Saturday, November 27, 2010

"The Science of Snow" from VOA


This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith.


And I'm Steve Ember. Today, we tell you everything you ever wanted to know about snow.



Winter weather has returned to northern areas of the world. In much of the United States, winter means the return of snow. Snow is a subject of great interest to weather experts. Experts sometimes have difficulty estimating where, when or how much snow will fall. One reason is that heavy amounts of snow fall in surprisingly small areas. Another reason is that a small change in temperature can mean the difference between snow and rain.


Snow is a form of frozen water. It contains many groups of tiny ice particles called snow crystals. These crystals grow from water particles in cold clouds. They usually grow around a piece of dust.

All snow crystals have six sides, but they grow in different shapes. The shape depends mainly on the temperature and water levels in the air. Snow crystals grow in one of two designs -- platelike and columnar. Platelike crystals are flat. They form when the air temperature is about fifteen degrees below zero Celsius. Columnar snow crystals look like sticks of ice. They form when the temperature is about five degrees below zero.


The shape of a snow crystal may change from one form to another as the crystal passes through levels of air with different temperatures. When melting snow crystals or raindrops fall through very cold air, they freeze to form small particles of ice, called sleet.
Groups of frozen water droplets are called snow pellets. Under some conditions, these particles may grow larger and form solid pieces of ice, or hail.



When snow crystals stick together, they produce snowflakes. Snowflakes come in different sizes. As many as one hundred crystals may join together to form a snowflake larger than two and one-half centimeters. Under some conditions, snowflakes can form that are five centimeters long. Usually, this requires near freezing temperatures, light winds and changing conditions in Earth's atmosphere.

Snow contains much less water than rain. About fifteen centimeters of wet snow has as much water as two and one-half centimeters of rain. About seventy-six centimeters of dry snow equals the water in two and one-half centimeters of rain.


Much of the water we use comes from snow. Melting snow provides water for rivers, electric power centers and agricultural crops. In the western United States, mountain snow provides up to seventy-five percent of all surface water supplies.

Snowfall helps to protect plants and some wild animals from cold, winter weather. Fresh snow is made largely of air trapped among the snow crystals. Because the air has trouble moving, the movement of heat is greatly reduced.

Snow also is known to influence the movement of sound waves. When there is fresh snow on the ground, the surface of the snow takes in, or absorbs, sound waves. However, snow can become hard and flat as it becomes older or if there have been strong winds. Then the snow's surface will help to send back sound waves. Under these conditions, sounds may seem clearer and travel farther.


Generally, the color of snow and ice appears white. This is because the light we see from the sun is white. Most natural materials take in some sunlight. This gives them their color. However, when light travels from air to snow, some light is sent back, or reflected. Snow crystals have many surfaces to reflect sunlight. Yet the snow does take in a little sunlight. It is this light that gives snow its white appearance.

Sometimes, snow or ice may appear to be blue. The blue light is the product of a long travel path through the snow or ice. In simple terms, think of snow or ice as a filter. A filter is designed to reject some substances, while permitting others to pass through. In the case of snow, all the light makes it through if the snow is only a centimeter thick. If it is a meter or more thick, however, blue light often can be seen.



Snow falls in extreme northern and southern areas of the world throughout the year. However, the heaviest snowfalls have been reported in the mountains of other areas during winter. These areas include the Alps in Italy and Switzerland, the coastal mountains of western Canada, and the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains in the United States. In warmer climates, snow is known to fall in areas over four thousand nine hundred meters above sea level.


Each year, the continental United States has an average of one hundred snowstorms. An average storm produces snow for two to five days.

Almost every part of the country has received snowfall at one time or another. Even parts of southern Florida have reported a few snowflakes.

The national record for snowfall in a single season was set in nineteen ninety-eight and nineteen ninety-nine. Two thousand eight hundred ninety-five centimeters of snow fell at the Mount Baker Ski area in the northwestern state of Washington.


People in many other areas have little or no snowfall.
In nineteen thirty-six, a physicist from Japan produced the first man-made snow in a laboratory. During the nineteen-forties, several American scientists developed methods for making snow in other areas. Clouds with extremely cool water are mixed with man-made ice crystals, such as silver iodide and metaldehyde crystals.
Sometimes, dry ice particles or liquid propane are used. Today, special machines are used to produce limited amounts of snow for winter holiday ski areas.



