Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Faint Sun Paradox Solved?

Researcher unravels one of science's great mysteries

Climate scientists from all over the globe are now able to test their climate models under extreme conditions thanks to Professor Minik Rosing, University of Copenhagen

In 1972, the late, world famous astronomer Carl Sagan and his colleague George Mullen formulated "The faint early sun paradox. " The paradox consisted in that the earth's climate has been fairly constant during almost four of the four and a half billion years that the planet has been in existence, and this despite the fact that radiation from the sun has increased by 25-30 percent.

The paradoxical question that arose for scientists in this connection was why the earth's surface at its fragile beginning was not covered by ice, seeing that the sun's rays were much fainter than they are today. Science found one probable answer in 1993, which was proffered by the American atmospheric scientist, Jim Kasting. He performed theoretical calculations that showed that 30% of the earth's atmosphere four billion years ago consisted of CO2. This in turn entailed that the large amount of greenhouse gases layered themselves as a protective greenhouse around the planet, thereby preventing the oceans from freezing over.

Mystery solved

Now, however, Professor Minik Rosing, from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, and Christian Bjerrum, from the Department of Geography and Geology at University of Copenhagen, together with American colleagues from Stanford University in California have discovered the reason for "the missing ice age" back then, thereby solving the sun paradox, which has haunted scientific circles for more than forty years.

Professor Minik Rosing explains, "What prevented an ice age back then was not high CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, but the fact that the cloud layer was much thinner than it is today. In addition to this, the earth's surface was covered by water. This meant that the sun's rays could warm the oceans unobstructed, which in turn could layer the heat, thereby preventing the earth's watery surface from freezing into ice. The reason for the lack of clouds back in earth's childhood can be explained by the process by which clouds form. This process requires chemical substances that are produced by algae and plants, which did not exist at the time. These chemical processes would have been able to form a dense layer of clouds, which in turn would have reflected the sun's rays, throwing them back into the cosmos and thereby preventing the warming of earth's oceans. Scientists have formerly used the relationship between the radiation from the sun and earth's surface temperature to calculate that earth ought to have been in a deep freeze during three billion of its four and a half billion years of existence. Sagan and Mullen brought attention to the paradox between these theoretical calculations and geological reality by the fact that the oceans had not frozen. This paradox of having a faint sun and ice-free oceans has now been solved."

CO2 history iluminated

Minik Rosing and his team have by analyzing samples of 3.8-billion-year-old mountain rock from the world's oldest bedrock, Isua, in western Greenland, solved the "paradox".

But more importantly, the analyses also provided a finding for a highly important issue in today's climate research - and climate debate, not least: whether the atmosphere's CO2 concentration throughout earth's history has fluctuated strongly or been fairly stable over the course of billions of years.

"The analyses of the CO2-content in the atmosphere, which can be deduced from the age-old Isua rock, show that the atmosphere at the time contained a maximum of one part per thousand of this greenhouse gas. This was three to four times more than the atmosphere's CO2-content today. However, not anywhere in the range of the of the 30 percent share in early earth history, which has hitherto been the theoretical calculation. Hence we may conclude that the atmosphere's CO2-content has not changed substantially through the billions of years of earth's geological history.

Ok. A hypothesis for the faint sun paradox with backing evidence. Excellent.

However, AWESOME thing that comes out of this is that the CO2 content deduced from the Isua bedrock absolutely blasts a hole in the biomass estimates that were used by Ward for the Medea Hypothesis.

Lake Agassiz Megaflood Caused Younger Dryas?

The main cause of a rapid global cooling period, known as the Big Freeze or Younger Dryas - which occurred nearly 13,000 years ago - has been identified thanks to the help of an academic at the University of Sheffield.

A new paper, which is published in Nature today (1 April 2010), has identified a mega-flood path across North America which channelled melt-water from a giant ice sheet into the oceans and triggering the Younger Dryas cold snap.

The research team, which included Dr Mark Bateman from the University of Sheffield's Department of Geography, discovered that a mega-flood, caused by the melting of the Laurentide ice sheet, which covered much of North America, was routed up into Canada and into the Arctic Ocean.

This resulted in huge amounts of fresh water mixing with the salt water of the Arctic Ocean. As a result, more sea-ice was created which flowed into the North Atlantic, causing the northward continuation of the Gulf Stream to shut down.

Without the heat being brought across the Atlantic by the Gulf Stream, temperatures in Europe plunged from similar to what they are today, back to glacial temperatures with average winter temperatures of -25oC. This cooling event has become known as the Younger Dryas period with cold conditions lasting about 1400 years. The cold of the Younger Dryas affected many places across the continent, including Yorkshire in the Vale of York and North Lincolnshire which became arctic deserts with sand dunes and no vegetation.

Before now, scientists have speculated that the mega-flood was the main cause of the abrupt cooling period, but the path of the flood waters has long been debated and no convincing evidence had been found establishing a route from the ice-sheet to the North Atlantic.

The research team studied a large number of cliff sections along the Mackenzie Delta and examined the sediments within them. They found that many of the cliff sections showed evidence of sediment erosion. This evidence spanned over a large region at many altitudes, which could only be explained by a mega-flood from the over-spilling of Lake Agassiz, which was at times bigger than the UK, at the front of the Laurentide Ice-sheet rather than a normal flood of the river.

Dr Bateman, who has been researching past environmental changes both in the UK and elsewhere in the world for almost 20 years, runs the luminescence dating lab at Sheffield. The lab was able to take the MacKenzie Delta sediment samples from above and below the mega-flood deposits, and find out when the mega-flood occurred, enabling its occurrence to be attributed to the start of the Younger Dryas.

no time, but it fits, in my mind at least, for the base cause of the Younger Dryas better than comet impact hypothesis.

Diplodocus Had a Natural Nose Job Growing Up

The skull of a juvenile sauropod dinosaur, rediscovered in the collections of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History, illustrates that some sauropod species went through drastic changes in skull shape during normal growth.

University of Michigan paleontologists John Whitlock and Jeffrey Wilson, along with Matthew Lamanna from the Carnegie Museum, describe their find in the March issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The fossil offers a rare chance to look at the early life history of Diplodocus, a 150 million-year-old sauropod from western North America.

"Adult sauropod skulls are rare, but juvenile skulls are even rarer," said Whitlock, a doctoral candidate in the U-M Museum of Paleontology. "What we do know about the skulls of sauropods like Diplodocus has been based entirely on adults so far."

"Diplodocus had an unusual skull," said Wilson, an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and an assistant curator at the U-M Museum of Paleontology. "Adults had long, square snouts, unlike the rounded or pointed snouts of other sauropods. Up until now, we assumed juveniles did too."

The small Diplodocus skull, however, suggests that major changes occurred in the skull throughout the animal's life.

"Although this skull is plainly that of a juvenile Diplodocus, in many ways it is quite different from those of the adults," Whitlock said. "Like those of most young animals, the eyes are proportionally larger, and the face is smaller. What was unexpected was the shape of the snout—it appears to have been quite pointed, rather than square like the adults. This gives us a whole new perspective on what these animals may have looked like at different points in their lives."

The researchers believe these changes in skull shape may have been tied to feeding behavior, with adults and juveniles eating different foods to avoid competition. Young Diplodocus, with their narrower snouts, may also have been choosier browsers, selecting high quality plant parts.

I've wondered for while whether or not the Mesozoic ecology was stocked with animals that filled different niches as they grew. This would hint at that as well.

They Just Reinvented the Torpedo Boat Destroyer!

