vendredi 30 mai 2014

Because the law says so, not just mom

A law that requires children to help with household chores and respect their parents? In Spain, it could become reality.
A draft law set before Parliament last month would mandate just that. Extreme? Perhaps. But it’s doubtful many parents complaining — and it might not be so far-fetched. After all, Spain’s husbands already have legal obligations to do chores and help with childcare.
Spain certainly isn’t the only country to adopt or consider such unusual measures.
Here’s a closer look at the Spanish law as well as some other surprising work–related rules and norms that have come into force around the globe in the last few years, including cutting off after-hour email and measuring employee waistlines. Click through the images above to read about the others.
The measure in Spain that would require kids to help out around the house is currently just a draft law, but it lists the responsibilities and obligations of children to include “participating in family life, respecting their parents and siblings” and “co-responsibility in caring for the home and performing household chores according to their age and regardless of their gender."
No punishments or penalties are listed for failing to comply, though.
Montse Reguera, a teacher in Madrid and parent, said the section of the draft law regarding chores and respect made her laugh when she read about it and that she thinks it’s unnecessary. “As any other families in the world, Spanish families have their own rules, unwritten moral rules and private rules that children learn as they grow up,” she said.
Husbands in Spain already have legal language holding them accountable for housework. A 2005 addendum to the marriage contract used in Spanish civil ceremonies stipulates men are required to shoulder household duties, as well as help care for children and elderly family members.

vendredi 23 mai 2014

Talking about the future

Click on the following link : you will find lessons and exercices about the future.

The secret link between money and happiness

Can money buy happiness? Should salaries stay secret? (Getty Images)
Can money buy happiness? Should salaries stay secret?

You’ve heard the saying, “money can’t buy happiness,” but what if a certain amount of money actually does make you happier? And don’t people feel unhappy when they learn a colleague is earning more money for doing the same amount of work?
At the very least, money, or lack of it, can bring some level of joy or despair.
Several LinkedIn Influencers weighed in this week on why salaries shouldn’t be secret and just how much money brings happiness. Here’s what two of them had to say.
Felix Salmon, senior editor at Fusion
“Very few people like to talk about how much money they make — especially not people who earn a lot of money,” wrote Salmon in his postWhy Salaries Shouldn’t Be Secret, in the wake of news that recently-departed New York Times editor Jill Abramson had started asking questions about the pay discrepancy between her and her predecessor.  “Since companies tend to be run by people who earn a lot of money, the result is a culture of silence and secrecy when it comes to pay.”
There are several surprising reasons “secrecy surrounding pay is generally a bad idea for any organisation,” Salmon wrote.
 “For one thing, secrecy about pay is bad for women, who are worse at asking for raises than men are. If men secretly ask for raises and secretly get them, while women don’t, then that helps to explain, at least in part, why men end up earning more than women,” Salmon wrote. “Secrecy around pay is also a great way to allow managers to — consciously or unconsciously — play favorites with their staff.”
“We’ve all worked in companies, I’m sure, where the only way to get a substantial raise is to confront management with a job offer from somewhere else,” he added. “That’s clearly a dreadful way to run a company, since it gives all employees a huge incentive to spend a lot of time looking for work elsewhere, even if they’re very happy where they are.”
“If you work for a company where everybody knows what everybody else is earning, then it’s going to be very easy to see what’s going on. You’ll see who the stars are, you’ll see what kind of skills and talent the company rewards,” he wrote. “You’ll also see whether men get paid more than women, whether managers are generally overpaid, and whether behaviour like threatening to quit is rewarded with big raises. What’s more, because management knows that everybody else will see such things, they’ll be much less likely to do the kind of secret deals which are all too common in most companies today.”
Bruce Kasanoff, ghostwriter and speaker
Maybe money does buy happiness. Or some money, that is. At least that’s the case according to recent research from Princeton, yielded from a survey of 450,000 people.
The research found that emotional well-being is fully realised at an annual income of about $75,000. But not more.
“In other words, when it comes to money, there is a glass ceiling for its ability to bring you happiness,” wrote Kasanoff in his post $75,000 Buys Happiness; More Money Does Not. “This makes intuitive sense; if you can't afford a decent place to live or enough food to feed your family, more money substantively improves your situation. But few would agree with the statement that the happiest moments of their life was/were when they had the most money.”
The researchers examined emotional well-being, rather thanlife evaluation, wrote Kasanoff. “Emotional well-being is what they equate with happiness. It involves the emotional experiences you have on a day-to-day basis... being delighted, sad, frustrated, excited, lonely or fascinated,” he wrote.
What does all of this mean, then, in terms of money and happiness?
“If you double your salary, say to $150,000, you will probably increase your intellectual assessment of your life,” Kasanoff wrote. “But doubling your salary won't necessarily give you more joy, day-to-day. It won't make you more excited by your work or help you feel closer to your friends and family.”

