Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hadrosaur Proteins, Blood Cells, Blood Vessels Recovered

Ancient protein dating back 80 million years to the Cretaceous geologic period has been preserved in bone fragments and soft tissues of a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, according to a study in the May 1 issue of Science. Led by scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and North Carolina State University (NCSU), the new findings support earlier results from analyses suggesting that collagen protein survived in the bones of a well preserved Tyrannosaurus rex, and offer robust new evidence supporting previous conclusions that birds and dinosaurs are evolutionarily related.

In April 2007 John Asara, PhD, Director of the Mass Spectrometry Core at BIDMC, together with NCSU paleontologist Mary Schweitzer, PhD, published two papers in Science describing their discovery that collagen extracted from bone fragments of a 68-million-year-old T. rex closely matched the amino acid sequences of modern day chickens. Not surprisingly, the widely publicized findings created a great deal of controversy.

"With this new paper, we hoped to show that our T. rex discovery was not a unique occurrence," notes Asara, who is also an Instructor in Pathology at Harvard Medical School. "This is the second dinosaur species we've examined and helps verify that our first discovery was not just a one-hit wonder. Our current study was the collaborative effort of a number of independent laboratories, whose findings collectively add up to a robust conclusion."

At the heart of the controversy is the idea that ancient protein can exist at all. When an animal dies, protein immediately begins to degrade and, in the case of fossils, is slowly replaced by mineral, a substitution process assumed to be complete by 1 million years. But with this latest evidence, it appears that some proteins do indeed have real staying power.

"We wound up identifying nearly double the number of amino acids we recovered in the T. rex study," says Asara. "The sequences displayed high spectral quality and the interpretations were of high confidence."

The two scientists had decided to collaborate again after Schweitzer and paleontologist Jack Horner of Montana State University's Museum of the Rockies recovered the 80-million-year-old Brachylophosaurus canadensis femur bone in the summer of 2007 and observed that it appeared to be even better preserved than the original T. rex fossil.

Schweitzer's initial laboratory analyses confirmed this observation: After being subjected to demineralization, the B. canadensis bone fragments showed marked preservation of original tissues and molecules, with microstructures resembling soft, transparent vessels, cells and fibrous matrix – even though the fossil was much older than the T. rex sample.

"Deep burial in sandstone seems to favor exceptional preservation," notes Schweitzer, explaining that this fossil was found under approximately seven meters of sandstone in the Judith River Formation, in parts of what is now Eastern Montana.

Chemical extractions of bone and vessel were subsequently sent to the laboratories of BIDMC scientists Lewis Cantley, PhD, and Raghu Kalluri, PhD, where immunoblots and immunochemistry analyses were conducted to determine the presence of collagen protein in the samples.

"Having been a part of the T. rex study, I was curious to be part of this investigation as well," explains Cantley, Chief of the Division of Signal Transduction at BIDMC. "In view of the skepticism about the original findings, it was important to demonstrate that our findings in T. rex could be verified in another dinosaur and in other laboratories."

The results confirmed the existence of protein. "Because I am a collagen biochemist, our lab was contacted to perform an independent analysis of this new bone find," explains Kalluri, who is Chief of the Division of Matrix Biology at BIDMC. "We isolated the proteins – collagen, laminin and elastin – from the bone, and also extracted bone cells and blood vessels from this sample. Our findings demonstrated that it did contain basement membrane matrix."

Dude. More comments later. Doing major maintenance at work.

Russia to Guard Ossetia, Abkhazia's Borders

Russia signed a deal with Georgia's two breakaway regions Thursday giving Moscow the power to guard their borders — a move sharply criticized in Tbilisi.

President Dmitry Medvedev and the leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia signed the agreements at a Kremlin ceremony nearly nine months after the brief war between Russia and Georgia.

The deal is an apparent attempt to legitimize the presence of thousands of Russian troops in the separatist regions, which were at the center of the war.

Russia will guard the borders of both regions including Abkhazia's territorial waters in the Black Sea, according to the agreement.

After humiliating Georgia's army, Russia strengthened its control over the two regions and also took over swaths of territory that had been under Georgia's control before the war.

The U.S. and European Union consider this a violation of the cease-fire, which required all forces to pull back to positions held before the fighting in August.

Moscow's position was that the cease-fire had been superseded by subsequent agreements with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In signing Wednesday's deal with Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh and South Ossetia leader Eduard Kokoiti, Medvedev indicated that Russia's intention was to strengthen this claim.

Is there any question now what's going on here?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Potential Universal Biosphere Signal: Homochirality

Detection of circular polarization in light scattered from photosynthetic microbes

1. William B. Sparksa,1,
2. James Houghb,
3. Thomas A. Germerc,
4. Feng Chend,
5. Shiladitya DasSarmad,
6. Priya DasSarmad,
7. Frank T. Robbd,
8. Nadine Mansete,
9. Ludmilla Kolokolovaf,
10. Neill Reida,
11. F. Duccio Macchettoa and
12. William Martinb

-Author Affiliations

aSpace Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218;
bCenter for Astrophysics Research, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield AL10 9AB, United Kingdom;
cNational Institute of Standards and Technology, 100 Bureau Drive, Gaithersburg, MD 20899;
dCenter of Marine Biotechnology, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, 701 East Pratt Street, Suite 236, Baltimore, MD 21202;
eCanada-France-Hawaii Telescope, 65-1238 Mamalahoa Highway, Kamuela, HI 96743; and
fDepartment of Astronomy, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742


Edited by Rita R. Colwell, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, and approved March 24, 2009 (received for review October 10, 2008)


The identification of a universal biosignature that could be sensed remotely is critical to the prospects for success in the search for life elsewhere in the universe. A candidate universal biosignature is homochirality, which is likely to be a generic property of all biochemical life. Because of the optical activity of chiral molecules, it has been hypothesized that this unique characteristic may provide a suitable remote sensing probe using circular polarization spectroscopy. Here, we report the detection of circular polarization in light scattered by photosynthetic microbes. We show that the circular polarization appears to arise from circular dichroism of the strong electronic transitions of photosynthetic absorption bands. We conclude that circular polarization spectroscopy could provide a powerful remote sensing technique for generic life searches.

* homochirality
* life detection
* remote sensing


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

No time to comment.

Large Pterosaurs Couldn't Fly :)

I swear this has to be a troll for Mark Whitton and Darren Naish. But...It's not.

Giant pterosaurs, colossal winged reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, have long been considered the heaviest animals ever to take to the skies.

But new research suggests that the notion of giant pterosaurs soaring over Earth simply doesn't fly.

ased on the weights and body sizes of modern birds, a new study finds that animals heavier than 90 pounds (41 kilograms) with wingspans greater than 16.7 feet (5.1 meters) wouldn't be able to flap fast enough to stay aloft.

The conclusion casts serious doubt on the flying ability of large pterosaurs such as Quetzalcoatlus, thought to be one of the largest airborne animals of all time.

The late-Cretaceous creature may have weighed up to 551 pounds (250 kilograms) and had up to a 34.1-foot (10.4-meter) wingspan—nearly as wide as a schoolbus is long.

"I think that the giant pterosaurs could not stay aloft in an environment similar to the present," said study leader Katsufumi Sato, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo's Ocean Research Institute.

Even if they could stay up, the bulky beasts would have had trouble getting off the ground in the first place, Sato said.

"Takeoff is the hardest task. I suppose they could not take off using only muscular efforts."