Snow is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people in the United States every year. Many people die in traffic accidents on roads that are covered with snow or ice.

Others die from being out in the cold or from heart attacks caused by extreme physical activity. Last month, two major snow storms caused serious problems in most of the United States. In the East, one storm dropped lots of snow on communities from North Carolina to the New England states on the weekend before Christmas. The Associated Press reported that at least seven deaths were linked to the storm. Most involved automobile accidents.

The weather caused cancellation of thousands of flights along the East Coast. About one thousand two hundred flights were cancelled at New York City's three major airports.

The storm gave two airports in the Washington, D.C. area their highest one-day snowfall totals for December. The most snowfall was reported in nearby Wintergreen, Virginia, where more than seventy-six centimeters fell. And, the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received its second-biggest snowfall since record-keeping began.


People may not be able to avoid living in areas where it snows often. However, they can avoid becoming victims of snowstorms. People should stay in their homes until the storm has passed. While removing large amounts of snow, they should stop and rest often. Difficult physical activity during snow removal can cause a heart attack.

It is always a good idea to keep a lot of necessary supplies in the home even before winter begins. These supplies include food, medicine, clean water, and extra power supplies.


Some drivers have become trapped in their vehicles during a snowstorm. If this happens, people should remain in or near their car unless they see some kind of help. They should get out and clear space around the vehicle to prevent the possibility of carbon monoxide gas poisoning.

People should tie a bright-colored object to the top of their car to increase the chance of rescue. Inside the car, they should open a window a little for fresh air and turn on the engine for ten or fifteen minutes every hour for heat.

People living in areas where winter storms are likely should carry emergency supplies in their vehicle. These include food, emergency medical supplies, and extra clothing to stay warm and dry. People in these areas should always be prepared for winter emergencies. Snow can be beautiful to look at, but it can also be dangerous.



This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by George Grow. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Shirley Griffith.


And I'm Steve Ember. You can comment on our stories at our Web site, Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.


1. Changes in ______________ can mean the difference between snow and rain.
a. prediction
b. temperature
c. wind velocity
d. cloud moisture

2. People who live in places where snow is likely should carry _____________ in their vehicles.
a. emergency supplies
b. radio equipment
c. umbrellas and raincoats
d. children story books

3. Columnar snow crystals form when the temperature is about ____________.
a. fifty degrees
b. thirty two degrees
c. five degrees below zero
d. twenty degrees below zero

4. A snow flake is formed when _____________ come together.
a. dust particles
b. water droplets
c. ice pellets
d. snow crystals

5. Melting snow is very important for the country's _______________ .
a. recreation
b. water supply
c. fisheries
d. wild rivers

6. Snow contains _______________ water than rain.
a. less
b. more
c. as much
d. too much

7. When there is fresh snow on the ground, the surface of snow ____________ sound waves. That's why it sounds very quiet and still after a snow storm.
a. reflects
b. absorbs
c. amplifies
d. mixes up

8. Although snow mostly falls in the extreme north and south, the heaviest snow can be found in _________________ regions of the world.
a. mountainous
b. below sea level
c. sub tropical
d. oceanic

9. Another name for this article could be __________________ .
a. "Snow on the East Coast"
b. "California Weather Patterns"
c. "What Exactly is Snow?"
d. "The Formation of Crystals"

10. This story is mainly about _________________ .
a. the dangers of snow storms
b. the beauty of snow landscapes
c. the nature and behavior of snow
d. the difficulty of predicting snow storms

Friday, November 12, 2010

"The Barnyard Fool" from Edcon Publishing

Things you will read about: incubator: a container that hatches eggs by providing warmth, moisture, and oxygen.

protein: a chemical mixture necessary to all living things

"Didn't he play that game like a real turkey?"

