Saturday, August 30, 2014

Another Small Announcement

Based on how busy I am, I am now discontinuing the Saturday posts as well.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ukraine: The Boiling Anuran Froth

As the Russians push deeper into Ukraine, the Ukrainians have begun reacting. its not merely a panic, but its not a cohesive response yet.

In Mariupol, the people and National Guard have started digging in, preparing for the defense.

Outside of Mariupol, Ukrainian troops retreated from Novoazovsk.

A local counterattack took place at Komsomol'ske in the Donetsk Oblast.  

Supposedly, Ilovaysk was reinforced as well.

Ukrainian troops were ambushed in Debaltseve though.

Ukraine lost at least one Su-25.  The rebels have claimed downing four.
Rumors are the Russian troops in Novoazovsk have orders to roll all the way to Odessa.  The Russian offensive is continuing. 

Putin is getting out there with some of his statements.   Despite his statements to let the Ukrainians to retreat, anything but is happening: in fact, a 'corridor' was opened and once some Ukrainian troops went in, artillery began to fall.  At least 100 were killed.

Poland  refused permission for Russia's Minister of Defense's aircraft to enter its airspace.

JPMorgan Chase suggests if the situation deteriorates more then Russia might face a 'Lehman-style shock.'

There are moments when I have to think this is the Spanish Civil War writ 21st Century.

Vaccine Resistant Polio Virus has Emerged in Africa

The poliovirus strain that caused an outbreak in the Republic of the Congo in 2010 is able to resist the immune responses generated by a commonly used vaccine. The finding could explain why the outbreak, which killed nearly half of the 445 people infected, was so severe.

Christian Drosten at the University of Bonn Medical Centre in Germany and his colleagues analysed the virus strain responsible for the outbreak. They found a combination of two mutations, both in the proteins of the strain's 'coat', which make it harder for certain antibodies to stick to the virus. People who died in this outbreak had been vaccinated in the past, but people who were freshly re-vaccinated could fight off the virus.

Bitcoin Market Expected to Become Volatile

Bitcoin price action has, since publication of this week’s in-depth report, provided some clues as to what the market may do next. Price returned to below $510 today with a brief dip below $500 (on the leveraged exchanges) during the European market session.

A common wisdom in the market says:

“Periods of low momentum precede periods of volatility.”

The visual pattern is unmistakable – a contracting consolidation moving sideways. We’ve witnessed this pattern twice since the beginning of July, and its conclusion has been the same each time: a drop, as if over a cliff, and each time by at least $20 within an hour or two. At the extremes of each contracting wave price can be seen to equalize amongst exchanges, as shown in the snapshot on the right (BTC-e (top), BitFinex, Bitstamp and BTC-China (bottom).)

My Son's Kindergarten Class

Google Embraces the Robopocalypse With Delivery by Drone

Google is continuing its journey into the world of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), as it introduces a parcel-delivery UAV prototype developed under its two-year Project Wing effort.

The technology company is developing the concept through its Google X research division, and the announcement follows on from the company’s April 2014 acquisition of Titan Aerospace – a high-altitude, long endurance (HALE) solar-powered UAV manufacturer.

“Throughout history there have been a series of innovations that have each taken a huge chunk out of the friction of moving things around,” says Google X Moonshots captain Astro Teller in a promotional video posted on 28 August. “Project Wing aspires to take another big chunk of the remaining friction out of moving things around the world.”

Testing took place in Australia as recently as two weeks ago, during which first aid kits and food were delivered to Australian farmers.

In the video the fixed-wing prototype (pictured above) is shown to make a controlled drop of the parcel from a height using a tether, and so far Google says the development has “resulted in a reliable system that can do autonomous delivery”.

Google admits it is “years from a product”, but is confident in this first prototype, which it describes as more akin to a driverless car – which Google is also researching – than to other remote-controlled UAVs.

Dave Vos, the founder of Athena Technologies - a company that developed control software for UAVs and was purchased by Rockwell Collins in 2008 - has been named as lead on the project. The next stage of Project Wing will see Google X working to prove a UAV can quickly and safely deliver items.

US Navy Wants Artificial Intelligence in F/A-XX Sixth Generation Fighter

Artificial intelligence will likely feature prominently onboard the Pentagon’s next-generation successors to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

“AI is going to be huge,” said one U.S. Navy official familiar with the service’s F/A-XX effort to replace the Super Hornet starting around 2030.

Further, while there are significant differences between the U.S. Air Force’s vision for its F-X air superiority fighter and the Navy’s F/A-XX, the two services agree on some fundamental aspects about what characteristics the jet will need to share.

“I think we all agree that we have to work on PNT [Positioning, Navigation and Timing], comms, big data movement between both services,” the official said.

It is unclear how advanced technology like artificial intelligence might help a tactical fighter accomplish its mission. But it is possible that the AI would be a decision aid to the pilot in a way similar in concept to how advanced sensor fusion onboard jets like the F-22 and Lockheed Martin F-35 work now.

However, the visions for both the Navy and Air Force are technologically ambitious and there are differences between the services that still need to be resolved.

More Contrarian Data: Cool Equitorial Temperatures From Early Eocene Paleogene India

Cool equatorial terrestrial temperatures and the South Asian monsoon in the Early Eocene: Evidence from the Gurha Mine, Rajasthan, India


Shukla et al


Early Eocene (~ 55–52 Ma) laminated lacustrine sediments overlying lignites in the Gurha Mine (27.87398°N, 72.86709°E), Rajasthan, India, yield a diversity of fossil leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and insects. CLAMP (multivariate foliar physiognomic) analysis of two horizons separated by an estimated several tens of thousands of years of deposition indicates cool equatorial (~ 10°N) temperatures and a pronounced monsoon signature. A lower assemblage consisting of 54 leaf morphotypes and an upper assemblage of 57 leaf forms yielded mean annual temperatures (MAT) of 24.7 and 23.9 °C, respectively. The uncertainty (± 2.82 °C) means these temperature regimes are identical despite few similarities in the morphotypes between the two assemblages.The mean annual range of temperature (MART) was approximately 9.7 °C for both assemblages. When corrected for evapotranspirational cooling these temperature regimes are similar to those experienced today at 10°N on the west coast of India and surprisingly cool for the tropics at a time of extreme global warmth. Growth was year round. The tropical to paratropical fossil floras also suggest a moist regime (80% annual relative humidity) and high mean annual precipitation of ~ 1800 mm for both assemblages but with a pronounced wet/dry seasonality indicative of a pronounced monsoonal regime. The lower assemblage has a stronger monsoon index (11.8) than the upper assemblage (8.8). The two assemblages seem to have been deposited less than 100 ka apart. This suggests that not only a pronounced South Asian monsoon existed when India and Asia first made contact, but also a variation in monsoon strength existed that cannot be ascribed to tectonic drivers.

Benzene, Naphthalene, and Biphenyl are Potential Evaporites on Titan

Dissolution of benzene, naphthalene, and biphenyl in a simulated Titan lake


Malasaka et al


We constructed a laboratory apparatus capable of measuring the saturation equilibrium concentration (csat) and dissolution rate constants (keff) of organic solutes in ethane at 94 K. We determined a csat of 18.5 ± 1.9 mg L−1, 0.159 ± 0.003 mg L−1, and 0.039 ± 0.006 mg L−1 for benzene, naphthalene, and biphenyl, respectively. The derived csat and keff can be used to predict the dissolution behavior of the materials in ethane under Titan conditions. The aromatic materials dissolved relatively quickly in liquid ethane at 94 K, reaching saturation in less than 2 h. The dissolution characteristics of benzene in ethane at 94 K are compared to those of terrestrial karst-forming materials in water at 298 K, and are used to constrain Titan surface processes. We discuss the implications of our measurements on the formation of karst on Titan, the concentration of organics in Titan’s lakes, and the formation of evaporite deposits during lake evaporation.

Tuberculosis was in PreColumbian Americas

Grade school history lessons often have it that American Indians largely were wiped out by diseases such as whooping cough, chicken pox, influenza and tuberculosis brought to the New World by European explorers.

