Friday, October 30, 2009

New Anklyosaur From Cretaceous of Montana

A husband and wife team of American paleontologists has discovered a new species of dinosaur that lived 112 million years ago during the early Cretaceous of central Montana.

The new dinosaur, a species of ankylosaur, is documented in the October issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. Ankylosaurs are the biological version of an army tank. They are protected by a plate-like armour with two sets of sharp spikes on each side of the head, and a skull so thick that even 'raptors' such as Deinonychus could leave barely more than a scratch.

Bill and Kris Parsons, Research associates of the Buffalo Museum of Science, found much of the skull of the newly described Tatankacephalus cooneyorum resting on the surface of a hillside in 1997. Because the skull was 90% complete, it was possible to justify this fossil as a new species.

"This is the first member of Ankylosauridae to be found within the Early Cretaceous Cloverly Geologic Formation," said Bill Parsons, who characterized the fossil as a transitional evolutionary form between the earlier Jurassic ankylosaurs and the better known Late Cretaceous ankylosaurs.

The skull is heavily protected by two sets of lateral horns, two thick domes at the back, and smaller thickenings around the nasal region. "Heavy ornamentation and horn-like plates would have covered most of the dorsal surface of this dinosaur" said Bill Parsons.

"For years, Bill and Kris have been collecting fossils from a critical time in Earth's history, and their hard work has paid off," said Lawrence Witmer, professor of paleontology at Ohio University who was not involved with this study. "This is a really important find and gives us a clearer view of the evolution of armored dinosaurs. But this is just the first; I'm sure, of what will be a series of important discoveries from this team."

Parsons also illustrated the dermal armour of this new species based on the theory by Museum of the Rockies paleontologist John R. Horner that there was an outer keratinous sheathing on it as found in modern turtle shells and bird beaks. In his new reconstruction, Parsons suggests that Tatankacephalus exhibited complex and colorful patterns rather than the dull appearance suggested in earlier ankylosaur portraits. "According to Horner's theory, many other dinosaurs also had this kind of sheathing and also may have been diversely colored" said Parsons.

As to its name, the broad, short horns on the back of its skull resemble the horns found on a modern buffalo skull and Tatankacephalus loosely translates as 'Buffalo head.' Parsons also noted, "of course any further allusions to the city of Buffalo are completely intentional as well".

AP write up here too.

Any pix?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rocket. Yeah

That's iteration one. Two ought to be coming up soon (in a month +/- with better machining). Those of you that bought tank space. They'll appear on the centerline tank. It's 20 1/2 inches dia. Wind River is getting one tank and so is AirGas. The remaining sponsors will get the last LOX tank on a per contribution basis like the word cloud the individuals did.

Monster Pliosaur Found on Britian's Jurassic Coast

So...Mark...was it really a Liopleurodon?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Phoenix in the Martian Spring

Japanese Find Lunar Lava Tube Entrance?

A "skylight" found on the moon's surface could provide access to a cozy underground shelter for future humans on the moon, scientists say.

Japan's Kaguya spacecraft recently captured pictures of the curious dark hole, which may open onto a large underground lava tube.

Scientists have long searched for easy access to lava tubes on the moon, since the lunar caves hold promise as natural shelters, noted Junichi Haruyama, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science.

"Lava tubes … provide ready-made protection from the harsh lunar environment: meteorite bombardment, radiation from space, and the large changes in temperature through the lunar day," Haruyama said.

Needs. Verification. However, damned kewl if true. Just on the heels of the Mars tube announcements! Does someone have the coordinates of WHERE on the moon this is?

Russians Want Nuclear Powered Vaporware Rocket

Russia's space agency chief is proposing to build a new spaceship with a nuclear engine. Reportedly, Anatoly Perminov told a government meeting Wednesday that the preliminary design could be ready by 2012. It would take about nine more years and 17 billion rubles (about $600 million or 400 million euros) to build the ship. This ambitious proposal is a stark contrast to the current state of the Russian space program.

I suppose it'll carry the Kliper into orbit, right?

Second thought, a Nicollism: This can only end well.

Ares-1X Launch

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cretaceous Unicorn Fly

(img src: Oregon State)
A single, incredibly well-preserved specimen of the tiny but scary-looking fly was preserved for eternity in Burmese amber, and it had a small horn emerging from the top of its head, topped by three eyes that would have given it the ability to see predators coming. But despite that clever defense mechanism, it was apparently an evolutionary dead end that later disappeared.