Oh! Oh! Oh! I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO waiting for the teeth gnashing, hair pulling response.

Post KT Sauropod Emergency Helivaced

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Strong Match Between Molecular And Fossil Data in Evolutionary Studies

During a seminar at another institution several years ago, University of Chicago paleontologist David Jablonski fielded a hostile question: Why bother classifying organisms according to their physical appearance, let alone analyze their evolutionary dynamics, when molecular techniques had already invalidated that approach?

With more than a few heads in the audience nodding their agreement, Jablonski, the William Kenan Jr. Professor in Geophysical Sciences, saw more work to be done. The question launched him on a rigorous study that has culminated in a new approach to reconciling the conflict between fossil and molecular data in evolutionary studies.

For more than two decades, debate has waxed and waned between biologists and paleontologists about the reliability of their different methods. Until now, attention has focused on the dramatically different evolutionary history of certain lineages as determined by fossils or by genetics.

Scientists using molecular techniques assert that genetics more accurately determines evolutionary relationships than does a comparison of physical characteristics preserved in fossils. But how inaccurate, really, were the fossils? Jablonski and the University of Michigan's John A. Finarelli have published the first quantitative assessment of these assumed discrepancies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They compared the molecular data to data based on the kinds of features used to distinguish fossil lineages for 228 mammal and 197 mollusk lineages at the genus level (both wolves and dogs belong to the genus Canis, for example).

No matter how they looked at it, the lineages defined by their fossil forms "showed an imperfect but very good fit to the molecular data," Jablonski said. The fits were generally far better than random. The few exceptions included freshwater clams, "a complete disaster," he said.

No time to comment...

The Return of James Fassett And His NMican Paleocene Dinos


James E. Fassett


Dinosaur fossils are present in the Paleocene Ojo Alamo Sandstone and Animas Formation in the San Juan Basin, New Mexico, and Colorado. Evidence for the Paleocene age of the Ojo Alamo Sandstone includes palynologic and paleomagnetic data. Palynologic data indicate that the entire Ojo Alamo Sandstone, including the lower dinosaur-bearing part, is Paleocene in age. All of the palynomorph-productive rock samples collected from the Ojo Alamo Sandstone at multiple localities lacked Cretaceous index palynomorphs (except for rare, reworked specimens) and produced Paleocene index palynomorphs. Paleocene palynomorphs have been identified stratigraphically below dinosaur fossils at two separate localities in the Ojo Alamo Sandstone in the central and southern parts of the basin. The Animas Formation in the Colorado part of the basin also contains dinosaur fossils, and its Paleocene age has been established based on fossil leaves and palynology.

Magnetostratigraphy provides independent evidence for the Paleocene age of the Ojo Alamo Sandstone and its dinosaur-bearing beds. Normal-polarity magnetochron C29n (early Paleocene) has been identified in the Ojo Alamo Sandstone at six localities in the southern part of the San Juan Basin.

An assemblage of 34 skeletal elements from a single hadrosaur, found in the Ojo Alamo Sandstone in the southern San Juan Basin, provided conclusive evidence that this assemblage could not have been reworked from underlying Cretaceous strata. In addition, geochemical studies of 15 vertebrate bones from the Paleocene Ojo Alamo Sandstone and 15 bone samples from the underlying Kirtland Formation of Late Cretaceous (Campanian) age show that each sample suite contained distinctly different abundances of uranium and rare-earth elements, indicating that the bones were mineralized in place soon after burial, and that none of the Paleocene dinosaur bones analyzed had been reworked.

James E. Fassett. U. S. Geological Survey, Emeritus, 552 Los Nidos Drive, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

KEY WORDS: Paleocene dinosaurs; K-T interface, geochronology, palynology, paleomagnetism, vertebrate paleontology

PE Article Number: 12.1.3A
Copyright: U.S. Geological Survey, Public Domain April 2009
Submission: 13 December 2007. Acceptance: 28 January 2009

He's baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack! There's a link to the paper at post title (note: that's the std with this blog, btw)

Brian talked about Fassett's last paper in Laelaps version 1. There have been rebuttals in the past as well.

That said, it appears that Fassett is about the only one espousing Paleocene dinosaurs in New Mexico. I'd love to say he was right (I'm as much an sucker for the whole underdog thing as anyone), but this isn't looking that way. Read for yourselves and pass judgement.

Oh, press release here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Big Baird Family News

Due Date is September 7th (+/-).

It's a *BOY*.

First name is picked (William). Avrora and Lyuda are going to pick the middle name.

This was one of the big announcements I have been sitting on.

Arctic Circle Dino Eggs Found

Witness the team's latest find, a diverse stash of dinosaur fossils laid down just a few million years before the big impact, along what's now the Kakanaut River of northeastern Russia. Even accounting for continental drift, the dinos lived at more than 70 degrees of latitude north, well above the Arctic Circle.

And they weren't lost wanderers, either. The fossils include dinosaur eggshells - a first at high latitudes, and evidence of a settled, breeding population.

It's true the Arctic was much warmer back then, but it wasn't any picnic. The size and shape of fossilized leaves found with the bones enabled Godefroit's team to estimate a mean annual temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with wintertime lows at freezing.


The research was detailed in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

argh! Not in a journal I have access to. Probably not in a language I can read in technicalese either.


"A few million years before the impact..."

Does that make it maastrichtian or campanian?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Vindhyan Fossils Show Cambrian Forms...1 *BILLION* Years Earlier

The controversial “Cambrian” fossils of the Vindhyan are real but more than a billion years older

1. Stefan Bengtsona,b,1,
2. Veneta Belivanovaa,
3. Birger Rasmussenc and
4. Martin Whitehouseb,d

-Author Affiliations

aDepartment of Palaeozoology and
dLaboratory for Isotope Geology, Swedish Museum of Natural History, SE-104 05 Stockholm, Sweden;
bNordic Center for Earth Evolution, SE-104 05 Stockholm, Sweden; and
cDepartment of Applied Geology, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, WA 6845, Australia


Edited by James P. Kennett, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, and approved March 24, 2009 (received for review December 11, 2008)


The age of the Vindhyan sedimentary basin in central India is controversial, because geochronology indicating early Proterozoic ages clashes with reports of Cambrian fossils. We present here an integrated paleontologic–geochronologic investigation to resolve this conundrum. New sampling of Lower Vindhyan phosphoritic stromatolitic dolomites from the northern flank of the Vindhyans confirms the presence of fossils most closely resembling those found elsewhere in Cambrian deposits: annulated tubes, embryo-like globules with polygonal surface pattern, and filamentous and coccoidal microbial fabrics similar to Girvanella and Renalcis. None of the fossils, however, can be ascribed to uniquely Cambrian or Ediacaran taxa. Indeed, the embryo-like globules are not interpreted as fossils at all but as former gas bubbles trapped in mucus-rich cyanobacterial mats. Direct dating of the same fossiliferous phosphorite yielded a Pb–Pb isochron of 1,650 ± 89 (2σ) million years ago, confirming the Paleoproterozoic age of the fossils. New U–Pb geochronology of zircons from tuffaceous mudrocks in the Lower Vindhyan Porcellanite Formation on the southern flank of the Vindhyans give comparable ages. The Vindhyan phosphorites provide a window of 3-dimensionally preserved Paleoproterozoic fossils resembling filamentous and coccoidal cyanobacteria and filamentous eukaryotic algae, as well as problematic forms. Like Neoproterozoic phosphorites a billion years later, the Vindhyan deposits offer important new insights into the nature and diversity of life, and in particular, the early evolution of multicellular eukaryotes.