One report says, while estimates vary, about 20 million people lived in the Americas shortly before Europeans arrived, and roughly 95 percent of them were killed by European diseases.

But new research led by anthropological geneticists Anne Stone of Arizona State University and Johannes Krause of the University of Tubingen in Germany indicates the diagnosis of what devastated American Indian populations is a little more complicated, particularly when it comes to tuberculosis.

Their study of pre-Columbian Mycobacterial tuberculosis genomes published today in the journal Nature reveals that tuberculosis may have had a hand in American Indian deaths prior to the influx of European diseases. The research concludes seals and sea lions likely brought the disease to South America and spread it to people there long before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.

"What we found was really surprising," said Stone, referring to her team's examination of tuberculosis DNA from roughly 1,000-year-old human skeletons found in Peru that produced the discovery.

The results, the researchers write, provide unequivocal evidence that a member of the M. tuberculosis complex caused human disease in the pre-contact New World.

"Skeletal evidence of tuberculosis is present in the archaeological records in both the Old World and New World," said Elizabeth Tran, Biological Anthropology program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences.

"The source of tuberculosis in the New World long has been a question for researchers. This paper provides strong evidence that marine mammals may have been the likely culprits, bringing tuberculosis to South America long before Europeans arrived there."

Crocodiles Colonized Marine Environments During Greenhouse Climates

The ancestors of today's crocodiles colonised the seas during warm phases and became extinct during cold phases, according to a new Anglo-French study which establishes a link between marine crocodilian diversity and the evolution of sea temperature over a period of more than 140 million years.

The research, led by Dr Jeremy Martin from the Université de Lyon, France and formerly from the University of Bristol, UK is published this week in Nature Communications.

Today, crocodiles are 'cold-blooded' animals that mainly live in fresh waters but two notable exceptions, Crocodylus porosus and Crocodylus acutus venture occasionally into the sea. Crocodiles occur in tropical climates, and they are frequently used as markers of warm conditions when they are found as fossils.

While only 23 species of crocodiles exist today, there were hundreds of species in the past. On four occasions in the past 200 million years, major crocodile groups entered the seas, and then became extinct. It is a mystery why they made these moves, and equally why they all eventually went extinct. This new study suggests that crocodiles repeatedly colonized the oceans at times of global warming.

Lead author of the report, Dr Jeremy Martin said: "We thought each of these evolutionary events might have had a different cause. However, there seems to be a common pattern."

Mark Whitton on Scleromochlus taylori: the Carnian Triassic Ornithodiran Archosaur Pretending to be a Gerbil

Go read and behold the awesomeness.

Evidence of Rapid Sediment Recycling From PaleoProterozoic

Paleoproterozoic S-type granites in the Helanshan Complex, Khondalite Belt, North China Craton: Implications for rapid sediment recycling during slab break-off


Dan et al


S-type granites, typically derived from the rapid recycling of sedimentary rocks, are sometimes accompanied by contemporary mafic magmatism and granulite metamorphism. However, the geodynamic context for such rock suites is often highly disputed, with various model proposed, including back-arc basin opening, lithospheric delamination, mantle plume and continental rifting. The Paleoproterozoic Khondalite Belt in the North China Craton provides an example of synchronous mafic and felsic magmatism that was accompanied by granulite-facies metamorphic events for which the tectonic affinities of these rocks remains unclear. This study integrates in situ zircon Hf–O isotope analyses, whole-rock geochemistry and Nd isotope results for the earliest two-mica granites (ca. 1.95 Ga) in order to provide constraints on the above issues. The granites are strongly peraluminous (A/CNK value greater than 1.1), and characterized by high zircon δ18O values of 7.3 to 10.6‰, corresponding to calculated magmatic δ18O values of 9.1 to 12.3‰, similar to those of typical S-type granites. They have relatively high and homogeneous ɛNd(t) values of -1.1 to +0.9 and highly variable zircon ɛHf(t) values ranging from -1.0 to +8.3. In situ zircon Hf-O isotopic compositions indicate that the S-type granites may contain some mantle or juvenile crustal components in addition to a sediment component. Based on the new results and published data, a slab break-off model is proposed to explain the rapid recycling of sedimentary precursors and the generation of the ca. 1.95 Ga S-type granites

Climate Change's Impacts on the Nunatsiavut Fjords of Labrador, Canada

Recent anthropogenic and climatic history of Nunatsiavut fjords (Labrador, Canada).


Richerol et al


This study aimed at reconstructing past climatic and environmental conditions of a poorly known and documented subarctic region, the Nunatsiavut (northern Labrador). A multi-proxy approach was chosen, using fossil dinoflagellate cysts, diatoms and pollen from sediment cores taken into three fjords (Nachvak 59°N; Saglek 58.5°N; Anaktalak 56.5°N). It allowed estimating terrestrial and marine influences in each fjord and documenting the recent history of human activities of the southern fjords (Saglek and Anaktalak). Fossil pollen and dinoflagellate cyst assemblages allowed depicting the climate history of the region over the last ~200-300 years. In contrast to the general warming trend observed in the Arctic and sub-Arctic Canada since the beginning of the Industrial Era, the Nunatsiavut has experienced relative climate stability over this period. Fossil pollen data show a shift of the tree limit to the south illustrating the cooling of terrestrial conditions. Our reconstructions suggest that the Labrador region has remained climatically stable over the last ~150-300 years, with just a slight cooling trend of the reconstructed sea-surface temperatures, only perceptible in Saglek and Anaktalak fjords.

Russia may Ditch INF Treaty Over American Accusation of Treaty Breach

I have a brief column on Russia and the INF violation at the European Leadership Network - Don't help Russia destroy the INF Treaty. I don't think the main point I'm trying to make there is particularly controversial - while the United States appears to have reasons to call Russia's noncompliance, the infraction does not seem to be serious enough to press the case too forcefully. Indeed, leaning too hard would only help Russia slam the door and leave the treaty. For what it's worth, the U.S. administration made a smart move - now that the accusation has been made, Russia will find it more difficult to leave the treaty, even if it has been the idea all along. Not impossible, of course, but still.

A couple of points that are probably worth emphasizing. First, as I suspected, the alleged violation is not about the R-500 cruise missile or the Iskander system - U.S. officials were said to informally confirm that. Russian sources also say that the deployed Iskander/R-500 cruise missiles are treaty-compliant.

Second, the evidence presented by the United States to Russia is apparently rather thin - in fact, one Russian official said scornfully that they have to deal with Twitter messages and photos. Some sources say that the United States did not even tell Russia what particular cruise missile this is about. This is somewhat hard to believe, especially since Anatoly Antonov said (my apologies for a link to RT) that the issue was discussed at the end of 2013 and his understanding is that the United States accepted Russia's explanations. So, Russia must know what the issue is. As for the Twitter evidence, I wouldn't be surprised if the United States did not show all its cards - it is quite careful about protecting methods and sources.

In any event, it appears that Russia took the issue seriously and agreed to discuss it at what appears to be a fairly high-level meeting in September. We will see what that meeting produces. But as I understand, Russia is not in the mood to make any corrective actions - it wants the United States to take the accusations back and is perfectly prepared to leave the treaty if this doesn't happen.

An Argument for a Stronger Royal Navy

The 2010 British Strategic Security and Defence Review (SDSR) begun with an unambiguous statement of intent; ‘Our country has always had global responsibilities and global ambitions. We have a proud history of standing up for the values we believe in and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come’. It then goes on to outline how this might be achieved. Britain must be ‘more thoughtful, more strategic and more coordinated in the way we advance our interests and protect our national security’[1]. But since 2010 the record has not reflected these aims. If anything, it seems the British government is becoming less and less clear about what it wishes to achieve in the international arena in service of British national interests. Written in the light of recent adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the document admits that Britain’s ‘Armed Forces – admired across the world – have been overstretched, deployed too often without appropriate planning, with the wrong equipment, in the wrong numbers and without a clear strategy. In the past, underfunded spending pledges created a fundamental mismatch between aspiration and resources’[2]. The murderous march of Islamic State (previously ISIS) through Iraq, the ever present and resurgent Taliban threat in Afghanistan and the declining civil order in Libya all demonstrate the damaging consequences of ill-conceived and ill-planned military intervention. Professionalism, success and sacrifice at the tactical level have not translated into success at the strategic level, largely due to the simple fact there has been no overarching strategic direction, set at the political level, guiding operational and tactical planning. The consequences of Britain’s twenty-first century interventionist wars are yet to be fully felt, but they are unlikely to lead to the stability and peace in the Middle East, and security at home, that was envisaged.

