Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Militaria

The Big Dog again:

Then There's the HULC:

Which is based on the Berkeley work (BLEEX, etc), but paired with Lockheed. Looks like future wars are going to get ... interesting. The HULC can be up armored with 200 lbs. 200 lbs of armor...that's significant because you can do at least what we have on the soldiers' chests...EVERYWHERE and still have enough left over for more in the critical areas.

Ah, the SuperTrooper project is nearly here.

Antarctica's Ice Sheets Grew VERY Rapidly at the Eocene-Oligocene Boundary

Global climate rapidly shifted from a relatively ice-free world to one with massive ice sheets on Antarctica about 34 million years ago. What happened? What changed? A team of scientists led by Yale geologists offers a new perspective on the nature of changing climatic conditions across this greenhouse-to-icehouse transition—one that refutes earlier theories and has important implications for predicting future climate changes.

Detailed in the February 27 issue of Science, their data disproves a long-held idea that massive ice growth in the Antarctic was accompanied by little to no global temperature change.

This report shows that before the Southern Hemisphere ice expansion, high-latitude temperatures were at least 10°C (about 18˚F) warmer than previously estimated and that there was a 5˚C - 10˚C drop in surface-water temperature during the climate transition.

"Previous reconstructions gave no evidence of high-latitude cooling," according to senior author Mark Pagani, professor of geology and geophysics at Yale. "Our data demonstrate a clear temperature drop in both hemispheres during this time."

Their conclusions are based on sea-surface "temperature proxies" – calculations of temperature based on the distribution of specific organic molecules from ancient plankton that only lived at certain temperatures and were later preserved in ocean sediments. These molecules were assayed in ocean cores collected by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) and earlier marine programs that study Earth history by coring deep-ocean sediments and crust around the world.

"Temperatures in some regions, just before the Antarctic glaciers formed, were surprisingly higher than current climate models predicted, suggesting that these models underestimate high-latitude warming under high CO2 conditions," said lead author Zhonghui Liu, Pagani's postdoctoral associate who is now an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong. Further, he said, the substantial cooling that occurred in both Northern and Southern high latitudes suggests that a decline in CO2 level, rather than a localized change of ocean circulation drove the climate transition.

The ice formed over Antarctica in about 100,000 years, which is an "overnight" shift in geological terms. "Just over thirty-five million years ago, 'poof,' there was an ice sheet where there had been subtropical temperatures before," said Co-author Matthew Huber of Purdue University.

Another theory refuted by this study is the notion that ice-expansion also occurred in the Northern Hemisphere during this time — a supposition poorly supported by physical evidence of glacier formation in that region, say the Yale scientists.

It's Matt Huber again!

Very, very quickly. The Eocene mass extinction was brought on by the mass cooling of the world. Not a meteor strike, not a volcano, not an anoxic event. The world went from hot house to not so hot house very quickly. The world was very tropical. And then it wasn't. The suspicion is that the PETM was caused by a massive methane calthrate release (not, no mass extinction associated) and the extinction that followed was from the methane going away...and the CO2 being reduced as well.

The Eocene was a very interesting and very different world.

TOOTHED Miocene Bird?

Paleontologists working in Peru have found a fossil from a bird that lived 10 million years ago, scientists said on Friday after returning from the dig site on the country's desert coast.

The species of bird had a wing span of 19.7 feet and fed mostly on fish from the Pacific Ocean. It first appeared 50 million years ago and was extinct about 2.5 million years ago because of climate change, paleontologist Mario Urbina of Peru's Natural History Museum said.

Scientists discovered a rare fossil of the bird's head in Ocucaje, in the Ica region of Peru's southern coast, where an arid climate has preserved many fossils.

"The cranium of the bird, from the Pelagornithidae family, is the most complete find of its kind in the world. Its fossil remains are hard to find," Urbina said.

Old ocean seabeds in the area have been a treasure trove for fossil hunters.

"This site had marine sediments. The fossil was found with other remains from whales, sharks and turtles," Urbina said.

At the time of the bird's death, Peru's coast was hot and rainy, but millions of years later, it turned cool and dry, he said.

The fossil is 15.7 inches long and will go on display on Saturday at the museum.

The bird had some peculiar characteristics, including teeth at the tip of its beak and large wings that were less efficient than those of contemporary birds.

Toothed bird? Someone have a link an image of the skull?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

CPAC Begins Pondering 2012 Candidates

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist
former House speaker Newt Gingrich
former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani
former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
Texas Rep. Ron Paul
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty
former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford
There’s also space on the ballot for a write-in-candidate.

hrm. A little early for this. McCain is absent, but Ron Paul isn't. Isn't that a kicker: RP is about the same age too.

Obama's NASA Budget One of Policy Continuity

The fiscal 2010 NASA budget outline to be released by the Obama Administration Feb. 26 adds almost $700 million to the out-year figure proposed in the fiscal 2009 budget request submitted by former President Bush, and sticks with the goal of returning humans to the moon by 2020.

The $18.7 billion that Obama will request for NASA - up from $18.026 billion for fiscal 2010 in the last Bush budget request - does not include the $1 billion NASA will receive in the $787 billion stimulus package that President Barack Obama signed Feb. 16.

Aviation Week has learned that in addition to the human-lunar return, Obama wants to continue robotic exploration with probes to Mars and other Solar System destinations, as well as a space telescope to probe deeper into the universe.

I have to say I a little surprised, but pleased. One of NASA's great banes has been that every 8 years its priorities get reset. It's nice to know that Obama seems to want to continue with the Moon quest. Assuming Obama makes it through 2016, we'll be largely there. Assuming that a Repug or an antispace Demo doesn't come in then, we ought to be 'there.'

My 'wish' would be some enhancements for the unmanned program: money to cover the MSL overruns, money to speed up, a tad, the Jupiter-Europa Orbiter and ditto for the Titan Saturn System Mission as well as more money and direction for the Mars program. I would also want a rigorous and well thought out exploration of the minor bodies in the solar system as well. and...and...well.


Now, let me say that we really need to be careful about international collaborations. They very frequently drive up costs and can have dubious benefits (ISS, frex).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Russians Go The Extra Mile to Deny the Holodomor

Russia issued a DVD and a thick book of historical documents on Wednesday to dispute claims that the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s amounted to genocide.

Russian archivists and historians pressed the Kremlin's case that the Stalin-era famine — which killed millions of people — was a common tragedy across Soviet farmlands, countering efforts by Ukraine's pro-Western president to convince the world that Ukrainians were targeted for starvation.

"Not a single document exists that even indirectly shows that the strategy and tactics chosen for Ukraine differed from those applied to other regions, not to mention tactics or strategy with the aim of genocide," said Vladimir Kozlov, head of Russia's Federal Archive Agency.

He said the famine was a direct result of Josef Stalin's brutal collectivization campaign and the widespread confiscation of grain that was exported to secure equipment needed for the Soviet dictator's frenetic industrialization drive.

Kozlov said the policy was class-based, targeting the kulaks — wealthy farmers seen as enemies of Communism — and was implemented virtually identically across the Soviet Union.

"There were no national or ethnic undertones," he told a news conference at the headquarters of state news agency RIA-Novosti.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko contends the famine was aimed at rooting out Ukrainian nationalism.

"Hunger was selected as a tool to subdue the Ukrainian people," he said at a November ceremony marking the anniversary of what Ukrainians consider the onset of the 1932-1933 famine.

Ukrainian lawmakers and a U.S. commission have labeled the famine an act of genocide, and Yushchenko has pushed for more governments and international bodies to follow suit. However, neither the United Nations nor the European Union has done so.

For some background, read a bit on the Holodomor here.

