Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
It's hurricane season, and that means weather becomes news for a lot of people. One of the intriguing weather topics that keeps coming around at this time of year is the phenomenon of really big or "rogue" waves
. For years, sailors (who like to spin a yarn
or two) have told stories of monster waves -- some even as tall as100 feet. These tales were generally assumed to be exaggerated at best; however recent improvements in technology have shown that not only are these waves real, they are much more common than anyone would have guessed.
The existence of rogue waves was verified after a large wave was recorded at an oil platform in 1995. At that time, scientists predicted that the chance of such waves occurring was so rare that perhaps one would arise only every 10, 000 years. New equipment, however, has shown that giant waves occur several times every year, and are a legitimate maritime hazard. Some speculate that they may be responsible for mysterious missing ships in the Bermuda Triangle
Several factors are thought to cause giant waves -- such as ocean currents that focus regular waves into more powerful ones, or smaller waves of different wavelengths that combine to create a larger wave -- but there is no one theory which clearly answers this questions. Also, there are different kinds of freak waves: large "walls of water", waves that seem to come in groups of three, and storm waves. Storm waves are getting some press
lately as hurricane season starts. Some sensors have shown that hurricanes can cause waves as high as 90 feet, and that is not even at the height of the storm.
Rogue waves are not to be confused with tsunami. The former occur in the open ocean, and can create what seems like a hole in the water. They grow and subside far from land and primarily affect ocean-going vessels. Tsunami, on the other hand, grow as they approach land and are dangerous at shorelines rather than in the open sea.
Certainly, most waves in the ocean are normal; indeed that is the very definition of normal. Waves are most likely to be average, and as waves get larger become are less and less common. However, new information about the very real possibility of enormous waves is creating new challenges for marine engineering and design. So the next time some ancient mariner starts telling you stories, don't fall asleep.
I spent the past weekend in Canada, and when crossing back to the US at Niagara Falls, the border patrolman and I had a somewhat nerve-wracking conversation:
"So, did you go to any raves in Canada?"
"So you don't have any drugs"
"No, we don't have any drugs"
"Nope, definitely no drugs."
"So you have drugs?"
"Um....no, we don't have any drugs."
long pause, as he stares at the computer inside his booth.
"You guys got any ex?"
"Ok, have a nice day."
Granted, my companion and I did have a trunk full of vinyl records, but our man at the border seemed far too interested in whether we had anything capable of alleviating the symptoms of Parkinson's in mice. Because, as it turns out, a new study shows that this is exactly what the drug commonly know as ecstasy is capable of.
Chemically reffered to as methylenedioxymehtamphetamine (MDMA), ecstasy made a name for itself during the rise of rave culture in the mid 90's as a potent emotional stimulant. MDMA acts by triggering the release of three neurotransmitters in the brain, dopamine, norepinephrine and most notably serotonin. Studies have shown that extended use of the drug can cause desensitization of serotonin release, which can lead to long-standing depression as well as memory impairment.
In a recent study, biologists at Duke University administered MDMA to mice that were unable to produce dopamine due to a genetic alteration. Low levels of dopamine are a hallmark of the brain chemistry accompanying Parkinson's, in addition to the external characteristics of limb stiffness and muscle tremors. In comparison to a number of other compounds, MDMA fared the best in alleviating the Parkinson's like symptoms of the mice. Interestingly, the club drug did not actually raise dopamine levels, apparently acting through some other, as yet unknown mechanism. The study leaders insist that these findings should not be used to support self medication, and are looking for a similar compound that might promote the same effects. They are also having a big party tonight to celebrate their new paper, you should stop by.
All the way across the Atlantic, astounding facts are emerging concerning how much cocaine Italians do. In a study published this week, investigators reported the amount of cocaine being consumed by the 5 million people that live along the Po river, including those in nearby cities Milan and Genoa. The team took small samples from sewage and river water and measured the amount of Benzolycgonine in them, a key metabolite excreted in the urine of cocaine users. After scaling up the amount of metabolite to reflect the total daily waterflow in the areas they sampled, the team determined that approxamitley 400,000 lines are peed into the river every day. For all the Tony Montanas reading, that's about 4 keez mang. According to Ettore Zuccato, the leader of the study, "It's higher than we were expecting."
In a final report to tie together this week in drugs in a nice little rubber band around the upper arm, last night I watched Neil Patrick Harris steal a car on E and do coke off a naked stripper's butt on my television screen.