The key reason for defeat in these campaigns was a failure of British policymakers to fully appreciate the military, political and cultural dimensions of the regions and conflicts in which they were getting involved. This inevitably led to an inability to develop a singular strategic aim and appropriately plan for contingent outcomes, leading to confusion around how to respond both politically or militarily to evolving contexts. Ultimately, this bewilderment was an predictable consequence of fighting the wrong conflicts, conflicts that did not directly serve British or indeed, global interests, or in fighting them in the wrong way (as in Afghanistan where limited intervention led to strategic creep – ‘nation building’ – and a blurring of aims and means, and in Libya where short term kinetic intervention has led to long term instability). For these reasons, Britain and her allies could never secure long-term victory. If London did not set criteria for victory, how could it possibly achieve it? As the British naval thinker Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond once cautioned in his 1946 study ‘Statesmen and Seapower’; ‘If the statesman misinterprets the nature of national defence or the ultimate object of a war, or fails to make the necessary preparations; if, in war, he misdirects the strategy employed for the attainment of the object; the results will be far more injurious than those of errors in minor strategy or tactics: for they are more far-reaching’[3]. These words have acquired fresh resonance.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ukraine: Boiling the Frog

It has been a while since I posted an update for what is happening in Ukraine. I have been dealing with a lot in the rocket business, some zaniness with the day job and working on the evac of contacts out of Gorlovka.

That said, in the time since I posted, a lot has happened. Very little of it is good for the Ukrainians. On the cusp of victory, crushing the rebels wherever they fought, they are now in process of being routed and the Russian army, at least the soldiers, are in the Donbass.

The best description of I have seen of what Russia's actions is Putin is 'boiling the frog.' The frog, in this case, is NOT Ukraine, but rather the world. He has been ratcheting up the intervention in Ukraine, turning up the heat, and done so in small enough increments the world has failed to notice the radical changes.  He has a convert invasion under way.  This is much more than even the LGM scenario.  Right now, the Russians claim their soldiers are fighting in Ukraine when they are on leave.  Sources from inside Russia are claiming over 10k troops are now fighting and in many cases dying in Ukraine.  The next temperature raise overt invasion.

The Ukrainian army was stopped in its tracks and made little progress save, perhaps, around Gorlovka.  On the other hand, they faced significant losses everywhere else.  Their pincer movements to cut Lugansk and Donetsk off from the Russian border have been pushed back and forced to massively retreat.  They are going to lose the southern portion of their conquests in the DNR.  The Russians are even pushing onto Mariupol.  

Little Green Men started popping up all over the place.

Poroshenko met with Putin in Belarus.  There are some pictures of them shaking hands.  The talks were futile.  Putin even attempts a Mr Burns level of evil.  Or at least the look of it.  If not for the horror of it all, it would be comical. 

The Ukrainians have reinstituted the draft.  Poroshenko has stated he now has arms coming in, but has not revealed the source.  He has also requested an alliance with the US outside of NATO like Australia, Philippines or Japan.  Ukraine has captured over 12 Russian soldiers.  NATO showed satellite images of Russian troops in Ukraine. 

Russia has buried over 100 soldiers already in a single engagement: the Ukrainians hit them with GRADs.  Twice as many wounded were taken back to Russia. 

Unfortunately, Obama stopped short of calling a spade a spade (unlike the Lithuanians) and did NOT call what is happening in Ukraine an invasion.  I guess there is still more salami to slice.  Or the frog can boil a bit longer.  

An interesting rumor is Poland is calling up its reserves. 

Death Valley's 'Sailing Stones' Mystery Solved

The Racetrack Playa — a barren lakebed in Death Valley National Park — is home to one of the world’s natural wonders: “sailing stones” that mysteriously meander across the dried mud, leaving tracks in their wake. Since the 1940s, these rocks have fueled wonder and speculation because no one had seen them in action — until now.

A team of U.S. scientists recorded the first observation of these boulders in motion, using GPS monitors and time-lapse photography. By meticulously tracking weather data, scientists also explained how these rocks slog across the playa. What was one of the world’s natural wonders now appears to be the perfect combination of rain, wind, ice and sun.

Bitcoin Oriented OpenBazaar Isn't for Drugs! Really! Trust Them!

When the recording industry smashed Napster with a $20 billion lawsuit more than a decade ago, filesharing morphed into Bittorrent, a fully peer-to-peer system with no central server for law enforcement to attack. Now the developers behind one software project are trying to pull off a similar trick with the anarchic model of bitcoin e-commerce pioneered by the billion-dollar Silk Road black market. And just as with Bittorrent, their new system may be so decentralized that not even its creators can control exactly how it will be used.

This weekend, the developers behind OpenBazaar plan to release a beta version of the software designed to let anyone privately and directly buy and sell goods online with no intermediary. They describe it as “pseudonymous, uncensored trade.” Rather than hosting its commerce on any server, OpenBazaar installs on users’ PCs, and allows them to list products in a file stored in a so-called “distributed hash table,” a database spread across many users’ machines. Everything will be paid in bitcoin. The result of that peer-to-peer architecture, they hope, will be a marketplace that no one—–no government, no company, not even the OpenBazaar programmers—can regulate or shut down.

“We’re just really passionate about allowing peer-to-peer trade to happen online. We want that to exist,” says Sam Patterson, the operations lead for the non-profit project. “The internet allowed you to communicate directly. Bitcoin allowed you to send money directly. Now you can trade directly.”

And just what will you trade on OpenBazaar? A good first guess might be drugs. The multi-headed marketplace, after all, is designed to thwart law enforcement seizures or takedowns that arrest any one person or group. And though it doesn’t currently offer much anonymity by default, Patterson says its initial version can be used through a VPN to hide users’ IP addresses, and it will soon integrate the anonymity software Tor or I2P.

In fact, OpenBazaar was first launched in April as a spinoff of another open-source prototype called DarkMarket. That project’s anarchist creator, Amir Taaki, says he was inspired by the FBI’s takedown of the Silk Road and designed DarkMarket to “equip the people with the tools needed for the next generation of digital black markets.”

But Patterson and OpenBazaar founder Brian Hoffman adamantly insist OpenBazaar isn’t designed for selling narcotics, guns, or other contraband. They see their invention as a freer, more democratic eBay or Craigslist, with no seller fees and no one to arbitrarily change the rules or censor products. “We’re not the ‘Super Silk Road.’ We’re trying to replace eBay in a better form,” says Patterson. “We recognize that people may choose to use that technology in a way we see as distasteful, immoral, and illegal, but we’re giving them the option to engage in a kind of human interaction that doesn’t exist right now.”

Son Going Into Class for the First Time

3d Printing's Implications for Military Maintenance, Repar and Procurements

An AV-8B Harrier aircraft damaged during a hard landing on board a US Navy amphibious assault ship has been rapidly repaired and returned to service using additive manufacturing (AM) technology, according to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

Technicians at Fleet Readiness Centre East (FRCE), part of the US Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, employed AM techniques - otherwise known as 3-D printing - to create the forming tools that were required to shape metal repair parts for the Harrier's nose cone.

Constructed by a process of fused deposition modelling, polymer form blocks were used to produce sheet metal reinforcements, or doublers, for the aircraft.

DARPA Awards Boeing Contract for Phanton Swift Demonstrator

Boeing has been awarded a USD9.4 million contract modification to continue refining its design of the experimental vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) Phantom Swift X-Plane, according to a 26 August Department of Defense (DoD) announcement.

The DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the funds for a 16-month option on an existing 7-month base contract, according to the announcement.