"No other insect ever discovered has a horn like that, and there's no animal at all with a horn that has eyes on top," said George Poinar, Jr., a professor of zoology at Oregon State University who just announced the new species in Cretaceous Research, a professional journal.

"It was probably a docile little creature that fed on the pollen and nectar of tiny tropical flowers," Poinar said. "But it was really bizarre looking. One of the reviewers of the study called it a monster, and I have to admit it had a face only another fly could have loved. I was thinking of making some masks based on it for Halloween."

This fly lived in the jungles of Myanmar and was found trapped in amber that was from 97 to 110 million years old. The gooey, viscous tree sap that flowed down over the fly and later turned to stone preserved its features in lifelike detail, including its strange horn topped by three functional eyes.

"If we had seen nothing but the wings of this insect, it would have looked similar to some other flies in the family Bibionomorpha," Poinar said. "But this was near the end of the Early Cretacous when a lot of strange evolutionary adaptations were going on. Its specialized horn and eyes must have given this insect an advantage on very tiny flowers, but didn't serve as well when larger flowers evolved. So it went extinct."

Poinar named the new fly Cascoplecia insolitis – from the Latin "cascus" for old and "insolates" for strange and unusual.

The fly also had other very unusual characteristics, the study found, such as an odd-shaped antenna, unusually long legs that would have helped it crawl over flowers and extremely small vestigial mandibles that would have limited it to nibbling on very tiny particles of food.

Pollen grains found on the legs of the fly suggest that it primarily must have fed on flowers.

Very kewl. I wonder how big it was...

Ordovician Extinction Cause: War between Appalachians and Volcanoes

Researchers here have discovered the pivotal role that volcanoes played in a deadly ice age 450 million years ago.

Perhaps ironically, these volcanoes first caused global warming -- by releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When they stopped erupting, Earth's climate was thrown off balance, and the ice age began.

The discovery underscores the importance of carbon in Earth's climate today, said Matthew Saltzman, associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University.

The results will appear in the journal Geology, in a paper now available online.

Previously, Saltzman and his team linked this same ice age to the rise of the Appalachian Mountains. As the exposed rock weathered, chemical reactions pulled carbon from Earth's atmosphere, causing a global cooling which ultimately killed two-thirds of all species on the planet.

Now the researchers have discovered the other half of the story: giant volcanoes that formed during the closing of the proto-Atlantic Ocean -- known as the Iapetus Ocean -- set the stage for the rise of the Appalachians and the ice age that followed.

"Our model shows that these Atlantic volcanoes were spewing carbon into the atmosphere at the same time the Appalachians were removing it," Saltzman explained. "For nearly 10 million years, the climate was at a stalemate. Then the eruptions abruptly stopped, and atmospheric carbon levels fell well below what they were in the time before volcanism. That kicked off the ice age," he said.

This is the first evidence that a decrease in carbon from volcanic degassing -- combined with continued weathering of the Appalachians -- caused the long-enigmatic glaciation and extinction in the Ordovician period.

Here is the picture the researchers have assembled: 460 million years ago, during the Ordovician, volcanoes along the margin of what is now the Atlantic Ocean spewed massive amounts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, turning the world into a hothouse. Lava from those volcanoes eventually collided with North America to form the Appalachian Mountains.

Acid rain -- rich in carbon dioxide -- pelted the newly exposed Appalachian rock and wore it away. Chemical reactions trapped the carbon in the resulting sediment, which formed reefs in the vast seas that covered North America.

For about 10 million years, the volcanoes continued to add carbon to the atmosphere as the Appalachians removed it, so the hothouse conditions remained stable. Life flourished in the warm oceans, including abundant species of trilobites and brachiopods.

Then, 450 million years ago, the eruptions stopped. But the Appalachians continued weathering, and atmospheric carbon levels plummeted. The Earth swung from a hothouse to an icehouse.

By 445 million years ago, glaciers had covered the south pole on top of the supercontinent of Gondwana (which would eventually break apart to form the continents of the southern hemisphere). Two-thirds of all species had perished.

When they started this research, Saltzman and his team knew that Earth's climate must have changed drastically at the end of the Ordovician. But they didn't know for certain that volcanoes were the driving force, explained Seth Young, who did this research for his doctoral degree at Ohio State. He is now a postdoctoral researcher at Indiana University.

"This was not necessarily what we expected when we started investigating, but as we combined our data sources, the story began to fall into place," Young said.