Alzheimer's research 'needs new strategy'

Lab mice
Brain cells in a dish may eventually replace animal research

A shift in medical research priorities is needed to meet the challenge of fighting dementia, say animal welfare campaigners.
Animal research into new therapies has failed to deliver after years of experiments, they say.
Instead, labs should focus on human-based models such as brain scanning or studies of cells grown from patients.
Alzheimer's Research UK said no single approach could provide answers to such a complex disease.
Dr Gillian Langley, a scientist and consultant for the animal welfare charity, Humane Society International, is among a growing body of scientists who believe current research relies too much on animal models.
"Medical research is at a tipping point," she told BBC News.
"There is a growing realisation that animal studies are not producing the breakthroughs we're hoping for."
Writing in the journal Drug Discovery Today, she said it was time to consider a new paradigm in medical research for Alzheimer's disease.
Research was "lagging behind" areas such as toxicology, which is using research based on molecular disease pathways within cells and new tools such as genomics, she said.
"We need this overarching view - a new framework so we can use these 21st Century tools."
Model of complexity
Other scientists say human-based methods of research - once regarded as experimental - are already yielding results.
Professor Paul Lawrence Furlong of Aston University carries out brain imaging to try to develop methods for early diagnosis of dementia in patients.
"We're supportive of initiatives to move forward the human model for good scientific reasons," he said.
"In Alzheimer's, at the cellular level, many animal models are valuable. When we move up the model of complexity, there's a point at which the animal model becomes less valid."
Brain cells in a dish
He said researchers such as Dr Eric Hill at Aston University are working on stem cells (the master cells of the human body) to model Alzheimer's disease, which may eventually provide more robust ways of testing treatments.
"These cells were once skin cells that have been reprogrammed to become stem cells again," said Dr Hill.
"They were then differentiated to become neurons and astrocytes.
"The exciting thing about this technology is that you can take cells from patients with a disease and then try to create a model of this disease in a dish. "
However, the charity, Alzheimer's Research UK, said no single approach could address such a complex disease, with animal models, brain studies and new approaches involving stem cells all playing a role.
"Alzheimer's is a complex disease and the brain is a complex organ," said head of research Simon Ridley.
"I think modelling that in a cell culture or in a dish, it's a huge challenge.
"So I think it's very important that we keep a broad perspective on the different types of research, really to try to answer specific questions."
Dr Laurie Butler, of the University of Reading, added: "With the number of those affected by dementia set to triple over the next 30 years it's vital we examine all research approaches if the UK is going to fulfil Jeremy Hunt's promise of transforming the country into a 'global leader' in fighting dementia. "

lundi 19 mai 2014

Use of "For"

We can sometimes use for + ing to talk about the purpose of a thing. When we do, it means the same as to + infinitive.
  • What is that for? It is for opening envelopes
  • This bell is for calling the waiter.
  • This bell is to call the waiter.

When we talk about the purpose of somebody's actions, we cannot use for + ing.
  • I went there to ask for help.
  • You will have to queue a long time. to get tickets.

However, it is sometimes possible to use for + noun for this.
  • I went there for help.
  • You will have to queue a long timefor tickets.

We can also use for + object + infinitive to talk about a purpose.
  • I gave her a notebook for her to write down new English words she found.
  • They sent a form for me to sign.

We also use the pattern for + object + infinitive in sentences after is or was.
  • The plan is for us to get to Barcelona by lunchtime.
  • The objective was for them to get the work finished by the end of last month.

We can add details to a noun by using the pattern for + object + infinitive
  • That is an expensive place for them to stay.
  • There is a lot of work for us to do.
  • There is no need for you to be so aggressive.

We also use the pattern for + object + infinitive after certain verbs and adjectives.
  • I am waiting for him to make the first move.
  • I have arranged for you to see the bank manager tomorrow morning.
  • We are keen for you to take the job.
  • I think it would be good for you to take a break now.