Aboard the USS Independence -- It doesn't really look like anything you've ever seen, and while its's capabilities are still far form proven--or even fully understood, even by the Navy--I have to admit that walking up the dock to the brand new Littoral Combat Ship USS Independence this morning in Key West, Florida, was a pretty cool experience.

Huh. From the wikipedia article on destroyers:

In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, short-range but powerful attackers (originally torpedo boats, later submarines and aircraft).

Before World War II, destroyers were light vessels without the endurance for unattended ocean operations; typically a number of destroyers and a single destroyer tender operated together. During and after the war, larger and more powerful destroyers capable of independent operation were built, particularly as cruisers ceased to be used in the 1950s and 60s.

That's IT! We're reinvented the transformational past!!!

Snrkiness aside, these are interesting looking beasts. Too bad they are getting close to the cost of a modern destroyer with the capability of a corvette.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What's In It?

In the ruins of a city that was once Rome's neighbor, archaeologists last summer found a 1,000-pound lead coffin.

Who or what is inside is still a mystery, said Nicola Terrenato, the University of Michigan professor of classical studies who leads the project---the largest American dig in Italy in the past 50 years.

The sarcophagus will soon be transported to the American Academy in Rome, where engineers will use heating techniques and tiny cameras in an effort to gain insights about the contents without breaking the coffin itself.

"We're very excited about this find," Terrenato said. "Romans as a rule were not buried in coffins to begin with and when they did use coffins, they were mostly wooden. There are only a handful of other examples from Italy of lead coffins from this age---the second, third or fourth century A.D. We know of virtually no others in this region."

This one is especially unusual because of its size.

"It's a sheet of lead folded onto itself an inch thick," he said. "A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual."

1 INCH of folded lead? That can't be good...DON'T OPEN IT!!! ;)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Medea Hypothesis Review Table of Contents

This is the table of contents for my review of the Medea Hypothesis as advanced by Dr Peter Ward in a book of the same name. This is divided in two parts. The first section is a summary of Ward's Medea Hypothesis. The second is my response and critique.

Medea Hypothesis Summary:

1. What is Medean Life?

2. What is Medea Life? (Continued)

3. Medean Paleo Events

4. Biological Diversity Through Deep Time.

5. Biomass Through Deep Time

6. Future Trends in Biomass

7. Ward's Summation


8. Misuse of Models

9. Self Contradictions in the Data Presented

10. Misleading Statements

11. Erroneous "Facts"

12. Final Criticism

Snowball Earth & Alternate Maps

Medea Hypothesis Review (Part 11): Erroneous "Facts"

This is the second to last posting for the general critique of the Medea Hypothesis. I’m very weary of writing it to be honest and I am delighted that I am nearly done. Here I am going to highlight the last portion I think that needs to be said. That is to say that there chunks of Ward’s data to support his conjecture that are absolutely, flat out wrong. At best, this is sloppy research. At worst, well, let’s skip that thought.

The list of previous posts has gotten to be ridiculous in length. There are ten previous posts and can find them here. The table of contents will be here. The completed Medea Hypothesis Review Table of Contents is here.

In critiquing the Medea Hypothesis, I have commented on where Ward has misused models. I have also highlighted areas where he misleads with his statements, taking facts and spinning them significantly so that he can gets them to point where he wants. Now I am going to point out statements that are, frankly, wrong.

Dawning of the Doubts

Through the methods that strata are laid down, there is an inherent bias towards the present. This is often called the ‘pull of the recent’ because there are simply more data for the recent past than further in Deep Time. This can and does lead to misinterpretations of life’s history. However, on the flip side, it does give us some rather sampling points for the current geological era. The Eocene has a large number of sites that have been documented around the world. Ward’s picture he paints contrasts greatly with more recent work and even contradicts his Medea Hypothesis.

The Eocene mass extinction was significantly smaller than the Big Six (Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, Cretaceous, and Modern), but still registered as a big hit for life in the fossil record. During the Eocene mass extinction, the world shifted from a tropical world of palm trees at the poles to a drier, cooler, and more seasonal one. Wyoming lost its crocodiles. The apparent driver of the mass extinction was that transition from hot house to a cooler, drier climate (still warmer than today). Tropical species were forced into far smaller ranges and with smaller ranges come less potential for organisms that are adapted for that climate: think island biogeography writ large. The mechanism for the transition is in dispute, but one that ought to have fit Ward’s thesis, the hypothesized Azolla Event, he completely ignores. The other possible mechanism is that the methane that had been released and drove the hot house world climate was finally absorbed back into the biosphere.

It is far from certain what caused the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) in the first place. It may well have been the methane calthrates that were sequestered in the Greenland Sea. If so, then that methane, produced by life and sequestered there by the unique and interesting deep water conditions, was the biogenic driver of the PETM.

Furthermore, there is a mass of evidence that the PETM ocean was not the stratified anoxic beast Ward paints it to be. Rather that there being no global circulation and upwelling, the nature and location of that upwelling was rather different, in some ways the opposite of now. The upwelling took place in the north and south and the sinking of the waters took place at the tropics with much heavier, higher salinity waters. The bottom waters were hypoxic (low oxygen), but they were empathetically not anoxic enough or unmixed enough for the hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria to have become the vicious killer that Ward hints. Merely having a hot house climate is not enough to trigger a mass extinction.

Modeling deep time through supercomputing assets has matured in the past decade. There are a number of leading personalities in the effort. One of them is Dr Matthew Huber of Purdue. He has been modeling a number of different climates from different snapshots of Deep Time. One of them that he specializes in happens to be the Eocene. One of the interesting implications of his simulations – one that is more than a bit distressing, if true – is that during the PETM, plant life at the equator could not have conducted photosynthesis. It was simply too hot. RuBisCO, the enzyme that photosynthesis is dependent on, stops functioning at 45 C (113 F). It permanently breaks down at 60 C (140 F). If the modeled temperatures are correct, or even close, then it would not have been possible for life to have been what we see at the Amazon today. At best it would have been a desert. A very barren one.

This does need to be verified through the fossil record though and we ought to treat this very cautiously for all the excellent work done by Dr Huber. Modeling is hard and sometimes the results are not what reality really is. However, there is one bit of evolutionary evidence that suggests that Dr Huber is not completely off. What is it? The succulents (and their “ilk” as Ward calls them) originated in the tropical latitudes. These plants include the cacti and other plants that we often associate with the desert. They have their own, interesting variant of photosynthesis called the CAM cycle. The fascinating aspect of this photosynthetic pathway is that it saves up the energy of the sun gathered during the day and then, at night, conducts the temperature sensitive reactions…when the temperatures are lower than the damaging day time highs. This would suggest that the temperature regime that the CAM plants developed in was generally above 45 C during the day time and would fit with Dr Huber’s work. It’s a data point, but an interesting data point. More would be needed to state that Huber’s modeling work was strongly supported.

Timing the Cut of the First Blade

Ward paints a very specific picture of how and why grasses evolved. He states it was because of fall of atmospheric carbon dioxide content that drove the C4 pathway into existence. He even goes as far as stating that the evolution of grass took place 8 or so million years ago during the Miocene. This is wrong.

Molecular data suggests that the C4 pathway originated during the Eocene as the climate cooled and dried out. This was 30 million years ago rather than eight. Furthermore, it appears that rather than being carbon dioxide driven for its evolution, it appears that it was drop in water availability that spurred the evolution of the pathway.

