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NHNE News Brief 55
Friday, April 4, 1997

"A thought-provoking exploration
of the extraordinary times in which we live."

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Distinguishing the Dawn

Barrie M. Schwortz
& The Shroud of Turin Web Site

Area 51 Protest
Ancient Earth a Big Snowball
Substituting Yogurt for Meat

The Shroud Rises Again!

Shramek Distances Himself from Suicides

1996 Weather in Review
Debating the Rising Tides

Some Surprises about Hale-Bopp

Why Haven't Domes Caught On?




"An old rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun.

"'Could it be,' asked one of the students, 'when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?'

"'No,' answered the rabbi.

"Another asked, 'Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?'

"'No,' answered the rabbi.

"'Then what is it?' the pupils demanded.

"'It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your brother or sister. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.'"

---A Hasidic tale from "Peacemaking Day by Day" via Mary Anne Buchowski



The NHNE Toby Award ( is named in honor of Tobias, the hero of the Book of Tobit, which is one of the twelve books of the Biblical Apocrypha. Tobias is a model of virtue. He follows the spirit, searches for truth, and persists in the face of adversity. NHNE is proud to award our third Toby to Barrie Schwortz, the creator of the Shroud of Turin Web site and Official Documenting Photographer for The Shroud of Turin Research Project, Inc., (STURP) that conducted extensive tests on the Shroud in 1978.

As many of you know, the Shroud of Turin is one of the most venerated and thoroughly-studied artifacts in the world. Believed by many to be the actual burial cloth of Christ, the Shroud contains the startling image of a crucified man. Is this the image of Jesus Christ? Does this ancient burial cloth prove that Jesus Christ was crucified, and possibly rose from the dead, as Biblical accounts claim? Historians, pathologists, linguists, biblical scholars, textile experts, chemists, physicists, photographic specialists, artists, botanists, microbiologists and other scientists from around the world have been trying to answer these important questions for decades.

Aside from being the Official Documenting Photographer of The STURP Research Team, Barrie's Shroud of Turin Web site has emerged as the main source on the planet today for authoritative information on all aspects of Shroud research. In addition, Barrie is also involved in the production of a series of CDs that will contain virtually everything that is presently known about this enigmatic cloth (see "The Shroud Rises Again" in this News Brief for more details).

In 1988, after Carbon-14 tests seemed to indicate that the Shroud was a medieval forgery, many prominent researchers abandoned the Shroud, even though a host of other unusual characteristics suggested the Shroud still might be authentic. With credible researchers turning their attention elsewhere, serious scientific study of the Shroud languished and numerous pseudo-researchers took up the cause, cranking out far-fetched and unsubstantiated books, reports and theories about the Shroud. Recently, however, the 1988 Carbon-14 tests have been called into question (see News Brief 15), and both public and professional interest is again on the rise. Thanks to Barrie's steadfast interest in the Shroud and his efforts to create an Internet-based center for Shroud news and research, those of us who are interested in current information about the Shroud of Turin no longer have to attend distant conferences, track down obscure scientific journals, or rely on vague news reports and second-hand information. Instead, we can visit Barrie's well-connected, regularly-updated, highly-informative Web site!

The Shroud of Turin Web site:


(Source: AUFORA News Update, 4/1/97 via David Watanabe)

A march to protest suspected secret government activities in Area 51, Nevada has been scheduled for June 6th, 1998. The gathering, entitled "People's March at Area 51," will take place just outside the restricted area at Groom Lake, is an attempt (in the words of the organizers) to "promote true patriotism and a show of true love for this once God-fearing nation." Contrary to the name, no "march" will take place; instead, there will be live music and speakers. A crowd of 500 is anticipated. Expecting that the planned event will generate anxiety in local authorities and the military, organizers are giving them as much lead time as possible. AUFORA, a UFO monitoring organization in Alberta, Canada, is of the opinion that the event "seems counterproductive. A small gathering of 'believers' outside Area 51 shouting about government conspiracy may not be a good image to project. The organizers themselves seem somewhat distracted, as they incessantly rant about the 'off-tangent,' 'unpatriotic,' 'paranoid,' 'less informed' morons who look skeptically on the event. Be wary." For more information, visit: <>. (JG)


(Source: REUTERS via CNN ONLINE, 3/19/97)