Did you liked this moment during tv show How I Met Your Mother ?

vendredi 16 mai 2014

Austria's Conchita Wurst wins Eurovision amid Russia, Ukraine tensions

Russia and Ukraine faced off again Saturday, far from their volatile border region, on the glitzy stage of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Tensions between the neighbors gave an added piquancy to the competition's grand final in Copenhagen, Denmark, in which both nations were fielding entries. Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March and eastern Ukraine is currently roiled by pro-Russian separatist protests.
On the night, however, it was a much talked about 25-year-old from Austria who stole the show. Conchita Wurst, the onstage drag persona of Thomas Neuwirth, was the runaway winner for a performance of the ballad "Rise Like A Phoenix."
Wurst also refers to himself as "the bearded lady," he says on his website. In his private life, he calls himself "Tom" and refers to himself as "he."

In the role of Conchita Wurst, who Neuwirth calls an "art figure," the artist refers to "herself" as "she."
Neuwirth created Wurst -- which in German means sausage but can also mean 'who cares?' -- in his teen years to cope with feeling discriminated against.
Performing in a skintight dress with long hair and a full beard, Wurst scored 290 points to become Austria's first Eurovision winner since 1966.
"For me, my dream came true," Wurst told reporters after the contest. "But for society it showed me that people want to move on, to look to the future. We said something, we made a statement."
Wurst's presence in the competition had proved controversial in some countries. In Armenia, Belarus and Russia -- where a law against "gay propaganda" was passed last year -- petitions were circulated calling for the singer to be removed from the competition or edited out of the broadcast.
In Russia, Wurst's win drew boos in some places where audiences had gathered to watch the contest.
Wurst's manager, Rene Berto, described the win as a victory for tolerance, one of the main themes emphasized by the contest's organizers.
"Let's change the world and make it a little bit better," Berto said. "Conchita always says: 'Wish for the moon and you'll reach at least the stars,' but now we just landed on the moon. Let's change our way of thinking -- Conchita is just a woman with a beard."

Non-political event?

Created in the aftermath of World War II to encourage good relations between neighbors, Eurovision has been held every year since 1956, and today draws a television audience of about 180 million people in 45 countries.
Contestants are often eccentric, colorful, unusual -- on the fringes of mainstream music in their home countries.
The organizers describe the event -- known for its combination of over-the-top costumes, kitsch pop songs and sometimes questionable talent -- as non-political.
But in reality, politics inevitably colors both the voting and the performances.
This was demonstrated to an unusual degree Tuesday, when Russia's entrants -- 17-year-old twins Anastasia and Maria Tolmachevy -- were booed by the audience during their semi-final performance.
William Lee Adams, a Eurovision expert and the editor-in-chief of, the popular Eurovision website, told CNN that the contest is about national identity as well as music.
"Months of frustration over Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and Putin's anti-LGBT laws have left Europeans angry," Adams said.
"The booing was a release, a statement of solidarity with Ukraine and Russia's sexual minorities."
It doesn't help that Russia's love song features lyrics that some see as hinting at a border incursion. It goes, " on the edge, closer to the crime, cross the line, one step at a time ... maybe there's a day you'll be mine."
Ukrainian singer Mariya Yaremchuk, who performed a song titled "Tick-Tock," said Tuesday that she was proud to be representing her country.
"Actually, my main position is that I'm proud that I'm Ukrainian and everything I do here is for the Ukrainian people," the 21-year-old said.
"I'm not standing alone on the stage, there are 46 million Ukrainians behind me on the stage."
The countries involved in the contest award a set of points from one to eight, then 10 and finally 12 for their favorite songs. They can't vote for themselves and they must announce the score in both English and French.
Television viewers can cast votes in their respective countries through telephone hotlines, which count for half the final tally. The remainder of the vote is cast by national expert juries.
The country with the highest points total wins -- and has the rather expensive honor of hosting the following year's event.
In the end, Ukraine's Yaremchuk scored slightly higher than her Russian rivals, finishing in sixth place with 113 points, while Russia's Tolmachevy twins took 89 points to finish seventh.
A duo from the Netherlands finished in second place, with a Swedish entry coming in third.