Problems With Holocene Paleotemperature Reconstructions

The Holocene temperature conundrum


Liu et al


A recent temperature reconstruction of global annual temperature shows Early Holocene warmth followed by a cooling trend through the Middle to Late Holocene [Marcott SA, et al., 2013, Science 339(6124):1198–1201]. This global cooling is puzzling because it is opposite from the expected and simulated global warming trend due to the retreating ice sheets and rising atmospheric greenhouse gases. Our critical reexamination of this contradiction between the reconstructed cooling and the simulated warming points to potentially significant biases in both the seasonality of the proxy reconstruction and the climate sensitivity of current climate models.

NASA Announces 11 Month Space Launch System Delay

NASA just announced an 11-month delay in the first Space Launch System flight from December 2017 to November 2018 in the fourth paragraph of a press release.
This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018.

The full press release is below.


8,000 Year Old Mutation Key to Tibetan High Altitude Adapation

In an environment where others struggle to survive, Tibetans thrive in the thin air on the Tibetan Plateau, with an average elevation of 14,800 feet. A University of Utah led discovery that hinged as much on strides in cultural diplomacy as on scientific advancements, is the first to identify a genetic variation, or mutation, that contributes to the adaptation, and to reveal how it works. The research appears online in the journal Nature Genetics on Aug. 17, 2014.

“These findings help us understand the unique aspects of Tibetan adaptation to high altitudes, and to better understand human evolution,” said Josef Prchal, M.D., senior author and University of Utah professor of internal medicine.

For his research, Prchal needed Tibetans to donate blood, from which he could extract their DNA, a task that turned out to be more difficult than he ever imagined. It took several trips to Asia, meeting with Chinese officials and representatives of exiled Tibetans in India, to get the necessary permissions to recruit subjects for the study. But he quickly learned that official documents would not be enough. Wary of foreigners, the Tibetans refused to participate.

To earn the Tibetans’ trust, Prchal obtained a letter of support from the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. “The Dalai Lama felt that a better understanding of the adaptation would be helpful not only to the Tibetan community but also to humanity at large,” said Prchal. He also enlisted the help of native Tibetan Tsewang Tashi, M.D., an author and clinical fellow at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. More than 90 Tibetans, both from the U.S. and abroad, volunteered for the study.

Published in Science in 2010, Prchal’s group was the first to establish that there was a genetic basis to Tibetan high altitude adaptation. In the intervening years, first author Felipe Lorenzo, M.D., Ph.D., pioneered new techniques to tease out the secret to one of the adaptations from a “GC-rich” region of the Tibetans’ DNA that was particularly difficult to penetrate.

Their efforts were worth it; the DNA had a fascinating story to tell. About 8,000 years ago, the gene EGLN1 changed by a single DNA base pair. Today, a relatively short time later on the scale of human history, the vast majority of Tibetans – 88 percent - have the genetic variation, and it is virtually absent from closely related lowland Asians. The findings indicate the tiny genetic change endows its carriers with a selective advantage.

When *DID* Placental Mammals Really Evolve?

Ancient dates or accelerated rates? Morphological clocks and the antiquity of placental mammals


Beck et al


Analyses of a comprehensive morphological character matrix of mammals using ‘relaxed’ clock models (which simultaneously estimate topology, divergence dates and evolutionary rates), either alone or in combination with an 8.5 kb nuclear sequence dataset, retrieve implausibly ancient, Late Jurassic–Early Cretaceous estimates for the initial diversification of Placentalia (crown-group Eutheria). These dates are much older than all recent molecular and palaeontological estimates. They are recovered using two very different clock models, and regardless of whether the tree topology is freely estimated or constrained using scaffolds to match the current consensus placental phylogeny. This raises the possibility that divergence dates have been overestimated in previous analyses that have applied such clock models to morphological and total evidence datasets. Enforcing additional age constraints on selected internal divergences results in only a slight reduction of the age of Placentalia. Constraining Placentalia to less than 93.8 Ma, congruent with recent molecular estimates, does not require major changes in morphological or molecular evolutionary rates. Even constraining Placentalia to less than 66 Ma to match the ‘explosive’ palaeontological model results in only a 10- to 20-fold increase in maximum evolutionary rate for morphology, and fivefold for molecules. The large discrepancies between clock- and fossil-based estimates for divergence dates might therefore be attributable to relatively small changes in evolutionary rates through time, although other explanations (such as overly simplistic models of morphological evolution) need to be investigated. Conversely, dates inferred using relaxed clock models (especially with discrete morphological data and MrBayes) should be treated cautiously, as relatively minor deviations in rate patterns can generate large effects on estimated divergence dates.

Edestus: The Weirdest Shark EVER?!

Edestus, the Strangest Shark? First Report from New Mexico, North American Paleobiogeography, and a New Hypothesis on its Method of Predation more




Two incomplete teeth of the chondrichthyan genus Edestus are reported. They were collected fromthe Gray Mesa Formation (Pennsylvanian, late Desmoinesian), Socorro County, New Mexico, in 1996.The better-preserved tooth belongs to Edestus sp. cf. E. heinrichi. The other cannot be identifiedbeyond the generic level. These are the first specimens of the genus known to be reported from NewMexico. The only other specimens known from the Rocky Mountain region are from Colorado. Boththe New Mexico and Colorado collections are from marine limestones. In North America, Edestus ismost common in marine black shales of the Illinois Basin, but to date has not been found in marinegray shales or limestones in the Appalachian Basin. The failure to find Edestus remains in the Appalachian Basin is probably the result of the precise timing and limited extent of marine incursionsinto that region. Edestus might have been less tolerant of restricted marine environments than otherchondrichthyans collected from Pennsylvanian deposits in the Appalachian Basin. The function of thesymphyseal tooth whorls of Edestus is obscure, inasmuch as their convex curvature makes them poorly-adapted to the “scissors” function proposed in some previous studies. Alternatively, it is pro-posed here that Edestus teeth were used to disable prey with a slicing action carried out with a verticalmotion of the head, with jaws fixed relative to each other, and not with a scissors-like action of thejaws moving relative to each other. This hypothesis is supported by the author’s observations of wearand damage on the teeth of the holotype of Edestus newtoni.  Helicoprion tooth whorls are similar to those of Edestus in that they contain sharp, serrated tooth crowns along the convex margin of the whorls and extend outside the oral cavity. The whorls might have functioned similarly to the mannerthat is hypothesized for Edestus,that is, to slash prey with a downward motion of the head, with jawsfixed. This proposed similarity in form and function would likely represent convergence

Haootia quadriformis: a Muscular Cnidarian From Ediacaran NeoProterozoic Newfoundland, Canada

Lucernaria quadricornis (extant) and Haootia quadriformis (ediacaran)
Haootia quadriformis n. gen., n. sp., interpreted as a muscular cnidarian impression from the Late Ediacaran period (approx. 560 Ma)


Liu et al


Muscle tissue is a fundamentally eumetazoan attribute. The oldest evidence for fossilized muscular tissue before the Early Cambrian has hitherto remained moot, being reliant upon indirect evidence in the form of Late Ediacaran ichnofossils. We here report a candidate muscle-bearing organism, Haootia quadriformis n. gen., n. sp., from approximately 560 Ma strata in Newfoundland, Canada. This taxon exhibits sediment moulds of twisted, superimposed fibrous bundles arranged quadrilaterally, extending into four prominent bifurcating corner branches. Haootia is distinct from all previously published contemporaneous Ediacaran macrofossils in its symmetrically fibrous, rather than frondose, architecture. Its bundled fibres, morphology, and taphonomy compare well with the muscle fibres of fossil and extant Cnidaria, particularly the benthic Staurozoa. Haootia quadriformis thus potentially provides the earliest body fossil evidence for both metazoan musculature, and for Eumetazoa, in the geological record.

Projecting and Minimizing Future Agricultural Carbon Impacts

Global agriculture and carbon trade-offs


Johnson et al


Feeding a growing and increasingly affluent world will require expanded agricultural production, which may require converting grasslands and forests into cropland. Such conversions can reduce carbon storage, habitat provision, and other ecosystem services, presenting difficult societal trade-offs. In this paper, we use spatially explicit data on agricultural productivity and carbon storage in a global analysis to find where agricultural extensification should occur to meet growing demand while minimizing carbon emissions from land use change. Selective extensification saves ∼6 billion metric tons of carbon compared with a business-as-usual approach, with a value of approximately $1 trillion (2012 US dollars) using recent estimates of the social cost of carbon. This type of spatially explicit geospatial analysis can be expanded to include other ecosystem services and other industries to analyze how to minimize conflicts between economic development and environmental sustainability.