How often have you heard a person described as a turkey? Perhaps often, because today the word "turkey" is sometimes used to label someone as a failure, or not smart. We seem to label people "turkeys" because we feel that they are stupid. Of course, labeling people as stupid isn't kind. But whoever started connecting the word "stupid" with "turkey" made a good selection. Of all the barnyard creatures, the turkey takes the prize for sheer foolishness.

Look at a turkey, and you will see that it is almost all body. A tiny head sits on top of its long neck. It is obvious that only a pea-sized brain will fit into that small head, and that a little brain has to operate that big body. The turkey is like the dinosaur of ancient times, almost too stupid to keep on living.

The turkey's reputation for being stupid starts with the egg. If the mother turkey doesn't hide her nest and eggs from the father, he will break them. Obviously, no new turkeys can be born into the world that way. So turkey farmers hatch the eggs without mothers by using a machine called an incubator. The machine keeps the eggs warm and turns them over and over very gently. The incubator acts just as a mother turkey should. Once it is hatched, the turkey's troubles are just beginning. Eating is a necessity for all creatures, so there aren't many that won't eat shortly after birth. But the turkey is one that won't. If left to itself, it will stand in a field of food and starve to death. Turkey raisers must drop shiny objects, like marbles, into the baby turkey's food so that it will peck at the marbles. As it pecks at the shiny marbles out of curiosity, it will pick up food accidentally.

Learning to eat causes another problem for the turkey. Sometimes it doesn't have enough sense to stop. It will keep on eating until it chokes to death. The farmer has to watch each turkey's eating habits closely.

But the business of eating is only the first crisis the turkey faces while growing up. A farmer noticed one day that a turkey chick had a slight limp. Next day, the same chick's wing seemed hurt. On the third day, the poor chick couldn't even stand on its wounded leg. It was obvious that other chicks were attacking the injured one and were doing a little more damage each day. The farmer had to put the chick into a separate pen. Otherwise, the others would have pecked it to death. Turkeys obviously don't look out for each other. A rainstorm can be a crisis on the turkey farm because turkeys don't have sense enough to come in out of the rain. Many of them will stick their beaks into the air and try to drink all the raindrops they can. Naturally, some manage to drown themselves.

Because turkeys are easily frightened, a loud or unusual noise can cause another crisis. The turkeys will run in sheer panic and pile on top of each other against fences. In these stack-ups, many are smothered. But the turkey's low intelligence isn't all "nature's fault. We helped make it that way. How did we do it? By developing turkeys that provide us with our favorite kind of turkey meat. At Thanksgiving Dinner, for instance, we are offered a selection of white or dark meat. Which will most of us choose? We will choose the white meat. As white meat comes from the turkey's breast, the farmer tries to please us by developing fowls with large breasts. The turkey ends up with a lot more white meat on its body, but with no more brains in its head.

Growing meat is the one thing the turkey does well. It does that much better than any other barnyard animal. A steer needs eight pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat, and a pig eats four pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat. The witless wonder, however, needs only two pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat. Also, turkey meat is high in protein. In fact, only fish yield more protein. Compared to the pig and the steer, the turkey wastes little weight on bones of its body. Its meat has only ten per cent fat, but the steer and the pig have from thirty to forty per cent.

Trying to get people to buy more turkey hasn't been easy. Many of us use turkeys only for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners. Just two big selling months a year aren't good for the turkey raising business. It is a necessity for the farmer to sell the birds all year round. Farmers try several ways to sell turkeys throughout the year. One method they use is to sell turkey parts instead of whole turkeys. Legs, breasts, and wings can be bought separately so there will not be days of leftovers. Turkey rolls or roasts, which are often half white meat and half dark meat, are another way to boost sales. These rolls have no bones and can be sliced as a loaf of bread is. You can buy such things as turkeyburgers, turkey steaks, and even turkey lunch meat for your sandwiches. Turkey raisers will continue to look for new ways to sell their product.
Raising enough food for everyone is a world problem today. As one farmer said, "The turkey is an eating machine, and it can really grow meat." Perhaps the turkey may someday become a real barnyard wonder by helping to solve this food crisis.

1. The word "turkey" is sometimes used to label someone who __________
a. has a long neck.
b. is not smart.
c. hides eggs.
d. loves barnyard creatures.