Not at work so I can't look at the paper pdf...but what they are claiming is true. Or my understanding of it that is...



There are specific fossils they looked at. None of them are animal life, so no Burgess Shale critters here. There are gas bubbles found from cyanobacterial mats (gas got trapped in a mat and mud covered it) and what look like tubes secreted by specific kinds of algae (filamentous algae such as Spirogyra). There are other fossils as well, but they are not examined in detail. Chambalia (or soemthing like it) also makes an appearance. The age is rock solid though (sorry for the bad pun). This stuff is a billion years older and very similar to Cambrian equivalent taxa, but not necessarily actually Cambrian taxa.

PlanetSpace Protest of NASA COTS...*DENIED*

PlanetSpace, a partnership set up by Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and Alliant Techsystems Inc has had its protest denied by the U.S. Government Accountability Office on Wednesday.

SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp can now resume work on contracts worth up to $3.5 billion. The contracts call for a total of 20 flights to the space station to deliver cargo after the space shuttles are retired in 2010.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

California Effort to Change Its Constitution

Fed up with the budget crises and partisan battles that have paralyzed California for years, some influential voices believe it's time to tear open the state constitution and start anew.

Once dismissed as a hokey gimmick, support for a proposed constitutional convention has been building in the nation's most populous state. Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has indicated he would back an effort to retool the document to make state government function more smoothly.

Opponents of the step say it's just a ruse to raise taxes and could expose the constitution to a host of ideological and special interest-driven changes.


But in California, a tradition of ballot initiatives and other expressions of direct democracy have made the state's constitution among the longest and most complicated in the world. The best known of these initiatives is Proposition 13, a constitutional amendment passed in 1978 that slashed property taxes and helped spark a taxpayer revolt across the country.

"The system is broken because the constitution is outdated and has been amended more than 500 times, and each new amendment pays no attention to last year's amendment," said John Grubb of the Bay Area Council, a San Francisco business organization spearheading the constitutional convention effort.

Backers of the constitutional convention want to put a proposal on the November 2010 ballot that would narrowly focus the convention on budget reform and a few other specific matters. Divisive social issues like gay marriage would be excluded.

At issue is the requirement that a two-thirds vote of the California Legislature is needed to pass the state's budget and tax increases. California is one of just a handful of states requiring such a supermajority, and most years it leads to a weeks-long budget impasse. Convention backers want to drop the two-thirds majority rule to 55 percent.

The budget situation was particularly acute this year, as the state nearly went broke while lawmakers locked horns over how to close a projected $42 billion gap. Schwarzenegger signed a budget agreement in February but it will not go into effect unless voters approve several provisions of the agreement in a special election scheduled for May 19.

Polls show the ballot measures will likely fail, throwing the state back into fiscal chaos.

"Look anywhere in California and you'll find a crisis," Grubb continued. "Our education system used to be the best in the country, now we're 49th or 50th. Our transit network is the worst in the nation, our water system is on the verge of collapse, and our prison system is overflowing. The Legislature is responsible and they aren't able to do their jobs."


I may need to sign up to help with this. OTOH, unless we fix, permanently, the issues generated by the direct democracy ballot measures, this may not be such a good idea at all.

Single Cell Needed for Sequencing Now

“As long as you can isolate a single cell, pick it from the environment, lyse it, you can generate millions of copies of that genome and gain access to the information inside that organism,” Woyke confirmed. “One of the key issues that still needs refining is the lysis step, since many microbes will not lyse with alkaline solutions, the most common agent for the job. But we are actively working on that.”

Sweet! Not the firs time, but even I could think of all sorts of nifty applications once we have a very large data base of bacterial genomes.

Methane Calthrates Not Source at End of Ice Age

An expansion of wetlands and not a large-scale melting of frozen methane deposits is the likely cause of a spike in atmospheric methane gas that took place some 11,600 years ago, according to an international research team led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

The finding is expected to come as a relief to scientists and climate watchers concerned that huge accelerations of global warming might have been touched off by methane melts in the past and could happen again now as the planet warms. By measuring the amount of carbon-14 isotopes in methane from air bubbles trapped in glacial ice, the researchers determined that the surge that took place nearly 12,000 years ago was more chemically consistent with an expansion of wetlands. Wetland regions, which produce large amounts of methane from bacterial breakdown of organic matter, are known to have spread during warming trends throughout history.

"This is good news for global warming because it suggests that methane clathrates do not respond to warming by releasing large amounts of methane into the atmosphere," said Vasilii Petrenko, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the analysis while a graduate student at Scripps.

The results appear in April 24 editions of the journal Science.

I'll need that paper, folks, please!

More press releases here and here.

Some Reefs Show Great Resiliency

The Wildlife Conservation Society announced today a study showing that some coral reefs off East Africa are unusually resilient to climate change due to improved fisheries management and a combination of geophysical factors. WCS announced the results of the study at the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), which is meeting this week in Phuket, Thailand.

The study, published in the online journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, provides additional evidence that globally important "super reefs" exist in the triangle from Northern Madagascar across to northern Mozambique to southern Kenya and, thus, should be a high priority for future conservation action.

Authors of the study include Tim McClanahan and Nyawira Muthiga of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Joseph Maina of the Coral Reef Conservation Project, Albogast Kamukuru of the University of Dar es Salaam's Department of Fisheries Science and Aquaculture, and Saleh A.S. Yahna of the University of Dar es Salaam's Institute of Marine Sciences and Stockholm University's Department of Zoology.

The study found that Tanzania's corals recovered rapidly from the 1998 bleaching event that had wiped out up to 45 percent of the region's corals. Along with monitoring Tanzania's reefs, WCS helps coral conservation in this region through training of park staff in protected areas.

The authors attribute the recovery of Tanzania's coral reefs due in part to direct management measures, including closures to commercial fishing. Areas with fishery closures contained an abundance of fish that feed on algae that can otherwise smother corals, while the few sites without any specific management measures remain degraded; one site had experienced a population explosion of sea urchins—pests that feeds on corals.

The findings also showed that the structure of the reefs played a major factor in their resiliency. Tanzania's reefs are particularly complex and experience unusual variations in current and water temperature. These factors allow for greater survivorship of a higher diversity of coral species, including those that can quickly re-colonize after bleaching.

There's hope then. It really depends on us managing the reefs properly then...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is His Reputation About to Collapse?

Hat tip to James and his discussion. Link at the top and also please read the discussion on James' LJ.


Today, HELSTF is being shuttered. The toxic brew they used for the chemical lasers has been drained and carted off. Today the contractors are being escorted off site. It has been almost 8 years since I left, but in many ways, the camaraderie we had amongst the doers was great and missed. Shooting things down with a freakin flash light (albeit powered by deuterium and fluorine instead of a battery) was one of the kewler things I've done in my career.

I had wanted to walk through the LSTC one last time. And the Test Cells.

Obviously, the Govie management couldn't adapt to the solid state world. That doesn't surprise me.


Goodbye, HELSTF. It was fun. Even if the drive wasn't.

New Tyrannosaur and Ornithomimosaur Found

A Tyrannosaurus rex ancestor and an ostrich-mimic have emerged as two new dinosaur species found among a treasure trove of skeletons in China's Gobi Desert.

The T. rex relative had a mouthful of 70 teeth, and stood 5 feet tall at the hip while weighing almost a third of a ton. Scientists say that its discovery helps fill in a "missing link" in the giant carnivore's evolution.

