Polar Research to Look for Answers About Climate Change

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. This week, an American study shows a link between air pollution and heart disease. We will tell you about it. We also will tell about preparations for the International Polar Year. And, we tell about a competition to fight climate change.

A new study shows that air pollution may be more of a risk for heart disease than scientists have thought. The research involved more than sixty-five thousand women in the United States.

Kristin Miller was the lead writer of the study. She says the study showed that disease risk was linked not just to which city a woman lived in, but also where in a city.

The study found that estimates of the effects of air pollution were often larger within cities than between cities. Yet averages between cities have served as the main measure of the long-term effects of pollutants.

The findings lead some experts to suggest that current pollution limits may not be strong enough.

The research team examined rates of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular events in women with long-term exposure to air pollution. The cardiovascular system is the heart and all of the passages that carry blood throughout the body.

The study involved women who had no sign of cardiovascular disease at the start of the research. All of the women were more than fifty years of age. The study followed them for as long as nine years to see how many developed cardiovascular problems.

The researchers used information from a government project, the Women's Health Initiative.

The researchers also examined levels of fine particles in the air in thirty-six areas across the country. That information came from the Environmental Protection Agency. The small particles come from industrial smoke and traffic. They also come from things like wood-burning fireplaces in homes.

In the study, every ten-microgram increase in pollution was linked to a twenty-four percent increase in the risk of a cardiovascular event. But it was linked to a seventy-six percent increase in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Winter has brought severe weather to parts of the United States. The weather has already resulted in several deaths. One of the major concerns during cold weather is hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition that happens when the body's inner temperature drops below thirty-five degrees Celsius. The lowered body temperature leads to loss of mental and physical abilities.

Hypothermia can also lead to death. The condition kills hundreds of Americans each year. Late last year, a thirty-five year-old father of two died of hypothermia in the state of Oregon. James Kim died while attempting to find help for his family after their car became stuck in a mountain snowstorm. Weeks later, three Oregon mountain climbers were caught in a severe snowstorm. Only one man's body was recovered. The other men are believed dead.

There are two kinds of hypothermia. The first kind is called primary hypothermia. It happens when cold air, water or wind causes harm to a healthy, but unprotected individual during an extended period.

The second kind of hypothermia is called secondary hypothermia. This happens when existing conditions interfere with the body's natural ability to stay warm. Two such conditions are drug use and lack of food. Health problems that have been linked to hypothermia include infection, diabetes, spinal cord injury or stroke.

The first signs of hypothermia are usually cold, light-colored skin and shaking. Other signs include unclear thinking, tiredness, slowed speaking, and slowed reactions.

Babies and older adults are at risk of hypothermia because their bodies can lose heat and drop in temperature quicker. Others at risk are people who take part in outdoor activities like hiking, fishing and climbing. If clothing becomes wet, hypothermia can result even in mild temperatures.

Anyone who appears to be suffering from hypothermia should receive medical help immediately. Hypothermia victims must be slowly warmed. It is important to move the person out of the cold and remove any wet clothing.

Medical experts advise covering the person with dry, warm clothing. Sharing body heat by lying next to the person can help if warm clothing is not found. Experts say hot objects should not be used on a hypothermia victim. Keep the victim awake and avoid moving them. If possible, give the victim something warm to drink. Do not give the person drinks containing alcohol or caffeine. Such drinks can increase heat loss.

America's National Academies has announced plans for more than two hundred scientific explorations in the Arctic and Antarctic. The explorations are to be part of the International Polar Year, which begins in March.

The National Academies represents the National Academy of Sciences and three other organizations. They give advice on scientific issues to the American public and federal government.

The National Academies says the polar research is expected to answer important questions about climate change and the environment. They say scientists from more than sixty nations will cooperate on many research activities.

The scientists will examine many physical, biological and social research issues. They include studying changes in the permanently frozen ground and observing sea life near the North and South Poles.

Many public education and information programs are also being planned. The coming International Polar Year will be the fourth in history. Other polar years took place in eighteen eighty-two, nineteen thirty-two and nineteen fifty-seven.

British businessman Richard Branson and former American vice president Al Gore recently announced a competition. They are seeking a way to remove at least one billion tons of carbon dioxide each year from Earth's atmosphere. Mr. Branson is offering twenty-five million dollars to the developer of such a technology.

Last year, he offered to invest three billion dollars to fight climate change. The money would come from profits from his companies, including Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

The new competition is called the Virgin Earth Challenge. The winner of the contest must develop a plan to remove industrial gases from the atmosphere without causing harm. The first five million dollars would be paid to the winner immediately. The rest of the money would be paid only after the prize-winning technology had worked successfully for ten years.

Mr. Branson and Mr. Gore announced the contest in London earlier this month. They said that some scientists are working on technologies to capture carbon dioxide at power stations and other industrial centers. But no one has developed a way to remove industrial gases already released into the atmosphere. Many scientists say those gases are causing an increase in temperatures around the world. They say continued warming will have serious results in the future.

Mr. Branson said the warming caused by industrial gases is threatening the existence of human beings. He said he believes that people are able to find answers to problems that they have created.

The former vice president said people are facing an emergency. Last year, Mr. Gore made a documentary film about climate change. The film has helped him become one of the world's leading experts on climate change issues.

Mr. Gore and Mr. Branson noted a report released last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The group included hundreds of scientists from more than one hundred countries.

The report said that human activity is warming the Earth at a dangerous rate. It said Earth's temperatures could increase by as much as six degrees centigrade by the end of this century. This could result in sea levels around the world rising by five meters.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Brianna Blake, Shelley Gollust and Caty Weaver. Brianna Blake was our producer. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. Listen again next week at this time for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: Polar Research to Look for Answers About Climate Change
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