There has been some question cast over the accuracy of the molecular clock as of recent. There is some question as to whether or not the clock is as regular as has been originally hypothesized. If there is a predicted time for X to have arisen based on the clock, then it ought to be possible, if that time period is long enough, to have some fossil evidence to discover. Hence, there is a way to ‘calibrate’ the clock. So where do the grasses first arise? As it turns out, it was not the Cenozoic. Coprolites of the Maastrichtian have come forward with phytoliths. However, whether or not these were C4 grasses or not remains to be seen.

A Medean Mismatch with Paleo Reality?

Timing is key to Ward’s hypothesis. Certain things, biological changes especially, absolutely must happen at certain times for his explanations to happen. As noted, some of those are definitely questionable now. It’s not just the timing that is really important to Ward’s model. It’s also the environmental conditions. Should those conditions turn out to not be as he supposes, then this too calls into question his description of life as Medean.

There is a single problem that keeps coming up time and again with Deep Time environmental work. That is that often the current atmospheric values are used when examining and explaining data from some far flung era. This in some ways comes from the geological premise that the present is the key to the past. This is true and oh so wrong at the same time. The past earth has been a veritable alien planet. There have been significant differences between the now and the then. In some cases this is ecological: the ecology of the carboniferous really was radically different. Sometimes this is environmental in nature: at the time of the Permian Extinction 250 million years ago, there was a 70 C – 126 deg F – gradient in temperatures with a near universal 100% humidity. Almost always it was also the content of the Deep Time atmosphere.

In the past, one of the criticisms laid down at the paleoclimate modeling group that I liveblogged was that you could not get an accurate climate model if you cut and paste current gas mixes into the different continental configurations. The circulation patterns and heat distributions wouldn’t work out properly giving very wrong results.

There has been a flurry of paleoatmospheric work as of late as we further our understanding of how the geochemistry of rock laid down in Deep Time can give us clues as to the content of the atmosphere. One of the basic questions is whether or not the accepted time line of carbon dioxide and oxygen levels that Berner et al have been describing (and Ward has been using as a central point in the medea hypothesis) is entirely accurate. One of the key assumptions has been that there was a massive oxygen crash during the Mesozoic with prolonged periods where the O2 content of the atmosphere dropped down to 11% and was sustained there. Recent rigorous research has shown this to be problematic. A very rigorous experiment to measure the minimum atmospheric oxygen content necessary to support fire was conducted. Using sealed boxes, different levels of oxygen were tested to see if moss would ignite. In the end, it was found that a minimum of 15% was required. This has enormous implications. If there is evidence of wild fire in the fossil record for a given time frame, it is impossible for the oxygen level to have been lower than that 15%. In numerous periods during the Triassic and Jurassic, when the atmospheric oxygen levels were supposed to be 11%, evidence of wildfires was found. This experimental and field data combined call into question the atmospheric models that Ward is relying on to support his Medea Hypothesis.

If the paleoatmospheric data is incorrect, then the paleotemperature data will be as well. It turns out, according to a recent study, that most of the past temperature data for the Archean and Proterozoic were not nearly the broiling hellaceous places that have been described. In fact, the Archean may have been warmer than the Phanerozoic but not nearly as much as Ward paints. Recent research strongly suggests that was the case. Archean rocks that were examined using the analysis of hydrogen ratios indicates that the world, at least at the moments where the rocks were laid down that were sampled were not anywhere near the temperatures that were assumed: they were no more than 40 C rather than 60 C for Ward’s presentation or 85 C for the more traditional view in the deep past.

A Pause Before the Scathing

These are a few examples of where Ward’s work is outright contradicted. This isn’t merely cases of misleading, but true statements. These are errors in fact and ones that could have been easily addressed had he been so inclined. There are more erroneous statements contained in The Medea Hypothesis. However, time and better things to do are pressing on me, so I will leave these three examples as ones as highlights.

My next post will be the conclusion and final commentary. The conclusion and commentary will not be a long post by any means. I will post the table of contents or the whole review before the conclusion, but the conclusion ought to be done this weekend in any case. I am tired of this book and I will be glad of this review’s end. I will consider my next review and write up with more care.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Another New Bird from the Jehol Biota?

"The study of Mesozoic birds is currently one of the most exciting fields; new discoveries continue to drastically change how we view them," said Jingmai O'Connor, lead author of the study. The article appeared in the March issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The new bird, named "Longicrusavis houi," belongs to a group of birds known as ornithuromorphs (Ornithuromorpha), which are rare in rocks of this age. Ornithuromorphs are more closely related to modern birds than are most of the other birds from the Jehol Biota.

"Longicrusavis adds to the magnificent diversity of ancient birds, many of them sporting teeth, wing claws, and long bony tails, that recently have been unearthed from northeastern China," said Luis Chiappe, a co-author of the study.

Along with a bird described five years ago, Longicrusavis provides evidence for a new, specialized group of small birds that diversified during the Early Cretaceous between about 130 and 120 million years ago.

"The new discovery adds information not only on the diversity these birds, but also on the possible lakeshore environment in which this bird lived," said co-author Gao Ke-Qin.

no time...

HEY! NOEL! Is This the Start of a Trend?

India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, told the Indian press that Dell chairman Michael Dell assured him that Dell was moving $25 billion in factories from China to India. Dell is the second company to flee China this week, joining Google. Although it might appear that the two are leaving for different reasons, they may not be.

Dell has reportedly said that they were leaving China in search of a “safer environment with [a] climate conducive to enterprise.” Mr. Singh, in the same newspaper article where he revealed that Dell was moving $25 billion in parts and equipment to India, also said that Michael Dell was looking for a country “with security
of a legal system.”

The article makes comments about how Dell is mimicing the Google shutdown, etc. for perhaps the same reasons...but I'm not as sold on that. However, I do wonder if this might be the start of a trend. If so, what are the implications?

New Species of Ediacaran Exoskeletoned Animal

In the '80s, Spanish researchers found the first fossils of Cloudina in Spain, a small fossil of tubular appearance and one of the first animals that developed an external skeleton between 550 and 543 million years ago. Now palaeontologists from the University of Extremadura have discovered a new species, Cloudina carinata, the fossil of which has preserved its tridimensional shape.

"Cloudina carinata is characterised by its elaborate ornamentation and complexity of the shells and tube that are formed when inserted", Iván Cortijo, main author and researcher in the Area of Palaeontology at the University of Extremadura, describes to SINC.

The study, which was recently published in Precambrian Research, describes various specimens of the new species. These fossils show evidence of asexual reproduction, until now "only described in Chinese specimens of Cloudina", and are "one of the oldest examples of reproduction in animals in the fossil register", maintains the researcher from Extremadura.

The fossils have been found in the archaeological site El Membrillar (Badajoz), one of the few sites in Europe where remains of Cloudina can be found. "The specimens display exceptional preservation, they appear preserved in three dimensions, and show their original form and numerous details of the shells", Cortijo points out.

The discovery of new species of Cloudina is important "for understanding the early evolution of animals", states Cortijo, who adds that "its importance for understanding the origin of skeletons is indisputable". Despite the fact that its relation to other groups of animals is uncertain, Cloudina has been compared to cnidaria (medusas and corals) and annelida (polychaeta sea worms, earthworms and leeches).

According to the research team, the study of fossils from the Ediacaran period (between 630 and 540 million years ago) and of other fossils from the early Cambrian (540 million years ago) reveals the path followed by evolution at a crucial moment in the history of life, when the first animals appeared. This first evolutionary radiation of animals reached its apex in the so-called "great Cambrian explosion" or "Big-Bang of evolution".

No time, but awesome.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Impact Crater in the Congo?

Deforestation has revealed what could be a giant impact crater in Central Africa, scientists say.