However, the earlier dinosaur "was still a fly weight predator compared to its heavy-weight relatives," said Peter Makovicky, curator of dinosaurs at the Field Museum in Chicago. The Field Museum houses the largest known T. rex specimen, named Sue, which stood at nearly 14 feet tall at the hips and weighed between 6 and 7 tons.

Fills a big gap

Such large tyrannosaurs represent the later evolutionary killing machines in the family, and scientists have also found the earliest tyrannosaurs from China and England. The new relative helps fill in a large gap between the early and late chapters of tyrannosaur evolutionary history.

Chinese and American scientists who found the T. rex ancestor named it Xiongguanlong baimoensis, with Xiong Guan meaning "grand pass" and long being the Mandarin word for dragon.

"Xiongguanlong sheds light on the missing 40 [million] to 50 million years of tyrannosaur evolution," said Mark Norell, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The new dinosaur stands out from its late tyrannosaur family by having a very long and narrow snout, rather than the wide, massive skull of T. rex built for powerful bites. But Norell noted that it possessed body features which reveal the tyrannosaur evolution from small and mid-sized predators to top predators, including modified "nipping" teeth at the front of its mouth and expanded vertebral structures to support a larger head.

The team also found the new ornithomimosaur, or ostrich-mimic dinosaur, called Beishanlong grandis. Beishanlong weighed an estimated 1,400 pounds and rivaled the late Cretaceous ornithomimosaur called Gallimimus in size.

Still growing

Perhaps most surprising, the Beishanlong specimen had not finished growing yet when it died millions of years ago. Researchers analyzed a cross section of a lower leg bone to determine the dinosaur's age.

"Growth line counts revealed that the animal perished during its 14th year of life," said Gregory Erickson, a paleobiologist at Florida State University. "Although it is hard to fathom, this giant was still actively growing when it died."

Other finds from the Chinese-American expeditions show evidence of environmental separations among different kinds of dinosaurs. Horned dinosaurs and sickle-clawed dinosaurs tend to dominate red rocks deposited under dry conditions across almost all Cretaceous localities in the Gobi Desert, whereas tyrannosaurs, ornithomimosaurs, and duck-billed dinosaurs tend to occur in rocks deposited in wetter environments.

The asiatic environmental segregation is rather interesting.

Oh and did anything actually evolve in NorAm during the Cretaceous or were they all imports? What happened to the Evolve American Movement?


I used to be really, really into stealth aircraft and really wanted to design them. However, as I was getting ready to go to college, it became apparent that the aerospace world was contracting massively and there'd be few if any new programs to make a mark with in the post cold war world. Alas. I headed towards physics and astronomy...and ended up doing everything else instead.

Puijila darwini: Pinniped Ancestor?

Researchers from the United States and Canada have found a fossil skeleton of a newly discovered carnivorous animal, Puijila darwini. New research suggests Puijila is a "missing link" in the evolution of the group that today includes seals, sea lions, and the walrus. The analysis of the skeleton and support for the hypotheses that pinniped origins can be found in the Arctic will be described in the April 23 issue of the journal Nature.

Modern seals, sea lions, and walruses all have flippers—limb adaptations for swimming in water. These adaptations evolved over time, as some terrestrial animals moved to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Until now, the morphological evidence for this transition from land to water was weak.

"The remarkably preserved skeleton of Puijila had heavy limbs, indicative of well developed muscles, and flattened phalanges which suggests that the feet were webbed, but not flippers. This animal was likely adept at both swimming and walking on land. For swimming it paddled with both front and hind limbs. Puijila is the evolutionary evidence we have been lacking for so long," says Mary Dawson, curator emeritus of Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Portions of the Puijila darwini specimen were found in 2007 in deposits that accumulated in what was a crater lake in coastal Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada. A subsequent visit in 2008 yielded the basicranium, an important structure for determining taxonomic relationships.

Paleobotanic fossils indicate this location during the Miocene had a cool, coastal temperate environment, similar to present-day New Jersey. Given that freshwater lakes would freeze in the winter, it is likely that Puijila would travel over land to the sea for food. The transition from freshwater to saltwater in semi-aquatic mammals has been hypothesized for some time, first by Charles Darwin, who wrote in On the Origin of Species by the Means of Natural Selection, "A strictly terrestrial animal, by occasionally hunting for food in shallow water, then in streams or lakes, might at last be converted in an animal so thoroughly aquatic as to brace the open ocean."

"The find suggests that pinnipeds went through a freshwater phase in their evolution. It also provides us with a glimpse of what pinnipeds looked like before they had flippers," says Natalia Rybczynski, leader of the field expedition.

Aren't we on target with the walrodont evolutionary path then!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ceres Lander Being Considered

As the exploration of the solar system progresses, some scientists are considering missions to often overlooked worlds. One of these is Ceres, the smallest known dwarf planet which lies within the asteroid belt.

Investigations have shown that Ceres is an excellent target for exploration and may even have astrobiological significance.

Joël Poncy is in charge of interplanetary advanced projects within the Observation and Science Directorate of Thales Alenia Space, a European company that works on satellite systems and other orbital infrastructures. This organization has been involved in many scientific missions, including the Huygens probe, CoRoT, ExoMars, Mars Express and Venus Express. Poncy and his team, in association with Olivier Grasset and Gabriel Tobie from LPG-Nantes, now have turned their eyes to Ceres.

Ceres Polar Lander

Preliminary plans for a Ceres Polar Lander are currently being drawn up. The idea is to build a low-cost mission using reliable existing technology to complement other larger missions, while benefiting from NASA's Dawn mission results. Assuming launch by a Soyuz rocket, the spacecraft would take around four years to reach Ceres. It would then enter orbit before attempting a landing.

Poncy adds that "the lander would separate from the carrier, brake, land close to the target site while automatically avoiding boulders and permanent shadows. We would then perform an analysis similar that that of NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander of the surrounding soil and release a mini-rover to explore further. Astrobiological experiments similar to ExoMars can be envisaged."

huh. I wonder if I could convince them to write a letter of intent wrt buying a Team Phoenicia space-hardened lander. hrm.


The drying up of venture capital for alternative-fuel projects ought to have been a death knell for Emeryville, Calif., a square-mile sliver of land near Silicon Valley that until recently advertised itself as a "green corridor" for biofuel businesses. But, while the talk of a biofuel boom to rival the tech boom across the bay now sounds outlandish, this city of 6,800 people so far seems to be weathering the recession and the drop in oil prices that are hurting other parts of the green-tech sector.

Emeryville has a history as a rollicking industrial hub, with meatpacking, steelmaking, and paint companies sharing the streets with brothels and gambling houses. The 1970s marked a low point, but the town was cleaned up and revived by the ensuing technology boom. Today, a single, 24-hour gambling house remains: the Oaks Card Club, situated across the street from Pixar Animation Studios. "The town has completely changed," says John Tibbets, who owns Oaks.
A Foundation Already in Place

The city's push to be a hub for biofuels isn't as contrived as it might appear. Biotech and pharmaceutical firms, including giants such as Roche and Novartis NVS, have had facilities in Emeryville for years, and they rely on some of the same processes used to make biofuels. Geoffrey Sears, who heads a real estate firm called Wareham Development, leases offices to many biotech labs, and his clients now include two large biofuels ventures, Amyris Biotechnologies and the federally funded Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). Sears says the economic downturn has not hurt rentals in Emeryville. The biofuels labs have held firm, and "more and more money is flowing" into existing biotech and pharmaceutical companies. "Our occupancy is 97%. We are planning some new buildings," which should be ready by 2011, he says.