Singapore has Been Quietly Boosting its F-15 Numbers

Singapore appears to have quietly boosted the size of its F-15SG fleet from 24 aircraft to 40, according to Boeing financial statements, aircraft registration filings, and US congressional reports.

Singapore originally bought 12 F-15SGs - with an option for eight more - under a contract signed in December 2005. In October 2007 the city-state modified this option by buying 12 more to give it a total of 24.

These aircraft have all been confirmed as delivered and have US-type serial numbers running from 05-0001 to 05-0024. Several remain in the United States with the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) 428th Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base (AFB) in southwestern Idaho, while the remainder are active in Singapore with 149 Squadron.

Aircraft operating in Singapore use four-digit serial numbers in the 83xx sequence, starting at 8301, although these do not run consecutively.

In January 2014, several aircraft with new serial numbers - 05-0025, 05-0028, 05-0030, 05-0031, and 05-0032 - were seen at Mountain Home AFB. These had not been previously reported and suggest that Singapore has obtained another batch of eight aircraft.

Meanwhile, a 26 November 2012 letter from the US State Department to House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner under the Arms Export Control Act refers to the "sale, modification, and follow-on support of eight F-15SG aircraft to the Government of Singapore".

Figures released by Boeing show that eight F-15s were delivered to an unspecified customer in 2012.

Boeing financial data also shows that a total of 93 F-15s were delivered from 2005 to 2012. South Korea has confirmed that it received 61 and Singapore that it received 24 for a total of 85, leaving eight unaccounted for in public records.

Australia's Strategic Decisions

In World War II, this country served the allied cause as a giant aircraft carrier and port, providing planes, men and materiel to deploy throughout the Pacific. Allied aircraft flew from the northeastern town of Cairns during the Battle of the Coral Sea — known by some as the “battle that saved Australia.”

The Battle of Milne Bay on the eastern tip of New Guinea, little known to Americans, marked the first time allied troops turned back what had been the unstoppable Japanese. Australians fought that battle, aided by allied aircraft flying from an airstrip inland of the port of Townsville, which played crucial roles in virtually every battle of the Pacific.

Today, the strategic situation is very different. The greatest threats to peace in the region are North Korea and an increasingly assertive China. Indonesia has replaced Japan as the central threat faced by the Australia, although relations between the two states have improved considerably over the last two decades. Defense policymakers still consider the Aussie military’s ability to defeat Indonesia a primary benchmark.

What does all this translate into? Defend Australia from the north (hence the carefully circumscribed agreement to allow US Marines to operate from Darwin but not to be based there) and ensure Australian submarines can avoid its enormous shoal waters and deploy undetected from the deep water ports in the south to help protect the country.

That has been the essential model for a long time but some basic strategic facts have recently changed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quantum Imaging With Undetected Photons

Quantum imaging with undetected photons


Lemos et al


Information is central to quantum mechanics. In particular, quantum interference occurs only if there exists no information to distinguish between the superposed states. The mere possibility of obtaining information that could distinguish between overlapping states inhibits quantum interference. Here we introduce and experimentally demonstrate a quantum imaging concept based on induced coherence without induced emission. Our experiment uses two separate down-conversion nonlinear crystals (numbered NL1 and NL2), each illuminated by the same pump laser, creating one pair of photons (denoted idler and signal). If the photon pair is created in NL1, one photon (the idler) passes through the object to be imaged and is overlapped with the idler amplitude created in NL2, its source thus being undefined. Interference of the signal amplitudes coming from the two crystals then reveals the image of the object. The photons that pass through the imaged object (idler photons from NL1) are never detected, while we obtain images exclusively with the signal photons (from NL1 and NL2), which do not interact with the object. Our experiment is fundamentally different from previous quantum imaging techniques, such as interaction-free imaging or ghost imaging, because now the photons used to illuminate the object do not have to be detected at all and no coincidence detection is necessary. This enables the probe wavelength to be chosen in a range for which suitable detectors are not available. To illustrate this, we show images of objects that are either opaque or invisible to the detected photons. Our experiment is a prototype in quantum information—knowledge can be extracted by, and about, a photon that is never detected.

Awareness of Bitcoin, Other Cryptocurrencies Rising, but Little Acceptance

While awareness of cryptocurrencies is rising, very few people have actually used them. A new survey, from the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and the Massachusetts Division of Banks, found that 51% of people in the U.S. were aware of bitcoin and other currencies, albeit only about 3% had said they used it.

Still, that’s a big change from earlier this year. Back in February, another survey found that about three-quarters of the population hadn’t heard of bitcoin, and 80% said they’d never even consider using it.

The CSBS survey was taken in May, and canvassed 1,000 online consumers.

Some of the findings aren’t surprising; men, for instance, were more likely (64%) than women (38%) to be aware of virtual currencies. Only a limited number said they’d buy or use them – 65% of the overall respondents said they were “unlikely” to ever use them. Younger respondents were more likely to have purchased bitcoins or other currencies, and Hispanics (30%) and African Americans (24%) were also more likely than whites (14%) to be willing to purchase virtual currencies.

While people in households where the income is over $100,000 were more likely to have heard of bitcoin (70%) than those in lower-income households (43%), they were less likely to say they’d purchase bitcoins (11%) than those in households with incomes of less than $100,000 (19%).

First Day of School for Both Kids

kindergarten and 4th grade for the son and daughter.

Textron AirLand to Offer Scorpion Variant for US Air Force T-X Trainer

Textron AirLand plans to enter a modified version of its Scorpion aircraft into the US Air Force’s T-X trainer replacement competition, a top company official said.

The company is also eyeing the international training market as an area of growth for its jet, which is still working on signing its first customer.

Textron executives have largely danced around the question of whether the Scorpion would enter the T-X competition, hinting it was under consideration but not giving confirmation. The comments from Stephen Burke, regional vice president for military business development at Textron AirLand, were the clearest and most decisive made by an executive about plans to enter the trainer market.

“We will compete for T-X,” Burke told Defense News Aug. 23 at the National Guard Association of the United States annual conference in Chicago.

Project 4202: The Russian Entry Into the Hypersonic Arms Race

Hypersonic vehicles seems all the rage these days - China reportedly tested one, named Wu-14 on August 7, the United States made an attempt to test its own on August 25. Neither of these tests was a success, but it is clear that the tests will continue. What about Russia?

Russia first went public with its "hypersonic weapon" more than ten years ago - in February 2004 it tested a warhead that according to the Kremlin "will fly at hyper-sonic speed and will be able to change trajectory both in terms of altitude and direction, and missile defence systems will be powerless against them".

The warhead in question appears to go all the way back to the 1980s. One of the projects developed by the Chelomey Design Bureau (NPOmash) after 1987, an Albatross (solid-propellant) ICBM, included some kind of a maneuverable warhead. In 1989 the Albatross missile system was transferred to other design bureaus (and became Universal, which then became Topol-M), but NPOmash apparently kept the warhead. It was tested at least twice - on 28 February 1990 and 5 March 1990. Katayev's notes are a bit cryptic on these tests, but he noted that both tests were conducted "without separation" and mentions "70-80 km altitude." The vehicles flew to Kamchatka. Additional flight tests, including ones "with separation," were planned, but it looks like the first two flights were the last ones for some time.

