Monday, June 30, 2008

Another No Permian Extinction WI Teaser: O millerensis updated

This is iteration two of O. millerensis for the collaboration between Scott, Zach, and I on the alternate or *Permian that didn't end with the Permian Extinction as we know it but 'continued' until what would have been the end of the Our Time Line's Triassic which ended in the mass extinction then.

Iteration One of Odobenodon millerensis is here.

Oh and I am uberswamped for next 48 hours, so don't expect much else here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Moment of Blog Silence

The therapsid website that is in the title link has passed away. This is really sad since this was one of the best quick overviews of the late Permian and early Triassic therapsids out there. It saddens me when some of the best websites with information pass into the aether.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Anbar is Being Handed Over to the Iraqis

Once the most violent place in Iraq, Anbar province will come under Provincial Iraqi Control on Saturday, a senior military official said Monday.

So far, nine Iraqi provinces are under Provincial Iraqi Control, or PIC, in which Iraqi security forces perform day-to-day operations and U.S. troops provide assistance as needed, the military official told reporters.

"When you PIC a province, the coalition force goes into what we call an operational overwatch: They're there, essentially as a security blanket," the official said.

CNN has a bit too. Let's see if the Iraqis can hack it. The Shia government is going to have to do some fancy foot work to keep it less of a problem child than it was. If they can, it'll be a big step forward for the country.

Qadisiya, a southern province, is supposed to be handed over this year too. FYI.

Defense Tech has a post as well.

Tree of Life Project Rewrites Bird Phylogenetics

The largest ever study of bird genetics has not only shaken up but completely redrawn the avian evolutionary tree. The study challenges current classifications, alters our understanding of avian evolution, and provides a valuable resource for phylogenetic and comparative studies in birds.

Birds are among the most studied and loved animals, and much of what we know about animal biology – from natural history to ecology, speciation, reproduction, etc. – is based on birds. Nevertheless, the avian tree-of-life has remained controversial and elusive – until now.

For more than five years, the Early Bird Assembling the Tree-of-Life Research Project, centered at The Field Museum, has been examining DNA from all major living groups of birds. Thus far, scientists have built and analyzed a dataset of more than 32 kilobases of nuclear DNA sequences from 19 different locations on the DNA of each of 169 bird species. The results of this massive research, which is equivalent to a small genome project, will be published in Science on June 27, 2008.

"Our study and the remarkable new understanding of the evolutionary relationships of birds that it affords was possible only because of the technological advances of the last few years that have enabled us to sample larger portions of genomes," said Shannon Hackett, one of three lead authors and associate curator of birds at The Field Museum. "Our study yielded robust results and illustrates the power of collecting genome-scale data to reconstruct difficult evolutionary trees."

The results of the study are so broad that the scientific names of dozens of birds will have to be changed, and biology textbooks and birdwatchers' field guides will have to be revised. For example, we now know that:

  • Birds adapted to the diverse environments several distinct times because many birds that now live on water (such as flamingos, tropicbirds and grebes) did not evolve from a different waterbird group, and many birds that now live on land (such as turacos, doves, sandgrouse and cuckoos) did not evolve from a different landbird group.

  • Similarly, distinctive lifestyles (such as nocturnal, raptorial and pelagic, i.e., living on the ocean or open seas) evolved several times. For example, contrary to conventional thinking, colorful, daytime hummingbirds evolved from drab nocturnal nightjars; falcons are not closely related to hawks and eagles; and tropicbirds (white, swift-flying ocean birds) are not closely related to pelicans and other waterbirds.

  • Shorebirds are not a basal evolutionary group, which refutes the widely held view that shorebirds gave rise to all modern birds.

"With this study, we learned two major things," said Sushma Reddy, another lead author and Bucksbaum Postdoctoral Fellow at The Field Museum. "First, appearances can be deceiving. Birds that look or act similar are not necessarily related. Second, much of bird classification and conventional wisdom on the evolutionary relationships of birds is wrong."

Oh boy. A complete rewrite of the evolutionary tree? Looks like some people are out to upset the apple cart. Some of the oddball results:
  • Hummingbirds are closely related to and may be derived from Nightjars.

  • Falcons are not closely related to hawks and eagles.

  • Flamingos are still problematic, but seem to be closely related to grebes. Yet neither are closely related to other water fowl. They claim this implies that birds have adapted to the water multiple times.

There are more. Those are interesting in and of themselves. From my PoV its also interesting because the 'story' of how the modern birds survived the KT/KPg may be changed: they weren't survivors because they were shore birds living off the brown water ecology.

The Dubai Rotating Building

I can't help but think that this is going to be a maintenance nightmare and the equivalent of all that neon and glaringly ugly architecture from the 50s and 60s. However, we'll see what the execution is like rather than me rambling. After Dubai, there are plans for one of these in Moscow (big surprise), and New York. However, apparently there is some interest from other places too: vaguely South Korea and Canada.

CNN has some coverage too.

Canuckistani NanoSat Hunts for Asteroids, Other Sats

Canada is building the world's first space telescope designed to detect and track asteroids as well as satellites. Called NEOSSat (Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite), this spacecraft will provide a significant improvement in surveillance of asteroids that pose a collision hazard with Earth and innovative technologies for tracking satellites in orbit high above our planet.

Weighing in at a mere 65-kilograms, this dual-use $12-million mission builds upon Canada's expertise in compact "microsatellite" design. NEOSSat will be the size of a large suitcase, and is cost-effective because of its small size and ability to "piggyback" on the launch of other spacecraft. The mission is funded by Defence Research Development Canada(DRDC) and the Canadian Space Agency(CSA). Together CSA and DRDC formed a Joint Project Office to manage the NEOSSat design, construction and launch phases. NEOSSat is expected to be launched into space in 2010. The two projects that will use NEOSSat are HEOSS (High Earth Orbit Space Surveillance) and the NESS (Near Earth Space Surveillance) asteroid search program.

Something interesting, something interesting.

Pterosaurs, Brachiosaurs, and Mammals! Oh my!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another Ventastega Restoration

New Basal Tetrapod Skull: Ventastega

The 365 million-year-old fossil skull, shoulders and part of the pelvis of the water-dweller, Ventastega curonica, were found in Latvia, researchers report in a study published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. Even though Ventastega is likely an evolutionary dead-end, the finding sheds new details on the evolutionary transition from fish to tetrapods. Tetrapods are animals with four limbs and include such descendants as amphibians, birds and mammals.

While an earlier discovery found a slightly older animal that was more fish than tetrapod, Ventastega is more tetrapod than fish. The fierce-looking creature probably swam through shallow brackish waters, measured about three or four feet long and ate other fish. It likely had stubby limbs with an unknown number of digits, scientists said.

"If you saw it from a distance, it would look like a small alligator, but if you look closer you would find a fin in the back," said lead author Per Ahlberg, a professor of evolutionary biology at Uppsala University in Sweden. "I imagine this is an animal that could haul itself over sand banks without any difficulty. Maybe it's poking around in semi-tidal creeks picking up fish that got stranded."


Ahlberg didn't find the legs or toes of Ventastega, but was able to deduce that it was four-limbed because key parts of its pelvis and its shoulders were found. From the shape of those structures, scientists were able to conclude that limbs, not fins were attached to Ventastega.

Ventastega doesn't seem to be a recent discovery, but this find does seem significant.

Nuthin But the Martian Rain

A new analysis of Martian soil data led by University of California, Berkeley, geoscientists suggests that there was once enough water in the planet's atmosphere for a light drizzle or dew to hit the ground, leaving tell-tale signs of its interaction with the planet's surface.

The study's conclusion breaks from the more dominant view that the liquid water that once existed during the red planet's infancy came mainly in the form of upwelling groundwater rather than rain.

To come up with their conclusions, the UC Berkeley-led researchers used published measurements of soil from Mars that were taken by various NASA missions: Viking 1, Viking 2, Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity. These five missions provided information on soil from widely distant sites surveyed between 1976 and 2006.