2. The turkey has _____________
a. a pea-sized brain.
b. a small body.
c. a large brain.
d. a brain equal in size to its body.

3. Turkey fathers ______________
a. care for the eggs very well.
b. care for the eggs for the first month.
c. destroy the eggs.
d. hide the eggs.

4. The newly hatched turkey needs help learning __________
a. to eat.
b. to sleep.
c. to peck.
d. to see.

5. Turkeys are frightened by _____________
a. rainstorms.
b. loud noises.
c. snowflakes.
d. other turkeys.

6. The turkey farmer is important in supplying our country with _________
a. food.
b. pets.
c. eggs.
d. feathers.

7. The turkey farmer usually has ____________
a. good sales all year.
b. good sales at Thanksgiving only.
c. good sales at Christmas only.
d. two big sales months a year.

8. "The witless wonder" is another name for ____________
a. the incubator.
b. the turkey farmer.
c. the turkey scientist.
d. the turkey.

9. Another name for this story could be _____________
a. "The Bird That Nobody Loves."
b. "The Stupid, Useful Turkey."
c. "Turkey Farming."
d. "Helping Turkeys Hatch."

10. This story is mainly about ____________ .
a. the problems of raising turkeys.
b. the job of the turkey farmer.
c. the turkey's small brain.
d. the habits and the value of turkeys.

Turkey facts from Youtube:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"The Business of Winemaking, Part Two", from VOA

FAITH LAPIDUS: I’m Faith Lapidus.

DOUG JOHNSON: And I’m Doug Johnson with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we continue our exploration into the world of wine. Last week, we discussed the history, kinds of grapes and how wine is produced. This week, we learn how to taste a glass of wine like a professional. We also discuss changes in the wine industry. And we talk with a wine expert who teaches at the Culinary Institute of America.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Last week, we talked about different kinds of grapes and the importance of climate and geography on how a wine tastes. Now we learn how to look for and taste those qualities.

If you know how to study a glass of wine, it can tell you about its history. Studying a wine involves using several senses, not just taste.

DOUG JOHNSON: First, pour the wine into a glass and look at it. It might help to put a piece of white paper behind the glass so you can see the color clearly. Color can tell a lot about the kind of grapes, where the wine is from and its age. Look at the clarity, thickness and color of the wine.

A white wine might be almost colorless, or it could have a deep golden color. White wines go darker with age. White wine made from grapes grown in a cool climate is often paler, with a higher amount of acid. A white wine from grapes grown in a warmer climate is often yellower, with less acid, though there are exceptions to this rule.

FAITH LAPIDUS: The color of red wine can be purplish red to brick red. Red wines often become paler with age. Red wines grown in warmer climates often have deeper color than those grown in cooler climates.

Next, turn the glass so that the wine moves around inside. This brings air into the wine, so that it releases its smell. Smell the wine deeply. A wine’s smell is actually more telling than its taste. To use a wine term, what can you learn about the wine from its “nose”? Is the wine fruity? Does it smell like oak? Do you smell grass or maybe honey? Maybe the smell is like butter or a mineral. It may be complex or intense.

DOUG JOHNSON: Now it is time to taste the wine. Move it around in your mouth. You may recognize some tastes because you identified them while smelling the wine. You can also consider the wine’s sweetness and its sharpness, or acidity. You may note the taste of tannin. Tannins are chemicals that are found in the skin and seeds of grapes. They are also found in tea. Tannins taste bitter and seem to coat your mouth. To make a good wine requires a balance between sugar, acidity, tannin and alcohol.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Professional wine tasters have many special words to describe wines. Some adjectives might be surprising. For example, a wine that feels smooth might be described as “velvety” or “silky.” A wine that does not have enough acidity is “flabby” or “fat.” A wine with a strong tannin taste could be “chewy.” And white wines with a lively taste could be described as “crisp”, “zesty” or “steely.”

Many wine experts can identify the kind of wine without ever seeing the label on the bottle. This is because they know the qualities of the look, smell and taste of a wine.

