Suomen Luonto
English summaries 11/2001

Star gazing
By Marko Pekkola and Jorma Luhta
Pages 4-13

Many people are unaware that stars are in fact distant suns and that all visible stars belong to our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Certain people are also unaware that some of the brightest \"evening stars\" are not stars at all, but planets like Venus.

Stars and planets themselves move but their greatest apparent movement takes place due to the planet Earth revolving around both its own axis and the sun. The combined result of these movements is an ever-changing spectacle to understand which we need access to star maps adapted to the point on our planet from which we are observing the night sky.

For millennia, people have noticed that star clusters form patterns in the sky to which they have given names. Everyone knows the Plough (America: the Big Dipper; Finland: Otava), but for many the remaining star clusters are unknown, despite the fact that many of their names are familiar to everyone who takes a look at his or her horoscope in the newspaper! Unfortunately it has become increasingly difficult to observe the stars because illumination from human settlements and traffic has radically increased. Lighting in residential areas and roads and even round isolated dwellings has been intensified, taking the edge off the bright twinkle of the \"stars above us\".

Elusive vagabond of the fells
By Pertti Koskimies
Pages 20-25

The snowy owl is a vagrant of the arctic coastal region which nests in Finland only sporadically. It only breeds well when voles are abundant and the fells become stocked with readily available prey. Then the owls move in ready to exploit the sudden supply of food. The latest population explosion among voles occurred in the late 1980s.

Records kept by ornithologists enable us to draw the conclusion that the snowy owl inhabited the Nordic fells on a far more regular basis in the 19th century than it does now. Its numbers have been depleted not only in Finland but also in Norway and Sweden, where it no longer breeds on a regular basis.

The snowy owl has a broader distribution than any other bird species in Finnish Lapland. This is linked to the fact that no species specialised on lemmings and voles can afford to take life leisurely in one place; it has to go wherever prey population numbers are rising. Between two nesting seasons, snowy owls wander over hundreds, even thousands, of kilometres, finally settling down to rear a brood where there are most voles on which to feed their young.

Morphologically, the snowy owl is a cross between an efficient vole trap and a long distance flier. Its thick plumage effectively insulates it against snowstorms. Only adult males are snow white, the females and juveniles having dark strips on their feathers, enabling them to blend it amazingly well with their surroundings.

When Country Mouse decided to stay in town
By Veikko Tarvainen
Pages 28-31

A century ago capercaillies, black grouse, European elk (moose) and flying squirrels could be found in Helsinki. By contrast, hedgehogs and brown hares were unknown. The burial of natural oases of wildlife under broad strips of tarmac and concrete forms part of Helsinkiís recent history, but according to a study by Eero Haapanen the growth of the Finnish capital has provided new opportunities for animals in general. Haapanenís study forms part of the City of Helsinki Environment Centreís fauna atlas scheme aimed at producing sound information for future city planning.

It is often forgotten that the city fauna is also an historical phenomenon. Over a relatively short period of time dramatic changes have taken place in Helsinkiís fauna. Some animals have become well adapted to city life. In a city animals may be fed and befriended by people, or they can take advantage of municipal waste. The migration policy of mankind and animals also has many parallels.

New energy game
By Ritva Kupari and Juha Valste
Pages 36- 42

People in Finland share a common opinion; energy consumption should be made more efficient, energy should be conserved, and the use of fossil fuels needs to be reduced and their place taken by renewable energy sources. Valtavirta, the anti-nuclear power movement, regards a new nuclear power station as a step backwards, because the energy markets will be divided for many decades to come. Energia, the central organisation for the energy sector sees no conflict here, however, believing we need both nuclear power and renewable sources of energy.

There must be no rise in greenhouse gas emissions if Finland wants to meet the requirements set by the Kyoto conference; on the contrary, these have to be reduced. Some basic questions arise here, such as \"Which will cost the most and how much more will it cost us?\", and \"Which carries the higher risk and how serious is this risk?\". Answers to these questions are conflicting.

Nuclear power is polluting and is subject to risks, says its antagonists. Uranium fuel quarrying is environmentally polluting and the fuel is both quarried and enriched abroad. In a crisis, a supply of uranium is uncertain. Energy is generated in extremely large units and its transportation distances are long. In conjunction with power production large amounts of nuclear waste are formed, some of which will still be dangerously radioactive tens of thousands of years hence. The problem of containing such waste has still not been resolved in any state producing nuclear power. The power stations are vulnerable to both terrorist attack and accidents. Insurance does not cover possible damage, meaning that the people will have to pay rather than the utility generating the power and profiting by it.

Renewable energy production alternatives are wood combustion, wind, geothermal energy and direct solar energy. Thinning residue, logging waste and energy wood chipping, pelletising and modern combustion technology, the decentralised generation of combined electricity and district heat by small and medium sized power stations, together with improved scrubbing and cleaning technology for flue gases and particulates would make wood energy entirely competitive. In addition, forest harvesting, transportation and processing would provide employment for thousands of people in regions where unemployment is currently rife.

Wind power is non-polluting and helps solve local unemployment problems. Its drawback is the uncertainty associated with calm weather. In Central Europe there is a constantly increasing shift over to wind power production. The technology for this is being produced in Finland. The price of energy produced by harnessing air movements for wind turbines will fall below that of nuclear power within about one decade.

Geothermal energy is mainly important as a heating means for detached houses. If all the houses using electric heating started to use geothermal energy, the amount of electricity consumed would fall by an amount equivalent to the output from a nuclear power plant.

Teksti: Leigh Plester