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(506) 223-1327         Published Friday, Dec. 28, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 257               E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Unprecedented resolution and depth promised
Sophisticated sonic ship will chart nearby sea floors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new, $20 million research vessel will be charting the sea floor off both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts early next year.

The craft is the 235-foot "Langseth," which is owned by the U.S. National Science Foundation and operated by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City.

The mission to chart the sea floor on both coasts with sonic waves will be the first for the newly refitted boat, said the observatory. The boat was used in commercial oil exploration under its former name, the "Western Legend." It spent about six months at dry dock in Nova Scotia before sailing to Galveston, Texas, earlier this year.

The mission is of interest to Pacific coast residents because two of the earth's tectonic plates, the Caribe and the Coco, meet there and are the source of earthquake activity. The new boat is expected to provide clearer mapping of exactly what is going on beneath the sea. A similar study by another group of scientists provided an accurate prediction of a Turkish earthquake.

The "Langseth" is believed to be undergoing about two months of shakedown cruises in the Gulf of Mexico.

Its first scientific mission, a study of the geologic subduction zones off the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, is to be led by researchers at the University of Wyoming. Subsequent cruises will take scientists over submerged mountain ranges in the eastern Pacific, offshore of Alaska’s great St. Elias volcano and to the earthquake and volcanism-wracked Juan de Fuca Ridge off Oregon, said the observatory.

The "Langseth" is designed to pulse sound through sea bottoms and read the return signals with vast arrays of hydrophones towed with cables stretching as long as 5 miles. Previous vessels operated by the observatory have used similar technology, but the scale of the setup, combined with newly sophisticated computing and other improvements, is expected to offer unprecedented resolution and depth in looking at seabed phenomena, said the observatory, which added:

The ship also carries multibeam sonar to map the
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory photo
The 'Langseth'

topography of deep seafloors with greater accuracy than before. It will deploy seismometers and other instruments on ocean floors that can monitor earthquakes, detect waves and tides, or warn of tsunamis. Sensitive microphones will be used to detect the calls of marine mammals at long distances. Onboard research space will also be dedicated to the study of marine mammals.

The ship “will revolutionize researchers’ ability to study the sources of deep earthquakes, to image the plumbing that feeds the global undersea volcanic system, and produce an understanding that could lead us to ideas about new energy resources,” said G. Michael Purdy, director of the the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  “We know now that the earth is not at all still, but dynamic. We’re hoping to better understand what drives movements, and shed light on ongoing changes that could affect our global society.”

According to the observatory:

The vessel is named for the pioneering observatory geophysicist Marcus Gerhardt Langseth. In a career from the 1950s to the 1990s, Langseth drew up the first global map of heat flow under the oceans, helped show that the planet’s seafloors are continually replenished by volcanism and was a leader in sending the first unclassified scientific missions by U.S. Navy submarines underneath the northern ice, opening the way to mapping and understanding the Arctic Ocean.

The Langseth replaces the "Maurice Ewing," which previously was the United States’ main academic seismic vessel. The "Ewing," named for one of observatory's founding figures, was retired in 2005.

It and three other previous Lamont vessels over the past 50 years were key in establishing modern understanding of plate tectonics and other basic knowledge of the earth, said the observatory.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 257

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Governments have hands out
before first of the year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The next few days are important for expats who hope to stay on the right side of the government.

Marchamo payments are due by the end of business Dec. 31. This is the annual vehicle or road tax that includes a modest amount of vehicular medical insurance.

Passenger car owners pay 19,674 colons this year, some $39.35, for obligatory insurance. That is a 4.54 percent increase over the 2007 fee. Other fees depend on the value of the vehicle and also the frequency of accidents involving that type of vehicle, said the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, which is in charge of collection.

As an example the insurance monopoly said that the owner of a 1998 Hyundai would pay 58,995 in total this year. Officials expect to collect fees on 889,656 vehicles. Payments are accepted at some banks and also at collection agencies located in supermarkets.

Dec. 31 also is the last day to pay certain municipal fees, such as property taxes and business license payments. The payment represents the amount for the fourth quarter of the year.

Most municipal offices are open on a limited basis mainly to receive payments, although certain banks accept funds and electronic payments can be an option.

Water accidents claim
at least four persons

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four persons, including a 5-year-old, have died in water accidents so far this holiday week. Some of the deaths were involved with the heavy storms and flooding that hit the Caribbean coast.

Wednesday at 10:25 a.m., the Cruz Roja said, the 5-year-old and his father were swept away while trying to cross a drainage canal at Finca Banasol in Estrada, Matina. Their bodies were found Thursday. They were identified as Abraham Sánchez Ruiz, 38, and his son Bryan Sánchez González.

Around 2 p.m. Wednesday Fernando MacLawiing Barrios, 53, fell into the Río Reventazón while checking his property for flood damage. His body was found a few hours later, said the Cruz Roja. Also Wednesday 65-year-old Agraceli Muñoz Mora died at Playa Guapil, Pérez Zeledón, said the Cruz Roja.