Paleo What-if

So what-if stegosaurs converged with sauropods more to produce a loooooong necked variety. Could we have seen vast stegosaur herds like we presume were the case with the sauropods? Or would they have been simply outcompeted as it seems was the case in OTL?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Evidence of Supernovas Found in Ice Cores

There hasn’t been a decent supernova in our part of the universe in living memory but astronomers in the 11th century were a little more fortunate. In 1006 AD, they witnessed what is still thought to be the brightest supernova ever seen on Earth (SN 1006) and just 48 years later saw the birth of the Crab Nebula (SN 1054).

Our knowledge of these events come from numerous written accounts, mainly by Chinese and Arabic astronomers (and of course from the observations we can make today of the resultant nebulae).

Now we can go one better. A team of Japanese scientists has found the first evidence of supernovae in an ice core.

The gamma rays from nearby supernova ought to have a significant impact on our atmosphere, in particular by producing an excess of nitrogen oxide. This ought to have left its mark in the Earth’s ice history, so the team went looking for it in Antarctica.

The researchers took an ice core measuring 122 metres from Dome Fuji station, an inland site in Antarctica. At a depth of about 50 metres, corresponding to the 11th century, they found three nitrogen oxide spikes, two of which were 48 years apart and easily identifiable as belonging to SN 1006 and SN 1054. The cause of the third spike is not yet known.

That’s impressive result and their ice core was obligingly revealing about other major events in the Earth’s past. The team saw a 10 year variation in the background levels of nitrogen oxide, almost certainly caused by the 11-year solar cycle (an effect that has been seen before in ice cores). They also saw a number of sulphate spikes from known volcanic eruptions such as Taupo, New Zealand, in 180 AD and El Chichon, Mexico, in 1260 AD.

The team speculate that the mysterious third spike may have been caused by another supernova, visible only from the southern hemisphere or hidden behind a cloud.


India Aims for Manne Space Flight by 2015

India has approved a £1.7 billion plan to launch its first astronauts into space by 2015, in its latest bid to close the gap with China in what many see as a 21st Century Asian version of the Cold War race for the Moon.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will attempt to put two people into orbit 172 miles (275 km) above the Earth for seven days, according to a proposal approved by the Planning Commission at a meeting on Friday.

"ISRO needs to be supported as it has done marvellous job in the field of Space Science. That's why Planning Commission will support it," Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, told reporters.

"An unmanned flight will be launched in 2013-2014 and manned mission likely to launch by 2014-2015," he said.

That's really kewl. I wish them luck. However, hopefully this will progress faster than their nuclear powered sub project.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Berkeley's Above the Clouds

UC Berkeley and LBNL/NERSC have set up a blog related to their position on cloud computing. Go take a look. White paper, youtube video, etc all present. It's sorta HPC related. Kinda the cross between distributed computing and clusters.

Take a look.

Fattysaurus? Another Attempt to Give T rex a Speeding Ticket?

Karl Bates and his colleagues in the palaeontology and biomechanics research group have reconstructed the bodies of five dinosaurs, two T. rex (Stan at the Manchester Museum and the Museum of the Rockies cast MOR555), an Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, a Strutiomimum sedens and an Edmontosaurus annectens.

The team, whose findings are published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE today (19th February 2009), found that the smaller Museum of the Rockies T. rex could have weighed anywhere between 5.5 and 7 tonnes, while the larger specimen (Stan) might have weighed as much as 8 tonnes.

Acrocanthosaurus atokensis was a large predatory dinosaur that looked like T. rex but with large spines on its back and roamed the earth much earlier in the mid Cretaceous period, around 110M years ago. The team suggest Acrocanthosaurus probably weighed in at a similar mass to MOR555 and other medium sized adult T. rex at about 6 tonnes.

The Strutiomimum sedens, whose name means "ostrich mimic", lived alongside T. rex in the late Cretaceous period and probably weighed somewhere between 0.4 – 0.6 tonnes

The reconstruction of Edmontosaurus annectens, a plant-eating hadrosaur was based on a juvenile specimen, but still weighed in at between 0.8 – 0.95 tonnes. As adults, some hadrosaurs grew as big as T. rex, again living in the late Cretaceous period.

The team used laser scanning (LiDAR) and computer modelling methods to create a range of 3D models of the specimens, attempting to reconstruct their body sizes and shape as in life. The laser scanner images the full mounted skeleton, resulting in a detailed 3D model in which each bone retains its spatial position and articulation. This provides a high resolution skeletal framework around which the body cavity and internal organs such as stomach, lungs and air sacs can be reconstructed. This has allowed calculation of body segment masses, centres of mass and moments of inertia for each animal – all the information that is needed to analyse body movements.

Having created their 'best-guess' reconstruction of each animal, they then varied the volumes of body segments and respiratory organs to find the maximum plausible range of mass for the animals. Even scientists cannot be sure exactly how fat or thin animals like T. rex were in life, and the team were interested in exactly how broad the range of possible values were for body mass. They believe that the lower weight estimates are most likely to be correct as there is no good reason for the dinosaurs to weigh more than they need to as this would affect their speed, energy use and demands on the respiratory system.

The team also measured the body mass of an ostrich, as an existing subject that would show how accurate their technique was, and found the results to be correct.

They will now use the results to further investigate the locomotion of dinosaurs, specifically how they ran.

New speed ticket?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Russians to Europa (me too!!!!)

The Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences welcomed several delegations of foreign scientists last week to discuss the issues of exploring one of Jupiter’s moons. The specialists gathered to discuss the potential problems, which may appear during research missions to Europa.

Europa is one of the most attractive celestial bodies in the solar system. Scientists do not doubt about the existence of the ocean underneath its layers of ice. They actively discuss a possible existence of life forms in the water environment of the moon. The rovers that may head to Europa in the future will try to find an answer to this question.

“It is too early to say that a mission to Europa is ready. We will have to study every detail of the project at first and look into all potential difficulties that may arise from this initiative. The process will take a couple of years, and we will then decide if the Russian mission to Europa becomes a reality or not,” a leading scientist of the above-mentioned institute, A.V. Zakharov told

If Russia eventually decides to launch a spacecraft to Europa, it will take seven or eight years to complete all technical preparations to the project. Thus, the rover will most likely be launched not earlier than 2020.

NASA also announced its readiness to launch a group of rovers to Europa. The US space agency is expected to make an official announcement on the matter this week.

soooo....we're doing rovers too. uh huh.

Even at their height, I don't believe the Soviets sent anything to Jupiter. Or did they?

They really, really want to make it appear that they are in a race with us. Mars, Jupiter...huh.

Water Warming Feedback Cycle Confirmed?

Andrew Dessler, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences who specializes in research on climate, says that warming due to increases in greenhouse gases will lead to higher humidity in the atmosphere. And because water vapor itself is a greenhouse gas, this will cause additional warming. This process is known as water vapor feedback and is responsible for a significant portion of the warming predicted to occur over the next century.

"It's a vicious cycle – warmer temperatures mean higher humidity, which in turn leads to even more warming," Dessler explains.

The perspective by Dessler and co-author Steven Sherwood of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales is published in the current issue of "Science" magazine. In the article, they review and summarize the peer-reviewed evidence in support of a strong water vapor feedback and conclude that the evidence supporting it is overwhelming.

"For years, there was a debate over this mechanism, with some even questioning if the water vapor feedback existed at all. But recent work on this feedback has moved its existence and strength beyond argument," Dessler adds.

Predictions of significant global warming over the next 100 years by climate models require a strong water vapor feedback. Recent estimates suggest the earth will warm from 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (4 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next century – a scenario that could have devastating long-term consequences.

