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Monday, September 17, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Discovery Digest

Giant Mount Everest Is Still Growing And Shaking

Mount Everest grows about a half-inch taller each year as the Himalaya Mountains are pushed up by the creeping collision between the Indian and Asian land masses. The resulting Earth strains make the entire region vulnerable to large earthquakes.

To get an idea of which faults pose the most serious seismic threat, scientists next spring will begin using orbiting satellites to measure ground movements. A team from the University of Colorado at Boulder will use the global-positioning system to measure horizontal distances between peaks. Altitudes will be obtained with an extremely accurate gravity meter.

By comparing sets of measurements collected several years apart in the same locations, the researchers hope to learn how quickly the land surface warps under tectonic strains. Scientists calculate that India is pushing against Asia at a rate of about two inches a year.

The work was reported in Science News.

Charting maternal depression

About one in 10 middle-class, first-time mothers experiences a full-blown depression within six weeks of giving birth, University of Pittsburgh researchers reported at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in Boston.

The depression eases considerably after about six months, but nearly half of the new mothers continue to show isolated symptoms - prolonged periods of tearfulness or feelings of hopelessness - for another six months, according to Jeffrey Cohn, director of the study.

In a study of low-income new mothers, many of them adolescents, University of Miami School of Medicine researchers found that as many as eight out of 10 remained depressed for a full year after giving birth.

And the Miami study found that, by three months of age, infants of depressed mothers develop a distinctive behavior characterized by a lack of smiling and a tendency to turn their heads away from the mother and other adults. Researcher Tiffany Field said these babies become more upset when they look at their mother's unresponsive face than when they see her leave the room.

Tracing elephant-ivory origins

Analyzing trace amounts of naturally occurring radioactive elements in ivory can tell where the ivory originated. Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Cape Town in South Africa believe the new method will allow conservationists to identify areas of illegal hunting, thereby helping them stem the decline of elephants.

The two groups found that analyzing the ratio of carbon-12 to its radioactive form, carbon-13, reveals whether the elephants had fed on savannah grasses or forest trees. The nitrogen-14 to nitrogen-15 ratio gives clues to climate, particularly rainfall. And the ratio between strontium-86 and strontium-87 varies with the geologic age of rocks underlying the elephants' habitat, becoming incorporated into plants that grow there and ultimately into the elephants' bones.

The researchers suggested in the Aug. 23 issue of Nature that a comprehensive index of ivory-isotope signatures be compiled for areas of Africa still populated by elephants. Such a database could provide the foundation for international control of the ivory trade, they said.

Enrichment process for rice

Milling techniques to produce the white rice that Americans prefer removes much of the grain's vitamin content. The lost nutrients can be replaced by enrichment, but most of these enhancements wash off when the rice is rinsed and cooked.

A new enrichment process reported in the Journal of Food Science promises to embed the vitamins so effectively in white-rice grains that even washing and high-temperature cooking doesn't remove them. The method was developed by Esmond Joseph, a food scientist of Union, N.J., while he was at Louisiana State University.

The new process involves soaking the rice in acidified water and then adding vitamins along with a chemical to swell the rice. Each grain then draws the vitamins deep into its starchy matrix. The process also strengthens the rice so it doesn't get mushy during cooking, Joseph reported.

Cold cure flunks test

Doctors were excited in 1987 when Israeli physicians reported that three-fourths of people suffering from colds showed improvement the day after inhaling hot water vapor.

But a recent repeat test in Cleveland was discouraging. Not only did the treatment fail to cure colds in a day, it even seemed to prolong the sneezing, sniffling and stuffiness.

Researchers divided 66 cold-sufferers into two groups. One group inhaled hot water vapor, the other dry, room-temperature air. Neither group knew which was the supposed cure.

The control group, those who inhaled plain room-temperature air, got over their colds in about a week, just as most people do. But those who inhaled the hot water vapor were more likely to still be sneezing and sniffling a week later.

The results were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In praise of market misters

If you've been sprayed by water mist while shopping for produce in the supermarket, don't complain. You may get wet but the mist helps broccoli retain its vitamin C.

University of Illinois researchers said unmisted broccoli lost 43 percent of its vitamin C in three days, compared with a loss of only 26 percent in the misted bunches. The study was reported in the Journal of Food Science.

-- Compiled by Times science reporter Hill Williams.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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