Magazine article Geographical

Quizzical

Magazine article Geographical

Quizzical

Article excerpt

FLIGHTS OF FANCY

Q: How do homing pigeons know where to fly home to?

A: Though several individuals and organisations have conducted extensive research as to how the pigeons `home', it is still somewhat of a mystery. Some people believe the birds use clues such as the position of the sun and stars, magnetic and polarised fields, and even their own very acute hearing. The birds know that `home' is where they want to be (for food and to mate).

Karen Clifton, The American Racing Pigeon Association

SLIPPERY SLOPES

Q: At what point in the future will the world's oil reserves start to be used up faster than new supplies are being found?

A: Fears that new discoveries might fail to keep pace with growth in demand have been around for as long as the oil industry has existed. However, advances in geological knowledge, combined with improved technology have always confounded the doomsayers -- witness the large new discoveries made in the last decade west of Shetland. There is a difference between `reserves' (stuff you know about and can get at) and `resources' -- which means global amounts (not necessarily available). The known reserves of hydrocarbons, plus the newly recognised world resource of methane hydrates (beneath the Arctic tundra and the deep sea bed) can provide enough for all likely growth scenarios in the coming century. However, now people are asking, should we even use the reserves we have? Many scientists believe that if we burn all currently known hydrocarbon reserves, the result will be climatic disaster. The alternative would be to cut the consumption of hydrocarbons as alternative energy sources are developed in the first 50 years of the 21st century.

Dr Ted Nield NUJ FGS, The Geological Society

DEEPER UNDERGROUND

Q: How do scientists explain the existence of the underground lake, Lake Vostok, in Antarctica?

A: The simple answer is that the Earth is constantly releasing geothermal heat and when an ice sheet forms over the landmass this heat is trapped beneath the ice. Over time enough energy gets into this system to melt the lower part of the ice. The thick ice sheet also exerts a downward pressure which lowers the ice melting point and further assists the process. It is thought that free water exists beneath most of the Antarctic ice sheet where the ice is more than around two km thick. …

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