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U.S. Scientists Examine Weather Conditions in Africa


Jill Moss and Amanda Scott

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VOICE ONE:

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I’m Barbara Klein.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Bob Doughty. On our program this week: we tell about the recent discovery of a bird once thought to no longer exist. We also report on the discovery of animals formerly unknown to science.

VOICE ONE:

But first, American scientists estimate future weather conditions in Africa.

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A new American study examines the past and future climate of Africa. The study found the Sahel area of North Africa will experience rainy, wet weather in coming years. At the same time, the study shows dry weather will continue in southern Africa.

James Hurrell and Martin Hoerling led the study. Professor Hurrell is a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Professor Hoerling works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Boulder.

The study compared sixty possible examples of climate change. The examples came from five computer programs developed by scientific centers around the world.

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Professor Hurrell says changes in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are affecting weather conditions in Africa. Studies show the temperature of the Indian Ocean has risen more than one degree Celsius since nineteen fifty.

Professor Hurrell suspects the cause is an increase in industrial gases trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere. Many scientists believe that such gases are causing temperatures to rise.

Professor Hurrell says he expects a continued warming of the Indian Ocean. This warming, he says, causes changes in the atmosphere. More warm air is rising over the water and developing into storms. At the same time, parts of southern Africa are drying out. Severely affected countries include Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Professor Hurrell says he expects the dry weather there to continue for many years.

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Professor Hurrell believes a different process is taking place in the Sahel area of Africa. The area is just south of the Sahara Desert.

The Sahel experienced a severe lack of rainfall in the nineteen seventies. Nearly two hundred thousand people died from a lack of food.

However, since nineteen ninety, ocean surface temperatures have been rising more quickly in the North Atlantic than in the Southern Atlantic. This is causing heavy rains from northern Africa to move into the Sahel area.

Professor Hurrell believes an increase in industrial gasses may have caused the change from dry to wet weather in the Sahel. He expects this wet climate to continue for many years.

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VOICE TWO:

A bird once thought to no longer exist has been discovered in the southeastern United States. Bird experts say they recently observed the ivory-billed woodpecker in the state of Arkansas. Experts had thought the ivory bill disappeared sixty years ago. The bird was last seen in nineteen forty-four.

Experts, wildlife groups and government officials kept the discovery a secret for more than a year. They waited to both confirm a sighting made in February of last year and also to protect the bird’s home.

John Fitzpatrick led the efforts to confirm the existence of the ivory-billed woodpecker. He is the director of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University. Professor Fitzpatrick described the sighting of the ivory bill as one of the best discoveries ever made. He added that Americans might have another chance to protect the future of the bird and the forests in which it lives.

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The ivory bill is the largest woodpecker in North America. It is fifty centimeters tall and has sharp white and black feathers. The male ivory bill has bright red markings at the top of the head.

There were large numbers of ivory bills one hundred fifty years ago. They lived in the woods that covered much of the southeastern United States.

The desire for wood and wood products began to increase after the Civil War ended in eighteen sixty-five. Many of the trees where the birds lived were cut down.

The destruction of these forests continued throughout the nineteen forties. By then, the ivory-billed woodpecker had almost disappeared. Many bird experts continued to look for ivory bills. Until now, there was no evidence that the birds still existed.

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Since the rediscovery, many people have offered to work together to save the bird’s wooded home. American government agencies have offered ten million dollars to protect the forest where the ivory bill was found.

Up to now, all sightings have been of a single male bird flying alone. Some people are beginning to wonder if they have found the last living ivory-billed woodpecker.

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VOICE ONE:

The discovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker was joyous news to many bird lovers. Equally exciting for plant scientists was a discovery reported last month. A wildflower called the Mount Diablo buckwheat was found in the American state of California.

A student at the University of California at Berkley made the discovery. Michael Park was studying plants at a state park about fifty kilometers east of San Francisco. Mister Park says he was shocked when he found the Mount Diablo buckwheat. There had not been a confirmed sighting of the wildflower since nineteen thirty-six. Plant scientists thought it had permanently disappeared.

The Mount Diablo buckwheat has small pink flowers and grows to a height of about fifteen centimeters. Scientists and park officials are not telling the public exactly where the plant is right away. They believe keeping the information secret will help protect it.

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Wildlife experts also have discovered animals formerly unknown to science. Two research teams working independently in Tanzania say they recently found a new member of the monkey family.

The new monkey is called the highland mangabey. Researchers say it lives high in the mountains of two Tanzanian forests. They say the animal has long hair and is less than a meter tall. They say the monkey’s life in the trees and its black face probably means it is similar to the baboon. The researchers also said the highland mangabey makes a strange noise. They describe its call as a honk-bark.

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Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society first discovered the monkeys. Later, researchers from the University of Georgia and Conservation International observed the animals.

Tim Davenport led the researchers who first saw the highland mangabey two years ago. They had heard stories about an unusual monkey near the Mount Rungwe volcano and Livingstone Forest in southern Tanzania.

The other researchers made their discovery about three hundred fifty kilometers away from Mount Rungwe. They were in the Udzunga Mountains. Trevor Jones and his team were looking for an endangered monkey species. But, they found the new monkey instead.

In all, the two teams found just thirteen groups of highland mangabeys. It is the first new species of African monkey found in more than twenty years. Tim Davenport says the discovery proves that there is still much to learn about Africa.

VOICE TWO:

We have one more discovery to tell you about. Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups say they discovered a new kind of rodent in Laos. Their findings were reported in the magazine Systematics and Biodiversity.

The report says the new rodent has long whiskers, short legs and thick hair. The researchers say it is most like a guinea pig or chinchilla. However, the report says the animal is so different that it represents a new family of animals.

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Robert Timmins of the Wildlife Conservation Society first saw the rodent for sale at a market in central Laos. He says he knew immediately that he had never seen such an animal before. The report says bone and genetic tests suggest the animal must have developed from other rodents millions of years ago.

Laotians call the rodent Kha-Nyou. The report says the animal appears to live mostly in areas of limestone and forest. It also said the Kha-Nyou sleeps during the day and does not eat meat.

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VOICE TWO:

This program was written by Jill Moss and Amanda Scott. Jill Moss was our producer. I’m Bob Doughty.

VOICE ONE:

And I’m Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English.

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