The 36-46km-wide feature, identified in DR Congo, may be one of the largest such structures discovered in the last decade.

Italian researchers considered other origins for the ring, but say these are unlikely.

They presented their findings at the recent Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, US.

The ring shape is clearly visible in the satellite image by TerraMetrics Inc reproduced on this page.

Only about 25 terrestrial impact craters are of comparable size or larger, according to the web-based Earth Impact Database.

Giovanni Monegato, from the University of Padova, said the feature was revealed only after trees were cleared from the area over the last decade.

The Unia River flows around the ring structure, underlining its round shape. The central part of the Wembo-Nyama feature is irregular and about 550m in elevation.

This is about 50-60m higher than the depression where the river flows. Although this might sound counter-intuitive, experts say that impact craters can sometimes lift up dense rocks. The surrounding rocks may subsequently erode, leaving a dome.

It'll be interesting to see what this turns out to be.

British Found Own Space Agency

Britain has created a new national space agency, with plans to build a multimillion-dollar space innovation center. Until now UK space policy has been split between government departments. "The new agency will be a focal point in order to coordinate in a much more streamlined and efficient manner, working both on national projects and alongside ESA for the wider industry as well" said the UK's first astronaut Major Tim Peake, who was selected in 2009 to represent England in space.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Climate Data for Greenland Norse Colonies

Two millennia of North Atlantic seasonality and implications for Norse colonies

1. William P. Patterson (a,1)
2. Kristin A. Dietrich (a)
3. Chris Holmden (a)
4. John T. Andrews (b)

a. Saskatchewan Isotope Laboratory, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, 114 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5E2 Canada; and

b. University of Colorado, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and Department of Geological Sciences, Box 450, Boulder, CO 80309

1 To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:


δ18O values of mollusks recovered from near-shore marine cores in northwest Iceland quantify significant variation in seasonal temperature over the period from ∼360 B.C. to ∼A.D. 1660. Twenty-six aragonitic bivalve specimens were selected to represent intervals of climatic interest by using core sedimentological characteristics. Carbonate powder was sequentially micromilled from shell surfaces concordant with growth banding and analyzed for stable oxygen (δ18O) and carbon (δ13C) isotope values. Because δ18O values record subseasonal temperature variation over the lifetime of the bivalves, these data provide the first 2,000-year secular record of North Atlantic seasonality from ca. 360 cal yr B.C. to cal yr A.D. 1660. Notable cold periods (360 B.C. to 240 B.C.; A.D. 410; and A.D. 1380 to 1420) and warm periods (230 B.C. to A.D. 140 and A.D. 640 to 760) are resolved in terms of contrast between summer and winter temperatures and seasonal temperature variability. Literature from the Viking Age (ca. 790 to 1070) during the establishment of Norse colonies (and later) in Iceland and Greenland permits comparisons between the δ18O temperature record and historical records, thereby demonstrating the impact of seasonal climatic extremes on the establishment, development, and, in some cases, collapse of societies in the North Atlantic.

Again, no time!!! AAAAAAAAH!

True Blue Moon

From the Planetary Society's Blog: what would a terraformed Moon look like?

Bright as heck too irl. IIRC, the moon reflects single digit amounts of light. The Earth does about 40%. You are looking at as much as a 10x increase in light from the Moon now.



My coworkers think I'm nuts.

Perhaps I am.

It's a crazy like a fox though.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Methanogenic Bacteria Found Under Antarctic Ice

Microbes living under ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland could be churning out large quantities of the greenhouse gas methane, a new study suggests.

In recent years scientists have learned that liquid water lurks under much of Antarctica’s massive ice sheet, and so, they say, the potential microbial habitat in this watery world is huge. If the methane produced by the bacteria gets trapped beneath the ice and builds up over long periods of time — a possibility that is far from certain — it could mean that as ice sheets melt under warmer temperatures, they would release large amounts of heat-trapping methane gas.

Jemma Wadham, a geochemist at the University of Bristol in England, described the little-known role of methane-making microbes, called methanogens, below ice sheets on March 15 at an American Geophysical Union conference on Antarctic lakes.

Her team took samples from one site in Antarctica, the Lower Wright glacier, and one in Greenland, the Russell glacier. Trapped within the ice were high concentrations of methane, Wadham said, as well as methanogens themselves — up to 10 million cells per gram in the Antarctic sample and 100,000 cells per gram in Greenland. That’s comparable to the concentration of methanogens found in deep-ocean sediments, she said. The species of microbes were also similar to those found in other polar environments, such as Arctic peat or tundra.

The team then put scrapings from both sites into bottles and incubated them with water to see which microbes might grow. For the Antarctic samples, Wadham said, “nothing happens for 250 days and then bam! You get tons of methane.” The Greenland samples haven’t been growing for as long and so far don’t show much signs of giving off methane — but perhaps they just need more time, she reported at the meeting.


Costa Rica Has BIG Megalithic Balls

Hoopes, who researches ancient cultures of Central and South America, is one of the world's foremost experts on the Costa Rican spheres. He explained that although the stone spheres are very old, international interest in them is still growing.

"The earliest reports of the stones come from the late 19th century, but they weren't really reported scientifically until the 1930s — so they're a relatively recent discovery," Hoopes said. "They remained unknown until the United Fruit Company began clearing land for banana plantations in southern Costa Rica."

According to Hoopes, around 300 balls are known to exist, with the largest weighing 16 tons and measuring eight feet in diameter. Many of these are clustered in Costa Rica's Diquis Delta region. Some remain pristine in the original places of discovery, but many others have been relocated or damaged due to erosion, fires and vandalism.

The KU researcher said that scientists believe the stones were first created around 600 A.D., with most dating to after 1,000 A.D. but before the Spanish conquest.

"We date the spheres by pottery styles and radiocarbon dates associated with archeological deposits found with the stone spheres," Hoopes said. "One of the problems with this methodology is that it tells you the latest use of the sphere but it doesn't tell you when it was made. These objects can be used for centuries and are still sitting where they are after a thousand years. So it's very difficult to say exactly when they were made."


[A]rchaeological excavations in the 1940s found the stone balls to be linked with pottery and materials typical of pre-Columbian cultures of southern Costa Rica. time.

Cambrian Ostracod Found...With Soft Tissues Preserved

A geologist from the University of Leicester is part of a team that has uncovered an ancient water flea-like creature from 425 million years ago – only the third of its kind ever to be discovered in ancient rocks.

Professor David Siveter, of the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester worked with Professor Derek Siveter at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Professor Derek Briggs at Yale University USA and Dr Mark Sutton at Imperial College to make the rare discovery.

The specimen, which was found in rocks in Herefordshire, represents a new species of ostracod, and has been named Nasunaris flata. Like water-fleas and shrimps, ostracods belong to the group of animals called Crustacea. The find is important because the fossil has been found with its soft parts preserved inside the shell.

Today its descendents are common, and inhabit ponds, rivers and lakes and many parts of the seas and oceans, having first appeared on Earth about 500 million years ago.

No time...

Common Sense Isn't

This weekend, I was at the shop working on the rocket. I was there on Sat and was accosted by an individual. He wanted to have some explanation of what I was doing and why. I gave my generalized spiel on what I am doing. He was fascinated and then started making a pitch to replace my aluminum and steel structure with his own patented $tech. He made his play. Unfortunately, it was very, very apparent that he did not understand a chunk of what he was talking about: getting confused about just being at an altitude and being in orbit is pretty bad.

I demurred pointing out that I had a follow-on technology that is PFA and that, if it works, is going to be pretty earthshaking in and out itself. This is what we'd invested in and this is what we are pursuing. A half clued individual would have realized at this point that I was rejecting his "offer."