"By analyzing the chemistry of the planet's soil, we can derive important information about Mars' climate history," said Ronald Amundson, UC Berkeley professor of ecosystem sciences and the study's lead author. "The dominant view, put forward by many now working on the Mars missions, is that the chemistry of Mars soils is a mix of dust and rock that has accumulated over the eons, combined with impacts of upwelling groundwater, which is almost the exact opposite of any common process that forms soil on Earth. In this paper, we try to steer the discussion back by re-evaluating the Mars data using geological and hydrological principles that exist on Earth."

The final version of the study will appear online in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, the journal of the International Geochemical Society, by the end of June, and in a print issue in August.

A bit early for the press release, but we'll see about the reaction.

Tymoshenko's Government Set to Fall

The coalition of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) and President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine--People’s Self-Defense (NUNS) no longer has a majority in the Ukrainian parliament. Two deputies quit the coalition, so it controls 225 seats in the 450-seat chamber, one seat short of a majority. As a result, parliament has been paralyzed, and the fate of the Tymoshenko government is in the hands of Yushchenko and his team in parliament. Should even a small group from NUNS back a no-confidence motion against Tymoshenko, her government will be doomed.

So, how long? There are tons of people in NUNS that are really ticked at Tymoshenko. Many Ukrainians from the general populace are unhappy with her too. She's not improved the people's lives much at all. Inflation is, uh, nuts. One of our Ukrainian friends offered the idea that he'd set up a 'hotel' that would allow Americans to come to Ukraine to live as Ukrainians do for an extended time....with a total of $180/month for EVERYTHING.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hugh on Ukraine's Grain Exports

It seems that Ukraine is set to triple its grain exports over the next year. See my post about the return of Ukraine the Agri-King. Interesting to see other sources of confirmation.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Paleo Wombats VERY Sexually Dimorphic

They may have been vegetarians, but the ancient wombats that roamed Australia were a frightening lot.

Up to 9 feet (3 meters) long and 70 inches (180 centimeters) tall, some of the marsupials weighed as much as a pickup truck and stood as tall as a person. Others were much smaller, about the weight of a compact car.

This size variation has led paleontologists to debate just how many ancient wombat species existed, with estimates ranging from 2 to 20.

But a new study, published in the current issue of the journal Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, suggests that—despite their vastly different sizes—ancient wombats all belonged to the same species, and that gender differences accounted for the huge size gaps.

Today's wombats, found throughout much of southern Australia, are more modest in appearance—short-legged, plant-eaters about 3.2 feet (1 meter) long. They hardly resemble their giant Ice Age ancestors, the largest marsupials to roam Earth from about two million to 10,000 years ago.

Fossil Teeth

Researchers analyzed fossil teeth of giant wombat specimens.

"I suspected that just looking at teeth might give a much clearer picture of who was related to who," said study author Gilbert Price, a paleontologist of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

"I figured the study would reveal that two, maybe three species once roamed the continent," Price said.

[Related: "Tooth Study Suggests Humans Caused Australian Ice-Age Extinctions" [January 24, 2007].)

In humans and other mammals, males and females often diverge drastically in size—a trait known as sexual dimorphism. Analyzing fossil teeth can thus prove an effective strategy to study ancient species.

Unlike the rest of the body, which is subject to the demands of sexual display, back teeth such as molars tend to only be involved in eating. Since both sexes of a particular species usually eat similar foods, their teeth should look the same.

Price leveraged this fact while comparing more than a thousand ancient wombat teeth held in museums around the world. He discovered that the fossils all showed similar patterns.

This indicated just one giant wombat species existed and that paleontologists were mistaking the differently sized male and female giant wombats for separate species.

The discovery helps explain why the bones of different-size wombats—male and female—are often found together.


Has Anyone Studied Prizes?

Out of curiosity, has anyone actually studied the effects of prizes on $tech development? They seem rather popular right now - the X Prize Foundation taking up the lead right now - but what of their real effects? There has been one that I know of that panned out well. There's another that I am aware of that looks like it may pan out. But what of the whole concept in general? Anyone actually looked at it? if so, where's the paper so I can chew on it...

McCain Wants More "Prizes"

The presumed Republican nominee is proposing a $300 million government prize to whoever can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology. The bounty would equate to $1 for every man, woman and child in the country, "a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency," McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday at Fresno State University in California.

McCain said such a device should deliver power at 30 percent of current costs and have "the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."

The Arizona senator is also proposing stiffer fines for automakers who skirt existing fuel-efficiency standards, as well as incentives to increase use of domestic and foreign alcohol-based fuels such as ethanol.

In addition, a so-called Clean Car Challenge would provide U.S. automakers with a $5,000 tax credit for every zero-carbon emissions car they develop and sell.

This has long been a favorite of the Right. At least online. What do you all think? I can hardly be called an objective PoV here.

DNA Study Unlocks Mystery to Canine Diversity

Dogs vary in size, shape, color, coat length and behavior more than any other animal and until now, this variance has largely been unexplained. Now, scientists have developed a method to identify the genetic basis for this diversity that may have far-reaching benefits for dogs and their owners.

In the cover story of tomorrow's edition of the science journal Genetics, research reveals locations in a dog's DNA that contain genes that scientists believe contribute to differences in body and skull shape, weight, fur color and length – and possibly even behavior, trainability and longevity.

"This exciting breakthrough, made possible by working with leaders in canine genetics, is helping us piece together the canine genome puzzle which will ultimately translate into potential benefit for dogs and their owners," said study co-author Paul G. Jones, PhD, a Mars Veterinary™ genetics researcher at the Waltham® Centre for Pet Nutrition – part of Mars® Incorporated, a world leader in pet care that has been studying canine genetic science for the past eight years. "By applying this research approach, we may be able to decipher how genes contribute to physical or behavioral traits that affect many breeds."

Dogs originally derived from the wolf more than 15,000 years ago – a blink of the eye in evolutionary terms. Selective breeding produced dogs with physical and behavioral traits that were well suited to the needs or desires of their human owners, such as herding or hunting ability, coat color and body and skull shape and size. This resulted in the massive variance seen among the more than 350 distinct breeds that make up today's dog population. Until now, the genetic drivers of this diversity have intrigued scientists who have been trying to explain how and why the difference in physical and behavioral traits in dogs changed so rapidly from its wolf origins.

An international team of researchers, which included scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute, the University of Utah, Sundowners Kennels in Gilroy, California and Mars' Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in the United Kingdom, studied simple genetic markers known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or SNPs, to find places in the dog genome that correlate with breed traits. Because many traits are "stereotyped" – or fixed within breeds – researchers can zero in on these "hot spots" to see what specific genes are in the area that might contribute to differences in traits.

No commentary. Just thought I'd flag it as interesting for everyone.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ukraine Poised to Return to Agri-King?

“If all of Ukraine’s farms could produce the yields we are getting, this country could play a big role in feeding the world and establish itself as a geopolitical power,” says the British chief executive of London-listed Landkom.

Once considered the bread basket of Europe, Ukraine’s farms are still recovering from the economic collapse that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union. In spite of a favourable climate and some of the planet’s most fertile soils, grain production halved after the Stalin-era collective farm system was broken up and wheat fields were turned over to pasture.

Landkom’s business model is simple: lease inefficiently farmed land and apply western fertilisers and irrigation. With Ukraine’s grain yield about 35 per cent of western Europe’s, there is plenty of scope to improve returns.

Landkom, which raised just over $100m on Aim, London’s junior stock market, last year, has leased more than 100,000 hectares. And it is just one of of a growing number of agribusinesses that sees profit in Ukraine.

Ukraine has a very long tradition of being an agricultural center and even exporter. Besides Egypt, Rome - yes, the Roman Empire, used to import wheat from Ukraine ages ago. This tradition continued for millenia, amazingly enough, but has fallen on hard times in the past, and most recently again after the fall of the Soviet Union. Though, truthfully, it was a little sick even then compared to its Western counterparts.