Emeryville has been proactive in trying to reinvent itself and continually reinvent itself since the 1980s. Urban blight was the word that best described the implosion that E-Ville had during the 70s and 80s. From around 1988, the residents through the city government spent a lot of time turning the city around. Now its becoming one of the hotspots of the Bay, biotech wise and to live in. The problem is that it's not quite family friendly: its very, very good for young singles or couples or people with kids before school age, but the schools leave much to be desired as yet. I've loved living here since I moved to the Bay Area in 2001. However, with Avrora pending kindergarten...we're going to move. Alas.

However, profitable biofuels at $50/barrel. Discuss!

Terrestrial World Found Around Gliese 581

There's a UC Berkeley team that has been working on hunting terrestrial planets. I've spoken to some of them and asked if I could be part of breaking the news. They're going to get back to me on that. Their set up, once it's done being calibrated, will crank out terrestrial planet finds quite quickly.

They Say Fountain of Youth, I Say Genie of the Lamp!

Monday, April 20, 2009

France Wants Europe to Develop Medium Lift Capability

EADS Astrium officials are urging that Europe begin preparing a design for a medium-lift launch vehicle that could provide an eventual replacement for the Russian-built Soyuz.

For the medium term at least, it is clear that European's medium-lift fortunes will continue to ride on the improved Soyuz 2, which will begin operating at the end of this year from a new 344 million euro ($450 million) launch pad that is nearing completion in Kourou, French Guiana. Thanks to the extra lift afforded by this near-equatorial location, Soyuz 2 will be capable of orbiting most of the European Space Agency's Earth observation satellites, as well as small telecom spacecraft up to 3.2 metric tons.

Soyuz will complement Europe's heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA and its new Vega light launch vehicle, due to enter service early next year.

"But in the long run, it would be surprising if Europe didn't have its own [midsize] launcher, Astrium Space Transportation Division CEO Alain Charmeau said recently at the division's main development and production facility here. For one thing, he said, Russia is already working on a two-stage follow-on to Soyuz, for which contractors were selected early this month, and there's no guarantee that Russia will be willing to share this capability indefinitely.

Hmm. Europeans are talking about getting their own capability and that Russia may not share nicely anymore. At the same time Russia is seeking European backing for some of their rocket development. I think that Europe is not as trusting a they used to be. Huh. I wonder why.

Early Tetrapods' Evolution Was Convoluted

Both extinct species, known as Ichthyostega and Acanthostega, lived an estimated 360-370 million years ago in what is now Greenland. Acanthostega was thought to have been the most primitive tetrapod, that is, the first vertebrate animal to possess limbs with digits rather than fish fins.

But the latest evidence from a Duke graduate student's research indicates that Ichthyostega may have been closer to the first tetrapod. In fact, Acanthostega may have had a terrestrial ancestor and then returned full time to the water, said Viviane Callier, who is the first author of a report on the findings to be published in today's issue of the journal Science.

"If there is one take-home message, it is that the evolutionary relationship between these early tetrapods is not well resolved," Callier said.

Co-author Jennifer Clack of the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge, England -- where she supervised Callier's work for a master's degree -- found the fossils embedded in rocks collected from East Greenland.

Rather than trying to remove them -- an action that would have destroyed much of the evidence -- the researchers studied the fossils inside the stone with computed tomography (CT) scanning. Callier "reconstructed" the animals using imaging software (Amira and Mimics) to analyze the CT scans, focusing on the shapes of the two species' upper arm bones, or humeri.

The CT slices revealed that Clack had found the first juvenile forms of Ichthyostega. Previously known fossils of Ichthyostega had come from adults.

Anatomies can morph as animals move towards adulthood, Callier said. And such shifts can help scientists deduce when in development the animal acquired the terrestrial habit. The fossils suggest that Ichthyostega juveniles were aquatically adapted, and that the terrestrial habit was acquired relatively late in development. The fossils bore evidence that the muscle arrangement in adults was better suited to weight-bearing, terrestrial locomotion than the juvenile morphology. It is possible that Ichthyostega came out of the water only as a fully mature adult.

In contrast, in Acanthostega "there is less change from the juvenile to the adult. Although Acanthostega appears to be aquatically adapted throughout the recorded developmental span, its humerus exhibits subtle traits that make it more similar to the later, fully terrestrial tetrapods," Callier said

Because the shapes of its adult limbs seemed the most fin-like, scientists had previously concluded that Acanthostega was "more primitive," Callier said. "But now, if we look at the details of the humeri, Ichthyostega's are actually more similar to earlier fishes."

Ironically, the shape of Acanthostegas limb's, in both adult and the newly-discovered juvenile forms, is more "paddle-like" than Ichthyostega's, Callier said. "They would have been really good swimmers. So, although Acanthostega had limbs with digits, we don't think it was really terrestrial. We think even the adults were aquatic."

"If Ichthyostega is actually more primitive than Acanthostega, then maybe animals evolved towards a terrestrial existence a lot earlier than originally believed," she said. "Maybe Acanthostega was actually derived from a terrestrial ancestor, and then, went back to an aquatic lifestyle."

I saw this over the weekend, but didn't have time for posting. Paleoblog has a link to the paper. Also a link to the Eureka Alert.

Oracle Buys Sun

Oracle Corp. snapped up computer server and software maker Sun Microsystems Inc. for $7.4 billion Monday, pouncing on an opportunity that opened up after rival IBM Corp. abandoned an earlier bid to buy one of Silicon Valley's best known — and most troubled — companies.

The deal will end Sun's 27-year history as Silicon Valley's brash independent and give Oracle ownership of the Java programming language, which runs on more than 1 billion devices around the world. Oracle also will take charge of the Solaris operating system, which already has been a platform for much of Oracle's products.

It's far from Oracle's biggest acquisition during a four-year shopping spree that has cost more than $40 billion, but it may be the boldest.

Oracle, a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based business software maker, will be branching more into storage and computer hardware as it accelerates its attempts to become a one-stop technology shop for more than 300,000 corporate, government and academic customers.

"With the acquisition of Sun, Oracle is now able to make all of the pieces of the technology stack fit together and work well," Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison said during a Monday conference call.

Wow. Here's a contrast: Sun bought for $7.4 billion. SGI for $25 million. The mighty systems companies of the past are all falling. Ellison in charge of Sun...*shudders*

Wolf 940b

Also at Centauri Dreams.

Friday, April 17, 2009

More Russian State Failure Mental Gymanstics

Russia’s population will continue to decline over the coming decades, threatening first some regions and then the country as a whole with depopulation, a trend whose consequences are both more immediate and more widespread than many now assume, according to a leading Moscow demographer.

In an article entitled “The Social Consequences of the Depopulation of Russia,” [google translation of her article] Olga Lebed of Moscow State University argues that “the demographic situation which has arisen in Russia over the course of recent decades has achieved such a critical point that it is impossible not to pay attention to it”

Her list, in brief, depopulation will...

