Lake Nyos – A Ticking Timebomb

carbon-dioxideLast January, I found myself staring at the cool, clear water of west Africa’s Lake Nyos. I was hot, tired, and covered with dust after a jeep ride over Cameroon’s dirt roads, and all I wanted to do was jump in. But I was more than a little scared, because this innocent-looking lake has a tendency to explode.

That’s what happened back in 1986, when there was an eruption of deadly gas so devastating that observers thought a nuclear bomb had gone off. The gas killed 1,700 people in its path.

So I had traveled to Nyos, invited by a team of scientists, to see what was being done to stop the lake from spewing its lethal gas again.


The 1986 eruption kicked up huge waves that crashed into the rocks around the lake. But most of the deaths were caused by a huge burst of carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) gas that was released from the water.

C[O.sub.2] is normally harmless. But because carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen, …


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SUVs: Do They Really Suck?

vehicalHave you seen the TV ad that shows a fearless sport utility vehicle (SUV) driver charging down a dirt road and swerving around an avalanche of rocks? Or the one in which an SUV owner steers off the pavement, apparently to blaze his own trail through the wilderness?

The message in those commercials seems to be that free-spirited SUV buyers can drive their oversized vehicles anywhere, at any speed, with no risk to themselves, other motorists, or the environment. But the message from highway safety advocates and environmentalists is something different. They say SUVs are among the dirtiest and most dangerous vehicles on the road.


Despite their name and the fact that SUVs are classified as light trucks rather than passenger cars, SUVs carry passengers more often than they do equipment. And as passenger-carrying vehicles, SUVs are more than twice as likely to be involved in a rollover as are passenger cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A rollover is an accident in which …


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Wyoming’s Ecosystem Continues To Change

ecosystemOne chilly morning last March, in the shadow of Wyoming’s snowcapped Teton mountains, wildlife biologist Joel Berger threw his head back and howled like a wolf. His nose tilted toward the sky, his long gray ponytail snaked down his back, and his frost-covered mustache curled around his chin. Then he fell silent, took a pocket watch from his jacket, and peered through binoculars at a big, shaggy moose standing by a frozen streambed less than 30 meters (100 feet) away.

The moose, which Berger had previously named Xena, had been nibbling on some pine saplings poking through the snow. On hearing the howl, Xena raised her furry head, perked her floppy ears, and stared at Berger, who promptly started his watch. Xena glanced side to side, as if she might be nervous about a wolf being in the area–but not nervous enough to abandon her lunch. In less than a minute, she returned to her meal.

“If that had been a wolf-savvy moose, she would have been up and gone,” …


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Ephedra Remains A Severe Danger

dietary-supplementOne April night three years ago, Henry Porras came home after a long day at work and immediately sensed something was wrong. “No one was home, doors were hanging open, and the dogs hadn’t been fed,” said Porras. “Then one of my daughter’s friends drove up and yelled, `Come quickly! Rosanna collapsed on the soccer field.'”

Arriving at the field, Porras found his wife, Katy, watching in horror as paramedics fought to save their daughter’s life. “Rosanna had just turned 15,” said Porras. “I knew one of the paramedics. When he saw me, he just shook his head.”

Later, at a nearby hospital, Rosanna’s parents learned that she had suffered a massive heart attack. Her chances of surviving were slim. “The doctors told us the heart attack had caused Rosanna’s brain to go without oxygen for [as long as] ten minutes,” said Porras. “We knew we would just have to pray for a miracle. That miracle never came.”

Three days later, Rosanna was pronounced brain dead. An autopsy revealed …


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Finding Atlantis

atlantisFor thousands of years, storytellers have enthralled audiences with the sad, mysterious tale of Atlantis. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato first put down the story in print in 400 B.C. As the story goes, Atlantis was a continent that was ripped apart by a sudden catastrophe and plunged to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean 11,000 years ago.

Many people have speculated about the exact location of the lost continent. Now, a French geologist says Atlantis was located right where Plato said it was–at the mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar, a channel of water that connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

Jacques Collina-Girard, of the University of the Mediterranean, said he found Atlantis while studying the migration patterns of Upper Paleolithic people from Africa to Europe. The Upper Paleolithic is a period between about 40,000 years and 10,000 years ago during which humans made major advances in language and technology.