Now Western companies are looking at redeveloping the agricultural sector in Ukraine. This would be fantastic...if they can work around the problems with pollution, etc. This would probably, at least initially, take place in Western Ukraine where agriculture has been strongest. However, the whole of Ukraine, minus the worst polluted parts, could participate in this. That rich black soil exists even in Gorlovka where my wife's family is from.

The second problem is of course, the land market. It's really screwy and I don't understand at all how it can possibly exist: apparently they can't sell their lots...which to me is just plain odd. However, the transfer of ownership is a nightmare for any real estate: my father-in-law died and left his house to his daughters. Lyuda does not want it since she lives here in the States and wants to just sign over her half to her sister whom still does live in Ukraine. It has been an outright bureaucratic nightmare that we have been trying to resolve for two years without luck.

Finally, of course, one cannot talk about doing business in Ukraine without discussing the corruption. Anyone gets going well is going to attract the economic undead that will want to suck the life out of anyone or any company with money. If that doesn't get fixed...this is all just a wash.

However, Ukraine as the breadbasket has appeal. It's an absolute advantage that no one can really outdo. That soil is pretty amazing stuff. While my gardening has been restricted to the soils of Southwestern US, the stuff they have is just profoundly good to work with as I found when I did so a couple years ago.

Smog in Tiananmen Square

This is from about the center to Forbidden Palace and was just taken by some friends of ours that are there now. No wonder the athletes are worried about air quality hurting them: visibility was less than 300m. Holy Molie!

Prez Run: A Touch of Energy (Policy)

There's something to like - and hate - from both Presidential candidates' energy proposed energy policies. Neither one makes me particularly happy, really, and both seem to be playing to their constituents. Big surprise that! Let's touch on some specifics. Unfortunately, McCain, other than his recent press releases, seems to be rather vague, so forgive me if I screw this a tad.

On the plus side, but candidates are talking about energy independence. This is something loooong overdue and really should have been considered by some other administration as far back as the 1970s after the OPEC embargo induced price shock. Kudos for them both for at least making the right mouth motions and air exhalations. At least they both say they want to do this.

Obama puts out some good proposals. One of them is the renewable energy requirements: 25% of electricity being renewable by 2025 and the embracing of biofuels, especially the cellosic ethanol. McCain's made mouth motions too about this, but not to the same degree and not as concretely.

McCain does something a little braver in one respect. He claims to have embraced nuclear power in a big way. He wants to increase the number of nuclear reactors by 45 by 2030 from the 100 something now. Obama pans this one. Oh, he doesn't outright reject it, but he does rather poo-poo the idea. Nuclear power just isn't a seller among the Democratic base generally.

Both of them, much to my gut wrenching sickness, state they want 'clean coal.' While I recognize that coal is a vital, current member of our energy mixture, I don't think it really belongs to our future whatsoever. Clean coal requires so much research its ridiculous. You know that carbon sequestration demo coal power plant that DOE was developing? The one that most of the world was excitedly waiting to see if it would solve the CO2 emission issue on a per plant basis? Well, it was cancelled. Why? The costs were spiraling out of control. It's necessary budget doubled without much work getting done to well over a billion dollars and nearing two. This one strikes me a near impossibility to reach and I cannot like any proposal for this. *shrugs*

However, I have to express my skepticism about anything proposed for after any administration's tenure. At best, Obama will have been out of office for nine years (a full administration cycle and a bit) by then and who knows whether or not his successor will continue said policy. This criticism is for McCain, too, btw, with his prognostications about 2030, 14 years, nearly two (!) administration cycles.

blast. Out of time. Meeting coming up and I have a fully booked day after that.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Small Plea: Where to See an Oncologist?

Tender Readers:

I have someone I know that needs to see an oncologist - cancer doc - really, really bad, specifically one with a gynecology bent.

This person is not a member of my family. However, this person is someone that is not a US citizen nor do they have access to care necessary. In fact, they have been denied it for merely seeking a second opinion. It's complicated and stupid and messy. However, a Doctor's visit and treatment is needed ASAP.

Obviously, where she is has obviously replaced the Hippocratic Oath with the Hypocritical Oath.

Update: She found someone where she's at and had surgery even as I was looking for help here (and elsewhere). We'll see how she does. So, whatever Gods you pray to, please, do so.

For Carlos: MHC & the Amphibian Immune System

Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes produce proteins that are crucial in fighting pathogen assault. Researchers from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) characterized genetic variation and detected more than one MHC class II locus in a tailed amphibian. Unlike mammals, not much has been known until now about the immune defence of amphibians. Globally, amphibian populations are in an unprecedented decline, to a considerable extent caused by rapidly spreading infectious diseases, such as the fungal infection Chytridiomycosis. Therefore future conservation strategies for amphibians could benefit from knowledge about species-specific adaptations indicated by MHC variation, say the researchers writing in the journal Molecular Ecology. For their research, the scientists conducted a genetic study of various populations of the Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris) in Poland at the northern limit of this Central European species' distribution range. The Alpine newt is the first European and the third on the global scale, tailed amphibian species in which the MHC has been studied, and the first one in which more than one MHC II locus has been found.

The crucial role of the MHC in the immunity of mammals is well recognized. The discovery in tailed amphibians, however, shows that the genetic variation in MHC is important for this group as well: "In this study we were able to demonstrate that positive selection has been acting" reports Wies³aw Babik of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. "This means that these genes play an important role in the immune system which recognises and fights diseases." The lead author of the study, Wies³aw Babik, conducted the research as part of a collaborative project between the University of Krakow and the UFZ in Halle/Saale that was financed by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. "Until now, scientists have assumed that the MHC in amphibians is not particularly important. But this is definitely not the case," explains Dr Walter Durka of the UFZ, who supervised Wies³aw Babik during his post-doctoral research.
There's the interesting part about MHC and amphibians.
In an earlier DNA study, the researchers were able to show that over the past 10,000 years the Polish populations of the Alpine newt on the northern boundary of its distribution range have achieved a high level of genetic diversity comparatively quickly. The three isolated populations in the Sudetes, Carpathian and Œwiêtokrzyskie Mountains probably evolved from a single refugium in which the newts survived the last Ice Age.
There's something that the paleo and evolutionary bio types might find interesting.

A Bit Delayed: Newest Top 500 HPC List

I am a bit late in linking to this one. Oops! Too many things that go on for me to always catch everything. Anyways, some stats from the list.

In the top ten, five systems are IBM. One is a Sun. Another is a Cray (sad that). Two are SGIs. One is an HP system. There are three European systems, one Indian system, and the rest are American. There are none that Japanese at all: their fastest one is ranked at 16, one behind the Cray downstairs. The much vaunted Earth Simulator that dominated the list for so long barely eeks it into the Top 50 systems.

Vendor shares of those that have two digit or more systems on the list are IBM (42%), HP (36.6%), Dell (5.4%), SGI (5.4%), and Cray (3.2%). 12.8% of the list, all the remaining systems, are split between 20 different "vendors." Three systems are "self made" ones.

America has 51.4% of the HPC systems - 257 - while have 59.8% of the sustained performance (sustained is all that matters, folks). If you combine the EU countries - much to the protest of the Poms, I a sure - they have a total of 168 systems (33.6% of total) with 27.8% of the sustained performance. There's a huge drop off then. Japan has the next most systems with 22 (4.4%) with 4.7% of the total flops. China comes in next with 2.4% of the total systems (12) and 1.1% of the total sustained flops. Then comes Russia with 9 systems and 1.4% of the sustained flops.

There are a few surprises there. The most surprising member of the list - to me - though happens to be....Slovenia. One system. The most surprisingly lightweight member of the list is...Canada, only 2 systems. Japan comes across as the second most surprisingly lightweight member of the list: their systems are smaller and fewer than I would have expected.

Anyway, there are only two (!) vector processor systems left on the list.

