National Geographic : 1990 Oct
ICA NA A AA tmIC MAGAIN Detecting Lightning's Early Warning Signals ightning is one of nature's most Common, and fearsome, forces. Each day some 45,000 thunder storms occur worldwide, bringing as many as a hundred lightning strikes every second. In the United States alone lightning killed 74 people and injured 282 in 1989. The origin of lightning is generally understood (NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, June 1950), but the phenomenon itself remains unpredictable. New technol ogy has begun decoding its secrets. The State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany, the Bureau of Land Man agement, and the National Severe Storms Laboratory have established a network of lightning detectors across the continental U. S. to record light ning bolts that strike the ground. The network also can help locate thunder storms inside large cloud formations and determine a storm's strength. "From that, you can tailor more spe cific warnings to the public," says Steve Harned, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. An even better picture of lightning formation and behavior should emerge later this decade from a proposed satel lite sensor. It will monitor lightning flashes-perhaps 80 percent of the total-that don't reach the ground. "Today we're picking up only 20 to 30 percent of all lightning," says Henry Newhouse, the meteorologist coordi nating the government's lightning detection program. "We'll be able to see close to 100 percent with a satellite based detector. It will be the first time we'll be able to view lightning patterns across the entire continent." Fire Spares Freed Golden Lion Tamarins Afire raging in Brazil's Poco das Antas Biological Reserve in Feb ruary threatened a novel at tempt to save a species facing extinc tion: the introduction into the wild of captive-born monkeys known as gold en lion tamarins. The fire apparently did not kill any of the tamarins. But Devra Kleiman of the National Zoo in Washington, D. C., the program's leader, says it hurt the effort by destroying more of the coastal forest, the animals' habitat. In the early 1980s fewer than 500 tamarins lived in a tiny patch of coastal forest. Kleiman proposed moving tam arins born in zoos into the reserve. They had to be trained to live in the wild before they were freed; some even had to be taught how to peel a banana. The project was supported by several organizations, including the National Geographic Society. Of the 75 introduced tamarins, 30 IAN YEOMANS MIKHAILPIERCE survive; some of the earliest now are dying of old age. Another 34 were born to freed monkeys, and of these, 21 sur vive. "So we have 51 more animals in the wild as a result of the program," Kleiman says. "It's time-consuming and expensive, but it can be done." The program includes a major at tempt to educate residents of the area about the monkeys' precarious status and the need for reforestation to expand the tamarins' habitat. An Eyewitness View of a Maya Ruler When George Stuart, National Geographic staff archaeologist, S irst saw the four faded sheets of paper that a colleague had obtained from a Mexico City bookseller years before, they appeared to be blank. But the colleague had transcribed portions when some of the writing was still visi ble. Stuart was excited: The document dealt with Can Ek, last ruler of the Maya capital of Tayasal, which surren dered to the Spanish in 1697. Stuart took the pages to Society headquarters, where Al Yee, manager of photographic services, had them photographed under ultraviolet light.