Why the BP Oil Spill is Hard to Fix

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been gushing its toxic crude into the ocean for over two months despite BP’s focused efforts to bring it under control. Occurring at an unprecedented depth of 1,500 meters (5000 feet) below the sea, the BP oil spill lies in the ocean’s Bathypelagic, or Midnight Zone. This great depth poses several challenges which have made oil containment difficult.

A Deep Sea Oil Spill Response

The incredible depth of the BP oil spill makes direct human intervention impossible. SCUBA divers cannot go down and simply patch up the broken oil well due to the freezing temperatures and crushing pressures occurring in the ocean’s Midnight Zone. Temperatures at this depth hover at a constant 4 °C (39 °F) and the pressure at 1,500 meters is roughly 2200 pounds per square inch*. Consider applying one ton of force to every square inch of the body – it is certainly enough to crush a person. Adding to the difficulties, the aptly named Midnight Zone is pitch black as sunlight simply does not filter down to these depths.

* Calculating PSI: 5000 feet* 0.445 lbs per foot of depth = 2225 PSI

Oil Spill Response Equipment: Robots

Since the BP oil spill is happening in a place humans can’t reach in person, robots are sent instead. However, according to CNN’s John D. Sutter in “Deep-sea mysteries: Why drilling in ‘inner space’ tests human limits”, robots present a few challenges of their own. First, the oil containment robots BP is using were designed to support drilling operations – not repair blowouts. Second, these robots simply do not have the dexterity humans do. According to Sutter, simple tasks such as attaching a nut to a bolt would take a human a few seconds – but would take a robot about 30 minutes.

Finally, the robots are operated through cables that are miles long. This restricts the robots’ movements. It also means it can take hours to bring the robots up to the boat and send them back down again. Compared to space exploring robots, the oil spill responders have it hard. Sutter notes that robots in space could send back signals to Earth via low-power radio frequencies. Sending signals through water however is difficult – hence the bulky cables.

Oil Spill Containment At Last?

According to The Washington Post article “Oil leak is stopped for first time since April 20 blowout” (Joel Achenbach), BP has finally stopped the flow of oil. However, the well must still be monitored carefully and pressure readings must be taken to ensure there are no leaks. This requires further use of video carrying robots looking for leaks. It is also important to note that even with the well shut, the oil spill will continue to affect the marine environment for years to come.

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Rift Valley Fever: Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania

I recently returned from Tanzania having spent two weeks in Arusha. The headline in the Arusha Times the day after we arrived read “Fear grips town as Rift Valley Fever spreads.” The article described fear surrounding the outbreak of Rift Valley fever that had spread through Kenya and was then suspected in Arusha and surrounding areas. Had I not understood how Rift Valley Fever is spread, I may have been alarmed, as many of the residents in Arusha were. Because of the outbreak, the prices of chicken and fish became prohibitive for many people, and butchers could not give away their beef. Goat meat was even less desired, because the first two reported deaths resulting from Rift Valley fever in Tanzania were supposedly related to goat meat.

Rift Valley fever is caused by the Rift Valley virus, named for the Rift Valley of Kenya where it was first isolated in 1930. The Rift Valley fever virus (RVF virus) is a member of the Bunyaviridae family of viruses (RVF virus, Hantaan virus, Dugbe virus and Bunyamwera virus).

Rift Valley fever primarily affects livestock and can cause disease in a large number of domestic animals including cattle, sheet, goats, and camels. RVF is spread by infected mosquitos and other biting insects (animal-to-animal, animal-to-human and human-to-human). Rift Valley fever is also occasionally transmitted to humans through contact with blood, body fluids or tissues of infected animals (veterinarians, slaughter-house workers, etc.).

The risk of RVF infection associated with eating beef, goat or any other animal that may be infected with the virus is minimal, especially if the meat is properly cooked. It would seem that the fear that has affected the eating habits of residents and livelihood of numerous people associated with the meat industry is largely unwarranted.

Rift Valley fever periodically occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, but has also occurred in Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar (see Map).