Polished and striated rocks and other evidence of glacial activity in ancient lava beds in South Africa dating back 2.2 billion years show that ancient glaciers extended to within 11 degrees of the equator said David Evans of the CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY in Pasadena, California. According to Evans, the Earth's climate of long ago was very different from the present day. During recent ice ages, glaciers reached down from the poles only to the levels of the Ohio River Valley, present-day London and Kiev. The South African glaciers would have been at the level of present-day central America. Alan Kaufman, a geochemist at HARVARD UNIVERSITY, wrote in a commentary that the Evans study supported the idea that there was a "Snowball Earth" two billion years ago. It would have to have been very cold for glaciers to form in the tropics, he said. "The cause of the temperature drop was probably a decline in the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide -- the greenhouse gas believed to be the main regulator of Earth's climate." The sea would have frozen and may have gone stagnant, he added. "Covered with ice, the Earth would have reflected most of the sun's warming rays back into space," Kaufman wrote. "Only a catastrophic event, like a huge volcanic eruption, a comet or asteroid impact, could have pumped enough carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere to melt the planet's icy shell." But the planet did recover, and as Evans pointed out, "Our planet's subsequent recoveries to more mild temperatures indicate a remarkable resilience" to extreme change. (JG)



Despite strenuous objections by the beef industry, the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (USDA) has decided to allow yogurt as a meat substitute in the nation's school lunchrooms. Child-care providers and the food industry have been clamoring for the change for at least 15 years. Yogurt is low in fat and will provide a needed alternative for children who cannot, or choose not, to eat meat, said Mary Ann Keefe, USDA's acting Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. The government currently requires two ounces of meat or its equivalent in every school lunch. Under the new USDA rule, an eight-ounce cup of yogurt can now be substituted. The department already allows schools to substitute cheese, beans, eggs and peanut butter for meat. The NATIONAL CATTLEMAN'S BEEF ASSOCIATION countered that there already were enough meat substitutes in school lunches. Last year the 94,000 participating schools served up 146 million pounds of beef -- almost 6 pounds for each of the 25 million children who eat food served in school cafeterias. "Beef offers more nutrients than yogurt does," said Alisa Harrison, a spokeswoman for the beef industry group. For years the AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT had been troubled by yogurt's lack of iron and niacin, but has decided to leave it up to school nutritionists to ensure that meals are balanced. (JG)


By David Sunfellow

100 years ago next year, a French lawyer and amateur photographer named Secondo Pia, became the first person to photograph the Shroud of Turin. Believed by many to be the burial cloth of Christ, the Shroud was being put on public display in Turin, Italy during the1898 Exhibition of the Shroud. After dealing with numerous difficulties (lighting, fluctuations in electricity, working around public visitation schedules), Pia was finally able to take a picture of the Shroud. Later, in his darkroom, a stunningly life-like negative image appeared on his photographic plates. Recounting Pia's excitement over the unexpected discovery, Father Antonio Tonelli commented, "Pia told a friend of mine that once he placed the plate in the bath he felt the need to jump because he was so filled with emotion and happiness."

And Pia's excitement was only the beginning. As soon as word spread of Pia's discovery, scientists from all over the world began investigating the ancient relic. The most extensive study ever conducted on the Shroud took place in 1978 when an international team of scientists gathered in Turin, Italy. A large part of that group consisted of The Shroud of Turin Research Project, Inc., (STURP), a team of American scientists and researchers that spent over two years designing tests for the event. Once in Turin, the STURP Team spent 120 continuous hours conducting their examination of the Shroud. While numerous books, articles, conferences and newsletters have detailed the results of this landmark study, it is only now that the full results of these tests, and of other tests conducted since then, are about to be made available to the general public. Just in time for the 100 year anniversary of Pia's photograph, Barrie Schwortz, the Official Documenting Photographer for the STURP Research Team, and Greg Maurice, a pioneer in computer character animation who has worked on projects for Walt Disney Studios, Warner Brothers, and many others, will be making a series of CDs available to both the general public and serious Shroud researchers.

The general-interest CD is called the "Explorer Edition" and will be available at the end of 1997. The Explorer Edition will include an illustrated timeline history of the cloth and a general description and overview of the Shroud, explaining the properties of the image and allowing viewers to examine the cloth in high quality close up photographs. The disc will contain hundreds of never-before-published color photographs covering the last 20 years of Shroud research. It also will feature full-motion video-clip interviews with prominent Shroud researchers and excerpts from the 1984 Shroud Symposium, never-before-available audio clips from tapes recorded during the actual 1978 examination, a massive, searchable database, including a bibliography of all Shroud articles and published works, reprints of the key scientific papers published on the Shroud, biographies of every major Shroud researcher, and a list of sources for additional Shroud information.