At any rate, go take a look at the list. Very interesting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WI No Permian Extinction Teaser: Odobenodon millerensis

This relates back to a thought I had many years ago. WI No Permian Extinction? I asked it on SHWI and there was a moderately lively discussion for a time. Now with some help from Scott and Zach, (thank you again, gentlemen!) we're sloooooooooooowly pressing forward with the Extended Permian's wild life. we're starting with the beach front; hence, Odobenodon millerensis or as we have been affectionately calling it, the walrodont.

More and far better to come.

Sea Level & Temperature Rise 50% Greater

New research suggests that ocean temperature and associated sea level increases between 1961 and 2003 were 50 percent larger than estimated in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

The results are reported in the June 19 edition of the journal Nature. An international team of researchers, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory climate scientist Peter Gleckler, compared climate models with improved observations that show sea levels rose by 1.5 millimeters per year in the period from 1961-2003. That equates to an approximately 2_-inch increase in ocean levels in a 42-year span.

The ocean warming and thermal expansion rates are more than 50 percent larger than previous estimates for the upper 300 meters of oceans.

The research corrected for small but systematic biases recently discovered in the global ocean observing system, and uses statistical techniques that "infill" information in data-sparse regions. The results increase scientists' confidence in ocean observations and further demonstrate that climate models simulate ocean temperature variability more realistically than previously thought.

That has interesting implications for the sea level rise in the future. Observations and modeling of the general community slowly, but surely seems to be reaching the estimates I've seen from here.

And that's frightening.

Ukrainian-Russian Relations Start Going Further Down Hill

Russia's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin sent a warning in Europe's direction: “Russia created Sevastopol for the fleet, not the fleet for Sevastopol”; and First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Denisov sneered at Kyiv: “No need to begin talks ahead of time... The main thing is not to make a fuss” (Interfax, RIA Novosti, June 8).

Some of those remarks contain barely veiled threats. The line about potential destabilization of bilateral relations alludes to the possibility of raising the Russian flag in the Crimea, if Ukraine insists on the removal of the Russian Fleet from Sevastopol. The remark about incompatibility with partnership relations alludes to the possibility of Russia abandoning the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, signed in 1997 with Ukraine and recognizing the existing borders. Russia's abandonment of that treaty could imply freedom of action with regard to Ukraine's borders, particularly in the Crimea. Officials in Moscow argue that the interstate treaty and the fleet basing agreement were signed in a package and that Ukraine's refusal to prolong the agreement would untie Russia's hands on the treaty. Finally, the line about Sevastopol's raison d'etre suggests to the West that Russia regards its Black Sea Fleet as inseparable from Sevastopol, irrespective of treaties and borders, which Russian officials seem to feel increasingly free to disregard.

On June 4 the Kremlin-controlled Duma adopted a resolution asking the government to consider the possibility of abandoning the interstate treaty if Ukraine persists in seeking NATO membership, which Moscow also deems “incompatible with partnership relations” and closely linked with Kyiv's declared intention to terminate the Russian fleet's presence.

Ukraine is asking for Russia to start talks about removing the Russian Black Sea Fleet from Crimea on time in 2017. Russia has taken this as an affront and is attempting to pressure Ukraine into extending the lease indefinitely. In fact, it has been starting to threaten to annex Crimea if Ukraine doesn't do what Russia wants. Bullying at its best.

The Competition to HR 900: HR 1230

Little spoken of, sometimes seemingly dead, the reason that there's not a 'consensus' stance that my least favorite Democrat, Pelosi, keeps stalling HR 900 over is because of another bill in the House, HR 1230. There are some differences between HR 900 and HR 1230. They're not just details, but rather items that will radically change the future of Puerto Rico.

HR 900 is set up to have a plebiscite about whether or not to change the status of the Territory of Puerto Rico. Then if it passes, a constitutional convention will be held to decide the fate of the island: this wasn't originally intended to be the case. It was intended to be a double plebiscite where the second vote would have been on independence or statehood. Additionally, if the voters reject a change in status, the bill provides that this plebiscite would repeat indefinitely every 8 years until a status change is effected. More than likely, if enacted this law would either result in independence or statehood. The whole point of the bill is to exclude the current or the alternate so-called "enhanced commonwealth" status.

HR 1230 is set to allow a plebiscite as well, but it allows for the enhanced commonwealth status. In fact, the current governor of Puerto Rico is one of the driving forces behind this bill. He is the head of the party that supports the so-called enhanced commonwealth status. There are some other differences compared to the other bill as well. One is that there is one plebiscite. Then there is a constitutional convention. It comes up with the future status of the territory then it presents the decision to the voters and then to Congress. Either can reject the proposal. If that does happen, then one of the key differences between this and HR 900 is that the constitutional convention is ongoing. It remains sitting and tries to come up with another answer to the status question and then must go through the same dance again.

I'll be very honest that I really support HR 900 in its original form rather than HR 1230. I am also against the so-called enhanced commonwealth status, some of those reasons are articulated here. After having read some on the Insular Cases, I'm rather anticolonial. I am rather not antiexpansionist, just I believe that the Constitution follows the Flag. Furthermore, I'm rather pro-statehood for Puerto Rico.

Another Way to Determine Paleo Atmospheric O2 Content

[Selenium] is an anti-oxidant and an essential trace nutrient in our diet. It belongs to a group of elements whose behaviour is controlled by the concentration of oxygen in the environment.

This study represents a first attempt by scientists to use selenium in this way and is part of research student, Andrew Shore's, PhD project. It involves measuring the isotopic ratios of selenium in sediments.

One possible outcome of the project is that the results could give scientists a global picture of the changing oxygen content of the oceans through time. Previous studies have tended to focus on local variations in ocean oxygen content.

The oxygen content of oceans can also be used as an indicator of the "overall health" of the oceans. The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states changes in fish populations are "associated with changes in oceanic oxygen levels." Therefore an understanding of oxygen in the oceans is not only important for the past but also for the future.

"We are using samples from an ocean basin off the Venezuelan coast which previous studies have shown to have changed its oxygen content over the last 500,000 years," explained Andrew.


Andrew added: "Our understanding of the changes in atmospheric oxygen is good, but our planet is 70% covered by oceans. Determining the oceanic oxygen content is very difficult - it is linked to the atmosphere, plankton growth, and ocean circulation patterns."

Now that has some interesting implications for atmospheric content in for studying the paleoclimate and atmosphere of the past. we'll see what the results are if, when, the project is completed.

US Virgin Islands Status

While everyone keeps talking about Puerto Rico and its upcoming chance to become a new state (woo!), there are other US Territories that are undergoing some nontrivial status changes. One of those happens to be the US Virgin Islands. Quietly, oh so quietly, at least on the mainland, the Virgin Islands has been trying to adopt a constitution. Again.

This is not a new endeavor, but it has been a generation since they attempted it. Last time the Virgin Islands attempted to adopt their own constitution was in 1980. The voters rejected the document: there must be at least a 50% + 1 approval for it to pass. Apparently, the definition of just who is a Virgin Islander caused the failure. There were previous attempts as well. There's a quick write up over of the history of the past attempts.

Last summer they had an election to determine who would be sitting as delegates for this new attempt at a constitutional convention. The results came in and were promptly disputed in court. Big Surprise. However, despite the delay, the convention is underway. Once it's complete the Constitution must go to the voters. It, too, needs a 50% + 1 votes to go to the next step and more than 50% of the voters need to participate in the plebiscite. The US Virgin Islands Constitution is then sent on to the President and US Congress for approval (or rejection or modification, if I am not mistaken).

The problem is that the voters have uberdoubleplus apathy. There is serious concern whether or not there will be enough voters to participate in the vote to get more than 50% as required just to participate. If less than that turns out, then the whole thing falls apart. It may restart. Or it may languish for another generation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I am not going to be able to continue here. The webcast disconnected on me. I reconnected, but I have kiddo issues. It was worth listening to though.