1. change the ethnic mix
2. russians won't be the largest percentile in russia
3. threatens territorial integrity
4. worker shortage
5. population aging will crush the worker
6. exacerbate the gender imbalances[A]
7. cause parents to outlive their kids making things worse
8. destroy the family [B]
9. cause more mental illness, sociopathy, etc. Make everyone crazy
10. cause the state to take radical, even fsckign scary, steps to stop it[C]

A. Not enough men! Sounds like a perfect match for the Chinese!
B. She a conservative republican by chance?
C. such "as state-supported “incubator” children, 'hybridization of embryos,' cloning, and greater efforts to extent life spans and working lives." o.O

Sooo...what are they drinking there? Seriously spiked vodka?! Ahem. I should say: Now That's Some Vodka!

Some Experimental Paleobiology: Alligators Development And Hypoxia

During the last 540 million years, the earth's oxygen levels have fluctuated wildly. Knowing that the dinosaurs appeared around the time when oxygen levels were at their lowest at 12%, Tomasz Owerkowicz, Ruth Elsey and James Hicks wondered how these monsters coped at such low oxygen levels. But without a ready supply of dinosaurs to test their ideas on, Owerkowicz and Hicks turned to a modern relative: the alligator. 'We knew testing the effects of different oxygen levels would work with alligators,' Owerkowicz explains, 'because crocodilians have survived in their basic shape and form for 220 million years. They must be doing something right to have survived the oxygen fluctuations.' Choosing to start at the beginning of alligator development, the trio decided to try incubating alligator eggs at different oxygen levels, to find out how the youngsters grew and developed and publish their results on April 17 2009 in The Journal of Experimental Biology at

Receiving newly laid alligator eggs from Elsey at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Owerkowicz divided the eggs into groups incubated at 12% (low) oxygen, 21% (normal) oxygen and 30% (high) oxygen, and waited to see what would happen. After almost 10 weeks of waiting, the eggs began hatching and Owerkowicz could see that there were no obvious differences between the alligators that developed in normal and high oxygen atmospheres.


Atmospheric oxygen level affects growth trajectory, cardiopulmonary allometry and metabolic rate in the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

Tomasz Owerkowicz1,*, Ruth M. Elsey2 and James W. Hicks1

1 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA
2 Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Grand Chenier, LA 70643, USA

* Author for correspondence (e-mail:

Accepted 3 February 2009

Recent palaeoatmospheric models suggest large-scale fluctuations in ambient oxygen level over the past 550 million years. To better understand how global hypoxia and hyperoxia might have affected the growth and physiology of contemporary vertebrates, we incubated eggs and raised hatchlings of the American alligator. Crocodilians are one of few vertebrate taxa that survived these global changes with distinctly conservative morphology. We maintained animals at 30°C under chronic hypoxia (12% O2), normoxia (21% O2) or hyperoxia (30% O2). At hatching, hypoxic animals were significantly smaller than their normoxic and hyperoxic siblings. Over the course of 3 months, post-hatching growth was fastest under hyperoxia and slowest under hypoxia. Hypoxia, but not hyperoxia, caused distinct scaling of major visceral organs–reduction of liver mass, enlargement of the heart and accelerated growth of lungs. When absorptive and post-absorptive metabolic rates were measured in juvenile alligators, the increase in oxygen consumption rate due to digestion/absorption of food was greatest in hyperoxic alligators and smallest in hypoxic ones. Hyperoxic alligators exhibited the lowest breathing rate and highest oxygen consumption per breath. We suggest that, despite compensatory cardiopulmonary remodelling, growth of hypoxic alligators is constrained by low atmospheric oxygen supply, which may limit their food utilisation capacity. Conversely, the combination of elevated metabolism and low cost of breathing in hyperoxic alligators allows for a greater proportion of metabolised energy to be available for growth. This suggests that growth and metabolic patterns of extinct vertebrates would have been significantly affected by changes in the atmospheric oxygen level.

So. Does this support Ward's hypothesis about hypoxia strongly effecting vertebrate evolution or not? There are some hints, but I have to wonder about this...has anyone done anything like this for the monotremes?

My post "Gasping for Paleo Air" touches on some of this, btw, as there is evidence that the hypoxic levels may not have dropped as low as what has been hypothesized (17/18% instead of 11/12%) because vegetation won't burn under a certain oxygen level and there is ample evidence for forest fires at multiple geological time periods.

General Atomics Avenger UCAV (formerly Predator C)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

USN Awards Free Electron Laser Contracts

U.S. Navy ships could one day knock down incoming missiles with energy weapons that never run out of shots, and tune themselves to slice through the ocean air.

On Monday, the Office of Naval Research awarded contracts to both Raytheon and Boeing worth an initial $6.9 million each for preliminary design work on a new free electron laser, or FEL. This model would be about seven times strong than any similar laser -- reaching up to 100 kilowatts, or weapons-grade. Eventually, that could pave the way for a directed-energy weapon that can replace the Navy's current system for close-in ship defense, the radar-guided Phalanx gun.

FELs have the great advantage of being tunable: you can change their output frequency with relative ease. This means you can adapt to the aerial conditions at least. Possibly even making it into a blue-green laser and allow it to travel through water to some degree (huh. Close in torpedo zapper?! huh.) This makes FELs a highly desirable weapon...except you need space and a lot of juice. Sounds like a navy ship to me!

That said, FELs are not easy things to master technologically. We've sunk a lot of money in it to get this far and we're just now getting on the cusp of weapon's grade lasers.

Oh Frak! Oh My Terrible Apocaluck! logo
In a nuclear apocalypse
Emeryville, California
will be:
DEVASTATED (8 of 10)


yellow indicatorBlasted

Heat Blast

red indicatorCharred


red indicatorGlowing Brightly

What happens to your city?

hahaha! I'm toast!

China: Time For An Ocean Going Iron Great Wall

China will accelerate development of warships, stealth submarines and long-range missiles as the country makes a stronger navy a priority in military modernization, a Chinese admiral told state media.

Admiral Wu Shengli said the Communist Party leadership had ordered the navy to upgrade preparedness to defend the nation's expanding interests, Chinese newspapers reported on Thursday.

"The Party central leadership has demanded that the navy make preparedness for military struggle at sea a priority in national security strategy and military strategy," Xinhua news agency cited Wu as saying in the interview first issued on its website ( on Wednesday.

"We must accelerate progress in developing key weapons equipment," Wu added, singling out big warships, long-distance stealth submarines, supersonic jet fighters, and high-accuracy long-range missiles.

Chinese media have highlighted the government's hopes to build an aircraft carrier, seen as the badge of a mature ocean-going power. But Wu's remarks highlighted the country's broader ambitions to expand its naval reach.

China's navy had become an "ocean-going iron Great Wall" to "counter a range of security threats," Wu said.

I can list the threats:
  1. Pirates (ARRRR!)
  2. USN
  3. JSDF
The Japanese have been inching closer and closer to carriers again. This makes Asia nervous. The primacy of the USN pretty much everywhere in a global economy and with almost all of its resources and trade coming over water makes China really nervous. Pirates? Well, everyone is pretty annoyed with them these days. Lil frakkers.

India: No Rafale! Thanx!

India has decided not to buy Rafale fighters from French firm Dassault Aviation as part of a 12-billion-dollar upgrade of its air force, an Indian defence ministry official said Thursday.

The official said Dassault, one of six contenders in the race for a share of the mammoth contract, had failed to meet India's technical requirements.

"The Rafale is out of the race for the tender process, because during the technical evaluation the company did not meet all the user requirements," said the senior ministry official, who was speaking on condition he not be named.

"Dassault cannot submit fresh proposals or offer any other variants for technical evaluation, and is permanently out of the race. We now have one less bidder in the process," the official told AFP.