He wouldn't let go though, like a pitbull with t bone in its mouth. He kept going on about it and finally wanted started making comments that it was obviously personality driven that we were not interested in his $tech. As a sop, I started asking pointed questions about his $tech: do you have specs? Have you used $tech is any related fashion? Would he be willing to do a proposal for $tech's use in what we were doing? etc. The answer time and again was 'no.' He had no idea about X, Y, or Z. No he wouldn't generate any in print specs. No to a proposal. No having used it anywhere related. etc, etc.

I declined. Politely. The gaps between and were too great even to continue the conversation.

He starting going off on how our $tech was not going to be safe and that it would be stolen right and left. He offered what he claimed was an example from his own past. He backed up his claimswith some dox on his website. He told me to take a look. He finally let off when I got one of the machinists involved. It wasn't pretty.

Well, this morning I took a look at his 'proof.'


It was painfully obvious what went wrong and where. Conflict of interest was screaming from the very first second. This Can Only End Well was likewise screaming from the first two events (before lawyers got involved). It didn't end the way he thought it did based on the dox at least. Double oy.

Teh Stoopid. It Burnz.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Recreating a Functional Ancestral Archosaur Visual Pigment

Recreating a Functional Ancestral Archosaur Visual Pigment

1. Belinda S. W. Chang (A)

2. Karolina Jönsson (A)

3. Manija A. Kazmi (A)

4. Michael J. Donoghue (B)

5. Thomas P. Sakmar (A)

A. Laboratory of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, The Rockefeller University, New York;

B. Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Yale University

The ancestors of the archosaurs, a major branch of the diapsid reptiles, originated more than 240 MYA near the dawn of the Triassic Period. We used maximum likelihood phylogenetic ancestral reconstruction methods and explored different models of evolution for inferring the amino acid sequence of a putative ancestral archosaur visual pigment. Three different types of maximum likelihood models were used: nucleotide-based, amino acid–based, and codon-based models. Where possible, within each type of model, likelihood ratio tests were used to determine which model best fit the data. Ancestral reconstructions of the ancestral archosaur node using the best-fitting models of each type were found to be in agreement, except for three amino acid residues at which one reconstruction differed from the other two. To determine if these ancestral pigments would be functionally active, the corresponding genes were chemically synthesized and then expressed in a mammalian cell line in tissue culture. The expressed artificial genes were all found to bind to 11-cis-retinal to yield stable photoactive pigments with {lambda}max values of about 508 nm, which is slightly redshifted relative to that of extant vertebrate pigments. The ancestral archosaur pigments also activated the retinal G protein transducin, as measured in a fluorescence assay. Our results show that ancestral genes from ancient organisms can be reconstructed de novo and tested for function using a combination of phylogenetic and biochemical methods.

Cited in the parareptile paper in reference to the nocturnalness of the ancestry of archosaurs.

Linheraptor: Congratz, Dave!

Details at Archosaur Musings.

A beautifully complete specimen.

Accute Hearing in Parareptiles and an Interesting Buried Comment

Impedance-Matching Hearing in Paleozoic Reptiles: Evidence of Advanced Sensory Perception at an Early Stage of Amniote Evolution

1. Johannes Müller*,

2. Linda A. Tsuji

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany



Insights into the onset of evolutionary novelties are key to the understanding of amniote origins and diversification. The possession of an impedance-matching tympanic middle ear is characteristic of all terrestrial vertebrates with a sophisticated hearing sense and an adaptively important feature of many modern terrestrial vertebrates. Whereas tympanic ears seem to have evolved multiple times within tetrapods, especially among crown-group members such as frogs, mammals, squamates, turtles, crocodiles, and birds, the presence of true tympanic ears has never been recorded in a Paleozoic amniote, suggesting they evolved fairly recently in amniote history.

Methodology/Principal Findings

In the present study, we performed a morphological examination and a phylogenetic analysis of poorly known parareptiles from the Middle Permian of the Mezen River Basin in Russia. We recovered a well-supported clade that is characterized by a unique cheek morphology indicative of a tympanum stretching across large parts of the temporal region to an extent not seen in other amniotes, fossil or extant, and a braincase specialized in showing modifications clearly related to an increase in auditory function, unlike the braincase of any other Paleozoic tetrapod. In addition, we estimated the ratio of the tympanum area relative to the stapedial footplate for the basalmost taxon of the clade, which, at 23:1, is in close correspondence to that of modern amniotes capable of efficient impedance-matching hearing.


Using modern amniotes as analogues, the possession of an impedance-matching middle ear in these parareptiles suggests unique ecological adaptations potentially related to living in dim-light environments. More importantly, our results demonstrate that already at an early stage of amniote diversification, and prior to the Permo-Triassic extinction event, the complexity of terrestrial vertebrate ecosystems had reached a level that proved advanced sensory perception to be of notable adaptive significance.

Paper link above. Think gecko or aye-aye parareptile here.

The interesting comment?

If so, then adaptations to dim-light environments might have been the driving force not only in the diversification of the herein investigated taxa, but even more so in the procolophonoids, and were possibly an important factor in their survival of the Permo-Triassic extinction event. This interpretation can also be applied to Archosauriformes, another amniote clade that was not significantly affected by the Permio-Triassic extinction, and for which there is molecular data indicating that the clade Archosauria, which is nested within Archosauriformes, was ancestrally nocturnal [33]. In addition, the fact that Early Triassic synapsids living immediately after the extinction apparently had specific burrowing life habits [34] also suggests that adaptations to dim-light environments were potentially an important factor in the survival of the Permo-Triassic transition.

Cuz the UV blasted the diurnal species? Perhaps the PT was more selective after all?

RoboDynasoar To Fly in April?

That sure reminds me of the Dynasoar!

This was supposed to fly prior to the Nov 08 election, btw.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Hydrogen Sulfide Upwelling Off Namibia

Hydrogen sulfide erupted along the coast of Namibia in mid-March 2010. Pale-hued waters along the shore hinted at gaseous rumblings as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite passed overhead and captured this true-color image on March 13, 2010. Although ocean water appears navy blue farther from shore, water along the coast ranges in color from peacock green to off-white. Ocean water wells up in this area along the continental shelf.

The milky surface waters that coincide with gaseous eruptions along Namabia’s coast have a low oxygen content. As reported in a 2009 study, the frequent hydrogen sulfide emissions in this area result form a combination of factors: ocean-current delivery of oxygen-poor water from the north, oxygen-depleting demands of biological and chemical processes in the local water column, and carbon-rich organic sediments under the water column.