The outbreak of Rift Valley fever that began last fall in Kenya is believed to be on the decline. RVF has occurred in the North Eastern, Coast, Eastern, Central and Rift Valley Provinces of Kenya. As of 2017, 411 suspected cases were reported, including 121 deaths.

An outbreak of Rift Valley fever has also been reported in Somalia. As of January 30, 2017, 100 suspected cases were reported in Somalia, including 48 deaths.

Symptoms associated with RVF are mild for most people infected: fever, generalized weakness, back pain, and dizziness lasting 2-7 days. However, some patients progress to a severe hemorrhagic fever, encephalitis or ocular disease.

The risk of acquiring Rift Valley fever when traveling to an outbreak area is relative to the risk of exposure to mosquitos carrying the virus from infected animals. As there is no licensed preventive vaccine currently available, prevention involves avoiding contact with mosquitos and other blood-sucking insects! See aritcles under “related content” below for precautions against mosquito-borne diseases.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Symptoms & Treatment: A Bacterial Infection Caused by STIs and Other Complications

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a relatively common infection, resulting in one in 60 visits to the doctor by women under 45 according to Bupa Healthcare. It can be caused by different things but over half of cases are a result of an STI infection: chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Bacteria in the vaginal canal travels upwards through the cervix to the fallopian tubes and ovaries and causes blockages and scarring. This makes pregnancy difficult and risky.

PID is not caused by a single bacterium, but rather a combination of several, which makes diagnosis and treatment more complicated as more than one antibiotic is required.

Who is at Risk From Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

PID can affect any woman but statistics have shown it is prevalent in the under 25s – perhaps as a result of a recurrent chlamydia infection, those with multiple sexual partners who have had unprotected sex (intercourse and oral). It has also been linked to abortion, miscarriage, childbirth (the introduction of bacteria to the vaginal canal), endometrial biopsy, appendicitis, and the use of the IUD/coil.

Signs and Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

The following symptoms will not occur in every instance so this list is a guideline only. Consult a GP if any of these symptoms occur, as they can be a sign of other bacterial infections such as chlamydia. Symptoms can also range from mild to severe:

  • pelvic, lower stomach pain
  • pain during sex (dyspareunia)
  • vaginal discharge
  • painful bottom
  • temperature and/or nausea and sickness

Even if symptoms are mild, seek professional advice as it is important to treat any bacterial infection promptly to avoid complications and further damage to the reproductive organs.

Testing For Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

There is no definitive test for PID and a doctor will make a diagnosis based on pelvic examination and a woman’s symptoms. He or she may take a swab of vaginal fluid for further analysis. Blood tests and ultrasound scans are used to diagnose advanced cases of PID.

Treatment of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Treatment will depend on the severity of the condition. In most cases it is treated using two or more kinds of antibiotics to rule out the different types of bacterium that cause it. These are typically Ofloxacin, Metronidazole, Ceftriaxone, and Doxycycline. A two-week course of antibiotics is recommended to eradicate the bacterium and avoid recurrent outbreaks. A doctor may also do a pregnancy test to rule out ectopic pregnancy, which produces some of these symptoms, and a urinary tract infection test.

If the infection is at a more advanced stage hospital treatment will be required. A laparoscopy is an internal procedure which examines the reproductive organs and can sometimes repair or unblock fallopian tubes which have been damaged or scarred because of PID or STIs such as chlamydia.

Personal Care

If PID is diagnosed or suspected a doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. Timing is imperative and a few days can make a difference in terms of damage and scarring to the fallopian tubes. While a woman is undergoing treatment she needs to rest, stay warm, and avoid having sex until the infection clears up completely. Her partner and any ex-partners will need to be notified and tested. The infection should clear up within two weeks of commencing antibiotics. Ask friends and family to help out with chores and work to enable proper rest and relaxation.