"Everything shows that the climate models are probably getting the water vapor feedback right, which means that unless we reduce emissions, it is going to get much, much warmer on our planet by the end of the century," he adds.

To some extent we 'knew' this already: it's part of the postulated meltdown of Venus. OTOH, we'd not seen it in the wild, on Earth. That said, it seems we do. That said, it means anthropogenic climate change is going to be worse (now as to degree...) That said, we won't be going into a Venus situation. The Permian Extinction was the closest to that and it was still quite a ways off.

The Origin of the Nitrogen Cycle Found?

As the world marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, there is much focus on evolution in animals and plants. But new research shows that for the countless billions of tiniest creatures – microbes – large-scale evolution was completed 2.5 billion years ago.

"For microbes, it appears that almost all of their major evolution took place before we have any record of them, way back in the dark mists of prehistory," said Roger Buick, a University of Washington paleontologist and astrobiologist.

All living organisms need nitrogen, a basic component of amino acids and proteins. But for atmospheric nitrogen to be usable, it must be "fixed," or converted to a biologically useful form. Some microbes turn atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, a form in which the nitrogen can be easily absorbed by other organisms.

But the new research shows that about 2.5 billion years ago some microbes evolved that could carry the process a step further, adding oxygen to the ammonia to produce nitrate, which also can be used by organisms. That was the beginning of what today is known as the aerobic nitrogen cycle.

The microbes that accomplished that feat are on the last, or terminal, branches of the bacteria and archaea domains of the so-called tree of life, and they are the only microbes capable of carrying out the step of adding oxygen to ammonia.

The fact that they are on those terminal branches indicates that large-scale evolution of bacteria and archaea was complete about 2.5 billion years ago, Buick said.

"Countless bacteria and archaea species have evolved since then, but the major branches have held," said Buick, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences.

He is the corresponding author of the research, which appears in the Feb. 20 edition of Science. Lead author is Jessica Garvin, a UW Earth and space sciences graduate student. Other authors are Ariel Anbar and Gail Arnold of Arizona State University and Alan Jay Kaufman of the University of Maryland. The work was funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

The scientists examined material from a half-mile-deep core drilled in the Pilbara region of northwest Australia. They looked specifically at a section of shale from 300 to 650 feet deep, deposited 2.5 billion years ago, and found telltale isotope signatures created in the process of denitrification, the removal of oxygen from nitrate.

If denitrification was occurring, then nitrification – the addition of oxygen to ammonia to form nitrate – also must have been taking place, Buick said. That makes the find the earliest solid evidence for the beginning of the aerobic nitrogen cycle.

"What this shale deposit has done is record the onset of the modern nitrogen cycle," he said. "This was a life-giving nutrient then and remains so today. That's why you put nitrogen fertilizer on your tomato plants, for example."

The discovery gives clues about when and how the Earth's atmosphere became oxygen rich, Buick believes.

No time to comment.

The oxygen related event mentioned is the Great Oxidation Event.

Kewl Space Pic

Tinkered Virus 'Cured' Cystic Fibrosis in Lab

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Iowa have turned a relatively benign virus into a highly infectious form that is ideal as a carrier for gene therapy.

In its first gene therapy test, it completely cured human cystic fibrosis lung tissue in culture.

This success with the benign adeno-associated virus (AAV), published this week in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overcomes a major problem of earlier virus-based gene therapy for cystic fibrosis, and sets the stage for tests in advanced animal models of the disease.

"I think it is worthwhile thinking about clinical therapy at the levels of infection we are achieving," said coauthor David Schaffer, professor of chemical engineering at UC Berkeley.

A new pig model of cystic fibrosis developed last year by Schaffer's colleague, pulmonologist Joseph Zabner of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, will provide a key test of the virus as a carrier of a gene to replace the mutated gene responsible for the disease.

"If we are able to show that efficient gene transfer can result in gene therapy, if we can cure the lung disease of pigs that have been genetically engineered to have cystic fibrosis lung disease, we should have a real chance of curing cystic fibrosis in humans," Zabner said in an e-mail.

Schaffer's lab is collaborating with groups elsewhere to adapt the virus to gene therapy for other diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).

"Both of those are situations where improvements in the properties of the vehicle can have a significant impact on the success of the therapy,"
Schaffer said.

I've always felt that gene therapy was being undersold while stem cells have been waaaaaaaaaaaay oversold. There is SOOOO much potential for, well, cures from lots of nasty diseases that are genetic in nature that stem cells are only best.

Besides, stem cells can and do cause cancer too. GT also has less squicky bits morally, too, fora lot of people. Oh wait, we're still messing with God's work. Doh.

That's just me. More money for gene therapy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tropical Carbon Land Sink

Globally, tropical trees in undisturbed forest are absorbing nearly a fifth of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels.

The researchers show that remaining tropical forests remove a massive 4.8 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere each year. This includes a previously unknown carbon sink in Africa, mopping up 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 each year.

Published today in Nature, the 40 year study of African tropical forests–one third of the world's total tropical forest–shows that for at least the last few decades each hectare of intact African forest has trapped an extra 0.6 tonnes of carbon per year.

The scientists then analysed the new African data together with South American and Asian findings to assess the total sink in tropical forests. Analysis of these 250,000 tree records reveals that, on average, remaining undisturbed forests are trapping carbon, showing that they are a globally significant carbon sink.

"We are receiving a free subsidy from nature," says Dr Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at the University of Leeds, and the lead author of the paper. "Tropical forest trees are absorbing about 18% of the CO2 added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels, substantially buffering the rate of climate change."

The reason why the trees are getting bigger and mopping up carbon is unclear. A leading suspect is the extra CO2 in the atmosphere itself, which may be acting like a fertiliser. However, Dr Lewis warns, "Whatever the cause, we cannot rely on this sink forever. Even if we preserve all remaining tropical forest, these trees will not continue getting bigger indefinitely."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that globally human activity emits 32 billion tonnes of CO2 each year, but only 15 billion tonnes actually stays in the atmosphere adding to climate change. The new research shows exactly where some of the 'missing' 17 billion tonnes per year is going.

"It's well known that about half of the 'missing' carbon is being dissolved in to the oceans, and that the other half is going somewhere on land in vegetation and soils, but we were not sure precisely where. According to our study about half the total carbon 'land sink' is in tropical forest trees," explains Dr Lewis.

Interesting. However, remember that tree and terrestrial plant carbon absorption are curtailed by nutrient availability. Growing faster depletes that as well. ;)

The Russian Take on Global Warming

Russia will likely see more forest fires, droughts and floods in the coming century due to global warming, and policy makers need to prepare for large-scale change, scientists warned in a report released Wednesday.

It also said Russia, famous for its brutal winters, will benefit from climate change in some ways, with warmer temperatures and less snow and ice.

Growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice, opening up new shipping lanes, already is generating competition between Russia and other nations over the Arctic's natural resources.

But the study published Wednesday by the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring is Russia's first comprehensive effort at documenting climate change in the world's largest country — and one of the coldest.

"Naturally, (Russia) has a lot of climatic distinctions and we wanted to know how climate change and global warming affects different parts of Russia, to know what exactly is going on," said Alexander Bedritsky, who heads the meteorology service.

Over the past 100 years, air temperatures in Russia warmed by around 2.33 degrees F (1.29 degrees C), compared with1.3 F (0.74 degrees C) globally, the report said.

In the second half of the 20th century, winter snow cover decreased in Siberia and the Far Eastern region of Chukotka. The volume of water flowing through major Siberian rivers increased, the report found.

Soil temperatures in parts of western Siberia long known for permafrost have climbed by 1.8 F (1 C) in the final 25 years of the last century. And Arctic ice cover has decreased steadily in the past two decades.