Four persons died near Siquirres Christmas evening when the taxi they were in plunged into a water-filled ditch and overturned. But these deaths are being considered traffic fatalities.
One person who did not die Wednesday was identified as Manuel Hidalgo Chávez, 48, who fell into the Río Banano near Cahuita. Emergency crews responded. The Cruz Roja said the man managed to save himself and did not require hospitalization.

Marijuna plants destroyed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police say they have destroyed nearly 150,000 marijunaa plants in the Talamanca area after officers found 19 separate patches there. Some plants were 4 meters (13 feet) tall, they said. Police make routine visits to the rugged Talamanca area and chop down any marijuna plants that they find there.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 257

nova version

Vampire bats prosper despite reductions in rainforests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's vampire bat population has been making the transition from forest dweller to farmland inhabitants as rainforests have been depleted.

That is the finding of German scientists who did breath samples of the tiny 30- to 40-gram (about 1- to 1.5-ounce) creatures.

Through a complex series of isotope measurements, the scientists found that the bats have switched to blood meals from cattle instead of from rainforest mammals. The researchers said that the conversion of rainforest ecosystems into livestock-producing farmland resulted in the expansion of vampire bat populations in Latin America. Vampire bats are only found in Central and South America.

The researchers are ecological physiologists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, the Freie Universität Berlin, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the University of Aberdeen. Their report was published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B online.

The lead scientist was Christian Voigt. He and his colleagues learned that Costa Rican farmers are observing vampire bats satisfying their need for blood by attacking cattle instead of wild mammals, said the Leibniz Institute.

They conducted lab tests to figure out how to determine what the wild bats had eaten. The Leibniz Institute said that the scientists analyzed the stable carbon isotope ratio of exhaled CO2 in vampire bats. They fed captive vampire bats blood that was labeled with the isotope carbon-13 and then monitored the time period between the blood meal and the appearance of labeled carbon atoms in the exhaled breath, said the institute.

"Vampire bats used the freshly ingested blood very fast to fuel their metabolism," said Voigt. "After less than an hour the stable carbon isotope signature of the vampires’ exhaled breath was similar to that of their latest diet."

Then the researchers went in search of wild vampire bats in Costa Rica and subjected them to breath tests.
vampire bat
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research photo
The common vampire bat

"The potential victims of vampires in Costa Rica are either cattle or rainforest mammals such as tapirs and peccaries," said Voigt. "These two groups of animals feed on isotopically distinct plants which are grasses in the case of cattle and herbs or shrubs in the case of rainforest mammals. Therefore, we expected that the stable carbon isotope signature in bat breath would change according to their diet."

The scientists reported that the vampire bats' breath clearly indicated that their last blood meal almost always originated from cattle, although rainforest mammals were also present.

The authors argue that the vampire bats do not necessarily prefer cattle blood, but that cattle are much easier to find for vampires than rainforest mammals. Cattle are held fenced-in on open pastures, whereas rainforest mammals roam in dense vegetation. Converting rainforests into pasture has a large impact on many native mammals of Latin America, usually not to the benefit of the original mammal fauna, they said.

Vampire bats do not take a lot of blood, but they can spread disease. A 2004 outbreak of rabies in Brazil was blamed on vampire bats. 

Today's perfect jerk can be a true savior tomorrow
I enjoy playing roulette, and, fortunately, gambling is legal in Costa Rica, so most hotels in and around San José, have casinos.  Of course, casinos have more games than roulette.  There are craps, a form of blackjack called rummy, tables of poker and the ubiquitous slot machines.  I only play roulette — or canasta, which is the same as roulette, but instead of a wheel there is a metal basket containing Ping-Pong balls with the numbers on them. 

Right now my favorite casino is the Fiesta in the Ramada Inn near Cariari.  It is small. Everyone who works there is friendly, and the crowds are not overwhelming.  Usually, too, the players are nice and know the etiquette of roulette.  All but one.  I will call him Leon.  I think he is a little crazy.  He has the habit of yelling at the canasta of balls for his number to get out of there.  And he is very loud with a voice that sounds like a bark.  He also runs from table to table placing bets.  But I am the only one who looks at him with annoyance.  The Fiesta people laugh and think he is funny. 

Like most casinos, the Fiesta has a raffle every evening.  During the course of the evening, players are given tickets to fill out and deposit in a large container. Once an hour workers pull a ticket and give whatever prize is offered that evening.  Usually it is money, but during the Christmas season, there have been gift certificates.  I am not lucky at raffles, but a couple of weeks ago my name was called.  Wendy, who is the very lovely hostess and two others, all smiling, presented me with an envelope.  I opened it to discover I had won, as I read it aloud, a car wash, an engine cleaning and my headlights adjusted.  Their smiles faded when I said, “Thank you, but I have no car.”  Luckily it was transferable, so I gave it to my friend James.