mardi 13 mai 2014

Let It Be - The Beatles

Manchester City crowned champions after effortless win over West Ham

This time, they spared the emotions of their supporters. There was no late drama. No bedlam. For once, Manchester City resisted any temptation to make life unnecessarily hard for themselves. Instead, they just rolled up their sleeves and set about finishing off their work. They are the champions of England and they did it in a way that made it feel like the old City, the club they once said should carry a government health warning, were a fading memory.
By the time it was all done, Manuel Pellegrini's team had clocked up 102 goals for the season and it was probably a surprise they had not managed to catch, or overhaul, Chelsea's record of 103 from four years ago. Sergio Agüero is probably thinking the same after one of Pablo Zabaleta's overlapping runs had presented him with the kind of chance he would normally score blindfolded.
No matter. Vincent Kompany's goal four minutes into the second half could not generate the mosh pit that Agüero set in motion on the final day two seasons ago but, for once, City's crowd might actually appreciate a party with a chill-out zone. West Ham were generous opponents and, for City, the only real problem was persuading their supporters to leave the pitch so the presentation could begin. "We want to see the trophy," the public announcer reminded everyone, with a crackle of irritation in his voice.
Eventually, it was brought on by three of the players – Ashley Brown, Joel Labotierre and Egan Riley – from City's trophy-winning sides at under-18, under-14 and under-11 level.
Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, had said it would be "pretty depressing" for a team to win the league with only a scattering of homegrown English players. This was not a direct riposte from City (it had been planned 10 days ago). But it was still a way of making a point. What a moment for Kompany, too, bearing in mind it was his error at Anfield a month ago that had threatened to extinguish City's chances of glory.
A lesser side might have crumpled, particularly after the clumpy 2-2 draw against Sunderland that left them six points behind the following Wednesday, with only one game in hand. City have made it a victory for resilience. Their song tells us they "fight to the end." The mosaic said: "Together." Among the banners, there was the message: "Nobody remembers who comes second." And City – calm, professional, slick, assured – made absolutely certain the title race had experienced its final twist.
Pellegrini, his medal still round his neck, made sure afterwards to mention the work of his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, but there was another moment later on, analysing a "beautiful great season," when he offered a rare glimpse into some of the issues he inherited.
"Maybe the relations were not the best," he said. "It was very important to have calm, to try to convince them how we can play, and how important it was to be close, all of us."
On the pitch, Kompany could be seen coaxing some of the fringe players to the presentation stage. Joleon Lescott had set up a photograph of the English players and Joe Hart was singing: "We are the quota." Yet there is a great sense of unity among a cosmopolitan squad. As Pellegrini said, there are no factions, no cliques, no disruptions.
Just consider the number of controversies that have accompanied this success (practically zero). Super City have Gone Holistic, to borrow the buzzword they introduced after Pellegrini had replaced Mancini.
They were ahead, five minutes before the interval, when Samir Nasri took a short pass from Yaya Touré and, with nobody closing him down, let fly from 25 yards. Adrián, the West Ham goalkeeper, got his glove to the shot but it was a weak attempt to keep it out.
The ball thudded in off the right-hand post and the Etihad was enveloped in the state of euphoria that culminated in Pellegrini, this man of quiet, measured dignity, getting the bumps from the victorious players. For a few moments, there were even a couple of hairs out of place.
The crowd's nerves had already been soothed because of the news filtering through from Anfield of Martin Skrtel's own goal and Kompany's close-range finish shooed away any lingering doubts. Edin Dzeko applied the first touch and the ball brushed off Nolan to fall invitingly for Kompany, inside the six-yard area. The crowd were on their third Poznan by the time the final whistle turned the pitch into a writhing mass of bodies.
West Ham had plodded through what could conceivably be Sam Allardyce's last game in charge. They defended stoutly for the opening half an hour but it has never been the structure and organisation of Allardyce's team that is in doubt. It is the absence of any real spark or creativity and, if this was the farewell, it petered out unsatisfactorily. They did not manage a single effort on target from their three shots and there was a note of tragicomedy attached to the chance that fell to Andy Carroll midway through the second half.
From West Ham's only real opening, Carroll attempted to bring down Stewart Downing's cross and his first touch sent it out for a corner. He was substituted a few minutes later.
Touré's celebrations were slightly tarnished by the hamstring injury that had forced him out of the game early but before then he had demonstrated again he was a worthy rival to Luis Suárez for the season's individual awards. Martín Demichelis deserves more acclaim than he has actually received for the way he has justified Pellegrini's faith and when the manager was asked about Nasri potentially missing out on France's World Cup squad it was rare to hear him so opinionated. "I can't believe Samir Nasri will not be going," was his verdict. "It will be an important mistake."
More than anything, there was the sense that if City play a wise hand then the Pellegrini era, unlike Mancini's, can sustain success. "Big teams cannot be satisfied with one title," Pellegrini continued. "On Tuesday we start working for the next season."
A meeting has been arranged in Abu Dhabi with Sheikh Mansour. It is just a pity City's owner does not make an appearance in Manchester. He would enjoy what he sees.
The Guardian

lundi 12 mai 2014

'Nothing can stop retreat' of West Antarctic glaciers (By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News)

Key glaciers in West Antarctica are in an irreversible retreat, scientists led from the US space agency (Nasa) say.

