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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Slimy Climate Record Framed
12 October 2001 7:00 pm
Many 18th century paintings are known for their realism, but the work of the Italian painter Canaletto is so precise that scientists are using it to document sea-level change in Venice. The paintings date back 140 years before the city began keeping official records of sea level.
To meet the voracious demand for high-end souvenirs of Venice, Canaletto used a portable camera obscura to crank out a picture-perfect painting of Venice about every 3 days. He kept up this frantic pace for more than a decade during the 1730s and 1740s, says Dario Camuffo, a climatologist at the Italian National Research Council in Padua.
The artist was so accurate that he even captured a greenish-brown layer of Laminaria algae lining the canals. Because Laminaria float on the surface of the water, this layer indicates average high tide, allowing Camuffo to calculate the rate of increase of the sea level in the Venice Lagoon as 2.7 mm per year. This fits with official measurements begun in 1871, which show a rise of 2.4 mm per year. "I was surprised that these two kinds of data fit so well," says Camuffo, who examined more than 100 of Canaletto's paintings. "It was astonishing." Knowing the earlier rate could help predict future sea-level change. Camuffo presented his findings in Venice on 9 October at a research briefing on protecting Europe's cultural heritage.
Camuffo's results appear reliable, although they only apply locally, says Frank Oldfield, former director for Past Global Changes at the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program in Stockholm. To see if the oil-painting data are part of a global trend, he adds, they would need to be examined alongside similar records of sea-level change from other parts of the world. Such data, though, have yet to be gathered.