Using a computer model, they drew together measurements of isotopes of chemical elements -- including strontium from rocks in Nevada and neodymium from rocks in Virginia and Pennsylvania -- with measurements of volcanic ash beds in the same locations. Then they factored in temperature models developed by other researchers.

The ash deposits demonstrated when the volcanoes stopped erupting; the strontium levels indicated that large amounts of volcanic rock were being eroded and the sediment was flooding Earth's oceans during this time; and the neodymium levels pinpointed the Appalachians as the source of the sediment.

The new findings mesh well with what scientists know about these ancient proto-Atlantic volcanoes, which are thought to have produced the largest eruptions in Earth's history. They issued enough lava to form the Appalachians, enough ash to cover the far ends of the earth, and enough carbon to heat the globe. Atmospheric carbon levels grew 20 times higher than they are today.

This study shows that when those volcanoes stopped erupting, carbon levels dropped, and the climate swung dramatically back to cold. The timing coincides with today's best estimates of temperature fluctuations in the Ordovician.

"The ash beds start building up at the same time the Appalachian weathering begins, but then the record of volcanism ends, and the temperature drops," Saltzman said. "Knowing these details can help us understand how carbon in the atmosphere is changing Earth's climate today."

Next, the researchers will examine the role of the ancient volcanic ash more closely. While the ash was in the atmosphere -- before it settled around the globe -- it might have blotted out the sun, and cooled the earth somewhat. Saltzman and his team want to make some estimate of this short-term cooling effect to refine their computer model.

Meanwhile, Young is just starting to re-analyze the same rock samples, this time looking for a different isotope -- sulfur. This, he hopes, will offer clues to how much oxygen was in the oceans, and how that oxygen may have affected life in the Ordovician.

Death by carbon cycle. Nice. No time to comment beyond saying that this would mesh well with what we know of the Ordovician Extinction and its probably causes. Also, it strongly argues against using broad sweeping, horribly time stepped models to draw detailed conclusions from. Especially ones that you do not at least attempt to correlate them to the very thing they are supposed to be modeling. ahem.

What Sort of Science Can You Do With a Petaflop?

The world's fastest supercomputer, Roadrunner, at Los Alamos National Laboratory has completed its initial "shakedown" phase doing accelerated petascale computer modeling and simulations of a variety of unclassified, fundamental science projects.

The Roadrunner system is now beginning its transition to classified computing to assure the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

Capitalizing on this national security investment, 10 unclassified projects were selected for this opportunity to use Roadrunner, a hybrid-architecture, 1.105 petaflop/s computing system, during a six-month period that ended in September 2009.

These projects were also used to put a "work load" on the Roadrunner system so that scientists could optimize the way large codes are able to run on the machine. The Roadrunner open science projects represent the best of science, and the value of enabling technologies at Los Alamos, and were selected from across the Laboratory by a special committee.

A sampling of the projects include:

Astrophysicists have created the largest-ever computer model of an expanding, accelerating universe to help scientists understand both dark matter and dark energy, two cosmic constituents that remain a mystery.

Mapping Darwinian phylogenic evolutionary relationships for large numbers of Human Immunodeficiency Virus genetic sequences results in an HIV family tree that may lead researchers to new vaccine focus areas.

Computer scientists adapt VPIC, a particle-in-cell plasma physics code, to simulate laser plasma interactions on the Roadrunner petascale supercomputer - models critical to understanding inertial confinement fusion at the National Ignition Facility.

How nanowires break under stress is simulated atom-by-atom over a period of time that is closer than ever to experimental reality to see how the movement of single atoms can change a material's mechanical or electrical properties.

Magnetic reconnection is a basic process that occurs within hot ionized gases known as plasmas. This process often leads to an explosive release of energy that is stored within the magnetic fields, and plays a key role in the earth's magnetosphere, solar flares, magnetic fusion machines, and a variety of astrophysical problems.

Physicists use SPaSM computer code to conduct multibillion-atom molecular dynamics simulations of materials as extreme shock-wave stresses break the materials into pieces, for the first time attempting to create atomic-scale models that describe how voids are created, how materials may swell or shrink under stress, and how a once-broken bond might reform.