Industry sources have said that US-based Lockheed Martin, offering the F-16, and Boeing with its F-18 "Superhornet" have emerged as front-runners in bidding for the 12-billion-dollar, 126-jet contract.

The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company has offered its Typhoon Eurofighter, while Russian manufacturers of the MiG-35 and MiG-29, as well as Sweden's Saab, which makes the Gripen fighter, are also in the running.

The contract includes the outright purchase of 18 fighter jets by 2012 with another 108 to be built in India.

It's fascinating to see the US fighters offered to India. To says a lot about the evolution of relations between the US and India since 1971 (?) when we sent an aircraft carrier off western India to be threatening. I ahve to rather like the change.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cretaceous Turtle Has Eggs in CT Scan

Michael Knell carried a 75-million-year-old turtle into Bozeman Deaconess hospital recently, then laid it carefully on the bed that slides into the CT scanner.

Hardly an ordinary patient, the turtle fossil was only the second in the world found with eggs inside it, said Knell, a Montana State University graduate student in earth sciences. His turtle (from the genus Adocus) came from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Kanab, Utah. The previously described turtle, which was found in Alberta, is also an Adocus and lived about the same time. Knell wanted his fossil scanned to see if he could find a skull and more eggs and learn whether or not the eggs contained embryos.

"It allows us to peer inside without digging into it," Knell said. "It gives us a hands-off look without having to break anything."

"It's very cool," added Frankie Jackson, an MSU paleontologist who specializes in eggs.

The CT machine looks like a giant doughnut with a narrow bed attached. Patients normally lay on the bed, then ride through the scanner while it takes images of a particular area. In this case, Knell wanted to scan the entire turtle. Although the edges of its shell were missing, the fossil measured about one foot across and weighed 40 to 50 pounds.


Spence operated the scanner from an adjoining room while Knell and Jackson looked over her shoulders. As the CT scanner took cross-sections of the fossil, white images appeared -- slice by slice -- on Spence's computer screen.

"It's very, very dense," Spence said of the shell. "You can lose some detail when that happens. You have to penetrate enough to see, but you can sometime lose detail that way."

Jackson said CT scans generally work better on fossils than X-rays and MRIs do.

"Usually embryo bone doesn't show up too well on a CT scan, so we might no be able to see embryos very well, but it could clue you in that you need to look at the eggs a little closer," Jackson added.

As time went by, the scientists realized that the eggs weren't showing up as clearly as they'd expected and they'd need to examine the images more closely. As a result, Spence saved her images to a disc and gave it to Knell. He and Jackson said they would contact the Museum of the Rockies, which has special software for looking at CT images from a variety of angles. The researchers expect to present their findings during the fourth international Symposium on Dinosaur Eggs and Babies. Knell's adviser, David Varricchio, and Jackson are organizing the event, which will be held Aug. 8-10 at MSU.

sweet! Anyone have pix?

Could the Neandertals Have Had /Races/?!

The Neanderthals inhabited a vast geographical area extending from Europe to western Asia and the Middle East 30,000 to 100,000 years ago. Now, a group of researchers are questioning whether or not the Neanderthals constituted a homogenous group or separate sub-groups (between which slight differences could be observed). A new study published April 15 in the online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE may provide some answers.

Paleoanthropological studies based on morphological skeletal evidence have offered some support for the existence of three different sub-groups: one in Western Europe, one in southern Europe and another in the Levant.

Researchers Virginie Fabre, Silvana Condemi and Anna Degioanni from the CNRS Laboratory of Anthropology (UMR 6578) at the University of Marseille, France, have given further consideration to the question of diversity of Neanderthals by studying the genetic structure of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and by analyzing the genetic variability, modeling different scenarios. The study was possible thanks to the publication, since 1997, of 15 mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences (the mtDNa is maternally transmitted) that originated from 12 Neanderthals.

The new study confirms the presence of three separate sub-groups and suggests the existence of a fourth group in western Asia. According to the authors, the size of the Neanderthal population was not constant over time and a certain amount of migration occurred among the sub-groups. The variability among the Neanderthal population is interpreted to be an indirect consequence of the particular climatic conditions on their territorial extension during the entire middle Pleistocene time period.

Could it be that the Neanderthals, rather than just be the pasty redheaded Euros that are often depicted...could they have had their own 'races' much like modern humans do? Wouldn't that be so damned kewl!!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where You Grow Biofuels Matters

A new study finds that it will take more than 75 years for the carbon emissions saved through the use of biofuels to compensate for the carbon lost when biofuel plantations are established on forestlands. If the original habitat was peatland, carbon balance would take more than 600 years. The study appears in Conservation Biology.

The oil palm, increasingly used as a source for biofuel, has replaced soybean as the world's most traded oilseed crop. Global production of palm oil has increased exponentially over the past 40 years. In 2006, 85 percent of the global palm-oil crop was produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, countries whose combined annual tropical forest loss is around 20,000 square kilometers.

Conversion of forest to oil palm also results in significant impoverishment of both plant and animal communities. Other tropical crops suitable for biofuel use, like soybean, sugar cane and jatropha, are all likely to have similar impacts on climate and biodiversity.

"Biofuels are a bad deal for forests, wildlife and the climate if they replace tropical rain forests," says research scientist Finn Danielsen, lead author of the study. "In fact, they hasten climate change by removing one of the world's most efficient carbon storage tools, intact tropical rain forests."

As countries strive to meet obligations to reduce carbon emissions under one international agreement (Kyoto Protocol), they may not only fail to meet their obligations under another (Convention on Biological Diversity) but may actually hasten global climate change.

According to the study, reducing deforestation is likely to represent a more effective climate-change mitigation strategy than converting forest for biofuel production, and it may help nations meet their international commitments to reduce biodiversity loss.

Alternatively, planting biofuels on degraded grasslands instead of tropical rain forests would lead to a net removal of carbon from the atmosphere in 10 years. Any biofuel plantations in tropical forest regions should be considered only in former forest land which has already been severely degraded to support only grassy vegetation.

"The EU and the US should only import and subsidize bio-fuel from guaranteed sustainable productions and only from countries which can demonstrate that their forests are sustainably managed," says Danielsen.

In some ways that feels like a "Well, duh, dude." I mean, you cut down the largest carbon sink around and...

PG&E to Buy 200 MW from Space Based Solar Power Sat Company

Solar power beamed down from space will generate electricity for California homes as soon as 2016, under a new plan by a utility company to ramp up renewable energy technology far beyond solar panels on roofs.

PG&E would buy 200 megawatts of space solar power from Solaren Corp. over 15 years under a power purchase agreement, enough to power tens of thousands of homes. The utility company has begun seeking approval for the deal from California state regulators.

Solaren would use solar panels on satellites in orbit to capture the sun's power, and then convert it into radio frequency energy that could beam down to a receiving station. The energy would then undergo a conversion to electricity and feed into PG&E's power grid.

Having solar panels in orbit could provide a clean, reliable source of solar power that avoids the interruptions of cloudy days and bad weather on Earth. That tempting prospect has led NASA and the U.S. Defense Department to investigate possibilities for space solar power, despite the hefty cost of launching solar panels into orbit.

A former NASA scientist went so far as to demonstrate the radio wave transmission technology that would carry energy from space to Earth. He and his team transmitted solar power over a distance of 92 miles between two Hawaiian islands, during a four-month experiment in 2008.