Some governments have said that Russia, and possibly Canada, stand to gain the most from global warming, as permafrost melts, forests migrate northward and more land becomes arable.

Sergei Semyonov, of the Institute for Studies of Global Warming and the Environment, said warmer temperatures have definitely benefited Russian agriculture. But he also warned of new species of crop-destroying pests such as locusts moving northward.

Bedritsky said warmer temperatures also will mean a shorter season for Russia's notoriously inefficient municipal heating systems — saving energy and money.

But the report said policy makers should begin planning for changes from warming temperatures, such as the likelihood that increased flooding in the Caspian Sea basin will swamp towns and villages, or that farmers will need substantially more irrigation in increasingly arid regions.

I believe that Global Warming is a Russo-Canadian conspiracy!



Assisted Colonization: A VERY Sharp, Double Edged Tool?

A team of researchers, led by biologists at Durham and York Universities, has shown that translocation to climatically-suitable areas can work and that butterflies can survive beyond their northern ranges if they're given a 'helping hand' to get to suitable new habitats.

The research, funded by NERC, aimed to examine the implications of climate change for the conservation and management of biodiversity by looking at the distribution of butterflies.

The research team ran a series of climate-change models to identify areas in northern England where, as a result of the climate warming of recent decades, butterflies found further south might thrive but which they had not yet reached. Researchers then transported Marbled White and Small Skipper butterflies to two of these climatically-suitable sites that were well beyond the butterflies' northern range boundaries.

Between 1999 and 2000, free flying individuals were collected from sites in North Yorkshire and translocated, using soft cages, to release sites in disused quarries in County Durham and Northumberland. These sites had ample suitable breeding habitat for the butterflies, and were chosen after careful discussion with local experts. After release, the introduced populations were monitored over the following 8 years.

The research, published in Conservation Letters, involved Durham University, the University of York, the University of Leeds, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Butterfly Conservation. The team's modelling shows that there is a lag between climate change and distribution change, and the practical results prove that butterflies can flourish in habitats that they might not normally be able to reach.

This is a topic that has caused some ecologists to be very, very concerned. The idea of transplanting an organism from one locale to another may cause a very nasty, if inadvertent invasive species problem: taken out of ecological context the organism may run wild causing harm to other organisms in its new habitat. It will be interesting to see if this technique is actually used much.

That said, it should be noted that even without help that the ecologies are changing: trees are 'marching' north and have been, off and on (mostly on) since the end of the last glacial cycle. 10k years ago (+/-) Canada was originally a wasteland. The ecologies there are very, very YOUNG.

The world is not a static entity, even without people.


At a meeting in Washington last week, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and European Space Agency officials decided to continue pursuing studies of a mission to Jupiter and its four largest moons, and to plan for another potential mission to visit Saturn's largest moon Titan and Enceladus.

Both of these proposed missions are grand endeavors that set the stage for future planetary science research. These outer planet flagship missions could eventually answer questions about how our solar system formed and whether life exists elsewhere in the universe.

The missions, called the Europa Jupiter System Mission and the Titan Saturn System Mission, are the result of NASA and ESA merging their separate mission concepts. NASA originally studied four mission concepts during 2007, which were narrowed down to two proposals in 2008. One finalist was a Europa Orbiter to explore that icy moon of Jupiter and its subsurface water ocean. The other was a Titan Orbiter to visit the Saturn moon. Independently, in 2007, ESA also initiated a competition to select its flagship mission for the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 slot of the ESA scientific programme. Two finalists, called Laplace and Tandem, were selected by ESA for further study. Laplace was a set of spacecraft to orbit Jupiter and eventually orbit and land on Europa. Tandem was a set of spacecraft intended to orbit Titan and explore its surface, after also exploring the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

NASA and ESA engineers and scientists carefully studied both potential missions in preparation for last week's meeting. Based on these and other studies as well as stringent independent assessment reviews, NASA and ESA agreed that the Europa Jupiter System Mission, called Laplace in Europe, was the most technically feasible to do first. However, ESA's Solar System Working Group concluded the scientific merits of this mission and a Titan Saturn System Mission could not be separated. The group recommended, and NASA agreed, that At a meeting in Washington last week, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and European Space Agency officials decided to continue pursuing studies of a mission to Jupiter and its four largest moons, and to plan for another potential mission to visit Saturn's largest moon Titan and Enceladus.

Both of these proposed missions are grand endeavors that set the stage for future planetary science research. These outer planet flagship missions could eventually answer questions about how our solar system formed and whether life exists elsewhere in the universe.

The missions, called the Europa Jupiter System Mission and the Titan Saturn System Mission, are the result of NASA and ESA merging their separate mission concepts. NASA originally studied four mission concepts during 2007, which were narrowed down to two proposals in 2008. One finalist was a Europa Orbiter to explore that icy moon of Jupiter and its subsurface water ocean. The other was a Titan Orbiter to visit the Saturn moon. Independently, in 2007, ESA also initiated a competition to select its flagship mission for the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 slot of the ESA scientific programme. Two finalists, called Laplace and Tandem, were selected by ESA for further study. Laplace was a set of spacecraft to orbit Jupiter and eventually orbit and land on Europa. Tandem was a set of spacecraft intended to orbit Titan and explore its surface, after also exploring the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

NASA and ESA engineers and scientists carefully studied both potential missions in preparation for last week's meeting. Based on these and other studies as well as stringent independent assessment reviews, NASA and ESA agreed that the Europa Jupiter System Mission, called Laplace in Europe, was the most technically feasible to do first. However, ESA's Solar System Working Group concluded the scientific merits of this mission and a Titan Saturn System Mission could not be separated. The group recommended, and NASA agreed, that both missions should move forward for further study and implementation.

Sweet! The really kewl thing is that NASA & ESA agreed that "both missions should move forward for further study and implementation." The Jupiter Duo would just be in first place. The Saturn-Titan Mission would be funded after the technical challenges are taken care of. If they get the funding.

Hat tip to Future Planetary Exploration.

There are rumors the Russians might try a Jupiter mission. I'll see if I can find a link.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Russians Move to Control "Their" Polar Claims

The Russian Duma is preparing legislation that will define the northern sea route as a Russian domain in which Russian inspectors will have the power to board and expel ships that do not meet Russian standards, a measure that constitutes the latest step in Moscow’s campaign to assert its control over parts of the Arctic Ocean far beyond its coastline.

At the end of last week, Artur Chilingarov, who advises President Dmitry Medvedev on polar issues, told the media that the new law will “help regulate shipping along a route” that is expected to become busier as global warming causes it to be ice free for longer than the two months each year at the present time.

Or are the Russian Polar aspirations just the Titanic headed out to sea?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Green House Gases Building Up Faster Than IPCC Models Predict

It seems the dire warnings about future devastation sparked by global warming have not been dire enough, top climate scientists warned Saturday.

It has been just over a year since the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a landmark report warning of rising sea levels, expanding deserts, more intense storms and the extinction of up to 30 percent of plant and animal species.

But recent climate studies suggest that report significantly underestimates the potential severity of global warming over the next 100 years, a senior member of the panel warned.

"We are basically looking now at a future climate that is beyond anything that we've considered seriously in climate policy," said Chris Field, who was a coordinating lead author of the report.

"Without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought."

Fresh data has shown that greenhouse gas emissions have grown by an average of 3.5 percent a year from 2000 to 2007, Field told reporters at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That's "far more rapid than we expected" and more than three times the 0.9 growth rate in the 1990's, he said.

While increased economic activity could have contributed to the growth in emissions, Field said it appears as though the bulk of the growth is "because developing countries like China and India saw a huge upsurge in electric power generation, almost all of it based on coal."

Welcome to Part N+ILostTrack of why Global Warming is Inevitable.

