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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Another thing to ponder at 3 a.m.; Big Bend booms coming?

First there was global warming. Scientists predicted that the earth was warming, caused in part by increased fossil fuel emissions, and warned that the increase in temperature would cause dire impacts upon the planet.

Like sea level rise. As the polar ice caps melt, the extra water causes the oceans to fill, inundating the surrounding land and flooding low-lying areas like Anna Maria Island. The prediction calls for water level increases of about six inches by the year 2020, and about 14 inches by 2065.

Hurricane activity is also predicted to increase in the next 20 years, as a recently discovered cycle of warming and cooling water temperatures in the northern Atlantic Ocean turns warmer, causing more hurricanes to form.

And now we've got global dimming to add to the list of worldwide concerns.

Scientists will meet this week in Montreal to discuss the darkening of the planet. Sunlight reaching the earth has diminished today by upwards of 10 percent from the 1950s, some data indicate. In some parts of the world, like Hong Kong, there has been a 37-percent decrease.

Scientists predict about a 3-percent dimming per decade has taken place, and predict it will continue.

The cause, again, is air pollution. According to the New York Times, soot and dust reflect light back into space. The airborne crud also attracts water, forming bigger and thicker clouds which further block the light of the sun.

But as with many - maybe most - things involving science, opinions differ.

Some researchers say that the way the readings are taken may be faulty and that the predictions are off by a factor of about 50 percent. Other researchers point out that the readings are all being taken from land, leaving the four-fifths of the planet that is covered with water without readings.

Other scientists puzzle over the fact that Antarctica, with its lack of factories and other causes of pollution, should be a pristine site without global dimming problems. It is not, and the readings there match those of New York, Israel and Asia.

And studies taken in the Indian Ocean indicate that air pollution does not block out sunlight at all.

Regardless of the outcome of the global dimming debate, don't forget to slather on sun goo when you go to the beach. It's not getting that dark yet.

but it might be getting a lot louder out there
Big booms may be coming to the Big Bend area of Florida.

The U.S. Air Force is looking into buying or leasing vast tracts of the state in Dixie, Levy and Taylor counties to use as a bombing range to test some new missiles. The hope is that the firing, from upwards of 200 miles away, will allow the refinement of the military's arsenal.

Residents of that part of the state, known as "Florida's Nature Coast," are less than thrilled. As one fourth-generation Floridian told the St. Petersburg Times, "You won't find a more patriotic area than Taylor County. So having said that, the majority of people don't really feel like they want to have missiles fired on them."

The Nature Coast, see, has a burgeoning eco-tourism industry. Who wants to go out and look at birds or alligators or bears with all that bombing?

Granted, the Big Bend area of the state is one of Florida's most sparsely populated parts. The three counties have something like 25 people per acre; Florida averages about 300.

And it's really pretty up there, with old-Florida towns like Perry, Cross City and Steinhatchee. Oh, and there is the nearby nuclear power plant in Crystal River.

Residents are starting to cash in on the pretty-ness of the Nature Coast. Eco-tourism is a $5 million a year business now, and more and more people are flocking to the area to get back to nature. County governments have had an eye on maintaining the rural lifestyle and have done something almost unheard of in the state: The coastline is almost entirely unpopulated.

Granted, beaches are few and far between up there, with vast stretches of sawgrass and marsh grass leading to the Gulf of Mexico. In some places, it's hard to tell where the land ends and the Gulf begins.

All that isolation is what the military is looking for in development of a "smart bomb" range. The Air Force is pushing all the typical buttons to convince folks, too, going to chamber of commerce and Rotary meetings this week to try to convince the locals that they're their friends.

"What we would really like is the opportunity to gain the trust of these counties and convince them to partner with us, because this is really in the best interest of the United States," said an Air Force spokesman.

As they say, stay tuned.

On a local historical footnote, about a mile of Longboat Key just north of the Manatee County line was used by the Air Force, then the U.S. Army Air Corps, as a practice bombing range during World War II.

According to "From Calusas to Condominiums," by Ralph Hunter, "A total of 152,337 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition was fired, 374 bombs were dropped and 252 rockets were fired on Longboat Key" in August 1945.

The range was activated for a few hours each day. Gates across Gulf of Mexico Drive were put up to halt motorists from driving through the aerial barrage.

'Exaltation of Larks' out-takes
James Lipton has written a book which is a "classic anthology of collective nouns" - you know, like a pride of lions or, well, an exaltation of larks. Here's a few of his journalistic thoughts:

  • A pen of editorial cartoonists.
  • A panel of comic cartoonists.
  • A scoop of reporters.
  • A platitude of sportswriters.
  • A platitude de jour of syndicated columnists.
  • A query of checkers.
  • A mangle of copy editors.
  • A caprice of assignment editors.
  • A dyspepsia of city editors.
  • A penultimatum of managing editors.
  • An ultimatum of executive editors.
  • A sleaze of tabloids.
  • A feeding frenzy of paparazzi.
  • A hype of press agents.

    Methinks Mr. Lipton has indeed been in the business for a while.

    Sandscript factoid
    Boating season is upon us. When was the last time you checked your flares? Even money has it that they've expired.

    As John Stevely, the local marine extension agent puts it, "Out-of-date flares must be disposed of properly because they are a source of hazardous waste due to reactivity, and some may contain toxic metals."

    Go buy some new ones, and bring your old ones to the Manatee County Landfill, 3333 Lena Road, on the third Saturday of any month. The landfill will also take any other hazardous waste that day - stuff like paint, chemicals or batteries. Call 795-3474 for more information about what you should not dump in your trash.

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