GCM Reconstruction of the Last Glacial Inception

This is Megan Essig of U Nebraska Lincoln. Collaboration between Ohio State and U Nebraska. The start of glaciation she is talking about 120k years ago. Cooling at this time. Took about 25k years. She is trying to generate perennial snow fields. Paleo Data is scarce. LGI caused by CO2 reduction & methane reduction. Milkanovitch too. Cool summers and cold , wet winters.

They ran this for the 115k years ago. 2 runs. Only changed/reduced the CO2. no change in methane. 2nd run close to ice core values for CO2. 1/2 methane. Dramatic temperature changes in 50 years (!) to get the equilibrium. Compared to NCAR pre industrial simulations. Cooling is mostly in northern hemisphere. Summer CO2 and orbital params work together to cause cooling. During winter, cooling happens, but through sea ice. Second run still have cooling in summer and less in winter. The southern hemisphere doesn't cool constantly! AH HA moment! Cool temperatures during the summer in the northern hemisphere, hitting freezing at times.

Snow build up started in Alaska in the model. Canadian archipelago has snow build up as well. Ditto in Scandinavia and Russia. Less support for the first, but the other two matches rl big time. Massive increase in the sea ice in the northern hemisphere. No so for southern hemisphere (!) even a slight decrease.

Prelim results. perennial snow fields do mostly match the geological record. Very sparse geological data though. Greenland ice change not very good in helping: too much disturbance and too few going back that age. Antarctic better, but coarser. Ocean drilling spotty.

Sim seems to be working pretty well for as far as they have done. Seems to match well, except Scandinavian (a little too little) and Alaska (controversial, very). Now working on sensitivity runs.

Mesoscale Modeling of the Eocene Ice-Free Arctic

Daniel Kirk-Davidoff of U Maryland is presenting on the Eocene. They are following through the idea of polar clouds might keep heat in in the troposphere (Sloan's idea). He worked on using models of convective and attempting to get a "nighttime conditions"24/7 in his model. Compared two simulations.

Models are not good at modeling convection. They changed the boundary conditions. Tried forcing model into the higher temperature and then look at circulation. Quick and dirty. 10km resolution. start with 10 deg higher. then 15 deg higher. no change in Co2. very quick and dirty.

six weeks of simulations with warf. He wanted a hurricane in the polar, permanently, but he didn't get it. However, he did get a permanent storm system, slow but steady. 75 deg and north. They wanted reduction in OLR in upper troposphere and moist. WARF looks good for some. CAM works better for low clouds. Interestingly, high convection reduces low cloud formation.

Increasing convection makes cooling in the arctic worse. Wow. OLR == outgoing long wave radiation. Not the answer to the PETM at first glance.

more clean up later.

Cloud Properties and Warm Poles: Simulations of the P/T and PETM

Dr Jeffrey Kiehl is speaking about the dilemma of how to model warm poles during green house world conditions. He did this for the PT Extintion, Cretaceous, and the PETM. He's been working with Christine Shields. Karen Weiss (sp) also worked on the Eocene and Cretaceous.

The computer models do a good job now in tropical temps and matching irl. They're really bad for polar temps: even in greenhouse forcing, etc, keep ending up with polar ice in the model. Not good. 100 million years ago 10x CO2. 0-8 deg in Cret when it should be 20-25 deg. suggested heat transport and polar clouds. None work out.

(Lee and Dave Pollard (lastnames?? will find) had a paper in Science. New model in science with stratified ocean, assumption added aerosols and clouds much better. Cloud field back is supposed to be the mechanism. The atmosphere seems to need to be less dusty than now. This causes more sun light being absorbed. 50 cloud droplets, 17 microns per cubic centimeter. Natural sources for aerosols: microorganisms, dust, smoke, sea salt, isoprene? from vegetation all nucleate clouds.

They tried this with a change in PETM simulation: 8x CO2. The change to the model caused a big amplification temperature wise. This makes it much warmer. Polar temperature goes from near 0 deg to 15-20 deg. Problem is world warmer. Much warmer. All of temperatures, not flat across the world. Real life was rather flat temperature gradient.

PT boundary ought to have few sources of nucleating clouds. Put in the model and they get 4-5 deg higher now. Works better here. Causes terrible feedback to even more stratification of the ocean. Really bad feedback. 40 deg C in tropics, btw.

Cloud model change doesn't solve problem. Really does help though. Really needs to happen during stressed ecologies. To verify we need data on the paleo aerosols. Any paleo volunteers?

I'll clean this up a bit later I am running behind. That was dense. oy.

CCSM Paleoclimate Ordovician

This is presented by Christine Shields of NCAR. She is speaking on her simulations of he Late Ordovician. This is also done with Dr Scotese of the paleomap project and Dr Kiehl of NCAR. She is exploring why the Ordovician Extinction is interesting. This is the only extinction to take place during glaciation. This causes a very mixed ocean and this apparently brought up toxins from the sea bed as well as provide lots nutrients. Algae go nuts making more toxins. Causes extinction.

Ice extent is close to the subtropical during the time period and reaches up to 30 deg s. There are no continents in the northern hemisphere. They literature seems to indicate a high CO2 content, 15x pre industrial. This is a big dilemma. How do you get glaciation with uber carbon dioxide? They ran with T31 resolution for 100 years. They chose a cold orbit with low eccentricity. They found that solar forcing seems to be 15.5 watts/m^2 total. Model seems to be a proof of concept: first time for a fully coupled model on the Ordovician.

Poles are warmer than now in the simulation. This is a warm world. They actually get a very strong circumpolar current: something like a roaring 40s there. The ocean mixing is extremely strong. Northern hemisphere overturns down to the very bottom of the ocean. Polar regions seem to show that it takes 10 years for overturn (ideal age). Modern Atlantic is 31 years +/-.

They're changing the model. Adding ocean topography and adjusting the CO2 estimates: they need to get the ice to grow, don't get it yet. They think they will get it. Shields is very optimistic. because of the weathering outbalancing the dominating the solar forcing. They need to change the ground cover model.

I'll save commentary until later.

Paleoclimate Working Group Session Live Blogging!

CCSM Paleoclimate Working Group Session

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

1:30 – 1:45 Simulating the Late Ordovician with CCSM3 - Christine Shields NCAR

1:45 – 2:00 Cloud Properties and Warm Poles: Simulations of the P/T and PETM - Jeff Kiehl NCAR

2:00 – 2:20 Mesoscale Modeling of the Eocene Ice-Free Arctic - Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, U. Maryland

2:20 – 2:40 A GCM Reconstruction of the Last Glacial Inception - Megan Essig, U. Nebraska-Lincoln

2:40 – 3:00 Freshwater Forcing of Rapid Climate Change - Dick Peltier, U. Toronto

3:00 – 3:20 Break

3:20 – 3:40 Simulating Transient Climate Evolution of the Last 21,000 Years with CCSM3 (TraCE-21,000): A Progress Report - Feng He, U. Wisconsin

3:40 – 4:00 Climate Model Tests of the Early Anthropocene Hypothesis - Steve Vavrus, U. Wisconsin

4:00 – 4:20 Climatic Impacts of the Largest Volcanic Eruption of the Last Millennium - David Schneider, NCAR

4:20 – 4:40 Atlantic SST Influences on Mega-Droughts in North America: A Case Study on the Medieval Warm Period - Song Feng, U. Nebraska-Lincoln

4:40 – 5:00 The Role of ENSO in Regulating the Mean Climate of the Tropical Pacific - DeZheng Sun, NOAA

This is how this is going to work. I am going to try to have a post for each talk. IDK how well the audio will be on the webcast. I could miss a presentation. I may not too. I also have a three year old I am trying to put down for a nap. I am going to include their information as well as any running commentary that I might have. When this is done, I'll link all the above presentations listed to the individual posts.

The first three presentations are probably the most interesting on a personal level to me. Then again, you all ought to expect that since I've a fascination with extinction events. The Eocene had a moderate extinction while the Ordovician and PT were, well, huge. For different reasons.

That said, here we go!

Berkeley Tree Sitting Stupidity Coming to the End?