Ugh. Theoretically, this was very common during the Permian Extinction. It would be interesting to know how often this happens in our current well mixed oceans.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

830kya Hominid Pleistocene Site Found in Spain

A new Lower Pleistocene archeological site in Europe (Vallparadís, Barcelona, Spain)

1. Kenneth Martínez (a)
2. Joan Garcia (a)
3. Eudald Carbonell (a)
4. Jordi Agustí (a)
5. Jean-Jaques Bahain (b)
6. Hugues-Alexandre Blain (a)
7. Francesc Burjachs (a)
8. Isabel Cáceres (a)
9. Mathieu Duval (c)
10. Christophe Falguères (b)
11. Manuel Gómez (d)
12. Rosa Huguet (a)

Author Affiliations:

a. Institut de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, 43005 Tarragona, Spain;

b. Département de Préhistoire, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 75013 Paris, France;

c. National Research Center on Human Evolution, 09004 Burgos, Spain; and

d. Institut Cartogràfic de Catalunya, 08006 Barcelona, Spain

1. To whom correspondence may be addressed. E-mail: or


Here we report the discovery of a new late Lower Pleistocene site named Vallparadís (Barcelona, Spain) that produced a rich archeological and paleontological sequence dated from the upper boundary of the Jaramillo subchron to the early Middle Pleistocene. This deposit contained a main archeological layer with numerous artifacts and a rich macromammalian assemblage, some of which bore cut marks, that could indicate that hominins had access to carcasses. Paleomagnetic analysis, electron spin resonance-uranium series (ESR-US), and the biostratigraphic chronological position of the macro- and micromammal and lithic assemblages of this layer reinforce the proposal that hominins inhabited Europe during the Lower Pleistocene. The archeological sequence provides key information on the successful adaptation of European hominins that preceded the well-known fossil population from Atapuerca and succeeded the finds from Orce basin. Hence, this discovery enables us to close a major chronological gap in the early prehistory of Iberia. According to the information in this paper and the available data from these other sites, we propose that Mediterranean Western Europe was repeatedly and perhaps continuously occupied during the late Matuyama chron.


.83 MYA was pre-sapiens, even pre-antecessor. This is erectus territory.

NorthGrum Solid State Laser Relocating to HELSTF

In cooperation with the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, which operates the test range at White Sands Missile Range in southeastern New Mexico, BAE Systems has contracted with Northrop Grumman to relocate the Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) Phase 3 system from the company’s laser factory in Redondo Beach, Calif., to HELSTF. Field testing is expected to begin this year.

This laser will be integrated with the beam control and command and control systems from another Northrop Grumman-built system, the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), to provide the Army with the world’s first high-power, Solid State Laser Testbed Experiment (SSLTE), Northrop Grumman officials say.

The SSLTE will be used to evaluate the capability of a 100kW-class solid-state laser to accomplish a variety of missions. Those results will be the basis for directing future development of solid-state lasers as a weapon system.

“Northrop Grumman will have a lead role in integrating and operating the Army’s solid-state laser test bed,” says Steve Hixson, vice president of Advanced Concepts – Space and Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector.

“Solid-state lasers have achieved militarily useful power levels and packaging densities,” informed Dan Wildt, vice president of Directed Energy Systems. “We have been demonstrating laser performance at HELSTF and other test sites for many years.” These include missiles of various sizes and speeds, helicopters, drones, rockets, artillery, mortar rounds, and submunitions.

Both the relocation of the JHPSSL Phase 3 device and the THEL facility refurbishment are being carried out under an Army contract with BAE Systems, which has overall responsibility for the SSLTE systems engineering and test planning. BAE Systems is also developing a modular and transportable enclosure to house the JHPSSL device and its control room at the site.

Under the JHPSSL program, Northrop Grumman became the first company to reach the 100 kilowatt power level threshold for a solid-state laser. The achievement also included turn-on time of less than one second and continuous operating time of greater than five minutes, with very good efficiency and beam quality.

Must have only been the chemical laser side that shut down. The govies must still be out there in the LSTC.

Since When Did H rudolfensis Become K rudolfensis?

Since when did Homo rudolfensis become Kenyanthropus rudolfensis? Or is this a Leakey family-faction interpretation only?

Extremely Rare Machaeridian Fossil Found...In Downtown Ottawa

Scientists have unearthed the remains of one of the Worlds rarest fossils - in downtown Ottawa. The 450 million year old fossil preserves the complete skeleton of a plumulitid machaeridian, one of only 8 such specimens known. Plumulitids were annelid worms - the group including earthworms, bristleworms and leeches, today found everywhere from the deepest sea to the soil in your yard - and although plumulitids were small they reveal important evidence of how this major group of organisms evolved.

"Such significant new fossils are generally discovered in remote or little studied areas of the globe, requiring difficult journeys and a bit of adventure to reach them" notes Jakob Vinther of Yale University, lead author of the paper describing the specimen. "Not this one though. It was found in a place that has an address rather than map co-ordinates!"

Plumulites canadensis, Albert Street, Ottawa, Canada K1P1A4. The fossil is described by Vinther and Dave Rudkin, of Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, in the current issue of the journal Palaeontology.

It was Rudkin who first recognised its scientific significance: "This nifty little specimen first came to my notice when I received a letter from an amateur fossil collector in Nepean, Ontario. In prospecting for fossils in rock from a temporary building excavation he had turned up a small block containing a complete trilobite, but next to it was something else and he sent me a slightly fuzzy but very intriguing photo. The mystery fossil was clearly not another trilobite, and I although couldn't be certain, I thought it might be some sort of annelid worm with broad, flattened scales. James, the collector, generously agreed to lend me the specimen and I realised immediately it was a complete, fully articulated machaeridian! The first I had ever seen."

At that time it was not known that machaeridians were annelids. "James was happy to donate the specimen to the Royal Ontario Museum, in exchange for a promise that I'd someday publish his discovery."

It was not until 2008 that Rudkin's hunch was confirmed, when a team of palaeontologists, including Jakob Vinther, decribed new machaeridian fossils from remote mountain localities in Morocco, revealing their relationship to annelid worms. Rudkin and Vinther agreed to work together to interpret the Ottawa specimen, and it is the results of that collaboration that are published in the current Palaeontology.

Plumulitid machaeridians look like modern bristleworms, with stout walking limbs bearing long bundles of bristles, but on their back they carried a set of mineralized plates. According to Vinther, "the plates themselves were rigid, but they could move relative to one other, providing plumulitids with a protective body armour very similar to the flexible metal armour invented by humans 450 million years later. Machaeridian body armour is unique among annelids, and probably helped them to succeed as ubiquitous components of marine ecosystems for more than 200 million years."

meeting day. no time.

Monday, March 15, 2010

SpaceX Falcon9 Test Firing

Fedexia striegeli: A New, Exquisitely Preserved 300 MYA Trematopid

A team of researchers from Carnegie Museum of Natural History has described a new genus and species of carnivorous amphibian from western Pennsylvania. The fossil skull, found in 2004 near Pittsburgh International Airport, was recovered from rocks deposited approximately 300 million years ago during the Late Pennsylvanian Period. Named Fedexia striegeli, it is one of only a very few relatively large amphibian fossils to display evidence of a predominantly terrestrial (land-based) life history so early in geologic time. The rocks where Fedexia was found are nearly 20 million years older than the localities of its fossil relatives, suggesting that the expansion and diversification of this group occurred much earlier than had been recognized previously. The full paper will be released today in Annals of Carnegie Museum, Volume 78, Number 4, 15 March 2010.

Fedexia was described on the basis of a remarkably well-preserved fossil skull. Unlike similar discoveries, the five-inch-long (11.5 cm) fossil skull remained three-dimensional over time because it was never crushed by rocks that were deposited above it. Fedexia striegeli was named for FedEx, the corporation that owns the land on which the fossil was found, and for amateur discoverer Mr. Adam Striegel, who originally found the specimen on a geology field trip while a senior at the University of Pittsburgh.

Fedexia represents an extinct group of amphibians called Trematopidae that lived about 70 million years before the first dinosaurs appeared. Unlike almost all other Pennsylvanian Period amphibians, which did not often venture out of the water, this rare, diverse group lived mostly on land, returning to the water perhaps only to mate or lay eggs. The trematopids also provide evidence of the earliest vertebrate life in North America adapted to a mostly terrestrial existence. Their success may have been a result of a long-term, global trend toward drier, warmer conditions that reached its climax near the end of the Pennsylvanian Period.