Keep in mind, we're still a long ways off from the climate computer ideal: 500 petaflops sustained performance. That machine may be as much as 15 years in the future. But what you can do in the mean time is pretty darned kewl.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Fruitadens Paper

Lower limits of ornithischian dinosaur body size inferred from a new Upper Jurassic heterodontosaurid from North America

1. Richard J. Butler (1,2,*)
2. Peter M. Galton (3,†)
3. Laura B. Porro (4)
4. Luis M. Chiappe (5)
5. Donald M. Henderson (6)
6. Gregory M. Erickson (7)

1. Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie, Richard-Wagner-Straße 10, 80333 Munich, Germany

2. Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK

3. Professor Emeritus, College of Naturopathic Medicine, University of Bridgeport,
Bridgeport, CT 06604, USA

4. Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA

5. The Dinosaur Institute, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA 90007, USA

6. Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, PO Box 7500, Drumheller, Alberta T0J 0Y0, Canada

7. Department of Biological Science, Florida State University,
Tallahassee, FL 32306-4295, USA

* Author for correspondence (

† Present address: 315 Southern Hills Drive, Rio Vista, CA 94571, USA.


The extremes of dinosaur body size have long fascinated scientists. The smallest (<1 m length) known dinosaurs are carnivorous saurischian theropods, and similarly diminutive herbivorous or omnivorous ornithischians (the other major group of dinosaurs) are unknown. We report a new ornithischian dinosaur, Fruitadens haagarorum, from the Late Jurassic of western North America that rivals the smallest theropods in size. The largest specimens of Fruitadens represent young adults in their fifth year of development and are estimated at just 65–75 cm in total body length and 0.5–0.75 kg body mass. They are thus the smallest known ornithischians. Fruitadens is a late-surviving member of the basal dinosaur clade Heterodontosauridae, and is the first member of this clade to be described from North America. The craniodental anatomy and diminutive body size of Fruitadens suggest that this taxon was an ecological generalist with an omnivorous diet, thus providing new insights into morphological and palaeoecological diversity within Dinosauria. Late-surviving (Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous) heterodontosaurids are smaller and less ecologically specialized than Early (Late Triassic and Early Jurassic) heterodontosaurids, and this ecological generalization may account in part for the remarkable 100-million-year-long longevity of the clade.

Still wish there were sabre toothed heterodontosaurid carnivores...;)

Ethopia's Oligocene Climate Very Different Than Now

Thirty million years ago, before Ethiopia's mountainous highlands split and the Great Rift Valley formed, the tropical zone had warmer soil temperatures, higher rainfall and different atmospheric circulation patterns than it does today, according to new research of fossil soils found in the central African nation.

Neil J. Tabor, associate professor of Earth Sciences at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and an expert in sedimentology and isotope geochemistry, calculated past climate using oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in minerals from fossil soils discovered in the highlands of northwest Ethiopia. The highlands represent the bulk of the mountains on the African continent.

Tabor's research describes a picture of the paleo landscape of Ethiopia that wasn't previously known because the fossil record for the tropics has not been well established. The fossils were discovered in the grass-covered agricultural region known as Chilga, which was a forest in prehistoric times. Tabor's research looked at soil fossils dating from 26.7 million to 32 million years ago.

Fossil plants and vertebrates in the Chilga Beds date from 26.7 million to 28.1 million years ago, Tabor says. From his examination, Tabor determined there was a lower and older layer of coal and underclay that was a poorly drained, swampy landscape dissected by well-drained Oxisol-forming uplands. A younger upper layer of the Chilga Beds consists of mudstones and sandstones in what was an open landscape dominated by braided, meandering fluvial stream systems.

no time to comment.

New Mars Mission Cartography (of a sort)

A new listing of all the Mars missions the world has sent. Their status, type and nationality included.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meet Fruitadens haagarorum: North American heterodontosaurid, bitty version

The fossil bones of a dinosaur so tiny it could dart between the legs of its huge neighbors are being assembled at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and scientists there are excited about its history.

The little creature weighed less than 2 pounds and was only 28 inches long from its fierce little jaws to the end of its long tail.

Although its name is Fruitadens - fruit teeth - it probably ate all kinds of food. It likely ate plants most of the time, but bugs and other small animals, as well, said Luis Chiappe, director of the museum's Dinosaur Institute.

The first details of the dinosaur's life and evolution are being published this week in the British scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and Chiappe is overseeing construction of a detailed, full-scale model of the animal that will take another two years to complete, he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

"It's the smallest species of dinosaur ever found in North America," Chiappe said, "and it lived about 150 million years ago - one of the most primitive of all the dinosaurs, living right at the base of the dinosaur evolutionary tree."