The "Research Edition" will consist of multiple CDs and is expected to be available by the year 2000. The Research Edition includes all of the information contained on the Explorer Edition, plus multiple image libraries with information on, or direct access to each image source, the text of all published scientific papers and research, an in-depth, detailed history of the Shroud, and more. It will allow everyone who is interested to examine all of the scientific research done on the Shroud of Turin in the 20th century.

Also in development is a book and companion CD entitled, "120 Hours with the Shroud." Expected to be available at the end of 1997, this is Schwortz's personal account of The Shroud of Turin Research Team and the investigation they performed in 1978. It his perspective on both the event, and on the impact the event has had on Shroud research and the researchers themselves. The120 Hours with the Shroud CD includes the full text of the book along with hundreds of additional photographs, video clips and sound clips.

According to Schwortz, "The goal of this multi-faceted project is to compile and present all of the facts about the Shroud of Turin, accurately and without bias. I believe that with all the facts at your fingertips, you can make up your own mind about this enigmatic and controversial relic."

Meanwhile, Schwortz's Web site, which began as a small, personal Web site to share some of his photographs and other Shroud materials, has turned into a full-fledged Internet center for Shroud studies. Along with containing pictures of the Shroud, current events, news, and peer-reviewed articles by prominent Shroud researchers, Schwortz also intends to use his Web site to host live, interactive forums with noted Shroud scientists. Visitors will be able to ask questions and participate in regularly-scheduled discussions with Shroud researchers and historians on the Internet. Noting that many interested scientists have written offering to make their services or facilities available for serious Shroud studies, Schwortz's Web site will also provide a "Resource Registry", where qualified organizations or individuals can list the resources they could make available for Shroud research. Any organization already involved in Shroud research, but lacking certain resources, will also be able to list their needs here.

Having weathered the storm generated by the now-discredited Carbon-14 tests that publicly declared the Shroud a medieval hoax (see News Brief 15 for details), Schwortz, says "the future of Shroud research is alive and well and bright with possibilities." Recent television specials like "The Mysterious Man of the Shroud" (April 2, 1997, CBS), certainly back up Schwortz's optimistic view. And, of course, there's the Shroud itself: Having been dismissed numerous times in the past, it continues to rise again, requiring both researchers and the public at large to take another look.

Significantly, Schwortz is Jewish. After reluctantly agreeing to help investigate one of Christianity's most cherished artifacts, Schwortz has now spent almost two decades studying the Shroud. Based on his research and the research of many other prominent authorities, Schwortz is convinced that The Shroud is indeed the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth:

"Frankly, I am still Jewish, yet I believe the Shroud of Turin is the cloth that wrapped the man Jesus after he was crucified. That is not meant as a religious statement, but one based on my privileged position of direct involvement with many of the serious Shroud researchers in the world, and a knowledge of the scientific data, unclouded by media exaggeration and hype. The only reason I am still involved with the Shroud of Turin is because knowing the unbiased facts has convinced me of its authenticity. And I believe only a handful of people have really ever had access to all the unbiased facts. Most of the public has had to depend on the media, who always seem to sensationalize the story or reduce the facts to two-minute sound bites from so-called experts who have 'solved the mystery.'"

The Archbishop of Turin recently announced that the Shroud of Turin will be publicly displayed at THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST in Turin from April 18 to May 31, 1998, and again in the year 2000, from April 29 through June 11, 2000. An International Congress on the Shroud of Turin is also being held in Turin from June 5 to 7, 1998. Organized by the Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia di Torino (INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR THE TURIN SHROUD), the primary focus of this congress will be to find ways to preserve the Shroud. The 1998 exhibition marks the 500th anniversary of the consecration of THE TURIN CATHEDRAL, the 100th anniversary of the exhibition of 1898, when Italian amateur photographer Secundo Pia took the first photograph ever of the Shroud of Turin, and the 20th anniversary of the first ever, in-depth scientific examination of the Shroud. The exhibition scheduled for the year 2000 will commemorate the Jubilee anniversary of the birth of Jesus. The last public display of the Shroud took place in September of 1978, when the Shroud of Turin went on public display for a period of five weeks. During that time period, 3 1/2 million visitors (100,000 per day) came from all over the world to view the sacred cloth.