UC Berkeley began removing tree-sitters' gear and slicing ropes from a grove outside Memorial Stadium today, as an 18-month-long protest aimed at preventing the university from cutting down the grove neared a possible climax.

About 25 officers have cordoned off the sidewalk on Gayley Road just west of the stadium and are "telling people it's a crime scene," said Doug Buckwald, director of Save the Oaks, a group that has opposed the university's plans to clear the grove to make way for a training center that would adjoin the stadium.

Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for the university, said, "We are removing gear and removing lines. We are not removing people."

Climbers hired by the university are cutting lines that run from one tree to another and are trying to remove supplies that protesters have stored in the branches, Mogulof said.

The university launched the operation one day before an Alameda County Superior Court judge is to rule on a lawsuit filed by the protesters, city and a neighborhood group seeking to block construction of the center. The sitters have occupied the grove of oaks and other trees since Dec. 1, 2006.

It is unclear how many protesters are in the branches. Buckwald estimated there were four, while Mogulof said there were as many as 11.

Mogulof said some of the tree sitters were "using their own waste as weapons."

Almost none of the protesters are students. That era has passed. It's the residents that are problem children these days. Here's a little background for those that care (oh so few of you, I know...)

Russia and Ukraine Sitting in a Tree...oh who am I kidding?

The continuing Ukrainian-Russian war of words took on a new twist on June 13, when the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of acting jointly with unnamed foreign companies to develop oil and gas fields illegally off the Crimean coast of the Black Sea shelf, claiming that the legal status of the territory had not yet been determined (Interfax, June 13).

"The Russian side,” according to a commentary distributed by the Russian Foreign Ministry on June 13, “is drawing attention to the fact that the said areas are the subject of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine on the delimitation of the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea waters. In this connection, we believe that the above-mentioned activity is of an unlawful character and should be ceased" (Interfax, June 13).

The Russian side specified that this activity was taking place in an area named the Structure of Subbotyne and the Rising of Pallas. A source in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry told Interfax that the Russian claims were “absurd.” "The Subbotyne maritime oil field is located on the territory of the Ukrainian part of the Black Sea shelf, and the prospecting area of Pallas, which is really located both in Russian and Ukrainian territories, is not being developed by anybody," the source told Interfax.

There's also this rather nice list of the issues between Russia and Ukraine. When you get back,Noel, we'll restart the convo on the 'slippery slope.'

Welcome to the European Union Navy

Germany's Defense Ministry has confirmed a report in the German weekly Der Spiegel that it is open to proposals due to be unveiled by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to create a European Union naval fleet. Sarkozy will likely outline his plan after France assumes the rotating EU presidency on July 1.

"There is already a Franco-British initiative for a fleet, and Germany could play a part in this," the Defence Ministry spokesman said, according to a Reuters report. "But everything would need to be checked first. We'll have to wait and see what sort of proposals the French presidency unveils."

The fleet would sail under an EU flag, and might encompass other nations from the bloc, the spokesman said. But it was too early to speculate on any concrete details, he added.

Kewl! I was ten years too early when I was talking about this on sci.military.naval. Admittedly, that was for a goofy game, but...

OTOH, this makes sense. None of the individual economies of Europe can really afford a navy on the scale of the USN or the up and coming PLAN. Supercarriers are just plain expensive. When you roll together their battle groups - the ships needed to protect them - it becomes mildly insane. SSNs are definitely not cheap either.

The mechanics of how the EUN would function - dedicated ships? Or just reflagged as needed? Or...? - remains to be seen. Sarkozy's unveiling of the idea ought to be interesting to watch. Will the air forces and armies follow the naval integration path? I wouldn't have thought so based on what Sarkozy had just said about reforming the French Army, but...I could be very, very wrong.

New Utah Jurassic Excavation

An excavation revealed at least four sauropods, which are long-necked, long-tailed plant-eating dinosaurs, and two carnivorous ones, according to the bureau. It may have also uncovered an herbivorous stegosaurus.

Animal burrows and petrified tree trunks 6 feet in diameter were found nearby. The site doesn't contain any new species but offers scientists the chance to learn more about the ecology of that time, said Scott Foss, a BLM paleontologist.

The fossilized dinosaurs are from the same late Jurassic period as those at Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah-Colorado state line, and the Cleveland-Lloyd quarry near Price.


The site, roughly 50 yards wide by 200 yards long, was excavated by a team from the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Ill. Museum officials visited the site for about a week last summer and returned this year for a three-week excavation.


The mix of dinosaurs, trees and other species in the area may help scientists piece together what life was like 145 million years to 150 million years ago, including details about the ancient climate, Foss said.

Four sauropods, two theropods, a stegosaur, burrows (!!!) and petrified trees. That's some haul.

11th Hour Permission

Last night the researcher whom I asked permission of to blog about the paleoclimate CCSM meeting granted permission conditionally that I am extra careful about the attributions. I am more than happy to comply.

The link above is for all of the CCSM working groups. The Paleoclimate folks start up at 1:30 PM Mountain. I need to take Avrora home (she's still adapting to the time change) for her nap and then I'll start up the live blogging.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Family Has Returned

They made it back late Saturday. Their plane was delayed by an hour. Sunday we spent recuperating and today Lyuda went back to class. Avrora and I hung out quite a bit: she's taking a bit longer to adjust to the time difference. I'm putting up a slew of pix because we've been negligent lately wrt posting those. Tom and the other NMicans are desperate for more family news.

Ukraine is a mess. That's all I'll say for now.

My daughter left a toddler and came back a little girl!


Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars: An Update

There are three companies that I am aware of that are chasing the fuel cell vehicle technology pot of gold. One of them I highlighted before: it's GM. They have their Sequel, Equinox, and others. The Equinox is the vehicle they are using for the so-called Project Driveway where a number of the fuel cell vehicles will be leased in selected markets for GM to get experience with how the FCVs will work in real life conditions.

Honda is working on their own FCVs. Just today they are going to conduct their own version of Project Driveway. I have actually seen commercials for the Honda on TV. I'd like to see one up close and take it for a spin, but I have to admit with the projected family growth over the near future we're going to need more space that the Honda Clarity is going to offer.

Toyota, btw, is also chasing the FCV cup, so to speak. However, they're more invested in the hybrid technology and make their pitch that it is better environmentally than hydrogen cars here.

hrm. Maybe I ought to invest in a hydrogen fueling station? After all, there are plenty of uberdoubleplusgreens in the SF Bay Area...

*sighs* YAGUMET: Sea Rise & Fall

If you are curious about Earth's periodic mass extinction events such as the sudden demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, you might consider crashing asteroids and sky-darkening super volcanoes as culprits.

But a new study, published online June 15, 2008 in the journal Nature, suggests that it is the ocean, and in particular the epic ebbs and flows of sea level and sediment over the course of geologic time, that is the primary cause of the world's periodic mass extinctions during the past 500[sc1] million years.

"The expansions and contractions of those environments have pretty profound effects on life on Earth," says Shanan Peters, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of geology and geophysics and the author of the new Nature report.

In short, according to Peters, changes in ocean environments related to sea level exert a driving influence on rates of extinction, which animals and plants survive or vanish, and generally determine the composition of life in the oceans.

Despite what Peters' statements, this is not a new theory. This is actually a rather old one. One that had some nontrivial work done on it by Dr Anthony Hallam et al. He referred to this as the 'regression-transgression' scenario. He talks about it in Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities published in 2004. By this point he'd been advocating the correlation between the sea level changes and mass extinctions for more than 20 years. The problem is that the sea level changes are a correlation and sometimes even a symptom of something else happening.

Frex, the sea level fall in the Ordovician that appears to have driven the mass extinction, yes, but it was a symptom caused by glaciation. Furthermore, how does sea level change effect the planktonic fossils? Specifically those that are photosynthetic that got mopped at the end of the KT/K-Pg? Or the benthic fossils during the PT Extinction? I said it before and I will say it again: the cause of a mass extinction needs to fit the evidence or symptoms of the extinction, not just be chronologically convenient.