Collina-Girard made a map of what the channel would have looked like 11,000 years ago, when sea …


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Climate Changes, Disasters And Strange Links

DisastersTom Pitchford will never forget the winter of 1996, when dead manatees washed up on the beaches of Florida’s west coast like cargo from a sinking ship. Altogether, 149 of the state’s famous endangered sea cows died during a six-week period, and no one knew why. “It was like a whodunnit mystery,” said Pitchford, a biologist at : the Florida Marine Research Institute, who trucked many of the carcasses back to the lab to determine their cause of death.

“I picked up the very first one,” said Pitchford. “When I put my arms in the water to tie a rope around its tail, I remember thinking it was a big animal that looked like it was in great shape–except for the fact that it was dead.” That thought haunted Pitchford again and again as dozens of seemingly healthy manatees continued to wash ashore. Months of work by hundreds of scientists finally identified the killer: a red tide, or poisonous bloom of algae (simple, plantlike organisms).

For centuries, one type of …


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Wanna Battle? Take It To The Lawn!

wanna-battleAmerica’s love affair with lawn games began in the second half of the 19th century, a time in the nation’s history when the dream of owning a plot of land–and having enough leisure time to enjoy it–was being realized by a burgeoning middle class. It did not take long for the outdoor games that proved so popular at private clubs, vacation resorts, and country estates to filter down to backyards of more modest means.

Croquet, lawn bowling, horseshoes, badminton, and other playful pursuits were enthusiastically promoted in Victorian-era books and magazines, for such activities were viewed as evidence of a family’s refinement as well as a prescription for overall good health. Moreover, lawn games allowed Victorian men, women, and children to play together outdoors while maintaining the period’s strict codes of public and private conduct. “Lawn tennis is a game for everybody,” stated the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalogue, which, along with other mail-order firms, provided a common source for 19th-century lawn games.

Lawn tennis sets were pricey–$7.67 to $13 in …


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Ultimate Frisbee: Step Up, Suckahs!

gamesThe game is a blend of American football, soccer, and Frisbee throwing. Teams of seven try to pass the Frisbee down a seventy- yard field into an end zone. The opposing team gains possession if it intercepts the Frisbee, the team on offense drops the disk, or the offense takes more than ten seconds to make a pass. Players are not allowed to run with the disk or make contact with opposing players, and games are played up to a certain number of points without regard for time.

From the beginning, ultimate was a decidedly nonconformist game. Unusual among sports, it has no officials. In accordance with an honor system created by the Maplewood founders, players call their own fouls and are supposed to maintain a “spirit of the game” that emphasizes fun over a win-at-all-costs mentality. Historically, the “culture of the game says ‘play by the rules’ rather than ‘do whatever you won’t get called for,’ ” says James Parinella, who plays for the U.S. national club champion team …


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Don’t Let A Headache Become A Headache

HeadacheLea sighed. She could feel the pain in her head beginning to expand again. It seemed like that happened almost every day now, and it was definitely getting old. She didn’t want to take more medication, but what choice did she have? She certainly couldn’t study for her English test or write out her science experiment results when all her concentration was on putting up with the pounding. Maybe it was time to talk to a doctor.

Lea isn’t alone. Millions of people suffer from headaches in this country, and a growing number of them are teenagers. Almost three-quarters of teens report that they have at least one headache a month, while 10 percent say they have headaches every single week. According to the Migraine Information Center of the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 1 million school days are lost each year by students with headaches. What is causing this pain, and what can possibly be done about it?

A Myriad of Causes

The reasons behind headache …


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Geocaching: How Fun Is That?

geocachingOn a cool, sunny day in January, I embark on a treasure hunt in New York City, where I live. I don’t have a map with dotted lines and an X marking the spot where the treasure is located. Instead, my guides are satellites circling 19,300 kilometers (12,000 miles) above Earth.

I’m playing a game of geocaching (GEE-oh-kash-ing), a popular new pastime that takes advantage of the Global Positioning System (GPS), a network of 27 satellites orbiting the globe. With a GPS receiver, you can determine the exact latitude and longitude of your current location on the planet. GPS was designed for navigation by the U.S. military, but the system is now widely used by scientists, fishermen, hikers, and many others. Geocachers use GPS units to find caches whose coordinates have been posted on the Internet.


I’ve recruited Ryan Jacobs, 18, to help me locate some of the caches in New York’s Central Park. Ryan is a freshman at Baruch College in Manhattan. We’re both novices at …


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