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such pleasure becomes sufficiently intense, we call the sensation beauty.



With regard to "Flammable Ice," by Erwin Suess, Gerhard Borhmann, Jens Greinhert and Erwin Lausch, several years ago I read a description of the physical conditions that resulted when a handful of methane hydrate crystals were pulled up through warm seawater. It occurred to me that if a large quantity (over a large area) of that substance were released from the sea bottom through some sort of seismic disturbance, the effect would mimic the description radioed by victims of the Bermuda Triangle in the throes of their difficulties: a green, boiling sea and an impenetrable fog (also greenish and nearly indistinguishable from the sea). Also, the electrostatic effects of all that methane changing states from solid to gas could probably wreak havoc with most primitive electrical navigational systems, resulting in the loss of ability to judge up and down.

RUDY VOLKMANN via e-mail

Suess replies:

The mechanism by which gas hydrates and free methane gas are released from the seafloor is now better known, and it is difficult to envision it causing an event of such magnitude. We simply don't have evidence connecting large-scale gas hydrate release to catastrophic events. Also, there are many considerably more active seismic and plate tectonic regions that would be affected more than the Bermuda Triangle, yet such legends have not arisen in other areas.

Letters to the editors should be sent by e-mail to [email protected] or by post to Scientific American, 415 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017.

ERRATUM In the caption on page 77 of the November 1999 issue, 500 meters was mistakenly converted to 1,064 feet. The correct conversion is 1,640 feet.

50, 100 AND 150 YEARS AGO

P fcijf^lfflill march 1950

THE HYDROGEN BOMB—"Here are some technical conclusions that one must draw about the fusion bomb: First, it can be made. Second, it cannot be smaller than a fission bomb, since it must use a fission bomb as detonator, but it can be many times, perhaps thousands of times, bigger. Third, while fission can be controlled in an orderly way to produce useful power in a reactor, the fusion reaction offers no prospect at the present time of any use except in terms of an explosion. The decision to make the superbomb has been taken, and in the world of hotly nationalistic fear and jealousy that we now inhabit, one can suppose that it is the right decision—that is, for the arms race. —Louis N. Ridenour" [Editors' note: This article was the first in a four-part series on aspects of the fusion bomb. The first bomb was detonated November 1,1952, at Eniwetok Atoll.]

EXPERIMENTAL NEUROSES—"Neurotic aberrations can be caused when patterns of behavior come into conflict either because they arise from incompatible needs, or because they cannot coexist in space and time. Cat neuroses were experimentally produced by first training animals to obtain food by manipulating a switch that deposited a pellet of food in the food-box. After a cat had become thoroughly accustomed to this procedure, a harmless jet of air was flicked across its nose as it lifted the lid of the food-box. The cats then showed neurotic indecision about approaching the switch. Some assumed neurotic attitudes. Others were uninterested in mice. One tried to shrink into the cage walls."

march 1900

MAGNETIC FIELDS AND RADIATION—"M. Becquerel has given an account to the Academie des Sciences of a remarkable phenomenon. He finds that when radio-active matter is placed between the poles of a powerful electro-magnet, the radiation which it emits is changed in direction. In one experiment, between the pole pieces of an electromagnet were placed two soft iron disks. Near the center of one disk was disposed the radioactive matter, containing the supposed new element, radium. Against the other was placed a fluorescent screen. Upon exciting the electromagnet, the phosphorescence excited in the screen contracted into a luminous spot and became more intense."

MARINERS' LIGHT—"A few miles off shore of Cape Hatteras are the justly dreaded Diamond Shoals, on which futile attempts have been made to erect a lighthouse. It would seem as though the only practicable way to protect shipping from this graveyard of the deep is to moor above the shoals a lightship able to meet the exceedingly trying local conditions. Such a vessel has been designed and is now nearing completion at the yards of the Fore River Engine Company, of Massachusetts. She will be steam-propelled and electric-lighted. The lights, three in number on each mast, will be of 100 candle-power and 100 volts each."

MELTWATER FLOODS—"The setting aside of the Medicine Bow forest reservation in the Rocky Mountains recently by the general government was due to the efforts of certain farmers of northern Colorado. While the destruction of the forests has made no perceptible difference in the amount of precipitation, it has made a marked difference in the flow of water in the mountain streams. Instead of the snow beds being protected from the sun's rays by a dense shield of pine boughs, upon the arrival of spring they melt with great rapidity and fill the mountain streams with roaring torrents whose volume cannot be properly and economically controlled by the present ditch and reservoir facilities."

march 1850

AWAKE AND INSANE—"Dr. Brigham, of New York Asylum for the insane, expresses the opinion that the most frequent immediate cause of insanity is the want of sleep. 'Long continued wakefulness disorders the whole system. The appetite becomes impaired, the secretions diminished, the mind dejected, and soon waking dreams occur and strange phantoms appear, which at first may be transient; but ultimately take possession of the mind, and madness or death ensues.'"

WHERE IS THE WILDERNESS?—"At the beginning of this century it was in Ohio and Indiana. Last year it was in Minnesota Territory. Next year we will have to seek it in Nebraska and around the lake of the Woods. Where the steamboat goes, there the wilderness disappears."

Aid to navigation: a steam-powered electric lightship
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