Martian Polar Panorama

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reading While Alone

I thought I'd do a reading update post of the books I cranked through while my family was gone. It's actually quite a few, truthfully, even though I am rather busy with Team Phoenicia and work. I still tried to squeeze in book time and a good chunk of it was while I was on the exercise bike.

I actually gulped some fiction. I needed some escapism being a bit lonely and stressed at the same time sucketh. I read His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. This was a Xmas gift from my teenage cousins. They knew I was an avid SF reader and they loved this. I liked it. I'm not much of a fantasy type, but it wasn't bad at all. I'll have to drop them a thank you note. Despite my antifantasy leanings, I also read A Feast of Souls by CS Friedman. I rather like Friedman's work. It was good, far better than The Wilding, but fell short of In Conquest Born and other vivid works of hers. I also tackled Alastair Reynolds' Galactic North. It was okay. Certain things tripped and broke the nose of my WSOD.

In Team Phoenicia related reading, I tackled Principles of Real-time Software Engineering and Real-Time Systems Development. I've hit my OD point on reading about embedded theoreticals and such. I'm actually in the down and dirty phase anyways. The former had some interesting points on how to approach RT development from a software engineering PoV. The latter was a more detailed version of all the other books I'd read on the subject. If I have time, I'll put up a post about what someone ought to read if they want to get a good background on the subject (and what's missing) based on my experiences with Team Phoenicia and my reading.

In things paleo related, I read The Eocene-Oligocene Transition by Dr Donald Prothero. The book is getting a bit long in the tooth since it was published almost a decade and a half ago. He does do a good job of pointing out what was definitely not the mechanism for causing the Eocene extinctions. However, tehre has been a lot of research in the mean time and a lot more has been figured out than back in the early 90s when Dr Prothero was writing this book. I also tackled Supercontinent by Ted Nield.

I also worked my way through Puerto Rico by Fernando Pico. I was dismayed by the lack of discussion of the Insular Cases and their effect on Puerto Rico. There was an extensive background for the pre-US involvement though. That was good, but I found unsatisfying a number of spots. Far too many statements thrown out without examples (frex, interventions by the US prior to the invasion. He said they happened. But what? When? How?)

Right now I am seeing if I can swallow Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence before Lyuda and Avrora arrive.

Not too bad, but nearly the rate I read prior to getting married. ;)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Zircons Evidence of Very Early Earth Conditions

A new analysis of ancient minerals called zircons suggests that a harsh climate may have scoured and possibly even destroyed the surface of the Earth's earliest continents.

Zircons, the oldest known materials on Earth, offer a window in time back as far as 4.4 billion years ago, when the planet was a mere 150 million years old. Because these crystals are exceptionally resistant to chemical changes, they have become the gold standard for determining the age of ancient rocks, says University of Wisconsin-Madison geologist John Valley.

Valley previously used these tiny mineral grains - smaller than a speck of sand - to show that rocky continents and liquid water formed on the Earth much earlier than previously thought, about 4.2 billion years ago.

In a new paper published online this week in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, a team of scientists led by UW-Madison geologists Takayuki Ushikubo, Valley and Noriko Kita show that rocky continents and liquid water existed at least 4.3 billion years ago and were subjected to heavy weathering by an acrid climate.

Ushikubo, the first author on the new study, says that atmospheric weathering could provide an answer to a long-standing question in geology: why no rock samples have ever been found dating back to the first 500 million years after the Earth formed.

"Currently, no rocks remain from before about 4 billion years ago," he says. "Some people consider this as evidence for very high temperature conditions on the ancient Earth."


The current analysis suggests a different scenario. Ushikubo and colleagues used a sophisticated new instrument called an ion microprobe to analyze isotope ratios of the element lithium in zircons from the Jack Hills in western Australia. By comparing these chemical fingerprints to lithium compositions in zircons from continental crust and primitive rocks similar to the Earth's mantle, they found evidence that the young planet already had the beginnings of continents, relatively cool temperatures and liquid water by the time the Australian zircons formed.


The zircons' lithium signatures also hold signs of rock exposure on the Earth's surface and breakdown by weather and water, identified by low levels of a heavy lithium isotope. "Weathering can occur at the surface on continental crust or at the bottom of the ocean, but the [observed] lithium compositions can only be formed from continental crust," says Ushikubo.

The findings suggest that extensive weathering may have destroyed the Earth's earliest rocks, he says.

"Extensive weathering earlier than 4 billion years ago actually makes a lot of sense," says Valley. "People have suspected this, but there's never been any direct evidence."

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can combine with water to form carbonic acid, which falls as acid rain. The early Earth's atmosphere is believed to have contained extremely high levels of carbon dioxide - maybe 10,000 times as much as today.

"At [those levels], you would have had vicious acid rain and intense greenhouse [effects]. That is a condition that will dissolve rocks," Valley says. "If granites were on the surface of the Earth, they would have been destroyed almost immediately - geologically speaking - and the only remnants that we could recognize as ancient would be these zircons."

hmmm. Interesting. I wish I was qualified to comment. This seems rather interesting that they are saying that the continents were forming already and there was an extensive amount of water, enough for oceans. I just finished Supercontinent and had previous read Continents and Supercontinents (the latter is far better and much more focused; the former meandered, IMO, far too much) and I'll have to go back and compare what Rogers and Santosh have to say on the subject. The authors of the above appaer have websites: here and here.

Global Warming is Inevitable Part...oh I give up

China's carbon dioxide emissions in 2007 were about 14 percent higher than the United States and accounted for two-thirds of the global rise, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) said Friday.

With an eight percent national increase, China's carbon dioxide emissions contributed the bulk of last year's 3.1 percent global rise in CO2 emissions, according to a statement released on the last day of a United Nations conference on climate change in Bonn, Germany.

"With this, China tops the list of CO2 emitting countries, having about a quarter share in global CO2 emissions (24 percent)," it said.

The United States was second with 21 percent, while the European Union was at 12 percent, India eight percent and Russia six percent, said the statement.


"Since population size and level of economic development differ considerably between countries, the emissions expressed per person show a largely different ranking," added the agency.

The US topped the list of C02 emissions per person measured in metric tonnes with 19.4, followed by Russia with 11.8, the EU with 8.6, China with 5.1 and India with 1.8.

Now let's do an extrapolation. China has a per capita carbon output of 5.1 tonnes vs 19.4 tonnes for America. For the moment, let's assume that the CIA World Factbook's statistics are correct with respect to the size of the Chinese and American economies. The US economy for 2007 was $13.84 trillion dollars. (PPP) The Chinese economy was $6.991 trillion (PPP). The Chinese economy is ~ 50% the size of the US at this point and yet produces 14% more CO2. If it were the same size as the US economy, it'd be at least double that. If the Chinese were as rich per capita with the same "carbon efficiency" as they have now, they'd be putting out 11 1/2 times as much carbon dioxide as the US. If China continues anything close to its current growth rate, they will hit that point sometime around 2031...and China has stated they will NOT do anything to combat global warming until the 2050s.

Unless, of course, demographics and banking issues derail the Chinese train.

Eocene world, here we come.

Wilkins Ice Shelf Continues to Break up...Even in Winter

Wilkins Ice Shelf has experienced further break-up with an area of about 160 km² breaking off from 30 May to 31 May 2008. ESA's Envisat satellite captured the event – the first ever-documented episode to occur in winter.

Wilkins Ice Shelf, a broad plate of floating ice south of South America on the Antarctic Peninsula, is connected to two islands, Charcot and Latady. In February 2008, an area of about 400 km² broke off from the ice shelf, narrowing the connection down to a 6 km strip; this latest event in May has further reduced the strip to just 2.7 km.

This animation, comprised of images acquired by Envisat's Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) between 30 May and 9 June, highlights the rapidly dwindling strip of ice that is protecting thousands of kilometres of the ice shelf from further break-up.