For more information about the Shroud of Turin, you can check out:

The Shroud of Turin Web site:

The Shroud of Turin:

Shroud Update in News Brief 15:


(Sources: Dale Musser, CNI NEWS, 4/1/97; Chuck Shramek Press Release, 3/28/97)

Chuck Shramek has held a press conference to put as much distance as possible between himself and the recent Heaven's Gate mass suicide in San Diego. Shramek, a newsman with KLOL radio in Houston, Texas is better known as the amateur astronomer who "discovered" a mysterious "Saturn-like object" trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet on November 14, 1996.

At the time of his discovery, he was unable to locate any corresponding heavenly body in his star charts, so he posted a photo of the object on his Web site, along with the question, "Does anyone know what this thing is?" He also sent a fax to Art Bell to see if any of the listeners of his radio show could shed some light on the matter. Bell immediately called Shramek and asked him on the air to describe what he had seen. Shramek said that the object was four times the size of Earth with Saturn-like rings, but at no time did he claim it to be a spacecraft or in any way related to aliens.

Things became confused the next night when Art Bell interviewed Courtney Brown of the FARSIGHT INSTITUTE who claimed that his team of remote viewers had determined that the object photographed by Shramek was, in fact, a spaceship filled with aliens. This announcement created a firestorm of controversy and excitement fanned by the speed-of-light communication of the Internet. Many people following the story were left with the impression that Shramek was the author of the claims about the object being a spaceship.

As a shocked world struggled to make sense of the mass suicide, people began asking how such a thing could happen. Word of the group's belief in aliens and UFOs coming to collect them, and the story that the Comet Hale-Bopp signaled this event, quickly led many to speculate that the rumors of a "companion" with Hale-Bopp had hastened their decision to commit suicide. Fact and fiction quickly merged, and within hours of the news being released, Shramek became the target of a growing flood of hate mail, angry phone calls and accusatory news articles from those who believed that he had inspired the group's tragic act.

In an effort to dispel these ideas, Shramek held a press conference in Houston on March 28. As a measure of the level of interest, all the major network-affiliate TV stations were present. Shramek distributed a prepared statement and fielded questions. His prepared release said in part: "I was shocked over the tragic mass suicide in California. My shock turned to horror when some wire service reports actually made a connection between me and the cult suicides. The story had me the source of an Internet rumor that a spaceship was following behind the comet Hale-Bopp. This is simply not true. I am not the source of the spaceship stories regarding the comet." He concluded, "Regardless of the source, one can hardly be held responsible for the actions of some very insane people led by an apparent madman. Even the cult's own Internet page stated that the cult was not convinced there really was a spaceship or 'companion' near the comet. I am upset and saddened by the cult suicide, but in no way do I feel I caused this tragedy."

To date, Courtney Brown has refused to comment on the matter. (JG)


By Mary Koch

According to a preliminary report from the NATIONAL SEVERE STORMS FORECAST CENTER, there were 1,040 tornadoes in 1996, compared to 1,137 in 1995. A normal year has 823 tornadoes. Despite its record number of twisters, 1996 had fortunately fewer "killer" tornadoes and fewer deaths than in the two previous years.

However, 1996, like 1995, was a devastating year emotionally, physically and financially overall. In both years, according to the NATIONAL CLIMATIC DATA CENTER, weather-related disasters resulted in over $13 billion in damage across the U.S. In 1994, damages totalled only $5 billion. 1993 had over $20 billion in damage, most of it when torrential rains caused the flooding of both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. 1992 saw over $30 billion in damages, in great part due to the destruction of large sections of Florida and Louisiana by Hurricane Andrew. 1991 had $3 billion in damage, while in 1990 the total amount of weather-related damage did not even total $1 billion.

The NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE registered a combined total of 20 hurricanes in 1996 and 1995 -- the highest number for two consecutive years ever recorded. There were 9 in 1996, 6 of which intensified to Category 3 or higher (winds of 111 miles per hour or more), whereas 1995 had 11 hurricanes, with 5 of them becoming Category 3 or higher.


(Sources: SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 3/97; ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2/5/97 and 12/9/96; David Schneider, "The Rising Seas")

In 1953, one million Dutch citizens discovered Mother Nature's fury when a combination of fierce winds and high tides caused the North Atlantic to pour over Holland's protective dikes and cover one-sixth of the Netherlands with water. 2,000 people drowned. 25 years later, scientists began to warn that global warming -- the consequence of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases building up in Earth's atmosphere -- might raise sea levels by 30 centimeters (a foot) or more in the next 100 years. While some countries, like the U.S., are still debating the issue, the Dutch, with their most recent devastating flood still fresh in their minds, do not need to be convinced.