I need to get that Neo-Oligocene vs Neo Eocene post done. gah.

New Argentine Omnivorous Dino Found

Scientists have found fossil remains of an omnivorous dinosaur in Argentina -- a missing link to the carnivores, a researcher said Monday.

"It is an omnivore -- in other words it ate everything (plants and meat) -- which is the missing link between carnivorous dinosaurs and giant four-footed herbivores," said Oscar Alcober, also director of the Natural Sciences Museum in San Juan, 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) west of Buenos Aires.

"This is a very important piece of the puzzle on the origin of dinosaurs," said Alcober.

Alcober and Ricardo Martinez, chief of the museum's paleontology division, found the remains three years ago in the Ischigualasto-Valle de la Luna park, north of the provincial capital San Juan. They released their findings Monday in the online journal of peer reviewed science

Very scant details there and the paper isn't on PLoSOne yet.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

BrightSource Energy Wins 1.3 GigaWatt Solar Contracts

Solar power's explosive growth in California may have been stunted by the credit crisis and the recession, but the boom isn't over yet.

In what could be the world's largest solar deal to date, BrightSource Energy of Oakland announced Wednesday that it will sell Southern California Edison 1,300 megawatts of electricity from seven large solar plants planned for the California desert.

That's enough juice to light 845,000 homes, and it easily eclipses other recent deals signed by utilities here and abroad that are trying to expand their use of renewable power.

"It's a significant statement by Southern California Edison in their commitment to renewable energy and BrightSource's technology," said John Woolard, BrightSource's chief executive officer. "America and California have long called for clean renewable energy, and we look forward to working with Southern California Edison to meet this need."

That's enough for around 7% of the households, iirc. A nice bit of sunshine on this cloudy economic day. I'm still a little fascinated by Nanosolar though.

Rough Draft of Neandertal Genome

Gene sleuths who have come up with a rough draft of the Neanderthal DNA code said on Thursday the ancient relatives of modern humans shared with us one gene for speech, but little else.

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and 454 Life Science Corp, a Roche company, said they have sequenced more than 60 percent of the entire Neanderthal genome.

Preliminary results confirm what the group had already suspected: that Neanderthals, humanity's closest relative, contributed very little to the gene pool of modern humans.

"Our data really shows if there was a contribution, it was very small. It's tiny," Svante Paabo, who is heading up the effort at the Max Planck Institute, told reporters in a video conference.

Neanderthals lived in Europe and parts of Asia until about 30,000 years ago, when Cro-Magnon people, the ancestors of modern humans, moved in.

The group is working to get a complete Neanderthal gene map, which they plan to compare to the previously sequenced human and chimpanzee genomes in the hopes of gaining more insights about how Neanderthals differed from humans.

Paabo said the analysis so far confirms that humans and Neanderthals had the same variant of the FOXP2 gene known to play a role in speech.

"We cannot say from this they could speak. We can just say there is no reason to assume they couldn't speak from what little we know," he said.

The team wants to look at other genes, including those involved in brain ageing and development, he said.

So far, the two groups have sequenced a total of more than 1 billion fragments of Neanderthal DNA, generating a first draft sequence of the entire Neanderthal genome.

I was waiting at least for the Eureka Alert, but...this will have to do.

Whither Introgression? It seems very unlikely that the the FOX2P would be the ONLY gene to have introgressed. We'll wait and see what John has to say. If true, the Neandertals were definitely a separate species. Cousins at most.

Sec Chu Floats Carbon Tax

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu has floated the idea of a carbon emissions tax to fight global warming, in an interview with The New York Times Thursday.

During the US presidential campaign, the notion was kept largely on the back burner as candidates were reluctant to promote the idea of costlier energy at a time when gasoline prices were soaring.

But since President Barack Obama's administration took office in January, Congress has been working on setting up a system for swapping greenhouse gas emissions quotas similar to the one used in the European Union.

And Chu said "alternatives could emerge, including a tax on carbon emissions," the Times reported.

That's my guy!

Now, Dr Chu, about our sister labs...don't do it!

The Bifurcation Structure And Noise Induced Transitions in the Pleistocene Glacial Cycles

The Bifurcation Structure And Noise Induced Transitions in the Pleistocene Glacial Cycles

Peter D. Ditlevsen

The glacial cycles are attributed to the climatic response of the orbital changes in the irradiance to the Earth. These changes in the forcing are to small to explain the observed climate variations as simple linear responses. Non-linear amplifications are necessary to account for the glacial cycles. Here an empirical model of the non-linear response is presented. From the model it is possible to assess the role of stochastic noise in comparison to the deterministic orbital forcing of the ice ages. The model is based on the bifurcation structure derived from the climate history. It indicates the dynamical origin of the Mid-Pleistocene transition (MPT) from the '41 kyr world' to the '100 kyr world'. The dominant forcing in the latter is still the 41 kyr obliquity cycle, but the bifurcation structure of the climate system is changed. The model indicates that transitions between glacial and interglacial climate are assisted by internal stochastic noise in the period prior to the last five glacial cycles, while the last five cycles are deterministic responses to the orbital forcing.

This one I need to think through. As if I had time!!! *sighs* If anyone else has the spare brain cycles dump some thoughts here.

Russia: Which Way Is Up in Ukraine?

Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia’s ambassador in Kyiv, says that Moscow has little or no chance to bring Ukraine back into its sphere of influence anytime soon, not only because of Ukrainian attitudes toward Russia but also because of the scope of American activities in Ukraine.
In remarkably undiplomatic language, Chernomyrdin, who earlier served as Russia’s prime minister, not only acknowledged d that his own government is losing influence in the country to which he is accredited but also denounced both the US for its activities in Ukraine and Ukraine’s support of Georgia against Russia.

The Russian representative told ”Komsomolskaya Pravda” that like the US under George W. Bush, the Obama Administration will not give up its dominant position in Kyiv and will continue to work not only to ensure that Ukraine adopts an anti-Russian position on gas transit but also becomes a member of the Western alliance.

Asked directly whether Moscow had any chance to change this situation and bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s sphere of influence, Chernomyrdin answered baldly: “No, we will not be able to do that,” because the US won’t allow it and because Ukrainians, especially those in the current government, have such a negative attitude toward Russia.

The Americans, he continued, are “everywhere,” using “more than 2,000 foundations” to promote their interests, inviting people to study in the United States for free, and even sitting in the ministry of defense and “openly working” on behalf of American interests and the inclusion of Ukraine in NATO.

Tragically, Chernomyrdin said, Russians have not “learned” how to respond to this American challenge and consequently are losing their influence. And that problem is compounded by the experiences many Ukrainians working in the Russian Federation have had with Russian officialdom, experiences that have alienated them further.

As a result of all this, the Russian ambassador said, one can hardly reach an accord “with this Ukrainian leadership,” although it is possible that after the presidential elections in January 2010 a new group will come in and then it will be possible to do so, especially if the new people are “sober” and “normal” in their relations with Russia.

Asked whether Viktor Yanukovich, who has the reputation of being pro-Russian was the person Moscow would like to deal with as president of Ukraine, Chernomyrdin said that “it is difficult to say. It is possible to speak with him. But one should not trust anyone,” hardly an expression of support for someone committed to expanding Kyiv-Moscow ties.

Chernomyrdin’s undiplomatic remarks are intriguing both because many Russians believe they have numerous ways of forcing Ukraine to return to Moscow’s fold and are even celebrating what they see as a growth of Russian influence there.

Such commentators point to the declaration of a “Donets Republic” in eastern Ukraine this week and among the Rusin community in western Ukraine, but they say Moscow can employ “a South Ossetian” strategy in Crimea."