They analysed 40 years of observations of six big ice streams draining into the Amundsen Bay and concluded that nothing now can stop them melting away.
Although these are abrupt changes, the timescales involved are likely measured in centuries, the researchers add.
If the glaciers really do disappear, they would add roughly 1.2m to global sea level rise.
The new study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, but Nasa held a teleconference on Monday to brief reporters on the findings.
Prof Eric Rignot said warm ocean water was relentlessly eating away at the glaciers' fronts and that the geometry of the sea bed in the area meant that this erosion had now entered a runaway process.

"This retreat will have major consequences for sea level rise worldwide. It will raise sea levels by 1.2m, or 4ft, but its retreat will also influence adjacent sectors of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which could triple this contribution to sea level."
"We present observational evidence that a large section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has gone into a state of irreversible retreat; it has passed the point of no return," the agency glaciologist explained.
The Amundsen Bay sector includes some of the biggest and fastest moving glaciers on Earth.
Pine Island Glacier (PIG), over which there has been intense research interest of late, covers about 160,000 sq km, or about two-thirds the area of the UK.
Like the Thwaites, Smith, Haynes, Pope, Smith and Kohler Glaciers in this region - the PIG has been thinning rapidly.
And its grounding line - the zone where the glacier enters the sea and lifts up and floats - has also reversed tens of km over recent decades.
What makes the group vulnerable is that their bulk actually sits below current sea level with the rock bed sloping inland towards the continent.
This is a geometry, say scientists, that invites further melting and further retreat.
The new study includes radar observations that map the underlying rock in the region, and this finds no ridge or significant elevation in topography that could act as a barrier to the glaciers' reverse.
"In our new study, we present additional data that the junction of the glaciers with the ocean - the grounding line - has been retreating at record speeds unmatched anywhere in the Antarctic," said Prof Rignot.
"We also present new evidence that there is no large hill at the back of these glaciers that could create a barrier and hold the retreat back. This is why we conclude that the disappearance of ice in this sector is unstoppable."
The researcher, who is also affiliated to the University of California, Irvine, attributed the underlying driver of these changes to global warming.
This, together with atmospheric behaviours influenced by a loss of ozone in the stratosphere, had created stronger winds in the Southern Ocean that were now drawing more warm water towards and under the glaciers.
Dr Tom Wagner, the cryosphere program scientist with Nasa, said it was clear that, in the case of these six glaciers, a threshold had been crossed.
"The results are not based on computer simulations or numerical models; they are based on the interpretation of observations," he told reporters.
"And I think this is an important point because this sometimes can get lost on the general public when they're trying to understand climate change and the implications."
Prof Rignot and colleagues put no real timescales on events, but a paper released by the journal Science to coincide with the Nasa media conference tries to do just this.
It does include computer modelling and was led by Dr Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. The study considers the particular case of Thwaites Glacier.
In the model, Dr Joughin's team is able to reproduce very accurately the behaviour of the glacier over the past 20 years.
The group then runs the model forwards to try to forecast future trends.
This, likewise, indicates that a collapse of the glacier is inevitable, and suggests it will most likely occur in the next 200 to 500 years.
Prof Andy Shepherd, from Leeds University, UK, is connected with neither Rignot's nor Joughin's work.
He told BBC News: "[Joughin's] new simulations are a game changing result, as they shine a spotlight on Thwaites Glacier, which has until now played second fiddle to its neighbour Pine Island Glacier in terms of ice losses.
"There is now little doubt that this sector of West Antarctica is in a state of rapid retreat, and the burning question is whether and how soon this retreat might escalate into irreversible collapse. Thankfully, we now have an array of satellites capable of detecting the tell-tale signs, and their observations will allow us to monitor the progress and establish which particular scenario Thwaites Glacier will follow."