No one has built a system with equivalent size and scale to what Solaren envisions. But the transmission technology is "very mature" and based on what communications satellites use today, said Gary Spirnak, Solaren CEO.

Now THAT'S a salesman.

No prototype. No hardware at all.

And as far as I can website even. Sheesh. goes to an Armenian company.

Damn. he's far better than I am.

The Great Hand in the Cosmos


Monday, April 13, 2009

First Tool Users 300 Million Years Ago?!

The first tool-users in the world may have been scorpion-like sea beasts. The extinct animals used other creatures' shells to help them breathe on land 500 million years ago, new research suggests.

Five years ago paleontologists found dozens of strange fossil tracks, each about four inches (ten centimeters) wide, in half-billion-year-old rocks exposed at a flagstone quarry in Wisconsin.

The marks appear to have been made by multi-legged creatures that had all dragged some weight on their left sides.

The tracks look like those made by modern-day hermit crabs, but the marks date back to some 300 million years before those crustaceans existed. (See a prehistoric time line.)

Based on the footprint patterns, researchers suggest the tracks were made by sea scorpions, critters that resembled "a cross between a scorpion and a horseshoe crab," said lead study author James Whitey Hagadorn of Amherst College.

Sea scorpions—thought to be among the first marine animals to evolve for life on land—breathed underwater using gills on their tails.

The odd drag marks could have been from the coiled shells of snails or similar critters, which the ocean-dwelling scorpions stuffed their tails into so they could venture above water, the researchers suggest.

Humid air trapped inside the shells might have protected the sea scorpions' gills from drying out during brief forays into the open air—like reverse scuba gear.

"Instead of an aqualung, like you have with human divers, you have the reverse: an aerolung," Hagadorn said.

Ok. Not as profound as it sounded at first Curse those people wanting more traffic!!!



OTOH, this is kewl...if not much more profound than a hermit crab like behavior.

How to Detect Exoplanetary Oceans

Photometric Variability in Earthshine Observations
Authors: Sally V. Langford, J. Stuart B. Wyithe, Edwin L. Turner
(Submitted on 6 Apr 2009)

Abstract: The identification of an extrasolar planet as Earth-like will depend on the detection of atmospheric signatures or surface non-uniformities. In this paper we present spatially unresolved flux light curves of Earth for the purpose of studying a prototype extrasolar terrestrial planet. Our monitoring of the photometric variability of earthshine revealed changes of up to 23 % per hour in the brightness of Earth's scattered light at around 600 nm, due to the removal of specular reflection from the view of the Moon. This variability is accompanied by reddening of the spectrum, and results from a change in surface properties across the continental boundary between the Indian Ocean and Africa's east coast. Our results based on earthshine monitoring indicate that specular reflection should provide a useful tool in determining the presence of liquid water on extrasolar planets via photometric observations.

Comments: To appear in Astrobiology 9(3). 17 pages, 3 figures, 1 table

Also see here.

Draft Agenda for CCSM Workshop in June 09

(image src: NCAR: Kiehl, as an example of CCSM generated data)

See the agenda here.

Finding Theia

As many of you may or may not know, the leading theory on how the Moon formed is through a collision between a Mars sized world, often dubbed Theia, and the early Earth. Two spacecraft, STEREO, are going to be deployed to the L-5 and there is hope that they will find remnants there of the collision. Both the Universe Today and Centauri Dreams have articles.

California Impacts Under Climate Change

A biennial report released today by a team of experts that advises California’s governor suggests that climate changes are poised to affect virtually every sector of the state’s economy and most of its ecosystems. Significant impacts will likely occur under even moderate scenarios of global greenhouse emissions and associated climate change, but without action, severe and costly climate change impacts are possible across the state.

The state Climate Action Team (CAT) report uses updated, comprehensive scientific research to outline environmental and economic climate impacts. Its authors include Dan Cayan, a climate scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, and a member of the CAT steering team.

A broad collaboration of scientists, mostly from state academic and government agencies, provided a large set of technical papers that form the underpinnings for much of the CAT report. Assessments include the impacts of sea level rise, higher temperatures, increased wildfires, decreased water supplies, increased energy demand, among others, on the state’s environment, industries and economic prosperity. Each of the papers has undergone peer review by technical experts in private, public and governmental entities.

Impacts of climate change to California’s coast, agriculture, forest and communities have been known and studied for years; however the studies that support the CAT report suggest that actual greenhouse gas emissions are outstripping 2006 projections. Of particular interest are the several papers focusing on the impacts of a rise in sea levels to coastal communities and increased potential of wildfires to residential areas.


Key Findings:

* Water Supply Impacts: A group of researchers at UC Davis investigated the effect of potential climate-induced reductions in water supply to the agricultural sector. One of their findings is that the lack of water would result in reductions in irrigated crop area contributing to the loss of agricultural lands in the Central Valley. Under the particular climate change scenario investigated, the researchers also found that changes in yields (mostly negative) and changes in water availability could result in gross revenues losses of up to $3 billion by year 2050. (Source: Effect of Climate Change on Field Crop Production in the Central Valley of California; California Perennial Crops in a Changing Climate; Estimating the Economic Impacts of Agricultural Yield Related Changes for California)
* Electricity Demand Impacts: To estimate potential impacts of climate change on electricity demand for the residential sector, researchers at UC Berkeley used a comprehensive household level billing data set for California. This highly detailed study found much larger effects of climate change on electricity demand than previous studies. Statewide electricity demand may increase by up to 55 percent by the end of the century. However, policies aimed at reducing the weather sensitivity of demand can play a large role in reducing future electricity demand. (Source: Impact of Climate Change on Residential Electricity Consumption)
* Wildfire Risks: Scientists at UC Merced and Pardee RAND Graduate School performed a novel analysis of wildfire risk in California. They estimated that wildfire risk would increase throughout the end of the century. Average annual monetary impacts due to home loss may plausibly to be on the order of 2 billion dollars per year by mid-century and up to $14 billion per year by the end of the century. (Source: Climate Change, Growth, and California Wildfire; Potential Effects of Climate Change on Residential Wildfire Risk in California)
* Ecosystem Impacts: The Nature Conservancy’s research has determined that California's historic ranching culture, and a source of local, grass-fed beef, is at significant risk from climate change. (Source: The Impact of Climate Change on California's Ecosystem Services)

To view each of the draft papers and a list of authors, visit

Wilkins Ice Sheet Collapse Sat Image

Monday Militaria: Mystery UCAV in Afghanistan

Afghanistan maybe the testing ground for a new, advanced but as yet undisclosed UCAV programme.

Pictures shown exclusively to Unmanned Vehicles magazine and taken at an airbase in the war-torn country reveal a large flying wing-type design, adopted by UCAV designers, but not yet seen on an operational type.

The image shown in the link below has been drawn directly from the photograph but none of the experts consulted by UV had any concrete idea of what the system might be.

The image shown to UV was taken from a long distance, as the aircraft taxied in on a hazy day, but the image was clear enough to show that this UAV’s design is like no other UAV in current operational service.

There are probably two reasons for a stealthy UCAV being used in Afghanistan. 1. It and iraq are the best real life testing grounds we have: the prototypes can actually be used with live ordinance on real missions. 2. There are elements in Pakistan, probably even a few radar techs, that are feeding info to people on the ground, so if the UCAV can't be seen, there's no chance of a warning...

The picture above is an artist's rendition based on photos taken. Mostly likely that's an American UCAV, since it fits proposals from around 8 to 5 years ago by various defense contractors, but it's not a given.