in the people who could follow their diet closely for a year."
Dr. Dansinger found that only about 25 percent of the participants were able to stay on their diet plan. He says that surprised him, because for many people, the diet plan did work.
Dansinger (:08) "Many people lost weight, and they wanted to stick to their plan, but gradually over time found it more and more difficult."
Some diets may work better than others, and some may be too extreme for some people. The best diet in the world won't work if you don't follow it, and the researchers stress the need to choose the right diet for you.
MUSIC: "No Matter What Shape" (Booker T and the MGs)
You're listening to VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.
We're back again after a short break with our Website of the Week feature, and this time we highlight an online destination that just about everyone can use.
FLOURNOY (:17) "Weather.com offers a variety of weather reports and forecasts for close to 100,000 locations across the world. We have maps, satellite maps, radar images, 10-day forecasts, and we have current conditions reported from places around the globe."
Tom Flournoy is vice-president of Weather.com, the online version of U.S. cable television's 24-hour forecasting service, The Weather Channel.
To provide its forecasts, weather.com must first acquire the raw information about temperature, atmospheric pressure and so on.
FLOURNOY (:23) Different state-controlled agencies across the world provide the current conditions for those countries. Forecasts are the Weather Channel's own forecasts for each of those points. We have a very sophisticated data-modeling system that allows us to provide a forecast for each of the 100,000 points for which we forecast.
The information is processed by computers, which provide an automated forecast, but Tom Flournoy of Weather.com say it's the human experts, the staff meteorologists, who make the final call.
FLOURNOY (:13) "We start with a computer model, and then we have humans, 24-hours a day, meteorologists who look at the forecasts and if they see an anomoly in what the model is producing, then they will correct the forecast."
In addition to the current conditions and forecasts, you can learn about weather with features such as the Weather Glossary. And there are a wide variety of weather maps and satellite images to help you visualize the weather situation.
One downside - weather.com is advertising-supported, and there are multiple ads on each page, so on a slow Internet connection you will have to be patient. Instead, you may prefer to sign up and have forecasts sent to you by e-mail. Worldwide weather information at the click of a mouse at Weather.com, or get the link from our site, VOANews.com/ourworld.
Particle physics and antique recordings may seem to have little in common. But at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - a U.S. Department of Energy lab in California - there's a definite connection. Scientists there have been harnessing the tools of their trade to recapture and preserve historic sounds from old disks and cylinders too fragile or damaged to play any other way. Peter Jon Shuler explains.
Lawrence Berkeley scientists Carl Haber and Russian-born Vitaliy Fadeyev (fuh-DAY-ev) usually build and analyze precision equipment designed to detect quarks and other subatomic particles. But recently, they've been turning their high tech tools to more low-tech ends. They've been experimenting with ways to salvage recordings like this badly scratched Edison cylinder from 1912:
AUDIO: CUT 1 MUSIC - JUST BEFORE THE BATTLE (BEFORE) (Sound clip played from cylinder with modern electrical stylus)
TEXT: Using what looks like a high power microscope hooked up to sophisticated computer equipment, they've been able to make that scratchy recording sound like this:
AUDIO: CUT 2 MUSIC - JUST BEFORE THE BATTLE (AFTER) (Optical version after commercial digital noise reduction)
TEXT: The problem facing Mr. Haber and Mr. Fadeyev is that many early recordings were not necessarily meant to last. Many of the wax cylinders from a century ago are already in an advanced state of decay. Acetate transcription disks used to record early radio programs - were never meant to stand up to repeated play. And even mass-produced records old 78s - through the wear and tear of many decades have become scratched, brittle or even cracked and broken.
The Library of Congress in Washington DC, has one of the world's largest collections of recorded sound… overseen by Sam Brylawski. He says many of those recordings are currently unplayable and no one knows what's on them. Mr. Brylawski says the new technology developed at the Lawrence Berkeley lab has the potential for revealing one-of-a-kind recordings of significant historical value.
AUDIO: CUT 3 BRAWLAWSKI "There are some famous recordings that were made that are now lost and I don't think they're at the Library of Congress but we hope they are somewhere. Mark Twain is reputed to have made a couple of cylinders, but no one's ever heard them."
TEXT: The possibility of hearing one of 19th century America's best-known authors and other lost treasures is so compelling that the Library of Congress is now funding some of the research.
TEXT: At the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Mr. Haber demonstrates a Smart Scope the precision scanner the scientists use to take high-resolution pictures of the grooves in the records.
AUDIO: CUT 4 HABER "...So this is a table and it moves under the control of a computer and the computer knows where the table is because it's got encoders. And this is a camera and some optics. So it can then capture an image of whatever is on the table...."
TEXT: After the images are scanned into the computer, the shape of the grooves is analyzed with software that can recreate the original sound waves etched into the record's grooves. For that to work, the researchers had to understand both the geometry of the grooves and the movement of the stylus that actually translates the impressions on the record into sound.
AUDIO: CUT 5 HABER "We're not putting a needle on it anymore. It's a virtual needle. So we have to understand how to model the behavior of that needle as if it was a real needle."
TEXT: In addition, the software can "smooth over" scratches and dirt, leaving audio just as it was in the original recording. By combining this technology with commercial sound shaping techniques, the old recordings come close to sounding as they might have sounded in the recording studio. As an example, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory researchers demonstrated their technology on a 1950 recording by the folk group, The Weavers. First the 78 rpm shellac disk.
AUDIO: CUT 6 MUSIC - GOODNIGHT IRENE (BEFORE) (Sound clip played from record with stylus and turntable)
TEXT: And then the results of the digital scan and digital noise-reduction software.
AUDIO: CUT 7 MUSIC - GOODNIGHT IRENE (AFTER) (Optical version after (commercial) digital noise reduction)
TEXT: In addition to the archeological thrill of restoring lost sounds that are decades, or even a century or more old - the Library of Congress also sees the technology as a way of fulfilling its mandate to make its collection of recordings more accessible to the public…. from the beginnings of ragtime music, the history of jazz and blues to classical music, poetry and news broadcasts. Mr. Brylawski says there are also recordings made for the many ethnic groups coming to the United States during the early 20th century.
AUDIO: CUT 8 BRYLAWSKI "Ethnic recordings of almost every ethnic group that was significantly represented in the United States. Those groups were recorded by commercial record companies -- Victor, Columbia, etc. for sales back to those communities in the United States. Ukrainian recordings, Polish recordings, Jewish recordings, Irish recordings. Some of these materials are scarce, because they didn't sell a lot in the very first place. And those are the types I'd like to see the public given more access to."
TEXT: The ultimate goal of the research underway at Lawrence Berkeley laboratory is to develop an automated device that would allow librarians and archivists - rather than physicists - to scan in their collections for easy public access. Vitaliy Fadeyev and Carl Haber expect to have the first version of that machine ready in about a year. For Our World, I'm Peter Jon Shuler in Berkeley, California.
That's our show for this week. If you'd like to get in touch, we'd like to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or write us at -
Voice of America
Washington, DC 20237 USA.
Our World is edited this week by Faith Lapidus. Our technical director is Eva Nenicka. And this is Art Chimes, inviting you to join us online at voanews.com/ourworld or on your radio next Saturday and Sunday as we check out the latest in science and technology...in Our World.