Phrasal verbs: lesson & exercice

To be overTo be finished
To carry outTo implement
To come acrossTo find
To come up withTo find (a solution)
To drop outTo abandon
To give inTo surrender
To let downTo disappoint
To own upTo admit
To point outTo indicate
To put forwardTo suggest
To put offTo leave something until later
To put up withTo tolerate
To set offTo start on a journey
To tell offTo criticize or rebuke
To take downTo note in writing
To take overTo take control
To think overTo consider
To try outTo test or sample
To turn downTo reject an offer
To work outTo calculate
  1. My boss  some mistakes I had made.
  2. When the police surrounded the bank, the robbers  .
  3. I offered him 2,500 euro for his car, but he  my offer.
  4. The maths problem was too difficult; I couldn't  the answer.
  5. When the film  , we went to the pub for a drink.
  6. Never  till tomorrow what you can do today.
  7. The suggestion you  at the meeting, was a brilliant idea.
  8. You can't use the network at the moment because engineers are  maintenance work.
  9. The headmaster  the pupils for breaking a classroom window.
  10. I'll  your offer; it's very interesting.
  11. It's a difficult problem but we'll eventually  a remedy.
  12. I'm  Linux at the moment, and so far, I find it very effective.
  13. I can't deal with your problem at the moment; why don't I  the details and get back to you.
  14. AOL  Netscape in a deal worth billions of dollars.
  15. He didn't keep his promise; he  his colleagues.
  16. Whoever spilt coffee all over the photocopier should  to his fault; it's the only honourable thing to do.
  17. Towards the end of the race, she developed a cramp and  .
  18. In the library the other day, I  a book I had been looking for.
  19. Your train leaves in half an hour; you'd better  now if you want to be on time.
  20. She doesn't like me very much, but she'll have to  me because we have to share an office.

Pronunciation Lessons

vendredi 9 mai 2014

Why we need to make good processed food

Can we create meals that are both satisfying and enjoyable but more convenient and better tailored to our physical needs? Glenn Zorpette thinks so.

Processed food has a bad reputation: nutritionally bankrupt, and loaded with sugar, fat and salt. But it doesn’t have to be unhealthy, says Zorpette, Executive Editor of engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum. As populations increase and the effects of climate change begin to take hold, we will face shortages in protein, so it’s important to realise this and investigate how to use processed food to address this.
Meat has a very large ecological footprint, so what are the alternatives? Zorpette is particularly optimistic about meat analogues based on vegetable protein. One significant advance in the area is high-moisture meat analogues (HMMAs). They are similar in texture to cooked chicken, though he thinks the flavour is not quite there. So adults used to eating chicken breasts in a light sauce may not take to the substitutes, but it is a promising possibility that younger people may grow up with these substitutes and get used to them.
There will come a time when we all know our full genetic sequence, says Zorpette, and doctors will be able to tell a person’s nutritional needs from this information. We can also measure people’s activities through wearable technology. So it’s not too hard to envision a world in which all this information is fed into an app or device that helps individuals to understand their optimum nutritional needs. It may even be the case that we have machines at home that can print out this food for us.
Glenn Zorpette spoke to BBC Future at SXSW Interactive in Austin Texas. 

mardi 6 mai 2014

Will we ever… control the weather?

(Getty Images)