Pelvic inflammatory disease is a relatively common infection, which is easy to treat but the nature of the symptoms means it is not always easy to diagnose. Even if symptoms are mild it is best to seek medical opinion straight away to avoid any further damage to the reproductive organs if PID is diagnosed. To avoid recurrent infections practise safe sex using condoms with new partners until both of you have been tested. Review methods of contraception if the coil/IUD is causing problems.

Queensland Tiger: Australia’s Mystery “Cat” of Interest to Cryptozoologists

The Queensland Marsupial Feline

One branch of cryptozoology deals with animals thought to be extinct, such as the coelacanth, a fish thought to be so that was caught off of the coast of Africa in the 1900s. The Queensland Tiger, according to some zoologists might be not extinct, but could be a Thylacoleo, not one of the big cats, but a marsupial cat. There are fossilized specimens to document its existence. Witnesses describe the animal as having large fangs and other characteristics that match what scientists believe the animal looked like. Sightings of this cryptoid are rare and are still reported.

The Queensland Tiger also called the Queensland Marsupial Lion and Cat. It is not the same animal as the Tasmanian Tiger, Wolf or Thylacine according to Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman in their book, Cryptozoology* A to Z (Fireside, 1999).

Pictures drawn according to accounts of eyewitnesses clearly show a feline creature. The thylacine more closely resembles canines in pictures taken of the animal before it became extinct.

The tiger has been described as a cobby striped animal with a feline head about the size of a big dog. It’s nasty and has been reported to leap through the air and disembowel dogs. Many witnesses report that it has a hopping gait and can make huge jumps.

Encounters with the Queensland Tiger

Jerome Clark, Unexplained! (Visible Ink Press, 1999), describes sightings.

In the 1870s, police magistrate Brinsley G. Sherman wrote about his son’s encounter with the tiger near Rockingham Bay. It was evening. His son’s terrier picked up the scent of something and followed its trail, barking agitatedly. The son followed the dog and saw the strange animal. It was the size of a dingo, had a feline face, long tail and stripes on its back. The dog went after the beast, but it climbed up a tree. The dog barked at it and it rushed down the tree at the terrier and the boy.

Naturalist George Sharp saw the tiger in the early 1900s. It was at dusk near the source of the Tully River. It was bigger and darker than the thylacine. Shortly after this, a farmer killed one after it attacked his goats. Sharp followed the tracks and found the animal’s corpse. Although wild pigs had eaten the head and part of the body, the man was able to estimate it was five feet long. .

Ion L. Idriess who lived in York Peninsula claimed he saw a tiger disembowel a kangaroo. He also said he found a carcass of one by the Alice River after it died while fighting with his staghound who also died in the fray. The animal’s head was like a tiger’s.

H. Burrell and A. S. Le Souef wrote a book about Australian fauna and included an animal that appeared to be a cat who was getting to be a tiger. It lived in the remote rain forest on top of rocky mountains where people rarely go.

Human Evolution Since Modern Man: Larger Populations Evolve Technology Faster

Animal evolution involves genetic change, and this is how modern humans evolved from their ancestors. These modern humans appeared around 20,000 years ago, and, according to recent research subsequent changes owe more to cultural transmission than any biological changes.

Modern Humans

Homo sapiens sapiens (the subspecies usually known as ‘Modern Man’) probably originated in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Biologically they were the same as any humans alive today, and the earliest used stone tools much as their ancestors had.

Stone Ages of Man

Humans, and pre-humans, have made and used stone tools for 99% of human history.

  1. At first the tools were little more than handy cobbles with sharp edges made by banging two stones together, and the sharp flakes of stone that were created in the process
  2. Later the stones (usually flint) were shaped much more carefully, producing ‘Hand Axes’ or ‘Bifaces’.
  3. In the final stages of the palaeolithic (the Upper Palaeolithic, or the Late Stone Age) much more complex stone tools were created.
  4. Eventually (in the Neolithic) the stone tools associated with agricultural people were finely polished.

Length of Each Period in the Stone Age

  • The first two stages lasted for an incredible length of time (around 2 million years), and it has always been thought that the changes reflect the evolution of the various species involved. All these animals spent most of their time in small groups, and life was short.
  • The last two stages began around 90,000 years ago and ended when people began using metals. During these (much shorter) periods people seem to have been living in larger groups, culminating in settled agricultural villages.

