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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Japan Using Monkeys To Measure Radiation

My first reaction was 'are you kidding me!?' Monkey's can't count! Stoopid monkeys.

Then I read a bit more and thought: 'You're going to use wild monkeys to test the radiation levels in the forests of Fukushima-ken? Hunh!'

And then my next reaction was: There were wild monkeys living only 100 kilometers away from me? Cool.

And then I realized that the monkeys about 40 kilometers away in Nikko. Stoopid Andrew.

Apparently a group of researchers from Fukushima University (good ol' F.U.) are going to go to Minami-Soma City mountainous area of Fukushima Prefecture, capture some wild monkeys, put a measuring and tracking device on them and then get some much needed data.

They have to capture the monkeys. This could take time. Will they use Gorilla warfare tactics? How will they get the data? Will they put a tail on that monkey?

Sorry. I just wanted to do those two jokes after hearing about this story. Shall I continue? I suppose I must in case any of you are interested...

WHERE: Minami-Soma was very badly affected by the radiation fears after the Dai-Ichi nuclear facility nearly went into complete meltdown mode. It has 67,000 residents, and the area was evacuated of over half its population. In fact... about 1/3 of the city sits inside the 20-kilometer (12.25-mile) exclusion zone that the Japanese Government mandated.  In all, some 80,000 people were forced to leave their homes in Fukushima-ken - many of whom have not come back. Perhaps because of the radioactive monkeys. Kidding.

Monkey collar
WHAT: Scientists are fitting 350-gram collars on wild Japanese monkeys. These collars have a dosimeter to measure the levels of radiation. As well, the collar will contain a GPS (Global Positioning System). The collar is apparently remote-triggered to release, but the plan is to keep them on for decades. This is from ABCNews.go.com.

However, a second article I read in the Daily Yomiuri said that the scientists plan to release the collars after a two-week period and then collect them to get the data. This sounds more likely.

WHO: Japanese wild monkeys, of course. One thousand of them according to ABCNews.go.com. The plan is to use female monkeys, because they prefer to wander in groups rather than walk solo like the males often do.

Though not actively described in any news article I saw, I am guessing the monkeys will be the wild Japanese macaque - the snow monkey. (See photo at the very top from Wikimedia.)

Also, there will be researchers from F.U. led by Professor Takahashi Takayuki (surname first) That's him on the left or below, or wherever this blog template puts him . 
Professor Takahashi Takayuki

The professor is an expert in robot engineering. He says the whole idea hit him after noticing that the Japanese wild monkeys liked to form groups and those groups would stay in a certain territory.

The guy is a robot engineer? What was he doing out watching monkeys? Did he want to create a monkey 'bot? I would buy a monkey 'bot.

As well... it was his idea... but shouldn't the research team be led by a scientist whose focus is on radiation? Or monkeys? Or weather? Or Geology? Botany? Anything other than a guy who knows a lot about robots!

Coffee, tea or monkey poop?
WHY: The aim is to capture monkeys to capture data to try and figure out the actual dispersal of radiation that was released during the nuclear facility crisis last Spring and Summer. Until the monkeys are sent out, radiation levels in this mountainous region have only been able to be measured by airplanes. Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife is pretty sure wild monkeys won't be flying any airplanes over the region.

Using the monkeys. scientists figure they can get a proper reading of radioactive cesium levels in the forest, as the monkeys will climb trees and walk along the forest floor.

Says Takahashi: “The monkeys can help us get more accurate readings in areas that aren’t so accessible We’ll get a better idea of how radiation is spread by rain, by plants, by rivers in the forest.”

Takahashi, an expert in robot engineering, came up with the idea after noticing the monkeys' habit of forming groups and moving around in a specific territory. The researchers plan to capture female monkeys, which are believed to rarely stray from their groups, and attach the 350-gram collars.

In a darker note, this blog suspects we will also be able to see how radiation is affecting wild animals in the area. Takahashi says he wants to gradually increase the number of monkeys (perhaps he has realized that capturing them will be tricky) to continue the experiment.

Increase the number of monkeys being used in this radioactive area? Until the experiment is complete or the species is extinct?  

Here's a joke I created when I was 14. Visualize this: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Because it was dead. 

That joke got three people kicked out of Grade 12 Accounting class for laughing. I told it, and I kept myself from laughing. No one minded. Apparently they told the principal what was so funny, and he apparently laughed.  

I know, I know... the monkeys were already living in the glowing forests, so what's the big deal if we humans use them to check radiation levels? 

Ever looked for a 'when' image?
When: I first heard about this story back in December of 2011. Plans were afoot to start then. In April, news agencies once again picked up the story, as the researchers planned to start the test in late May 2012. It's June 2012, and I have finally heard about the story. I hope it's begun.

Takahashi sums up: "It's difficult to accurately gauge how much radioactive cesium has contaminated the mountain forests because the substance is easily moved by rainwater and by other natural conditions.

"I hope the data on radiation distribution also helps protect wild animals in the area."

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

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