Aptian Cretaceous "Cold Snap" Signature Identified in Russia

Eustatic, tectonic, and climatic signatures in the Lower Cretaceous siliciclastic succession on the Eastern Russian Platform




A methodical approach to identifying major abiotic events in the siliciclastic succession accumulated in the shallow epicontinental basin on the Eastern Russian Platform during the Early Cretaceous is presented. On the basis of a reliable chronostratigraphic framework a comparison between global and regional sea level curves was undertaken. The intervals during which the global and regional sea level curve trends are similar correspond to a predominance of eustasy in the particular basin. Alternatively, tectonic activity dominates during intervals when there is no similarity between the trends of the global and regional sea level curves. Three intervals of noncoincidences of trends of these two curves matched with major tectonic events that took place within the Eastern Russian Platform in the Early Cretaceous: the Early Hauterivian tectonic uplift, subsequent Late Hauterivian subsidence and the Late Albian uplift. The main consequences of the tectonic activity were two large regional unconformities and hiati. The comparison of main global and regional sea level trends also reveals major climatic events. “The cold snaps” that occurred during the Early Cretaceous greenhouse world (Hu et al., 2012) coincided with simultaneous global and regional sea level lowstands, peak shallowing of the basin and the almost complete absence of sediments. “The cold snap” is identified in the Late Aptian sedimentary sequences on the Eastern Russian Platform.

What Happens to Complex Organic Molecules Under Martian Conditions?

Laboratory insights into the chemical and kinetic evolution of several organic molecules under simulated Mars surface UV radiation conditions


Poch et al


The search for organic carbon at the surface of Mars, as clues of past habitability or remnants of life, is a major science goal of Mars’ exploration. Understanding the chemical evolution of organic molecules under current martian environmental conditions is essential to support the analyses performed in situ. What molecule can be preserved? What is the timescale of organic evolution at the surface? This paper presents the results of laboratory investigations dedicated to monitor the evolution of organic molecules when submitted to simulated Mars surface ultraviolet radiation (190–400 nm), mean temperature (218 ± 2 K) and pressure (6 ± 1 mbar) conditions. Experiments are done with the MOMIE simulation setup (for Mars Organic Molecules Irradiation and Evolution) allowing both a qualitative and quantitative characterization of the evolution the tested molecules undergo (Poch, O. et al. [2013]. Planet. Space Sci. 85, 188–197). The chemical structures of the solid products and the kinetic parameters of the photoreaction (photolysis rate, half-life and quantum efficiency of photodecomposition) are determined for glycine, urea, adenine and chrysene. Mellitic trianhydride is also studied in order to complete a previous study done with mellitic acid (Stalport, F., Coll, P., Szopa, C., Raulin, F. [2009]. Astrobiology 9, 543–549), by studying the evolution of mellitic trianhydride. The results show that solid layers of the studied molecules have half-lives of 10–103 h at the surface of Mars, when exposed directly to martian UV radiation. However, organic layers having aromatic moieties and reactive chemical groups, as adenine and mellitic acid, lead to the formation of photoresistant solid residues, probably of macromolecular nature, which could exhibit a longer photostability. Such solid organic layers are found in micrometeorites or could have been formed endogenously on Mars. Finally, the quantum efficiencies of photodecomposition at wavelengths from 200 to 250 nm, determined for each of the studied molecules, range from 10−2 to 10−6 molecule photon−1 and apply for isolated molecules exposed at the surface of Mars. These kinetic parameters provide essential inputs for numerical modeling of the evolution of Mars’ current reservoir of organic molecules. Organic molecules adsorbed on martian minerals may have different kinetic parameters and lead to different endproducts. The present study paves the way for the interpretation of more complex simulation experiments where organics will be mixed with martian mineral analogs.

The Timing of the Spread of Agriculture in West Africa

A question of timing: spatio-temporal structure and mechanisms of early agriculture expansion in West Africa


Ozainne et al


Although understanding the emergence of agriculture in West Africa has recently benefited from major advances, the reasons for its fast diffusion south of the Sahara remain to be explained. We propose here a reconstruction of African agriculture expansion built from a spatialization of available archaeological data and associated radiocarbon dates. With this approach, we can show that the initial spread of food production occurred with some specific rhythms. From this structure, we discuss the potential underlying processes. Our work suggests that the spread of agriculture in West Africa cannot be explained by a simple response to an abrupt environmental change at the beginning of the Late Holocene, but rather by a combined climate-culture mechanism. In addition, cord-wrapped roulette-impressed pottery appears to be a good indicator of the expansion of agro-pastoralist populations in Sub-Saharan regions. Our results are also consistent with the assumption of a monophyletic origin of domestic pearl millet in south-western Sahara and strengthen the idea that the first cultivators were Saharan pastoralists.

Eonatator coellensis: a new, Seemingly Ovoviviparous Campanian Cretaceous Mosasaur From Colombia

Eonatator coellensis nov. sp. (Squamata: Mosasauridae), a new species from the Upper Cretaceous of Colombia.




In this study a new mosasaur found in Colombia is given out. The fossil was extracted from Campanian rocks, North of the town of Coello, Tolima Department. It is a nearly complete articulated skeleton with soft tissue remains preserved in its cavities. It was
determined as a new species of the genus Eonatator, E. coellensis, based on the systematics proposed in 2005 by Bardet and others. The anatomy of the anterior part of the skull, as well the morphology and the inter-relationships of the bones of the pelvic girdle and limbs, constitute a new contribution to the genus definition. The Colombian specimen represents the most complete halisaurine mosasaur known so far in the world, and provides new evidence of ovoviviparity in mosasaurs.

Jurassic Mammals Kuehneotherium, Morganucodon Were Specialist, not Generalist Insectivores

Dietary specializations and diversity in feeding ecology of the earliest stem mammals


Gill et al


The origin and radiation of mammals are key events in the history of life, with fossils placing the origin at 220 million years ago, in the Late Triassic period1. The earliest mammals, representing the first 50 million years of their evolution and including the most basal taxa, are widely considered to be generalized insectivores. This implies that the first phase of the mammalian radiation—associated with the appearance in the fossil record of important innovations such as heterodont dentition, diphyodonty and the dentary–squamosal jaw joint —was decoupled from ecomorphological diversification. Finds of exceptionally complete specimens of later Mesozoic mammals have revealed greater ecomorphological diversity than previously suspected, including adaptations for swimming, burrowing, digging and even gliding, but such well-preserved fossils of earlier mammals do not exist1, and robust analysis of their ecomorphological diversity has previously been lacking. Here we present the results of an integrated analysis, using synchrotron X-ray tomography and analyses of biomechanics, finite element models and tooth microwear textures. We find significant differences in function and dietary ecology between two of the earliest mammaliaform taxa, Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium—taxa that are central to the debate on mammalian evolution. Morganucodon possessed comparatively more forceful and robust jaws and consumed ‘harder’ prey, comparable to extant small-bodied mammals that eat considerable amounts of coleopterans. Kuehneotherium ingested a diet comparable to extant mixed feeders and specialists on ‘soft’ prey such as lepidopterans. Our results reveal previously hidden trophic specialization at the base of the mammalian radiation; hence even the earliest mammaliaforms were beginning to diversify—morphologically, functionally and ecologically. In contrast to the prevailing view this pattern suggests that lineage splitting during the earliest stages of mammalian evolution was associated with ecomorphological specialization and niche partitioning.

