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    * A remote Earth sensing center opened in Khanty-Mansiisk, the capital of the area bearing the same name in West Siberia. The center will receive information from Russian and foreign satellites. It will warn of the spread of forest fires, floods, avalanches, oil spills. The center's capabilities will be used in geological survey.

    Leonid Makridenko, chief of the Remote Earth Sensing Department of Rosaviakosmos (the Russian Space Agency), said that this center, unlike its analogues in the world, can receive information from each satellite now in orbit. "Its location in Russia's center," Makridenko believes, "will make it possible to use the information in the interests of Siberian regions and for resolving federal tasks." Alexander Filipenko, governor of the Khanty-Mansi autonomous area, calls it "the most sophisticated and largest scientific center for remote sensing of the Earth."

    * The national environmental prize Ecomir has been established in Russia by the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, social innovations charity fund Road of Creation and the Interregional Fund of Charity Initiatives. Sergei Stepashin, chairman of the Audit Chamber has been elected head of the organizing committee and the jury.

    Alongside scientific, the prize has other nominations - the environmental policy, education, industry, energy etc.

    Simultaneously, "antipodal" prizes are being introduced for "achievements" harming human health and leading to the degradation of the environment.

    The Ecomir prize will be awarded in Moscow on June 5, the World Day of Environmental Protection.

    * Snow in Siberia may indicate the existence of mineral resources - such is the conclusion drawn by researchers from the Institute of the Permafrost, located in the city of Yakutsk, of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

    In the zone of permanently frozen soil, researchers found a liquid-like film on the surface of ice crystals on frozen rock and snow lying there for years.

    Analysis showed that the film is "migration environment" for substances contained in the soil under the snow cover.

    Researchers suggested a method for use of the snow cover in the geochemical search for minerals, as well as for assessing the degree of environmental pollution.

    Their findings are important for Yakutia (republic in the north of East Siberia), containing a lot of minerals. The permafrost defies their prospecting in the frost-free season.

    * Karelia (the Northwestern federal district) is preparing a target regional program for restoring the gene pool of the Karelian birch, reports the national web portal Priroda (Nature). It is a special species of the common birch highly valued for its beautiful wavy timber pattern. According to the Karelian Natural Resources Department, about 40,000 such trees have remained in Karelian woods.

    In natural conditions, the Karelian birch does not grow widely. Only 62 hectares, two thirds of which are reserves, are natural woods where the Karelian birch grows. Plantations of the Karelian birch occupy a much larger area, over 5,500 hectares. Reserves of this valuable tree species are continually diminishing owing to wanton felling: 1,377 such trees were felled during the 1996-2003 period.

    Experts' observations show that nature on its own cannot reproduce its Karelian birch stock. Scientists come to the rescue. They have developed efficient methods of reproduction, for instance the Karelian birch forest species created with the help of hybrid seeds.

    * The competition For the Best Explanation of the Key Questions on the Structure of the Universe was held at the Russian NTV television channel. The main prize is one million euros or 100 kilograms of gold. The competition was sponsored by the Central Moscow Depository - the authorized company-registrar of state-held blocks of shares of the privatized enterprises of the Russian Property Ministry.

    In the course of 1 year the anchor, Alexander Gordon, met with 191 scientists, each of whom became a member of the competition and a member of the jury. Dmitry Chernavsky, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, in charge of the Theoretical Biophysics section at the Pyotr Lebedev Institute of Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences (FIAN) won this competition, reports the weekly of the Russian scientific community Poisk. The theme in discussion with him was The Origin of Biological Information. Ex-USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev was invited to the awarding ceremony. Mr. Chernavsky chose money as the prize and at once declared his desire to share the prize money equally between all the participants in the project. The prize winner explained his decision by the importance of every branch of science represented in the TV program.

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