Why then given all these self-confident expressions in Moscow did Chernomyrdin choose to give this interview at all?

There are several possbilities. Comments later save two: the inability to trust anyone is a serious handicap for the xUSSR culture. Truly and seriously. And it's interesting that all the NGOs are attributed to the US. A lot are just plain European...or not really affiliated with any government.

Google Translations links to come shortly. Promise.

NM Seeks to Limit Liability From Spaceport America Flights

The New Mexico Legislature is hoping to limit lawsuits stemming from southern New Mexico's Spaceport America. Senate Bill 37, the "Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act" sponsored by Sen. Clinton Harden, R-Clovis, wants space flight participants to acknowledge that "commercial human space flight activities involve inherent risks that cannot be eliminated or controlled through the exercise of reasonable care, and that justify the exculpation of ordinary negligence, and that these inherent risks provide the challenge and excitement that entice space flight participants."

According to bill text, the purpose of the bill would be "to permit the use of waivers and releases of liability for space flight entities that will exculpate them from the inherent risks of space flight activities and their negligence." Thus, if passed, the space flight entity would therefore not be liable for a participant's injury because the participant has given informed consent to the risks, such as bodily injury, death, emotional injury, or property damage.

Bill is here. I really need to read it.


Either there is something wrong with this picture or there's a LOT of data munching happening on the Hummingbird.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Different Amazon Rain Forest in the Future?

Amazonian forests may be less vulnerable to dying off from global warming than feared because many projections underestimate rainfall, a study showed.

The report, by scientists in Britain, said Brazil and other nations in the region would also have to act to help avert any irreversible drying of the eastern Amazon, the region most at risk from climate change, deforestation and fires.

"The rainfall regime in eastern Amazonia is likely to shift over the 21st century in a direction that favors more seasonal forests rather than savannah," they wrote in this week's U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, released on Monday.

Seasonal forests have wet and dry seasons rather than the current rainforest, which is permanently drenched. That shift could favor new species of trees, other plants and animals.

The findings contrast with past projections that the Amazon forest could die and be replaced by savannah.

A 2007 report by the U.N. Climate Panel, which is a snapshot of global warming science by the world's leading experts, said: "By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah in eastern Amazonia."

The new study said that almost all of 19 global climate models underestimated rainfall in the world's biggest tropical forest after the scientists compared the models with observations of 20th century climate.

Lowland forests in the Amazon have annual average rainfall of 2,400 mm (94 inches), it said. Projected cuts in rainfall meant the region would still be wet enough to sustain a forest.

The experts also examined field studies of how the Amazon might react to drying. It said that seasonal forests would be more resilient to the occasional drought but more vulnerable to fires than the current rainforest.

It also depends on whether we're going to do a Neo-Oligocene or Neo-Eocene. I need to get that post done. Ditto and especially the one about the methane calthrate hypothesis. oy.

A Call For Climate Engineering

By controlling emissions of fossil fuels we may be able to greatly delay the start of the next ice age, new research from the Niels Bohr Institute at University of Copenhagen concludes. The results have been published in the scientific magazine, Geophysical Research Letters.

From an Earth history perspective, we are living in cold times. The greatest climate challenge mankind has faced has been surviving ice ages that have dominated climate during the past million years. Therefore it is not surprising that back in the relatively cold 1970's prominent scientists like Soviet Union climatologist Mikhail Budyko greeted man-made global warming from CO2 emissions as a way to keep us out of future ice ages. And there are still those around who feel that continued high fossil fuel emissions are good for this reason. But is the extreme global warming that would result from this a reasonable, and indeed necessary, price to pay to keep ice ages at bay?

In a paper published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters 'Long time management of fossil fuels to limit global warming and avoid ice age onsets', Professor Gary Shaffer of the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, and also leader of the research team at the Danish Center for Earth System Science (DCESS), outlines a way to keep the Earth out of both Hot- and Icehouses for a half a million years into the future.
Paper is here.

SpaceX is Calling For Grass Roots Lobbying

SpaceX has made clear to anyone who would listen its interest in Capability D of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program—usually simply called COTS-D—for crew transportation to and from the ISS. SpaceX has a COTS-D option in its existing Space Act Agreement with NASA, but that option is not funded. Now, as the House and Senate meet to reconcile their versions of the stimulus bill, SpaceX is making a public appeal for support for including COTS-D funding in the package.

More over at Space Politics.

What does that bode? That hasn't worked for space related issues in the past all that well.

Jared Diamond Couldn't Be More Wrong

Our surnames and genetic information are often strongly connected, according to a study funded by the Wellcome Trust. The research, published this week in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, may help genealogists create more accurate family trees even when records are missing. It also suggests that the often quoted "one in ten" figure for children born through infidelity is unlikely to be true.

Dr Turi King and Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester examined the Y chromosomes of over 1,600 unrelated men with forty surnames (including variations in spelling). Sons inherit both the Y chromosome and – generally – the surname from their fathers, unlike daughters, who do not carry this sex-specific chromosome and usually change their surname through marriage.

Hereditary surnames were introduced to Britain by the Normans at the time of the conquest. The practice of using hereditary surnames filtered down from Norman noble families to all classes of society so that by the fourteenth century people in many classes had surnames and by the sixteenth century it was rare not to have one.

Dr King and Professor Jobling found that men with rare surnames – such as Grewcock, Wadsworth, Ketley and Ravenscroft – tended to share Y chromosomes that were very similar, suggesting a common ancestor within the past 700 years. However, men with common surnames, such as Smith, were no more likely to have such a common ancestor than men chosen at random from the general population.

"Surnames such as Smith come from a person's trade and would have been adopted many times by unrelated people," explains Dr King. "Less common names, such as Swindlehurst, were more geographically-specific and possibly adopted by only one or two men, so we would expect people with these surnames to be more closely related."

One of the most familiar of the rarer names in the study was Attenborough. A random sample of Attenboroughs – including derivations such as Attenborrow – found that almost nine out of ten of these men share the same Y chromosome type.

"Attenboroughs essentially form one big family of distant relatives," says Dr King. "The Y chromosome type was the same even across spelling variants, which confirms that the spellings of names were formalised only relatively recently."

Well, Gosh, Diamond...wrong? Nooooooo!

(not sarcasm tag)

Magnetic Cooling For Your Fridge

Your refrigerator’s humming, electricity-guzzling cooling system could soon be a lot smaller, quieter and more economical thanks to an exotic metal alloy discovered by an international collaboration working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s Center for Neutron Research (NCNR).*

The alloy may prove to be a long-sought material that will permit magnetic cooling instead of the gas-compression systems used for home refrigeration and air conditioning. The magnetic cooling technique, though used for decades in science and industry, has yet to find application in the home because of technical and environmental hurdles—but the NIST collaboration may have overcome them.

Magnetic cooling relies on materials called magnetocalorics, which heat up when exposed to a powerful magnetic field. After they cool off by radiating this heat away, the magnetic field is removed, and their temperature drops again, this time dramatically. The effect can be used in a classic refrigeration cycle, and scientists have attained temperatures of nearly absolute zero this way. Two factors have kept magnetic cooling out of the consumer market: most magnetocalorics that function at close to room temperature require both the prohibitively expensive rare metal gadolinium and arsenic, a deadly toxin.

But conventional gas-compression refrigerators have their own drawbacks. They commonly use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), greenhouse gases that can contribute to climate change if they escape into the atmosphere. In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to improve traditional refrigeration. “The efficiency of the gas cycle has pretty much maxed out,” said Jeff Lynn of NCNR. “The idea is to replace that cycle with something else.”