Deformation Event in Cryogenian NeoProterozoic India

Deformation and granite intrusion in the Sirohi area, SW Rajasthan - constraints on Cryogenian to Pan-African crustal dynamics of NW India


de Wall et al


This study provides further evidence for a Cryogenian (∼ 770 - 760 Ma) deformation event in NW India, a region generally regarded tectonically stable during the Rodinia to Gondwana transition. This deformation is prominent in the Sirohi region (southwestern Rajasthan State), previously referred to as the ‘Sirohi Orogeny’, younger to and independent of the ∼1 Ga to 820 Ma Delhi Orogeny. Synkinematic intrusion of the Balda Granite during the NW-directed thrusting and folding of sediments of the Neoproterozoic Sirohi Group is constrained by combined field, microstructural and magnetic fabric analyses. Thrusting (D1) occurred under medium grade deformation conditions along mylonitic to ultramylonitic shear zones featuring quartz and feldspar recrystallization. Steepening of thrust planes and transition from dip-slip kinematics to oblique and dextral strike-slip in high strain areas indicate transpressive kinematics during the late-stage of D1 deformation. A second deformation even (D2) is documented in strain concentration along a conjugate set (N-S & E-W) of shear zones wherein dilation along the N-S trending structure provided space for voluminous synkinematic quartz mineralization. This linear structure, traceable for ∼10 km and named ‘Balda-Paladi Shear Zone’, has overprinted the NE-SW trending magmatic fabrics in the Balda Granite by N-S oriented shearing. Brittle behavior of feldspar constrains this overprint as a low temperature deformation event that also represents the terminal Cryogenian imprint in the Sirohi sector. The findings of this study indicate that an early Cryogenian imprint, seen in three different tectonomagmatic zones, from E to W referred to as South Delhi high-grade metamorphic terrane, Sirohi anatectic terrane and Sirohi fold and thrust terrane, is coeval with the initial closure of the Mozambique Ocean as constrained for central and northern Madagascar. A continuation of early Cryogenian mobile belts extending from southern India, crossing Madagascar into NW India is proposed. Related structures could have served as pathways for heat convection and triggered local late Pan-African thermal resetting in NW India

Record Melting of Greenland & Antarctic Glaciers

"The new elevation maps are snapshots of the current state of the ice sheets. The elevations are very accurate, to just a few metres in height, and cover close to 16 million km2 of the area of the ice sheets. This is 500,000 square kilometres more than any previous elevation model from altimetry", says lead-author Dr. Veit Helm, glaciologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven.

For the new digital maps, the AWI scientists had evaluated all data by the CryoSat-2 altimeter SIRAL. Satellite altimeter measure the height of an ice sheet by sending radar or laser pulses in the direction of the earth. These signals are then reflected by the surface of the glaciers or the surrounding waters and are subsequently retrieved by the satellite. This way the scientists were able to precisely determine the elevation of single glaciers and to develop detailed maps.

On the basis of further CrysoSat-2 the scientists also documented how the elevation has changed over the 2011-2014 period. Ice sheets gain mass through snowfall and lose it due to melting and accelerating glaciers, which carry ice from the interior of the ice sheet to the ocean. "We need to understand where and to which extent the ice thickness across the glaciers has changed. Only then can we can analyse the drivers of these changes and find out how much ice sheets contribute to global sea level rise", says Veit Helm.

The team derived the elevation change maps using over 200 million SIRAL data points for Antarctica and around 14.3 million data points for Greenland. The results reveal that Greenland alone is reducing in volume by about 375 cubic kilometres per year. "When we compare the current data with those from the ICESat satellite from the year 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since then. The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has in the same time span increased by a factor of 3. Combined the two ice sheets are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometres per year. That is the highest rate observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago," says AWI glaciologist Prof. Dr. Angelika Humbert, another of the study's authors.

General Electric Offers 50+% Korean Content for Engines for South Korean Air Force's Stealth Fighter

General Electric (GE) intends bidding to supply engines to power the Republic of Korea Air Force's (RoKAF's) proposed KFX indigenous fighter aircraft.

The company said on 21 August that if selected to participate in the KFX programme, it would build the powerplants in collaboration with local industry, ensuring more than half the KFX engine components were made and assembled in South Korea.

According to South Korean media reports, the government will issue a tender to continue the full development of the aircraft before the end of 2014, with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) likely to be selected to lead the programme in collaboration with foreign system developers.

Did the Arab Emitrates & Egypt Conduct Air Strikes in Libya?

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were responsible for carrying out two series of air strikes in the past week on armed Islamist factions in Tripoli, Libya, U.S. officials said on Monday.

The officials said the two Arab countries used aircraft based in Egypt.

Earlier the New York Times reported that the two U.S. allies acted without consulting Washington, and that Egyptian officials told U.S. diplomats that Cairo was not involved. Egypt has denied conducting air strikes or other military operations in Libya.

Over the weekend, Tripoli residents said unidentified war planes attacked targets in the capital, as Libya is riven by the worst fighting since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. There were also strikes on Islamist-held positions last Monday.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ukraine Updates Return Tomorrow


Bitcoin Supply too Large for Demand

Bitcoin’s price is poised for “acute instability” due to an oversupply of coins from miners and large merchants, along with a weak growth in demand, according to a new research note from financial giant Citi.

The Citi analysis points to the increased sophistication and cost of mining as a major driver for growth in bitcoin supply.

As mining costs rise, miners come under pressure to sell their freshly unearthed bitcoin to recoup the costs of their investment in equipment. Citi notes that about 3,500 BTC are mined daily, against a backdrop of 60,000–10,000 BTC in daily trading volume in recent months.

North Carolina State Unversity Creates Ultimate Bug: Cyborg Moths

In a lab at North Carolina State University, researchers have created moths that are a blend of wires and tissue. The eventual plan: to control a cyborg moth army. The biobots could be used to map ecosystems, spot survivors in search and rescue missions, or to carry out spy missions.

US Marines Seeking "Nano UAVs"

The US Navy has put out a call for small and "nano-sized", vertical take-off and landing unmanned air systems (UAS) for use by Marine infantry units to collect battlefield intelligence.

Col Eldon Metzger, the navy’s small tactical UAS programme manager, said in an email that the Marine Corps is “conducting a capabilities-based assessment on the future of small UAS technology that will provide day and night imagery of the tactical environment to troops at the battalion, company, or detachment level.”

Marines are looking for a man-portable UAS that can provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in real time during the day and at night, in all weather conditions. The RFI specifically says the aircraft should operate in rocky, uneven, urban, forested and maritime environments where Marines routinely operate. Proposals are due by 1 September.

The service stresses the need for lightweight, easy-to-use systems that require minimal training or logistical tail and will not burden troops in the field. Unlike larger UAS, the navy is looking for a single system – aircraft, control station and information monitoring device – that can be carried in the field by a Marine.

Other attributes of the navy’s desired UAS include an electro-optical and/or infrared sensor payload that can provide real-time full motion video of a tactical landscape. The vertical takeoff and landing requirement includes the ability to launch and land within a “confined area” by either autonomous or manual means.

Jamie Cosgrove, a spokeswoman for Navy Air Systems Command, said small UAS, also designated Group I aircraft, are categorised as weighing less than 9.07kg (20lb). The RFI describes nano UAS as weighing between 2.27kg and 9.07kg, with a range of between 0.27nm (0.5km) and 2.7nm. It also should have a flight duration of between 15min and 45min, the document states.

USS America is Training with South American Allies

The Navy’s new big-deck America-class amphibious assault ship is making its way around South America as part of a mission to connect with allies in the southern hemisphere and prepare the ship for the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

The USS America, the first in a series of 11 planned America class amphibs for the Navy, is configured with more deck space than previous ships of its kind in order to accommodate a range of aircraft — including MV-22 Ospreys and the F-35B Short-Take-Off-and-Landing Joint Strike Fighter.


The ship is currently transiting around off the coast of South America, conducting joint training exercises with a host of key allies such as Colombia, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Chile and Peru, Hall explained.

“This is as close to a deployment as I’ve ever been on, with the four Osprey and three H-60s that we have along with the special purpose MAGTF (Marine Corps Air-Ground Task Force),” he added.

The integrated training exercises involve security and communications operations with different countries as well as medical asset coordination and mission planning activities, Hall said.

The ship’s MV-22 Ospreys have been flying into allied countries to pick up and deliver distinguished visitors to the ship, he explained.

“We’re getting our crew familiar with the ship through hands on training. The Ospreys are giving us a great opportunity to learn the flight deck and learn the hangar. Most of my crew is on their first mission,” Hall explained. “This is a brand new crew which is pulling together. They have been performing as a solid team, going above and beyond. My hat is off to their dedication and motivation they have been working very hard.”

Small Changes in Pleistocene Quaternary Environment Meant Large Temperature Swings

During the last ice age a large part of North America was covered with a massive ice sheet up to 3km thick. The water stored in this ice sheet is part of the reason why the sea level was then about 120 meters lower than today. Young Chinese scientist Xu Zhang, lead author of the study who undertook his PhD at the Alfred Wegener Institute, explains. "The rapid climate changes known in the scientific world as Dansgaard-Oeschger events were limited to a period of time from 110,000 to 23,000 years before present. The abrupt climate changes did not take place at the extreme low sea levels, corresponding to the time of maximum glaciation 20,000 years ago, nor at high sea levels such as those prevailing today - they occurred during periods of intermediate ice volume and intermediate sea levels." The results presented by the AWI researchers can explain the history of climate changes during glacial periods, comparing simulated model data with that retrieved from ice cores and marine sediments.