DOUG JOHNSON: One famous wine-tasting helped change the history of the wine industry in the United States. The Paris Wine-Tasting of nineteen seventy-six is also known as the Judgment of Paris. A British wine expert organized a wine-tasting in France. He invited producers of California wines to take part in the competition against the most famous producers of French wines. At the time, France was known for producing the best wines in the world. California wine was relatively unknown outside the United States.

FAITH LAPIDUS: The top food and wine experts from France were the judges. They did a “blind” tasting, meaning they did not know what wines they were drinking. The winners for both the red and white wine categories were California wines from Napa Valley. Many wine experts were shocked. This event helped change opinions about wine produced in the United States.


DOUG JOHNSON: The wine industry has changed a great deal since the nineteen seventies. The United States is now the fourth largest producer of wine in the world. California produces about ninety percent of the wine in the United States, followed by the states of New York, Washington and Oregon.

Americans are also drinking more wine than ever before. Industry studies show that the amount of wine drunk in the United States has been steadily increasing for the past sixteen years. In fact, Americans now spend more money on wine than any other country in the world. Industry experts say the United States will soon pass France and Italy as the top consumer of wine by volume.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Even the recent economic recession has not stopped Americans from drinking wine. Reports say Americans are buying more wines in stores rather than ordering them in restaurants. Other experts say the recession has made Americans explore and discover wines that are less costly.

We talked with wine expert Steven Kolpan about his thoughts on the wine industry. Mr. Kolpan is a writer and a professor of wine studies at the Culinary Institute of America. We asked Mr. Kolpan what areas of the world are producing interesting wines these days.

STEVEN KOLPAN: “Canada is producing some excellent wines. Greece is now producing some really interesting wines. I think we have an association with Greek wines that’s not all that positive, but the new Greek wines are really great.”

DOUG JOHNSON: Steven Kolpan also discussed another emerging country in the wine industry. In two thousand eight, China was listed as the seventh top wine-producing country in the world.

STEVEN KOLPAN: “China is positioning itself to be a very strong player in both the import market in their own country but also their domestic market. And I think they would like to have a presence in the export market as well.”

He says it might not be long before China is producing top quality wines.


FAITH LAPIDUS: One major trend in the wine industry today is the growing effort by producers to make wine in a way that does not harm the environment. Many producers are making organic wines, or wines that are “sustainably” grown. Efforts to be more “green” include using water more responsibly, reducing chemicals used to kill insects and rethinking the wine bottle.

DOUG JOHNSON: Even one of the most traditional wine areas in the world is making some major changes in an effort to be more green. The Champagne area of France is famous for its sparkling wine. Producers there are working to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions spent transporting wine around the world. One way they have done this is to make wine bottles lighter so they require less energy to transport.

The newer Champagne bottle only weighs about sixty-five fewer grams than the traditional nine hundred gram bottle. But this small change could make a big difference in the future. The Champagne industry says carbon pollution could be cut by eight thousand metric tons a year once all producers use the lighter bottle.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Another concern linked to the environment is the effect of climate change on wine-producing areas. Steven Kolpan says the immediate effect of climate change in some areas has been helpful. In cooler climates, warmer weather has helped grapes ripen more fully. But he says that warmer wine producing areas around the world will suffer.

STEVEN KOLPAN: “We are going to see a huge shift in the wine market due to climate change. And, I think California is going to be deeply affected by it because the climate models for the immediate and long term future in California are not at all promising for wine.”

DOUG JOHNSON: To face climate change, producers might have to move their vineyards to cooler areas. Or, they might have to grow a kind of grape that can survive in higher temperatures.

In the future, rising temperatures may open up possibilities to countries that otherwise could never compete in the wine industry.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Steven Kolpan has been working with wine for more than thirty years. But he says he is still surprised by its qualities. He reminds us that a glass of wine is made up of water, alcohol and a small percentage of chemical substances. And yet he says:

STEVEN KOLPAN: “Think of it for a second. When you have a glass of wine in front of you and you smell it. And let’s say it’s a glass of red wine. And you smell cherries and blackberries. And you smell leather and you smell earth and you smell all these things, none of them are in there. That’s what’s so amazing about it. It’s this magical potion.”

DOUG JOHNSON: Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­I’m Doug Johnson.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus. You can comment on our programs and find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts at Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.