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Story Tools

Date of Issue: January 26, 2006

Sandscript

Arrgh! Turns into bigtime 'R' or 'X' for some

It's a shame that some red faces in St. Petersburg haven't been caught on film, since it seems that everything else has made it into a movie.

Pinellas County officials were beaming last summer, as a film crew used the HMS Bounty as a backdrop for what was purported to be a major TV movie. The ship, built in 1960 for the Marlon Brando film "Mutiny on the Bounty," has been featured in several productions, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

But there were some rumors about the cast, and the wary ship's owners decided that any credits given to the Bounty or St. Petersburg should be stricken from the final product. That action proved to be a good call, although perhaps a bit tardy, because "Pirates" has been an award-winning hard-core pornographic film that has shattered sales records within that industry.

Oops - not quite the image the family friendly Pier and Bounty strive to maintain.

As the Times headline astutely summed it up: "Yo ho! Yo ho! … Oh no."

A day after that news hit the press to our north, and with assurances that the film would "probably" receive only a PG rating, Bradenton Beach city commissioners approved the use of the city's police station for some scenes from a soon-to-be-produced movie, "Vampire Biker Babes." Mayor John Chappie opposed the production in the city, citing the St. Petersburg fiasco, by the way.

I guess we'll just have to wait for release of "Vampire Biker Babes" and review its credits see what unfolds for the city's image.

Rising tide

Although not as immediately destructive as a hurricane, and not as wicked as a tornado, sea-level rise could well become one of the most long-term horrors to be faced by anyone living near the shore, especially barrier-island residents.

Global warming means enhanced melting of the polar ice caps and glaciers. The evidence of all of this extra water ending up in the planet's oceans has been evident for a couple of decades, at least. Scientists have been at odds about just how much and how soon the water will rise, though.

There's a new study out that provides some additional data to add to the debate.

Members of an Australian governmental science organization based in Tasmania have determined that sea-level rise has increased during the 20th century. Using satellite measurements, they've been able the tweak the tide-gauge date worldwide and basically "clean up" the various information sources so one really big model can be run.

The results, as explained in the journal "Nature" - "the acceleration of sea-level rise detected since 1870 matches up nicely with model predictions. If the acceleration continues as expected, by 2100 the seas will lap the shore about 31 centimeters higher, on average, than they did in 1990." According to my math, that's about a foot, and apparently matches some other international information.

Although it seems like a simple thing to get all the gauges in all the world to be calibrated in such a way that global reading can be calibrated, it seems that it's not all that easy. Tides vary. Older tidal gauges could be inaccurate. After all, we're talking about tiny changes over decades, not a tsunami-like aberration.

But with the satellite calibration in place, the numbers dating back to 1870 could be used today. Results indicate that there has been a 1.7-millimeter increase each year, with the rate of rise increasing by an average of 0.01 millimeters per year.

"The acceleration has not been steady, however" the team reported. "Sea-level rise was relatively high from 1930 to 1960, and rates have wobbled up and down since then. The highest rate has been since the early 1990s, with sea levels shooting up by about 3 millimeters per year."

To bring all this information into some perspective, the next time you're standing at a seawall at a moderate high tide, imagine the water one foot higher. No, it won't be a problem for us, or our children, or even our grandchildren, but it sure is going to bring a whole new definition to "waterfront property" to someone in the future.

If all those numbers aren't already clear as mud, here's some more data.

Fourteen years ago, the then-Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program published sea-level rise predictions for the Manatee-Sarasota County area, extrapolated out to the year 2115.

Final outcome was that the seas would rise to 64 centimeters, about twice what the Aussies are stating in their findings.

Remember that comment about the sea-level rise debate getting fed with new data? Here we go. Again.

Can you breathe me now?

And, in an evolutionary change that we well could come to regret as the waters rise and the land is inundated, fossil evidence indicates that our early, early ancestors apparently used to breathe through their ears.

Eh, you say?

Again from the journal "Nature," Swedish scientists have been looking at a 370-million-year-old fossil fish, a 3-foot-long critter called Panderichthys, which is thought to be closely related to the earliest four-limbed tetrapods that in turn are thought to have eventually climbed onto land and gave rise to modern vertebrates.

Seems that the "ears" in the old fish combine features also found in the tetrapods, except that the fish ears were used to breathe. Sharks and rays have similar structures today, which proves useful when they're camped out on the bottom and don't want to inhale a bunch of sediment.

Look out from above!

I have a small dog. I also have red-shouldered hawks and at least two big owls that sound like barred owls hanging around the property. What with the little dog and the big birds, I spend a fair amount of time looking up to make sure that the mutt doesn't become a munch.

It appears that our ancestors also spent a bit of time watching the the sky. Researchers in South Africa believe that a 2-million-year-old fossil of what is believed to be a young ape-man known as the Taung child was killed by something like a big eagle.

The fossil is thought to be the "missing link" between apes and humans. It was found in 1924 and dubbed Australopithecus africanus. Up to now, it was thought that the juvenile was killed by a leopard or saber-toothed cat. However, scientists just looked at the skull again and realized that jagged tears under the eye sockets matched the damage done by eagles taking out small primates of today.

Of course, 2 million years ago, the eagles were much bigger and were able to swoop down and take out much larger critters than themselves.

As if prehistoric man didn't have enough problems, now it would appear that feathered fiends need to be added to the mix.

Sandscript factoid

And if the raptors from above weren't enough, there are leviathans from below roaming the rivers of England.

A northern bottlenose whale, all 17 feet worth, was haunting the London riverfront of the Thames late last week. The critter, the first in at least 90 years spotted in the region, was running into boats and providing an even more impressive spectator view than the typical waterfront view.

No clue, as yet, as to why the deepwater mammal decided to visit the sites of London. The whale later died.

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