Some scientists suggest that the increasing temperatures, and thus the expanding liquidity of oceans, are the first concern. For example, mountain glaciers in places such as Europe's alpine valleys appear to be melting, and those meltwaters alone may have raised the ocean level nearly five centimeters. But for low-lying countries like the Netherlands, it may already be too late. Scientists argue that the warming began nearly a quarter century ago and that the polar icecaps are rapidly melting away.

But there is no consensus among scientists on the nature of the problem, or whether there is a problem at all. Some scientists believe that the oceans rise two millimeters a year as a natural process. Others claim that the data is not complete on whether ice caps are actually melting or if they only appear to be. Ellen Mosley-Thompson of the OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY BYRD POLAR RESEARCH CENTER declared that, "Anybody who tells you that they know, is being dishonest."

Tell that to the scientists working for SeaRISE (Sea-level Response to Ice Sheet Evolution) studying the Antarctic polar icecap. 19 years ago, J.H. Mercer of OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY predicted the collapse of the Antarctic ice shelves. The Larsen Ice Shelf subsequently disintegrated in January 1995 after unusually warm temperatures created deep cracks and large holes, and virtually the same scenario is now being repeated in the ice streams flowing from the interior of West Antarctica into the Ross Sea. The total destruction of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would raise sea levels five meters (18 feet)!

The uncertainty should disappear with the launch of a satellite in 2002 which will monitor changes in elevation of ice caps and detect subtle changes in the overall volume of snow and ice stored at the poles. Curiously, a similar instrument is now on its way to Mars to chart the frozen icecaps of the Red Planet later this year. While scientists are presently not in complete agreement on the subject of global warming, greenhouse gases and the effects on glacial melting, most concede that we have a problem. Scientists continue to debate the issues and the evidence and members of the U.N. met in Geneva last year to consider ways to cut greenhouse gases after the year 2000. It remains to be see if that will be enough to stem the rising tides.

Meanwhile, the Dutch have already started the monumental job of upgrading their dikes and waterworks to accommodate a rise of 30 centimeters over the next century. John G. de Ronde, Head of Hydraulic Modelling at the MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT AND PUBLIC WORKS in the Netherlands adopts the attitude that Holland can deal with rises in sea level because the changes are gradual and his country has the financial resources. He shows greater concern for the land-poor Third World nations and for an aspect of future climate that is much more difficult to forecast than sea levels: changes in the frequency and intensity of violent storms. De Ronde notes, "You would need 20 years to see a change in [sea level] statistics, [but] a bad storm could happen the next day." (KAB)


(Source: NASA Press Release, 3/27/97 via Chris Czech)

An unprecedented year-long study of Comet Hale-Bopp using two NASA observatories -- the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Ultraviolet Explorer -- has just been completed. The team of scientists was led by Johns Hopkins astrophysicist Dr. Harold Weaver, who commented: "This is a unique opportunity; we have never had the chance to examine a comet in this much detail, over this large a range of distance from the Sun."

The research turned up a number of startling findings about the comet. During the course of long-term observations, which began in August 1995, astronomers unexpectedly caught the comet going through a sudden brief outburst, where, in little more than an hour, the amount of dust being spewed from the nucleus increased at least eight-fold. "The surface of Hale-Bopp's nucleus must be an incredibly dynamic place, with 'vents' being turned on and off as new patches of icy material are rotated into sunlight for the first time," Weaver said.

To their surprise, astronomers also found that water ice sublimates (turns directly from a frozen solid into a gas) at a different rate than the trace ices, implying that those components are not contained within the water on the comet. This conclusion is further supported by Hubble data showing that the rate at which dust left the nucleus was much different than the sublimation rate of water. This result is contrary to previous models for a comet's nucleus, which suggest that the trace components, such as carbon disulfide ice, are contained inside of the most abundant ice on the comet, frozen water. As water sublimates, the trace components and dust should be released at similar rates, but this is not what Hubble observed.