How rapid temperature changes might have occurred during times when the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets were at intermediate sizes (see schematic depictions on

During the cold stadial periods of the last ice age, massive ice sheets covered northern parts of North America and Europe. Strong westerly winds drove the Arctic sea ice southward, even as far as the French coast. Since the extended ice cover over the North Atlantic prevented the exchange of heat between the atmosphere and the ocean, the strong driving forces for the ocean currents that prevail today were lacking. Ocean circulation, which is a powerful "conveyor belt" in the world's oceans, was thus much weaker than at present, and consequently transported less heat to northern regions.

During the extended cold phases the ice sheets continued to thicken. When higher ice sheets prevailed over North America, typical in periods of intermediate sea levels, the prevailing westerly winds split into two branches. The major wind field ran to the north of the so-called Laurentide Ice Sheet and ensured that the sea ice boundary off the European coast shifted to the north. Ice-free seas permit heat exchange to take place between the atmosphere and the ocean. At the same time, the southern branch of the northwesterly winds drove warmer water into the ice-free areas of the northeast Atlantic and thus amplified the transportation of heat to the north. The modified conditions stimulated enhanced circulation in the ocean. Consequently, a thicker Laurentide Ice Sheet over North America resulted in increased ocean circulation and therefore greater transportation of heat to the north. The climate in the Northern Hemisphere became dramatically warmer within a few decades until, due to the retreat of the glaciers over North America and the renewed change in wind conditions, it began to cool off again.

Evidence of Fluctuating Ground Water Levels in the Mawrth Vallis on Mars

Detection of copiapite in the northern Mawrth Vallis region of Mars: Evidence of acid sulfate alteration


Farrand et al


The Mawrth Vallis region on Mars is associated with extensive layered deposits containing a stratigraphic sequence of Fe/Mg smectites overlain by Al phyllosilicates. Earlier studies have reported restricted exposures of the ferric sulfate mineral jarosite on top of the sequence. In this paper we have used CRISM data covering the northern portion of the Mawrth Vallis region to find a new jarosite exposure and multiple occurrences of the mixed valence Fe-sulfate mineral copiapite (Fe2+Fe3+4(SO4)6(OH)2·20(H2O)). HiRISE imagery indicate that the copiapite exposures lie on top of the Al phyllosilicates and thus post-date that unit either as a coating or as extensive veins. The presumed copiapite exposures are associated with high values of a “SINDX” parameter derived from CRISM data. Application of several spectral matching metrics over a spectral subsection indicated several candidates for the high SINDX phase including copiapite, ferricopiapite and metavoltine (another mixed valence Fe-sulfate mineral). Visible and near infrared CRISM spectra of the high SINDX areas are most consistent with the phase being copiapite. On Earth copiapite generally occurs as efflorescent coatings in acid mine drainage environments or in association with acid sulfate soils. The presence of jarosite and copiapite indicates the presence of acidic waters. Such acid waters could have contributed to the formation of the underlying Al phyllosilicate minerals. A possible mode of origin for these minerals in this region would involve a fluctuating ground water table and the weathering of Fe sulfide minerals.

Was Vanuatu Settled 3,000 Years ago?

Radiocarbon dating of burials from the Teouma Lapita cemetery, Efate, Vanuatu


Petchey et al


The discovery of a cemetery at Teouma on the island of Efate in Vanuatu dated to c. 3000 years ago increased the number of early Pacific human remains available for study by nearly an order of magnitude and provided for the first time the ability to study the population dynamics of these early colonizers. The cemetery also provided an opportunity to investigate the chronological development of such a unique site. Although identified short-lived plant materials are favoured for dating archaeological sites, the reality of research in the Pacific region is that such materials are often rare, difficult to identify to species because of an absence of suitable reference collections, and dates on other materials often have greater potential to refine and focus 14C chronologies that deal with specific research questions. At Teouma, dates on the burial remains themselves are the best means to answer questions about the age and duration of the burial ground. Human bone, however, is one of the most complicated materials to date reliably because of dietary 14C offsets and bone preservation. One commonly used methodology for calibrating dates on human bone from Pacific human skeletal remains, based on linear interpolation between δ13C endpoints and δ15N values, is complicated by the wide range of foods available (marine, reef, C4 and C3), and remains largely untested in Pacific contexts. Radiocarbon dating of the Teouma site, including 36 Lapita-age burials, 5 dates on Conus sp. ring artefacts, and dates from the associated midden deposit, has enabled further evaluation of 14C dietary offsets and the reliability of calibrated radiocarbon ages on human bone. Bayesian evaluation of the 14C dates suggests the burial ground was in regular use by c. 2940–2880 cal BP, with the last interments occurring c. 2770–2710 cal BP. A number of burials could indicate possible earlier use, perhaps as early as 3110–2930 cal BP as indicated by the calibrated age range of Burial 57. This cannot be independently substantiated using other radiocarbon dates or context at the present time. Overall, these results suggest the burial ground was in use over a possible 150–240 years during the formative phase of Lapita expansion into Remote Oceania.

More Material From Globidensine Mosasaur Prognathodon From Maastrichtian Cretaceous Netherlands

New material of Prognathodon (Squamata, Mosasauridae) from the type Maastrichtian of the Netherlands


Schulp et al


A partial quadrate, here assigned to the globidensine mosasaur Prognathodon cf. saturator, is recorded from the basal Valkenburg Member (Maastricht Formation) in the type area of the Maastrichtian Stage (southeast Netherlands, northeast Belgium). Occurrences of Prognathodon saturator in this area are extremely rare, which might well be linked to the offshore habitat preferred by this species.

Stromatolites From Anisian Triassic Southwest China

Early Middle Triassic stromatolites from the Luoping area, Yunnan Province, Southwest China: Geobiologic features and environmental implications


Luo et al


An early Middle Triassic stromatolite deposit is documented from the Guanling Formation of the Luoping area, Yunnan, SW China. The Luoping stromatolite shows five types of constructional microbial forms in various magnifications: 1) typical stratified columnar structures, up to 20 cm high, with crinkled laminae. Dark coloured laminae, 1 mm thick, are composed of upright filamentous tubes, averagely 29.4 μm in diameter, showing a vertical growth fabric. 2) Laminoid fenestrae, 0.5–1 mm wide, and 3) prostrate filaments, which are reflected by strong fluorescence in sharp contrast to dolomite cement in fluorescent images. 4) Rod-like aggregates, 4.6–18 μm in diameter, composed of minute dolomite rhombs, are very common in stromatolitic laminae; they resemble present-day cyanobacterial trichome, and thus may represent putative fossilized cyanobacteria. 5) Moreover, small pits, coccoid-like spheroids, calcified biofilms, and fibrous structures are also common in stromatolitic laminae. The last two may represent calcified extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) that contributed to the development and lithification of stromatolites. Authigenic quartz grains are common and may also have involved biological processes in stromatolite formation. Of these microbial functional-groups driving accretion and lithification processes of stromatolite documented in literature, both lithified cyanobacteria/oxygenic phototrophs and possible sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), which induced microbial formation of dolomite and contributed to the accretion of the Luoping stromatolite, are suggestive of biogenic origin. The Luoping stromatolite differs from the Permian–Triassic boundary microbialites (PTBMs) in having abundant filamentous structures and growing in an oxic marine environment. Both sedimentary facies analysis and abundant fossilized cyanobacteria may indicate proliferation of oxygenic phototrophs in a normal, oxic habitat during the middle Anisian (early Middle Triassic), a period when hospitable environments, coupled with biotic diversification, prevailed in South China and set an agenda for the full recovery of marine ecosystems in middle–late Anisian. However, the post-extinction stromatolites and other anachronistic facies are not necessarily indicative of anoxic or oxic conditions, and their environmental settings are much more complex than previously thought.