Then, last week my name was called again.  This time a gentleman with a smiling Wendy at his side, presented me with four green envelopes to choose from.  I casually picked the fourth.  Great happiness all around when I read that I had just won an Atlas refrigerator!  The very one sitting in the casino.  This time I was as thrilled as Wendy was because I need a refrigerator.  All I had to do was take it away –— not an easy thing to do with Christmas close upon us. 

Several nights later I went back to the Fiesta to ask Wendy if they would hold it until after the holidays.  She said wait, she would see what she could do. In about an hour she returned to say she had someone who would deliver it for 10,000 colons.  I said okay, and off she went. When she returned again I asked her when he could do it.  Right now, she said.  Right now was about 9:30 at night, but I said okay.  And guess who my mover was.  That’s right, crazy Leon, who yells at the balls in the canasta and hops from table to table.  I wondered if he remembered the dirty looks that I had given him.  “But he is crazy,” I whispered to Wendy. She just laughed and said he was buena gente.

With great concern on my part and far too much
lightheartedness on theirs, Leon and the very large muscular bouncer lifted my fridge from the dolly onto the back of Leon’s truck.  I was terribly concerned that it 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

 refrigerator prize

would get damaged on the way but was assured that the ropes and cardboard, plus the bouncer riding in the back, would keep it just fine. 

To my surprise, we did get it to the apartment and up to the fifth floor (via elevator) with no trouble and with not a scratch.  On the way back, the bouncer and all of his muscular bulk rode in the cab with us. The truck had a stick shift, so each time Leon had to shift his elbow jabbed me in the arm.  I was too concerned about the speed at which we were traveling to worry about his elbow.  The speedometer said 70, but all I knew was that we were whizzing past every other vehicle on the dark autopista. 

The two gentlemen were chatting all the while about raffles and lotteries.  But suddenly Leon seemed to get very angry and began yelling in the same voice he used at the balls in the canasta.  Back and forth in front of me their words flew while we flew down the highway.  I dared do nothing but hold my breath and close my eyes until we reached the Ramada, which we did, safely.   

Leon’s antics don’t bother me anymore.  Actually, he is pretty funny.  And, just as I never know who is going to be my teacher, so do I not know who is going to come to my rescue.

And a happy and peaceful New Year to all.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 28, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 257

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This is a good way to tweak friends in Canada: a Polar Bear Club that braves 30-degree (C. not F.) temperatures and then sends the photo to the frigid north with a scrawled 'Wish you were here!'
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Once upon a time there were some extraordinarily smart polar bears in Potrero
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is full of little ironies and surprises. One of these is the 22-year tradition of the annual Polar Bear Swim in Playa Potrero.

More than a dozen residents brave the waters of the Pacific every Jan. 1 and then retire to warm up and breakfast at  Bar La Perla.

These are the same waters that North American tourists are paying thousands of dollars for, and there hardly are any complaints of the nearby floating ice.
At Playa Potrero on the Guanacaste coast they usually do not have to chop away the ice to take a swim. The tradition, according to resident Diane Madson, originated with a Canadian transplant from Victoria, British Columbia, Maggie Lother.

Canada is no stranger to ice and frozen-over waters, and there is a certifiably frigid polar bear event there at Vancouver's English Bay.

The event this year will be at 9 a.m. in from of the Bahia del Sol. The participants take their swim seriously and even had a sign made up last year.

Return of three rebel hostages could be accomplished today in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Foreign diplomats monitoring the planned release of three hostages held for years by Colombia's leftist rebel group say the operation will take place as early as today.

Venezuela's ambassador to Bogota, Pável Rondón, Thursday told Colombian radio that those involved in the operation are waiting for the arrival of an international envoy to oversee the hostages' liberation.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said the only thing standing in the way of the release of three hostages held by Colombia's largest rebel group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revoluicionaris de Colombia, is the approval of the Colombian government.

The rebels said earlier this month it would release the captives to Chávez or to someone he designates.

The hostages are former Colombian lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez, former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas, and her young son, Emmanuel, fathered by one of her guerrilla captors.

Colombia Wednesday agreed to allow Chávez to send planes and helicopters into its territory to pick up the three hostages. But officials said the Venezuelan aircraft would
have to be marked with the Red Cross emblem.

The Venezuelan leader said that when the planes cross the border, rebel leaders will designate a meeting point. Colombia also thanked Chávez for his government's efforts.

Chávez was involved in hostage negotiations until Colombian President Álvaro Uribe ended the effort, saying the Venezuelan leader had overstepped his role as a mediator. Chávez responded by cutting diplomatic ties with Colombia.

The rebels have demanded the release of hundreds of rebels held in Colombian prisons, in return for freeing several high-profile hostages.

The rebels are still holding former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped with Rojas in February 2002.

But the development involving Rojas, her son and the former lawmaker could lead to the release of other hostages, such as Betancourt.

Three Americans are also being held. They were seized in 2003 after their plane went down in Colombia during a counter-narcotics mission.

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