By studying Hubble Space Telescope images, the astronomers have estimated that Hale-Bopp's nucleus is in the order of 19 to 25 miles in diameter. The average comet is thought to have a nucleus of about three miles in diameter, or even smaller. In comparison, the destructive comet or asteroid that struck the Earth 65 million years ago causing the extinction of the dinosaurs, was probably only six to nine miles across.

Because Hale-Bopp was unusually bright when it was still a great distance away -- well outside the orbit of Jupiter -- it has given scientists their best view ever of the changes in a comet's nucleus as it gets closer to, and is progressively heated by, the Sun. Those changes, in turn, provide information about the composition and structure of comets, which are believed to be remnants from the formation of the solar system, 4.6 billion years ago. (JG)


By James Gregory

50 years ago, in the early days of science fiction, SF writers described a future world of domed cities. Domes are strong, use space efficiently, and are cheap to build and heat. The future is here, so why aren't domes more common?

Despite the preceding comments, domes are not a 20th Century invention, although Buckminister Fuller did develop the geodesic dome in the 1950s. The dome uses the same principles as the arch, which can be traced back to Mesopotamia, 4,000 years ago. The use of the arch reached its pinnacle in the architecture of the Roman Empire. Many of Europe's largest churches, such as St. Peter's in Rome, feature domes. Eskimos have been building dome-shaped igloos out of snow blocks for thousands of years. Many of the native American tribes built large, dome-shaped "kivas" for ceremonial gatherings.

The arguments for domes are impressive:

-- Dome home designs are typically more energy efficient than other designs of comparable size. They tend to be subjected to smaller heating and cooling loads at the same insulation levels.

-- Domes maximize space while minimizing exposed surface area. For example, consider three styles of floor plans -- dome, square, and T-shaped rectilinear (ranch house) -- all enclosing 1590 square feet of floor space on one floor. The dome would contain the space using a perimeter of 141 feet, the square using 160 feet, and the rectilinear T, 206 feet. Because of this, domes require approximately 15 percent less building materials to enclose the same amount of square footage by conventional methods.

-- Not only are dome homes 30 to 50 percent cheaper to heat and cool, the curved interior surfaces provide for a natural circulation of air.

-- On the outside, the curved shape of the dome results in less air resistance and less suction (negative air pressure on the lee side of a building). The curved dome shape provides the double bonus of stability in high winds and less air infiltration (loss of conditioned inside air).

-- Another benefit of domes is that they are brighter. Due to increased reflection of light from the curved interior walls, dome homes have 32 percent more foot candles of light than a conventionally-shaped home, resulting in 7 percent lower power bills.

-- Domes are the best design to enclose a wide span of space without interior divisions or supporting members. Probably the most common domes in most cityscapes are enclosed sports stadiums.

-- Because of the energy-efficient nature of domes, which translates into more cash flow for the homeowners, dome homes are eligible for increased financing under regulations established by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC). Another savings results from the fact that fire insurance for domes tends to be about half that of conventional buildings.

The benefits continue. MONOLITHIC CONSTRUCTORS INC., one of the 20 dome building companies that have sprung up in the U.S. in the last five years, claims their dome "may be the best-engineered, best insulated, and least expensive permanent building in the world today." Phillip Ricks, owner of K-P FOODS INC., says of his MONOLITHIC-built domes -- a 1,250-square-foot refrigerated dome and a 6,350-square-foot manufacturing plant: "My domes are saving me 75 percent on heating and cooling bills." MONOLITHIC's design uses reinforced high-density concrete, shaped by an inflatable fabric form, and insulated on the outside with polyurethane foam, a building material with the highest insulative value. Because the urethane is sprayed on the exterior, the dome is seamless, waterproof, and nearly airtight. MONOLITHIC also claims that their domes are FIFTY TIMES stronger than conventional structures!

With all the news of strange weather, and predictions of natural and man-made disasters, it may be of interest that domes are the most disaster-resistant building design, short of burrowing underground or tunneling into the side of a mountain.

Wind speeds of 300 mph are considered the maximum for tornadoes and far greater than what is encountered in hurricanes. A wind of 300 mph would exert 404 pounds of pressure per square foot (psf) on a flat wall, 30 feet tall. (As a point of reference, the floors of parking garages are rated at 100 psf.) A dome of equivalent height would offer a strength in excess of 1,110 psf, notwithstanding the fact that the stress created by a 300 mph wind on such a structure would be much less than 404 psf because a dome offers no flat surfaces perpendicular to the force of the wind. Even in such a high wind, the strength of the structure would exceed the force of the wind by a factor of four. Domes are sometimes buried after construction, and easily support earth loads of as much as 5,000 psf.

