Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#263)

September 19, 2006 -- From MSU News Service

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Katrina lessons

Emotions and politics surround Hurricane Katrina, but many people don't understand the science behind the storm, says David Mogk, a Montana State University geology professor. To explain natural systems and promote better decisions, Mogk, geology professor Bill Locke and former master's degree student Laurie Cantwell developed a Web site for the general public at The site explains things like the Gulf Coast climate and hurricane impacts on human health. It offers a variety of teaching activities like a role-playing exercise on how to rebuild New Orleans. Mogk will present the project at the October meeting of The Geological Society of America. The project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is part of a larger digital library that Mogk has been developing for almost a decade.

Bite of bikers?

Rollerskating in a buffalo herd might not be feasible, but how about bicycling? David Kack of MSU's Western Transportation Institute is investigating the promotion of bicycle use on federal land. The two-year project pertains to national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and other central lands of the Federal Highway Administration. Safety around wildlife will probably come up, Kack said. Do bicyclists really want to become "meals on wheels?" Another issue could be traffic. Bicyclists might not want to ride through Yellowstone National Park with a string of RVs behind them. Once he looks at all the issues, Kack will write pertinent guidelines. When traffic reaches a certain point, for example, administrators may want to compare the impacts and costs of adding shoulders or separate bicycle paths.

Ship of death

The single voyage of one ship, the Hankey, changed the history of North America, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean Islands, says MSU historian Billy Smith who is writing a book on the matter. Under contract with National Geographic Books, Smith said the Hankey carried 275 white British passengers to West Africa in 1792 to establish an anti-slavery colony. Many of the colonists died of tropical disease, however, and two dozen survivors tried to sail the Hankey home. In the process, they spread Yellow Fever to the Caribbean, Philadelphia and England. The death and devastation contributed to Napoleon Bonaparte's decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States, Smith said.

Grain bin rescues

The metal grain bins you see on Montana farms and ranches can be dangerous. If someone falls into the grain, he may not be able to survive even if emergency workers are already on the scene and do everything they can, said Butch Weedon, director of MSU Extension's Fire Services Training School. One problem is that grain moves almost like water. MSU Extension recently received a grant to continue offering workshops for emergency workers who might have to deal with grain bin and silo accidents. Unique skills are required, but prevention is the key, Weedon said. "Don't let it happen to you," he said. "There's not a high success rate with that type of rescue."

Phew, no flu

When you're working on an island with three million birds, it's nice to know they're healthy. Todd Feeley, MSU geologist, and two of his students flew to the middle of the Bering Sea during the summer to study the geology of St. George Island. They collected rocks, mapped faults, photographed features and carried out other work that kept them outdoors with the birds. The birds were noisy and thick as swarms of mosquitoes, Feeley said. The researchers said they were fortunate that government scientists were also on the island. Those researchers sampled the birds for avian flu and found nothing. St. George Island is about 500 miles west of mainland Alaska. It measures about 10 miles long and five miles wide.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or