The alloy the team has found—a mixture of manganese, iron, phosphorus and germanium—is not merely the first near-room-temperature magnetocaloric to contain neither gadolinium nor arsenic—rendering it both safer and cheaper—but also it has such strong magnetocaloric properties that a system based on it could rival gas compression in efficiency.

There's GOT to be more applications than jsut our fridges...hmmm. What about air conditioning? Or...

I wonder how much power this needs.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A C'mon!

I cannot believe what a whimpish sort you all are. I see EXACTLY who goes to my blog and EXACTLY who clicks what. You all can't help ONE student out with clicking on the below? There are three days left. Please do so. When I attempted to be a student, either I had time or I had money. I do not wish this curse on anyone else. Help Amanda out, ok? Click! Click for your lives!

Modeling Evolution

Emergence of species in evolutionary “simulated annealing”

1. Muyoung Heo,
2. Louis Kang and
3. Eugene I. Shakhnovich1

-Author Affiliations

Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, 12 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138


Edited by Harold A. Scheraga, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, and approved November 20, 2008 (received for review October 1, 2008)


Which factors govern the evolution of mutation rates and emergence of species? Here, we address this question by using a first principles model of life where population dynamics of asexual organisms is coupled to molecular properties and interactions of proteins encoded in their genomes. Simulating evolution of populations, we found that fitness increases in punctuated steps via epistatic events, leading to formation of stable and functionally interacting proteins. At low mutation rates, species form populations of organisms tightly localized in sequence space, whereas at higher mutation rates, species are lost without an apparent loss of fitness. However, when mutation rate was a selectable trait, the population initially maintained high mutation rate until a high fitness level was reached, after which organisms with low mutation rates are gradually selected, with the population eventually reaching mutation rates comparable with those of modern DNA-based organisms. This study shows that the fitness landscape of a biophysically realistic system is extremely complex, with huge number of local peaks rendering adaptation dynamics to be a glass-like process. On a more practical level, our results provide a rationale to experimental observations of the effect of mutation rate on fitness of populations of asexual organisms.

...just interesting.

Extinct Animal Subspecies Cloned

An extinct animal has been resurrected by cloning for the first time—though the clone died minutes after birth.

Findings revealed January 23 in the journal Theriogenology describe the use of frozen skin in 2003 to clone a bucardo, or Pyrenean ibex, a subspecies of Spanish ibex that went extinct in 2000.

Scientists had cloned endangered species before, but not one that had officially died out.

Study co-author Jose Folch, of the Center for Agro-Nutrition Research and Technology in Aragon, Spain, said his team plans to try cloning another this ibex this year or next.

"We are not especially disappointed for the death of the cloned newborn," Folch explained in an email, because such deaths in cloning experiments are common.

"We will try to improve the technology in order to increase the efficiency of the cloning process."

But David Wildt, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., who did not participate in this study, warned that the successful cloning wouldn't be the first step in creating a real-life Jurassic Park.

"The public should not leap to the conclusion that we are on the edge of cloning woolly mammoths or dinosaurs," he said. "Even if such embryos could be constructed, there are no appropriate surrogate mothers for long-dead species."

Don't get too excited also for the single reason that this was an extinct subspecies rather than very different species. It's a huge leap to a radically different species. They had a lot of problems even so. I am surprised that they used goat eggs, really. Why not other ibex?

Greenland's Glacial Melt May Decelerate

Glaciology: From the front

Stephen Price1

1. Stephen Price is with the COSIM project, Fluid Dynamics and Solid Mechanics Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545, USA.


The causes of recent dynamic thinning of Greenland's outlet glaciers have been debated. Realistic simulations suggest that changes at the marine fronts of these glaciers are to blame, implying that dynamic thinning will cease once the glaciers retreat to higher ground.

For the past decade, many outlet glaciers in Greenland that terminate in the ocean have accelerated, thinned and retreated. To explain these dynamic changes, two hypotheses have been discussed. Atmospheric warming has increased surface melting and may have also increased the amount of meltwater reaching the glacier bed, increasing lubrication at the base and hence the rate of glacier sliding1. Alternatively, a change in the delicate balance of forces where the glacier fronts meet the ocean could trigger the changes2, 3, 4. On page 110 of this issue, Faezeh Nick and colleagues5 present ice-sheet modelling experiments that mimic the observations on Helheim glacier, East Greenland, indicating that the dynamic behaviour of outlet glaciers follows from perturbations at their marine fronts.

Greenland's ice sheet loses mass partly through surface melting and partly through fast-flowing outlet glaciers that connect the vast plateau of inland ice with the ocean. As the outlet glaciers flow into the sea, icebergs calve from their fronts. As highlighted in the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change6, earlier ice-sheet models have failed to reproduce the dynamic variability shown by ice sheets over time. It has therefore not been possible to distinguish with confidence between basal lubrication from surface meltwater and changes at the glaciers' marine fronts as causes for the observed changes on Greenland's outlet glaciers.

The distinction bears directly on sea-level rise — the motivation for much of modern-day glaciology. If the recent dynamic mass loss from Greenland's outlet glaciers is linked to changing atmospheric temperatures, it may persist for as long as temperatures continue to increase. However, if the source of the dynamic mass loss is a perturbation at the ice–ocean boundary, these glaciers will lose contact with that perturbation after a finite amount of thinning and retreat. Therefore, the first hypothesis predicts continued retreat of outlet glaciers into the foreseeable future, whereas the second does not — provided the bedrock topography prohibits a connection between the retreating glacier and the ocean.

Nick and colleagues5 tested the physical mechanisms of each hypothesis in an innovative ice-flow model, and used that model to match a time series of observations from Helheim glacier, one of Greenland's three largest outlet glaciers (Fig. 1). They found that a reduction in resistance at the glacier front — which might result, for example, from the loss of a floating ice-tongue or a change in calving rate — triggers glacier behaviour in the model that is in broad agreement with observations7 from 2001–2006. Importantly, the model captures the observed pattern of a relatively minor initial acceleration, followed by more rapid acceleration and thinning as the glacier terminus retreats into deeper water across a bedrock low, and subsequent deceleration and stabilization as the glacier retreats into shallower water. In contrast, for experiments where basal lubrication was altered to simulate increased sliding from meltwater input, the modelled velocity and geometry show little similarity to the observations.

Along with many observations2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, Nick and colleagues' simulations strongly support the contention that the recent retreat of Greenland's outlet glaciers is the result of changes at their marine fronts. Furthermore, the simulations confirm the earlier hypothesis7 that bedrock topography largely controlled Helheim glacier's rapid acceleration and retreat in 2004 and 2005, and its deceleration and stabilization in 2006. Finally, the current work indicates that, if requirements of observational data (high-resolution bedrock topography) and computational resources (fine computational grid resolution) can be met, improved predictive capability for ice-sheet models is attainable. With respect to the concerns raised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this study signals progress.

OTOH, Antarctica may continue to accelerate for a looong time.

Something That Has Been Desperately Needed

With this post, I'm launching a new, (very) occasional series I'm calling YANAL, for "You Are Not A Lawyer." In this series, I will try to disabuse computer scientists and other technically minded people of some commonly held misconceptions about the law (and the legal system).


This has been needed for some time and with that nasty file system coder debacle this will help explain a thing or three to the idgit's online.