One other risk in tornadoes is flying debris. Calculations indicate that while something the size of a telephone pole might puncture the dome, the structure would never be in danger of collapsing, since the load in a dome is distributed evenly throughout the entire structure. If part of the structure is punctured, the stress dynamic simply adjusts to accommodate it, without any significant loss to overall strength. In addition, it is quite easy to prepare a simple patch to repair a puncture hole in a dome.

Here are some real-life examples:

-- A dome in Port Arthur, Texas has been hit by three hurricanes, none of which exerted enough pressure on the dome to even be noticed.

-- Carlos and Gladys Perez moved into their dome house in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico two weeks before Hurricane Hortense struck with winds of 100 mph on September 10, 1996. While the eye of the storm passed within 20 miles of their home, and destroyed a number of buildings in the area, their dome was untouched, except for loss of power and water services.

-- PCS PHOSPHATE has three domes in Morehead City, North Carolina which was hit by Hurricane Bertha on July 12, 1996. The eye of the hurricane passed right over the area, and winds exceeded 115 mph. The largest dome has a diameter of 172 feet. None of the domes received any damage.

-- The eye of Hurricane Bertha also passed near Sullivan Island, South Carolina, where Helen and Huiet Paul have made their 3,800 square foot home in a dome ever since their previous beach house was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Their dome is even equipped with "hurricane louvres," shutters made of PVC and urethane that are designed to withstand winds of 150 mph, and can close in 15 seconds at the flick of a switch. Of Bertha, Helen Paul declared, "It was so serene inside the dome. It was a revelation to us to know that we could have that much weather going on and not really be aware of it unless you looked outside. It was the most peaceful feeling in the world."

-- Antonio Carducci, a retired stockbroker sold his condo in Florida and moved to Wimberly, Texas in response to the dire earth change predictions of Gordon-Michael Scallion. Carducci contracted MONOLITHIC DOMES to build a 3,100 square foot complex of five interconnected domes which used over 200 tons of concrete in its construction. According to MONOLITHIC's promotional literature, Carducci's domes should last for centuries.

-- On May 24, 1995, Rebecca Mitchell watched from the window of her dome in Italy, Texas as a tornado approached her house. She retreated to the middle of the dome away from the windows as the twister pass right overhead, and only went outside once the storm had subsided. There she discovered that the telephone pole next to her house had broken off and landed on the top of her dome. She hadn't heard it all. The pole left a mark on the dome and slightly damaged some window trim. Many other buildings in the area were destroyed.

Similarly, even the strongest earthquakes are not a threat to a dome. Dr. Arnold Wilson, a leading engineer in thin shell construction (such as domes), explains, "It is easy to see that earthquake forces do not even approach the design strength the dome is built to withstand under normal everyday usage. It would take an external force much larger than an earthquake to approach the design strength of the concrete itself."

A nuclear disaster is another consideration -- domes would be superior to all other above-ground building designs in withstanding a nuclear explosion. In 1945, the only structure left standing at Ground Zero in Hiroshima was the concrete skeleton of a dome. Domes are taller than conventional buildings, so the top of a dome would hold radiation further away from its occupants and rain would tend to wash the radioactive dust off the structure better than a conventional building. Concrete is a good absorber of radiation. All things considered, domes would greatly reduce the dangers of nuclear fallout to their occupants.

The arguments for dome homes are overwhelming. So why aren't they more popular? Certainly it is not a decision prompted by logic. How many times have we seen conventional homes being built out of the destruction of hurricanes and tornadoes? We are so attached to traditional concepts of wood-frame homes, block-walled, flat-roofed commercial buildings, and high-rise apartment towers. We are consoled by the false security of four walls and a roof. Domes look different. Building codes and local ordinances are stacked against them, as are the attitudes of conventional communities which don't want something odd destroying the predictable appearance of their neighborhoods. It is no coincidence that most domes are built outside the city limits. However, slowly and surely the number of dome homes is increasing, as are the number of companies which make them. If we don't consciously choose to live in dome homes, then the process of natural selection -- the survival of the fittest -- might make the choice for us.


Two good sources of information on dome homes are:

Mason Rumney
PO Box 3439
Sedona, AZ, USA 86340
(520) 282-4448

1 Dome Park Place
PO Box 479
Italy, TX, USA 76651-0479
(214) 483-7423



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