Human Intelligence and Development of New Technologies

Skull remains show that the new species (Homo sapiens) had a larger brain size than most predecessors, and the fact that this species went on to develop new technologies at an ever-increasing rate used to be attributed to a steady increase in intelligence. But there have always been problems with this idea, for example:

  • The New Stone Age began in Africa around 90,000 years ago and then died out 25,000 years later, only to re-appear about 40,000 years before present. This would imply that the species became more intelligent, then lost intelligence for thousands of years, then re-gained its mental abilities.
  • People in different parts of the world developed new technologies at different times – indeed in historical times some were still in the Stone Age while others were industrial. How is this possible if they were all equally intelligent?

New Theory of Technological Development

A team at University College London has just put forward a new theory to explain why people in different parts of the world might have developed their technologies at different rates. Broadly this theory suggests that the size and age-structure of the population was the most important factor – a lot of people having a lot of ideas, and some people lasting long enough to pass on these ideas to the next generation. This would explain the accelerating effects of literacy, printing, and more recently the internet – indeed, in one sense, the whole human population in now one community, and new ideas can be spread widely and archived indefinitely!

Zoologists have long considered humans a special case where their recent evolution is concerned, recognising that changes in the way they behave owe more to their cultures than their genetic makeup. This new theory uses evidence to show that they are correct.

How to be an Amateur Naturalist

Cathy Taylor conducts her “Amateur Naturalist” program at Paris Mountain State Park in Greenville, S. C.

With Cathy, a half mile hike can take two hours and feel like five minutes. On a hike down the Turtle Trail, she shared the tools of her trade: magnifying lenses, binoculars and bug jars. Back at the park’s classroom is a collection of field guide books, a microscope, nets and buckets. Various animal skulls, a collection of scat replicas, birds’ nests, shed snake skins and an aquarium stocked with tadpoles and minnows from the park’s lakes provide specimens for study.

Keeping a Nature Log

Cathy also keeps a nature log, recording sightings, observations and their dates. The most important tool, she emphasizes, is a healthy dose of curiosity.

How do you identify an unknown specimen? Cathy points to a small, frilly, white flower as an example. First she observes it closely perhaps with a magnifying lens. How many petals does it have? How are they arranged? How are the leaves arranged? Do the leaves have any unusual characteristics, such as hairy or shiny surfaces? How tall is the plant? Where is it growing? What grows next to it?

Identifying the Starry Campion

Although she admits she’s not an artist, Cathy draws a picture of the specimen in her nature log. Drawing can be a better memory aid than a photograph for the simple reason that it forces the mind to notice and record all these details. Once she returns to her library, she consults her field guides. To be certain of the identification, she then searches the internet for photos and information, entering specific characteristics of the plant in the search engine. The small, frilly, white flower now has a name: Starry Campion.

Identifying Birds and Other Specimens

Crossing a small creek, one of her students spots a frog several yards away and half submerged. Cathy lends her binoculars for a close-up view. Unfortunately, sometimes even binoculars cannot help identify an animal. It may be partly hidden or it may move too quickly. In that instance, a naturalist may have to depend on other identifying characteristics. For example, while observing a bird, note its size relative to common birds such as crows, robins or sparrows. What shape is its silhouette? Does it have any distinctive field marks? What is its flight pattern? And what is its habitat? Some birds prefer feeding on the branches of a tree, while others prefer the tip top or the trunk; still others hunt on the ground.

The Swallowtail Likes Dog Fennel

Later, Cathy illustrates the importance of observing the specimen’s surroundings to learn more about its ecological niche. Once, on a nature hike, she was pointing out a dog fennel plant when a butterfly landed on it. One of the students asked, “Why did it land there?” Turns out it was a Black Swallowtail Butterfly, a species fond of dog fennel.