We’ve long tried to make it rain, and now scientists aim to harness lightning with lasers and hurricanes with oil slicks. Is manipulating weather possible?
With 2,000 drummers, 15,000 other performers and vast quantities of fireworks, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was a dazzling spectacle. It was also a dry one. In the run-up to the event, held during the rainy season, the Chinese authorities fired 1,100 rockets into the skies in an effort to intercept and trigger downpours before they reached the capital city.
The night of the ceremony saw 100mm (4in) of rain fall on the nearby city of Baoding, but none in Beijing. Proof positive that we can successfully control the weather, say many, but how true is this?
Efforts to keep nature at bay in this manner aren't new. It’s almost 70 years since US scientists first suggested seeding clouds with particles to stimulate precipitation, and the State of California has been using the technique for 50 years. “The interest in this last year has been dramatically greater because of the drought conditions in California,” says Jeff Tilley, director of weather modification at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.
In 2008, Chinese authorities fired 1,100 rockets into the skies to divert rain from Beijing during the Olympics (Getty Images)
Several forms of cloud seeding are used, depending on prevailing conditions. Seeding involves adding crystals of a material like silver iodide to the clouds, around which the tiny droplets can condense. As more water freezes onto the crystals, they eventually grow large enough to fall as precipitation. The silver iodide is generally scattered onto the cloud from aircraft, but some, such as the Chinese, also use rockets. In California, this is often done during the winter when temperatures inside the clouds are far below freezing. Very pure water can remain liquid at well below 0C, and clouds contain tiny droplets of this “supercooled” water that are too light to fall as rain or snow.
Storm brewing
In 2010, Jerome Kasparian at the University of Geneva in Switzerland came up with a new method to summon clouds – this time using lasers. He says tests under carefully controlled laboratory conditions show this works by stripping electrons from the atoms in the air, forming positively charged particles that help generate tiny “seeds” around which ice or rain drops can grow. Some however remain sceptical, arguing that what has been demonstrated in the lab cannot necessarily be repeated in the variable and unpredictable conditions of our atmosphere.
Tilley says scepticism around cloud seeding is understandable because relatively little funding goes into research that could convince doubters it works. “The people providing the funding are already convinced it works, so they would rather just fund actual seeding operations,” he says.
Today that funding often comes from authorities wishing to guarantee water supplies (although the US military was once reportedly interested in using cloud seeding to extend the Monsoon season during the Vietnam War as part of its combat strategy). Several airports in the western US including Boise Airport, in Idaho, use cloud seeding as part of efforts to clear thick fog that would otherwise cause flight delays.
Another laser-based weather control system could help keep airports open during severe thunderstorms. In 2004, Kasparian and his colleagues fired laser pulses into thunderclouds in an attempt to suck out lightning in a controlled manner. Their efforts were unsuccessful – perhaps because the laser beams needed to be more powerful to trigger lightning, says Kasparian. Yet a similar experiment by another research team in 2012 succeeded, at least in the lab. They used a laser to divert artificial lightning so that it travelled down a controlled path.
Twister resistance
What about our ability to prevent dangerous weather formations such as tornadoes? Speaking at the recent American Physical Society conference in Denver, Rongjia Tao, of Temple University in Philadelphia suggested that tall walls may hold the key to preventing devastating twisters.
Tao says tornadoes form in America’s Midwest because of the interaction between hot air from the south and cold air from the north. The problem is most severe in the infamous tornado alley – a vast plain running from Texas in the south to Nebraska in the north. Three 300-metre-tall east-west walls – one running through North Dakota, one between Kansas and Oklahoma, and one in Texas and Louisiana – would slow the flow of air and reduce the threat posed by tornadoes in the region forever, Tao says.
Could tall walls help to prevent devastating tornados from forming? (Thinkstock)
Some meteorologists were quick to argue the walls wouldn’t work. Violent tornadoes can form where there are relatively small differences in temperature of the mixing air, said some, which may explain why China still experiences tornadoes despite possessing natural east-west “walls” in the form of mountain chains. Tao counters that China had only three tornadoes in 2013, compared to 811 in the US.
Beyond tornadoes, there are also efforts to control hurricanes. One approach tested in the early 2000s involved using aircraft to dump thousands of kilogrammes of a water-absorbing polymer into hurricanes to simply soak up the storm. It didn’t work.
Other researchers have suggested using non-toxic oil slicks to calm the surface of the ocean and prevent the formation of the ocean spray that eventually evolves into a hurricane – literally pouring oil onto troubled waters. And earlier this year, US researchers suggested offshore wind farms could reduce the wind speeds of hurricanes.
Tilley says the oil idea, at least, may have some merit. “It came up again during the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010,” he says. “People speculated about the effects the slick would have on tropical cyclones. But the oil slick started to disperse more quickly than expected so the research never got funded.”
For Hugh Willoughby at the Florida International University in Miami, though, plans to tame hurricanes are pie in the sky. “Nearly all of the schemes are utter nonsense,” he says. Draining the energy out of a hurricane is a tall order, because the storm systems are a lot more powerful than people realise. “They release heat at a rate equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes.” Using oil to nip hurricanes in the bud before they form won’t work either, he says, because it’s impossible to predict which of the many storm disturbances seen in the ocean will actually become a hurricane.
So will we ever control the weather? Some say we have succeeded for years, others that we will struggle to do so for decades. The debate rages on. About the only thing we can be sure of is that when those on either side of the debate meet, the outlook looks likely to remain stormy for some time to come.