Soooo...does this one count as a reptilomorph or not? Is there a good, modern text on Carboniferous-Permian nonamniote vertebrate evolution out there?

Photo From the Mars Express Flyby of Phobos

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gliese 710 to Intercept Solar System within 1.5 Million Years?

A new set of star velocity data indicates that Gliese 710 has an 86 percent chance of ploughing into the Solar System within the next 1.5 million years.

The Solar System is surrounded by thousands stars, but until recently it wasn't at all clear where they were all heading.

In 1997, however, astronomers published the Hipparcos Catalogue giving detailed position and velocity measurements of some 100,000 stars in our neighbourhood, all gathered by the European Space Agency's Hipparcos spacecraft. It's fair to say that the Hipparcos data has revolutionised our understanding of the 'hood.

In particular, this data allowed astronomers to work out which stars we'd been closer to in the past and which we will meet in the future. It turns out that 156 stars fall into this category and that the Sun has a close encounter with another star (meaning an approach within 1 parsec) every 2 million years of so.

In 2007, however, the Hipparcos data was revised and other measurements of star velocities have since become available. How do these numbers change the figures?

Today, Vadim Bobylev at the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St-Petersburg gives us the answer. He's combined the Hipparcos data with several new databases and found an additional nine stars that have either had a close encounter with the Sun or are going to.

But he's also made a spectacular prediction. The original Hipparcos data showed that an orange dwarf star called Gliese 710 is heading our way and will arrive sometime within the next 1.5 million years.



Can We Haz Comets?!

hat tip to James.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

DOE Lashes Out at ITER Management

A US government official has lashed out at what he sees as the mismanagement of ITER—a multibillion dollar project to prove that controlled thermonuclear fusion can work.

Speaking at a Department of Energy (DOE) advisory committee meeting, William Brinkman, the director of the DOE's office of science, told fusion researchers that he wanted to see the entire project's management reformed. The international organisation responsible for ITER is too weak, Brinkman believes (and, incidentally, so do we).

"If I could get my hands on the person who proposed the current management structure I would strangle him," Brinkman told the assembled scientists, according to Fusion Program Notes, which covers all things fusion.

He also confirmed that ITER now appeared set for a 2019 start date—ten months later than planned. We previously reported the proposed 2019 start date in a story about Europe's efforts to reform management of its portion of the ITER project.

Already 10 months behind schedule. Are we seeing another NIF situation?

Massive Glaciers Calved Off Antarctica

Two massive icebergs drifted along the coast of East Antarctica in early March 2010. In mid-February 2010, the Rhode Island-sized Iceberg B-09B collided with the protruding Mertz Glacier Tongue along the George V Coast. The Mertz Glacier was already in the process of calving an iceberg when the arrival of the B-09B accelerated the process, leaving two icebergs the size of small states off this part of Antarctica’s coast.

These are, iirc, the ones that everyone has been concerned with in the hyped 'these might changed the world's ocean currents' news stories not so long ago.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SpaceX Aborts Rocket Engine Test

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) aborted the Falcon 9 medium-class rocket's first static fire test March 9 just as the vehicle's nine main-stage engines were about to ignite for a planned 3.5-second burn.

"Today SpaceX performed our first Static Fire for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. We counted down to . . . T-2 seconds and aborted on Spin Start," the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company said in a statement. "Given that this was our first abort event on this pad, we decided to scrub for the day to get a good look at the rocket before trying again. Everything looks great at first glance."

"We'll look to do the next static fire attempt in three or four days," SpaceX said.

SpaceX attempted the crucial prelaunch test six days after completing what it described as a flawless countdown-and-propellant-loading exercise known in rocketry circles as a wet dress rehearsal.

An unspecified problem with the rocket's spin start system prompted the abort, according to the statement. While the engines never ignited, video of the test shows a ball of flame followed by a cloud of black smoke erupting from the base of the 15-story-tall rocket.

"As part of the abort, we close the pre-valves to isolate the engines from the propellant tank and purge the residual propellants. The brief flames seen on the video are burn off of [liquid oxygen] and kerosene on the pad. The engines did not ignite and there was no engine fire," SpaceX said in the statement. "We detanked and safed the vehicle and launch pad. Preliminary review shows all other systems required to reach full ignition were within specification. All other pad systems worked nominally."

SpaceX's first Falcon 9 has been standing erect at its Cape Canaveral, Fla., launch site since late February undergoing preparations for its maiden flight, a demonstration launch ordered in 2005 by an unnamed U.S. government customer.

During that flight the Falcon 9 will carry a prototype of SpaceX's Dragon space station cargo capsule into space. However, the mission will not count as one of the three demonstrations the company has agreed to conduct for NASA under the U.S. space agency's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

no commentary now.

Graphene Production Near?

Victor Aristov and colleagues indicate that graphene has the potential to replace silicon in high-speed computer processors and other devices. Standing in the way, however, are today's cumbersome, expensive production methods, which result in poor-quality graphene and are not practical for industrial scale applications.

Aristov and colleagues report that they have developed "a very simple procedure for making graphene on the cheap." They describe growing high-quality graphene on the surface of commercially available silicon carbide wafers to produce material with excellent electronic properties. It "represents a huge step toward technological application of this material as the synthesis is compatible with industrial mass production," their report notes.

Paper here.

Monday, March 08, 2010

China Studying Moon Rocket?

China is studying the design of a Moon rocket in the class of the Saturn V, as the Obama administration proposes canceling the U.S. successor to the Apollo launcher, Ares V.

The country also is developing another new rocket, the “medium thrust” Long March 7, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology says. This new launcher joins the Long March 5 heavy rocket and the Long March 6, which was mentioned last year and is now defined as a “small-thrust” launcher. Long March 5, 6 and 7 will form a family of rockets, it says.

Chinese space officials have said that the Long March 6 was based on the side boosters of the Long March 5. Those side boosters come in two sizes, which could be arranged variously as first or second core stages or as boosters. Long March 7 is therefore likely to be a more powerful combination of the same collection of equipment.

China said last year that development of Long March 6 had begun and that it would appear in 2013, a year before Long March 5.

Note. Studying does not mean building. NASA studies HLVs all the time...

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Medea Hypothesis Review (Part 10): Misleading Statements

This is my 10th post on the Medea Hypothesis. (o.O) I am now in the review section of the posts and, unfortunately, this is taking as long or longer than the summarization and reading. Alas. The table of contents is going to be going up shortly. For right now, the previous nine posts are first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth. The completed Medea Hypothesis Review table of contents is here.

Right now though, I am going to touch on how Ward misleads with his presentation of “supporting” data in some cases with respect to the MH. Dr Ward in the Medea Hypothesis misleads in multiple cases. I am going to touch on a few.

The Permian Extinction: The Great Dying

The Permian Extinction was the greatest and most horrifying of the mass extinctions. In the marine realm, potentially as much as 95% of everything died. On land, at least two thirds of all life died and it could be as high as 75%. It has been researched in detail and the mechanisms and causes are fairly well understood. I wrote about what was state of the art in 2006. There have been some embellishments, but, generally, the post holds up fairly well. Please read about it here.

However, Ward recasts the Great Dying to fit his Medea Hypothesis. He squarely lays the blame on life as the cause and driver of the extinction. His description puts the main kill mechanism to be the excretions of anaerobic bacteria. The byproduct is hydrogen sulfide (H2S). It is highly toxic to most aerobic life. He states this is the reason that most life nearly got wiped out: the bacteria ran amok and then poisoned everything else.