Cathy recommends taking advantage of state and national park learning programs to build skills and knowledge. They can be found on state park websites such as the South Carolina State Parks website, Southcarolinaparks.com . To search for programs at national parks, go to National Parks Service website, NPS.Gov.

Cathy has kept a nature log for a number of years. Nature logs record the date, place and details of a sighting. They are useful for consultation in the following years to predict the appearance of a species. They can be very scientific, recording time of day, temperature, weather etc. Or they can become a creative project. Some naturalists sketch, paint, and write poetry to embellish their logs.

What are Platelets? The Smallest of the Three Blood Cell Types Plays a Role in Clotting

Platelets are fragments of larger cells found in the bone marrow. While they don’t possess a nucleus and their lives are short, these “cells” serve a vital role.

The primary function of a platelet is in hemostasis, the cessation of bleeding from an injured vessel.

Platelets are cell fragments that break off from larger cells, called megakaryocytes, that reside within the bone marrow. Megakaryocytes synthesize platelets in response to a protein (thrombopoietin) made by the liver when the number of circulating platelets falls.

Once in the circulation, platelets survive for eight to ten days before they are filtered out by the spleen and liver, whereupon they are replaced by new platelets arising from the bone marrow.

A normal platelet count ranges from 140,000 to 440,000 per microliter. Pregnancy, inflammation, or menstrual phase can influence this number to a certain extent.

Platelets contain storage granules that hold clotting factors and other proteins, calcium, serotonin, ADP or ATP, and growth mediators. When activated, platelets release the contents of these granules in order to initiate clotting and, eventually, healing.

Platelet Activation and Clotting

  • In the normal state, blood vessels are lined by endothelial cells which produce nitrous oxide, prostacyclins, and mediating enzymes that prevent platelets from sticking together, or aggregating.
  • When a blood vessel is injured, endothelial cells stop producing mediators, so platelets immediately become more “sticky.”
  • Injury to a vessel wall exposes collagen and von Willebrand’s factor (VWF), both of which stimulate platelets to change shape, adhere to the vessel wall, and begin releasing the contents of their granules.
  • Release of granular contents initiates a series of reactions that attracts and activates other platelets and triggers the plasma-based coagulation cascade.
  • Activated platelets assemble receptors on their surfaces that attract fibrinogen, which is then converted by a plasma protein called thrombin to fibrin.
  • Fibrin strands form a meshwork which traps still more platelets and generates a plug, or clot.

Disorders of Platelets

  1. Decreased numbers of platelets (thrombocytopenia)
  • Loss of megakaryocytes in bone marrow: leukemia; aplastic anemia; myelosuppressive drugs (e.g., chemotherapy)
  • Diminished platelet production: HIV; alcohol-induced bone marrow damage; megaloblastic anemias; myelodysplasia
  • Platelet sequestration: cirrhosis with splenomegaly (or other causes of enlarged spleen); Gaucher’s disease
  • Increased or accelerated platelet consumption or destruction: HIV; HELLP syndrome; transfusion; drug-induced (quinine, sulfa, sulfonylureas, gold salts, etc.); autoimmune conditions; idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura; lymphomas; acute respiratory distress syndrome; disseminated intravascular coagulation (e.g., sepsis, massive burns); hemolytic-uremic syndrome
  1. Increased numbers of platelets (thrombocytosis)
  • Overproduction of platelets: essential thrombocythemia (abnormal proliferation of platelets arising from a blood-producing stem cell); chronic inflammatory diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.); acute infection; tumors; polycythemia vera; certain leukemias; iron deficiency; abnormal proliferation of bone marrow (myeloproliferative syndromes)
  • Decreased removal of platelets: splenectomy
  1. Abnormal platelet function
  • Decreased function: drug induced (aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories); kidney failure; multiple myeloma; cirrhosis; lupus; hereditary (von Willebrand disease; defects in storage granule release, Glanzmann’s disease, Bernard-Soulier syndrome, etc.)

Platelets are integral to the coagulation and healing processes. Abnormalities in platelet count or platelet function can be secondary to a variety of disorders or drugs.