According to Dr Matthias Braun from the Center for Remote Sensing of Land Surfaces, Bonn University, and Dr Angelika Humbert from the Institute of Geophysics, Münster University, who have been investigating the dynamics of Wilkins Ice Shelf for months, this break-up has not yet finished.

"The remaining plate has an arched fracture at its narrowest position, making it very likely that the connection will break completely in the coming days," Braun and Humbert said.

That's worrisome and a bit curious. What's the mechanism that is causing the ice shelf to crumble during the lowest temperatures of the year? Now, admittedly, the Antarctic Peninsula has experienced some of the greatest warming of anywhere on the planet, 2.5 C/4.5 deg F. Even so, the temperature at this time of year is still fscking cold.

Now, it might be that the ice no longer stretches as far north as in the past due to the increased temperatures and that it no longer protects the inner most ice shelves from being disrupting, but that is just a WAG.

Update: Real Climate and Universe Today have more information.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Were the Basal Archosaurs Endothermic?

As most of you know, I am rather interested in the mass extinctions of life on our planet. It's not so much the morbidity. It has a lot more to do with the fact that there's a massive scale murder mystery involved and how life deals with the die offs is really an exercise in world building. Or rebuilding. My interest in all this can be traced back to, of course, the perennial question of what killed the dinosaurs. Every kid that loved the dinos wondered what did the deed. However, that interest waned as I got older and got involved with other interests and projects: solars sails, supercomputers, rockets, architecture and gob smacking sized lasers. I probably would have just read a bit here and there on paleontology and paleoanthropology if not for Dr Benton's book, When Life Nearly Died. From then on, I'd been turned back to being intensely curious about mass extinctions and the worlds that begat them. If not for reading that, I wouldn't have started down the paleo path that has brought so many readers to my blog.

While I was researching my new interest, gobbling up any and all new books on the subject that I could afford, I came across what Dr Peter Ward had to say about crocodilian evolution while reading Out of Thin Air. I was more than a bit surprised and incredulous at the prospect that crocodiles' ancestors would have been endothermic and that the crocs lost that. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that sometime, something had given up such a metabolic advantage. I had only encountered this idea in Ward's book and not having all the time in the world (or knowledge enough as yet) to read the literature, I was extraordinarily skeptical. Then I started encountering the idea elsewhere.

Part of my resistance also stemmed from the fact that of the two extent archosaur lineages, one (crocs et al) is ectothermic and the other (Aves) is endothermic. The other nearest retatives, the other diapsids (lizards, snakes and the tuatara), were ectothermic, so, therefore, in my mind, the obviously basal condition was ectothermy. It seemed plain. It seemed obvious. Why argue over the settled? Well, then along came science.

The first bit that started to defy my expectations was what Ward pointed out: the crocs and relatives have a heart that was designed much more so for an endotherm and later modified for their unique ecological role and the behavior, long submergence with minimal activity to facilitate ambush predation. I did initially dismiss this as merely a case of the crocs lineage having split off while the prerequisite traits for endothermy were being acquired before endothermy arose in actuality. Note: I never doubted that dinosaurs were endothermic. Birds are the closest thing and they're definitely hot blooded. Some people did. Others did not, and those that did not began to wonder just how to tell whether or not something is warmed blooded from the fossil record. Once they felt they had established that the dinosaurs were endothermic, they began to study further and further back on the archosaurian family tree to establish just where it did arise. Dr Kevin Padian and his merry bad of paleo pirates were doing exactly just that and with their latest paper maybe have converted me from a 'huh. that's what they think' to 'wow. they're probably right.' So what exactly was in that paper?

Padian et al went out and sampled bones to look for growth patterns for numerous basal archosauriformes. They sliced and prepared various fossilized bones. What they were looking for was how the bones were grown. Ectotherms' bones grow in a manner that looks not all that dissimilar to tree rings. Slice a crocodile's or lizard's or turtle's bone cross wise and you would see these rings, albeit only if you looked very closely. Endotherms' bones don't do this. They have a rather different, nearly homogeneous structure. They examined the bones from numerous archosaurs and relatives. They had hoped to find out what the basal condition for the archosaurs was, ectothermic or endothermic. Their results were quite interesting and, honestly, a little unexpected.

The authors looked at a total of twelve members of Archosauromorpha. There was one outlier, purposefully, from Rhynchosauria in the form of Scanphonyx. The remainder were from the Archosauriformes. The intent was that the authors could compare something more distantly related to the remainder of the archosauriformes and have some idea what the basal and derived conditions were. Of these twelve specimens studied, four had very strong indications of the layered growth ring patterns in their bones. One had a case where it appeared initially there was a fast growth phase and then developed layered growth approach. Another they stated was poorly preserved, but appeared to have layers of the same sort of tissue growth of what we would normally find in endotherms: ie, if I am understanding what they stated correctly, this was something odd and unique in the form of a compromise. One more specimen needed to be double checked, but it looked strongly like a purely endothermic growth pattern. The remaining six had purely nonlayered bone growth structure. So who was who?

The first four that were strongly layered were Scanphonyx, "Mandasuchus," Hesperosuchus, and Luperosuchus. The one that seemed to switch growth patterns was Chanaresuchus. The one that had the odd and possibly misunderstood by me growth pattern was Herrerasaurus. The one that needed to be double checked, but looked like it was not layered was Ornithosuchus. The remainder were "Teleocrater," Erythrosuchus, Euparkeria, Thecodontosaurus, and Lesothosaurus. Now take a moment and go back to look at the cladogram. Now wrap your brain around that one

There are some basic statements that can be made at this time. It appears that the basal condition for the ancestors of archosauromorpha were ectothermic. This is a common, basal characteristic of all amniotes and the endothermic condition is derived: we knew that. The question here was when endothermy arose in archosaurs and their relatives. The answer to that is that it needs more study because the archosaurs and their ancient relatives were out having an adaptive radiation party during the Triassic. We knew that too. However, it appears that they were doing this metabolically and in their growth patterns as well.

It looks as though the archosauriforms were on the cusp of endothermy for some time and crossed over fairly early in their evolution if "Teleocrater" and Erythrosuchus are any indication. Yet if you look closely you will see that in some cases later, this condition was lost. Pseudosuchia, frex, seems to have largely dumped it. The authors concluded that only the Ornithodirans, pterodactyls and dinosaurs, were to eventually keep the derived metabolic condition.

The authors do warn that their sample is small and there needs to be more research done. There need to be more samples from specimens of the same critters they studied - they warned that "Mandasuchus" had different bone deposition patterns in different bones and that some of the specimens they had were not well preserved, rex, Herrerasaurus - and that there needs to be more specimens of different genuses in the archisauriformes to be be studied. I would argue that more from the broader archosauropmorpha need to be studied to make sure that Rhynchosauria is not the exception rather than the rule for more basal members of the lineage. If their hypothesis holds up, then there are some interesting implications.

The first is that endothermy was an innovation in the archosaurian line after the Permian Extinction that arose some time during the Triassic. One hypothesis was that endothermy was a reaction in both the therapsids and archosaurs to the events leading up to and during the PT Extinction. That doesn't appear to be the case. The therapsids picked this up prior to the Permian Extinction. The causes for these lineages adopting this metabolic change are for different reasons. That's a big deal.

Second, it really did happen, the crocs went from a warm blooded to cold blooded metabolism. As hard as it was - and, in some ways, still is - to accept, the evidence really is mounting. The archosaurian ancestors hit on the warm bloodedness and then dumped it as they adapted into a mode of life where it was unnecessary. The final confirmation of this would be if there were pseudogenes associated with metabolic functions. We ought to know relatively soon since crocs are getting their genome sequenced now.

Finally, yep, the dinosaurs were warm blooded. People just need to get over that fact. Their ancestors were. Their daughters - aves - are.

Deal with it:

images blatantly stolen from Scott, Zach, Mark, and wikipedia. The cladogram is from the paper (Padian 's Paleo Pirates et al) itself.