This neglects the fact that there was a lot going on at the same time. The Siberian Traps were erupting. This is the single biggest eruption in the whole of the past 650 million years and possibly as much as the past billion years. The world radically warmed: well over 10 C in very short time periods. The oceans turned very anoxic. The methane calthrates erupted from the oceans. The ozone layer was destroyed: unblocked UV scorched the land and even the surface of the sea. The vast majority of land desertified. Hypersaline lakes released lethal halogen gases. The atmospheric oxygen levels crashed. Precipitation was probably extremely seasonal and possibly even a megamonsoon model. And, yes, the anaerobic bacteria that Ward cites did play a part and released hydrogen sulfide.

Ward’s bacterial menace was but one of several killing mechanisms. While possibly an important one, the root driver, instigator and maintainer of the nasty situation was not life. It was the vast eruptions that took place in Siberia. Ward states and way overemphasized life’s participation. He ignores and just short of pooh-poohs the others. By doing so, he badly misleads his readers.

The Snowball Earths

The Snowball Earth episodes are time periods in Deep Time where the world is suspected to have virtually iced over. There are detailed discussions elsewhere of what they are. However, they are not necessarily as well understood as Ward paints the picture. Ward outright says that life caused them. His scenario is that life, bacteria and more advanced photosynthetic life drew down the carbon dioxide so much that it caused the earth to lose its greenhouse effect and ice over. Truthfully, this has not been demonstrated. It has been proposed, but the data to back it up has not yet been generated. The rise of photosynthesis, first through bacteria and later through more advanced plants, and the Snowball Earth periods are not well correlated. Chronology is critical to Ward’s narrative and evidence in support of this is definitely lacking. While generally accepted as having taken place on some level, the Snowball Earth scenarios are generally poorly understood. The amount of data available is extremely small since the number of available deposits from these time periods are very few in number. Ward misleads his readers here too as far as what we really know from this time period, never mind whether or not we have a good grip on what was happening.

The Pleistocene Glaciations

Related in his conjectures about life causing ice ages are his speculation on the Pleistocene glaciations. The Ice Age as it exists in the popular mind. Ward again asserts that life caused the carbon dioxide to drop sufficiently for glaciations to take place. Like with the Snowball earth episodes, he makes no case for it, presents no evidence in support. He handwaves and just states it to be the case. We know for a fact though that there is a more complicated story than this going on. Ask Milkanovitch and Croll. Furthermore, Ward ignores some pretty contradicting data: the trend for CO2 does not match his constant downward trending plots. It’s far, far more spiky than his model allows for. Indeed, there have been recent episodes where CO2 was higher than now during those glaciations.

And there's more...I just don't have the energy to go into them for now. The above are good examples. There are probably going to be two more posts in this series besides the TOC. Then , seriously, stick a fork in me, I am so done with dealing with this...faux hypothesis.

For Noel: Return of the Lost Church

In Venezuela. I'll answer your question soon, Noel. Promise.

Are There Alternate Biochemistries Lurking On Earth?

Mono Lake has a bizarre, extraterrestrial beauty. Just east of Yosemite National Park in California, the ancient lake covers about 65 square miles. Above its surface rise the twisted shapes of tufa, formed when freshwater springs bubble up through the alkaline waters.

Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a geobiologist, is interested in the lake not for its scenery but because it may be harbouring alien life forms, or “weird life”. Mono Lake, a basin with no outlet, has built up over many millennia one of the highest natural concentrations of arsenic on Earth. Dr Wolfe-Simon is investigating whether, in the mud around the lake or in the water, there exist microbes whose biological make-up is so fundamentally different from that of any known life on Earth that it may provide proof of a shadow biosphere, a second genesis for life on this planet.

Arsenic is chemically close to phosphorus. While phosphorus is a primary building block of life on Earth — an essential component of DNA and ATP, the energy molecule — arsenic is a deadly poison. In Mono Lake there are micro-organisms that live with arsenic. But they don’t incorporate it into their biology.

Dr Wolfe-Simon has theorised that there may be life that chose an “evolutionary pathway” to utilise arsenic. If such microbes existed, it could suggest that life started on our planet not once but at least twice. In turn this would help to support the idea that life is much more likely to have started elsewhere in the galaxy.

“There is life ‘as we know it’ and there is life ‘as we don’t know it’. What would that look like? I am trying to give us a framework to work with to help us look for what ‘we don’t know’, the particular framework of arsenic,” she says.

Dr Wolfe-Simon has taken samples from the mud and the waters of the lake and is performing a series of multiple dilutions — hugely increasing the levels of arsenic and reducing residual phosphorous to zero. She adds sugar, vitamins and other nutrients to encourage organisms to grow and tests the results.

Her experiments are not yet over but she is quietly pleased with the progress she is making. “We have some very exciting data,” she says. The results should be published by the end of this year.

hmmmm. What do you guys think?

Exciting data can be interpreted in many ways.

Friday, March 05, 2010

KT Extinction Jury Reviewed: Chicxulub Guilty

There is a lot of bluster out there about the recent paper in Science about the KT Extinction. An international panel of scientists went over the KT extinction data as presented by the Impactists and Vulcanists, those that favoured the Chicxulub Impact or the Deccan Traps as the killers for the end Cretaceous Extinction. That panel was made of 41 scientists and it was international in character. In the end, they stated that the KT Extinction was overwhelmingly backed with evidence that the Chicxulub Impact was what did the deed.

One of the very crucial arguments that the Vulcanists have been using is that the ecosystems of the Maastrichian had been under stress from the Deccan Traps. The panel found that for the 500k years prior to the end of the Cretaceous, the ecosystems of the world hadn't changed much. If the Vulcanists were right, there ought to have been a prolonged change that caused the ultimate collapse. There wasn't anything that was really major that took place. No gradual grind or collapse as the Deccans spewed their foulness into the world's atmosphere. As I noted before, dinosaur fossils have been found on the Indian subcontinent between the basalt layers from the Deccan Traps signifying that the DTs were not even capable of wiping out the local dino population, let alone the world's. However, this study confirms that and then some.

There are a handful of things that I was not aware of:

"There are also monster submarine landslides along the entire East Coast of the U.S. from the massive earthquake triggered by the impact," [Norris] said.
Very worth highlighting:

In some sites close to the impact, around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, there are two spherule-bearing layers, at times separated by sediment a few meters thick, and some of the recent controversy stems from this apparent duality. The lower layer consists of coarser particles including spherules and shocked minerals, and the upper layer consists of finer particles and has a higher iridium content.

"Reports of multiple horizons with elevated iridium concentrations fairly close to the Chicxulub crater have led to a lot of confusion, and suggestions of multiple impacts," said fellow author Greg Ravizza, a marine and environmental geologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "A key point that cannot be ignored is that data from several sites far away from the Chicxulub crater provide no evidence of multiple large impacts. This observation lends very strong support to the careful stratigraphic synthesis in our paper demonstrating the very complex, and frequently disturbed, character of the sections closest to the Chicxulub crater."

The panel was able to discount previous studies that suggested that the Chicxulub impact occurred 300,000 years prior to the KT extinction. The researchers say that these studies had misinterpreted geological data that was gathered close to the Chicxulub impact site. This is because the rocks close to the impact zone underwent complex geological processes after the initial asteroid collision, which made it difficult to interpret the data correctly.

The number of links and bits are enormous. I really missed out yesterday by dealing with VCs rather than having time to blog about this. Look at Revisiting Chicxulub and Asteroid Killed Off the Dinosaurs. I'll add a link to the science abstract as soon as I can see it.

There's an awesome website using the google earth plug-in for the effects of the impact here.

Even so, I doubt that Dr Gerta Keller will concede defeat. :)