Last Glacial Maximum's Effect on Kelp Genetics

Kelp genes reveal effects of subantarctic sea ice during the Last Glacial Maximum

1. Ceridwen I. Fraser1,
2. Raisa Nikula,
3. Hamish G. Spencer and
4. Jonathan M. Waters

-Author Affiliations

Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, 340 Great King Street, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand


Edited by Gary R. Carvalho, University of Wales, Bangor, Great Britain, and accepted by the Editorial Board December 23, 2008 (received for review October 23, 2008)


The end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) dramatically reshaped temperate ecosystems, with many species moving poleward as temperatures rose and ice receded. Whereas reinvading terrestrial taxa tracked melting glaciers, marine biota recolonized ocean habitats freed by retreating sea ice. The extent of sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere during the LGM has, however, yet to be fully resolved, with most palaeogeographic studies suggesting only minimal or patchy ice cover in subantarctic waters. Here, through population genetic analyses of the widespread Southern Bull Kelp (Durvillaea antarctica), we present evidence for persistent ice scour affecting subantarctic islands during the LGM. Using mitochondrial and chloroplast genetic markers (COI; rbcL) to genetically characterize some 300 kelp samples from 45 Southern Ocean localities, we reveal a remarkable pattern of recent recolonization in the subantarctic. Specifically, in contrast to the marked phylogeographic structure observed across coastal New Zealand and Chile (10- to 100-km scales), subantarctic samples show striking genetic homogeneity over vast distances (10,000-km scales), with a single widespread haplotype observed for each marker. From these results, we suggest that sea ice expanded further and ice scour during the LGM impacted shallow-water subantarctic marine ecosystems more extensively than previously suggested.

First, since it's my drum to beat lately, repeat after me: the world is not in a stable state.

Secondly, this makes for interesting thoughts on the extent of the southern hemisphere's ice during that last LGM.

Tropical Salamander Implosion

Dramatic declines in neotropical salamander populations are an important part of the global amphibian crisis

1. Sean M. Rovitoa,
2. Gabriela Parra-Oleaa,b,
3. Carlos R. Vásquez-Almazánc,
4. Theodore J. Papenfussa and
5. David B. Wakea,1

-Author Affiliations

aMuseum of Vertebrate Zoology and Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3160;
bInstituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, AP 70-153, Ciudad Universitaria, CP 04510 México DF, México; and
cMuseo de Historia Natural, Universidad de San Carlos, Calle Mariscal Cruz 1-56, Zona 10, Cuidad de Guatemala, Guatemala


Contributed by David B. Wake, December 20, 2008 (sent for review November 20, 2008)


We document major declines of many species of salamanders at several sites in Central America and Mexico, with emphasis on the San Marcos region of Guatemala, one of the best studied and most diverse salamander communities in the Neotropics. Profound declines of several formerly abundant species, including 2 apparent extinctions, are revealed. Terrestrial microhabitat specialists at mid- to high elevations have declined more than microhabitat generalists. These terrestrial microhabitat specialists have largely disappeared from multiple sites in western Guatemala, including in well-protected areas, suggesting that the phenomenon cannot be explained solely by localized habitat destruction. Major declines in southern Mexican plethodontid salamanders occurred in the late 1970s to early 1980s, concurrent with or preceding many reported frog declines. The species in decline comprise several major evolutionary lineages of tropical salamanders, underscoring that significant portions of the phylogenetic diversity of Neotropical salamanders are at risk. Our results highlight the urgent need to document and understand Neotropical salamander declines as part of the larger effort to conserve global amphibian diversity.

I had hoped that the salamanders et al would not be declining the frogs have been, but that's obviously not the case. In a case of horrifying and hopefully very wrong linear extrapolation, could we be on the verge of
seeing that ancient lineage finally snuffed out? Depressing that thought is.

Cars I Want

Noel over at The Power and the Money went to a car show recently. He talked about the vehicles he wants or liked based on what he saw there. He then asked what cars we'd like. Well, garsh, since we're going to be in the market in the next six months for a vehicle replacement (originally planned to replace my jeep, but instead will be replacing the PT Cruiser).

In all probability we will end up buying a hybrid SUV of some kind. It'll depend on what we enjoy driving when we test drive. Feeling mildly patriotic, I'd lean towards a Ford Escape:

Our goal here is that it must move at least 5 people. It must get better than 30 mpg. We would prefer 4WD/AWD: while generally unnecessary in the Bay Area, who says we are going to stay here in the life time of this car for our family? In fact, there's a nontrivial probability that we will be moving.

If the tech was really ready, we'd be buying one of these intead:

(hydrogen fuel cell vehicle! Yummy!)


(that's a Jeep SUV's called an EV, but its not really, it's also not really out for sale, alas)

There are two cars that I can in no way justify buying that I really, really want. They say that your first time and your first love are people that are forever imprinted on your soul: you never forget them and you are always remain to some degree in love with them. That would happen to be true for me about my first car. That was a 1978 Jeep CJ5 with the three speed, 4WD V8 304. That Jeep, the Beep as she was known, has forever marked herself in my soul. I have a 1992 Islander now with the straight 6, but she's not the same at all. If I could, I'd buy another Beep:

That's not my Beep, cuz I don't have a pic of her. Alas. However, you get the idea. It's not a family car though and that disqualifies it from being bought for a few years. Sad part is each year there are fewer and fewer of them: extinction's a unforgiving biatch. Maybe I ought to make an Lasers, supercomputers, Interesting career path that.

Oh, that last car I can't justify? Well, if I were single I might squinted hard enough to buy it, but...

(I've loved small sports cars since my Dad had a Spyder when I was in high school)

Lyuda likes the idea of getting it too. That's her kind of car. lol. We'll need to save up a bit first though!

Ok, readers, what kind of car do you want?

More on the Devonian Anomalocarid

Chris Nedin, a pro paleo type that works on the Ediacaran and Cambrian fossils, has a very good post up on the Devonian Anomalocarid that was recently discussed. He has some issues with some of the reconstruction, but he did pronounce that, yes, indeed, this is ghost lineaged Anomalocarid!

Monday, February 09, 2009

C3 Planet Respiration Under Heightened CO2

The leaves of soybeans grown at the elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels predicted for the year 2050 respire more than those grown under current atmospheric conditions, researchers report, a finding that will help fine-tune climate models and could point to increased crop yields as CO2 levels rise.

The study, from researchers at the University of Illinois and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Plants draw CO2 from the atmosphere and make sugars through the process of photosynthesis. But they also release some CO2 during respiration as they use the sugars to generate energy for self-maintenance and growth. How elevated CO2 affects plant respiration will therefore influence future food supplies and the extent to which plants can capture CO2 from the air and store it as carbon in their tissues.

While there is broad agreement that higher atmospheric CO2 levels stimulate photosynthesis in C3 plants, such as soybean, no such consensus exists on how rising CO2 levels will affect plant respiration.

There's been a great deal of controversy about how plant respiration responds to elevated CO2," said U. of I. plant biology professor Andrew Leakey, who led the study. "Some summary studies suggest it will go down by 18 percent, some suggest it won't change, and some suggest it will increase as much as 11 percent."


Rather than assessing plants grown in chambers in a greenhouse, as most studies have done, Leakey's team made use of the Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment (Soy FACE) facility at Illinois. This open-air research lab can expose a soybean field to a variety of atmospheric CO2 levels – without isolating the plants from other environmental influences, such as rainfall, sunlight and insects.

Some of the plants were exposed to atmospheric CO2 levels of 550 parts per million (ppm), the level predicted for the year 2050 if current trends continue. These were compared to plants grown at ambient CO2 levels (380 ppm).

The results were striking. At least 90 different genes coding the majority of enzymes in the cascade of chemical reactions that govern respiration were switched on (expressed) at higher levels in the soybeans grown at high CO2 levels. This explained how the plants were able to use the increased supply of sugars from stimulated photosynthesis under high CO2 conditions to produce energy, Leakey said. The rate of respiration increased 37 percent at the elevated CO2 levels.

The enhanced respiration is likely to support greater transport of sugars from leaves to other growing parts of the plant, including the seeds, Leakey said.

No time to comment. Also, I am not a botanist. :)

UPDATE: Paper here.