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Adventure on ice

Science | Russian expedition has geopolitical undertones

Issue: "The rise of localism," March 12, 2011

Radio communication and cross-country vehicles make Arctic expeditions slightly less awe-inspiring than they used to be, but their symbolism can still be potent-like that of a Russian-led expedition launched in February. Eight explorers intend to spend four months driving amphibious vehiclesfrom Russia to Canada over the North Pole on possibly treacherous ice floes. The journey is the third leg of a four-part mission begun in 2002 to circle the Arctic using ground vehicles, a world first.

The symbolism comes from Russia's larger moves to claim expanded Arctic territory in order to develop offshore oil and gas-resources that the United States and Canada have mired with environmental and safety reviews. Russia has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest petroleum exporter, but its onshore reserves are dwindling, and it recently partnered with BP to explore oil development in the Kara Sea.

Russia has sought to expand its economic claim over Arctic waters by proving its continental shelf reaches into the Arctic further than international agreement recognizes. In 2007 Russia's popular polar explorer Artur Chilingarov planted a titanium Russian flag on the seafloor at the North Pole, implying a claim on the region and drawing criticism from Western leaders.

Cold cases

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Medical researchers have debated for nearly three decades whether zinc is a treatment for the common cold. The latest survey of scientific literature by the Cochrane Collaboration, a medical clearinghouse, has determined that zinc really does reduce the length and severity of cold symptoms. (Another meta-analysis in 2007 had come to the opposite conclusion.) The Cochrane review examined 15 placebo-controlled trials of zinc treatment and concluded that zinc syrups, tablets, or lozenges can reduce a cold's duration by a day on average if taken within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

What the Cochrane researchers didn't do was justify any particular zinc supplements. Zinc-based cold remedies (like Zicam and Cold-EEZE) are sold in various formulations and zinc dosages that may not be equally effective. The review stated more research is needed "before making a general recommendation" to treat colds with zinc.

Looting revisited

The looting of Egyptian artifacts in February left unclear what damage vandals who broke into at least half a dozen tombs and storage facilities had done. After assuring reporters that none of the antiquities housed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo had been stolen after a January break-in (previously reported in this page), antiquities chief Zahi Hawass admitted he made his statement before taking inventory: In fact, some 18 museum pieces were missing, but since then several, including statues of the Pharaohs, have been found or returned (one near a trash can). The Egyptian Museum reopened on Feb. 20.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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