Bones of four individual creatures were found near Fruita, Colo., more than 30 years ago by dinosaur hunters from Cal State Long Beach. The Los Angeles County museum has stored them ever since. A team of specialists, including Chiappe and led by Richard Butler of the Bavarian State Paleontology Collection in Munich, has analyzed them and described their technical details.

"It tells you once again how dinosaurs can range in size, from 2-pound animals like Fruitadens to creatures weighing 50 tons or more like plant-eating sauropods like Brachiosaurus, or the meat-eaters like the theropod Allosaurus."

The slightly built, agile little dinosaur belongs to a class of creatures known as heterodontosaurids, whose unusually shaped teeth - some sharp and some leaf-shaped - indicate it was most probably omnivorous, Chiappe said.


Itsy bitsy NORTH AMERICAN heterodontosaurids!

All of you jerks that got to go to London probably knew about this one. :P

Heterodontosaurs are my favourite after ceratopsians. :)

Ok. Question. Why no orinthschian carnivores? Theropods too good? But then why did the uber sized pterosaurs start becoming stalking ground feeders?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Symptom or Complication: Algae Mats at Mass Extinctions


CASTLE, James W.,

Dept. of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, Clemson University, 340 Brackett Hall, Clemson, SC 29634-0919,

RODGERS, John H. Jr,

Dept. of Forestry and Natural Resources, Clemson University, 261 Lehotsky Hall, Clemson, SC 29634-0317


Observations from modern environments and evidence from the geologic record support the hypothesis that toxin-producing algae were present in the geologic past and played an important role in Phanerozoic mass extinctions. Mass mortalities of invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals caused by algal-produced toxins are occurring in modern environments. Several types of human illness, some resulting in death, are attributed to toxins produced by algae. In addition to direct effects of these toxins, the large mass of organic material produced by algal blooms can result in dissolved oxygen depletion during decay and indirectly cause death of some biota. Toxin-producing algae occupy a wide range of modern marine, brackish, and freshwater environments. Their growth in aquatic environments is favored by warm water temperatures, increased inorganic carbon concentrations (e.g. CO2), and abundant bioavailable nutrient supplies. Modern, toxin-producing algal blooms are occurring at increasing frequency, which may be related to global warming. Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) are responsible for most of the disease and death caused by algal toxicity today. The rock record demonstrates a pronounced increase in abundance and environmental range of algae, including stromatolitic cyanobacterial mats, coincident with major Phanerozoic mass extinctions. During these past events of algal expansion, declines in populations of metazoan taxa may have been caused by lethal effects of algal blooms, including algal-produced toxins, at a scale sufficient to generate a fossil record of mass extinction. Past environmental changes such as climatic warming, sea-level change, and increased nutrient supply may have promoted algal blooms over vast expanses of marine to freshwater environments. Environmental stressors including UV irradiation, drought, physical injury, and changes in water chemistry can induce algae in modern environments to produce increased quantity and potency of toxins. Catastrophic events such as volcanism and impacts may have been a source of environmental stress that caused or contributed to increased production or potency of algal-produced toxins in the geologic past.

Symptom or complication?

Is this a symptom of the mass death: the lack of grazers allows the return of bacterial mats? Or is it one of the complicating causes of mass death during extinctions? Or both?

Feakin Kewl Bot

Friday, October 16, 2009

Anoxygenic Photosynthesic Bacteria Dominated Early Earth

Anoxygenic photosynthesis modulated Proterozoic oxygen and sustained Earth's middle age

1. D. T. Johnston (a,b,1,2)
2. F. Wolfe-Simon (a,1,2)
3. A. Pearson (a,2)
4. A. H. Knoll (b,2)

a Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA, 02138; and

b Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA, 02138

1 D.T.J. and F.W.-S. contributed equally to this work

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


Molecular oxygen (O2) began to accumulate in the atmosphere and surface ocean ca. 2,400 million years ago (Ma), but the persistent oxygenation of water masses throughout the oceans developed much later, perhaps beginning as recently as 580–550 Ma. For much of the intervening interval, moderately oxic surface waters lay above an oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) that tended toward euxinia (anoxic and sulfidic). Here we illustrate how contributions to primary production by anoxygenic photoautotrophs (including physiologically versatile cyanobacteria) influenced biogeochemical cycling during Earth's middle age, helping to perpetuate our planet's intermediate redox state by tempering O2 production. Specifically, the ability to generate organic matter (OM) using sulfide as an electron donor enabled a positive biogeochemical feedback that sustained euxinia in the OMZ. On a geologic time scale, pyrite precipitation and burial governed a second feedback that moderated sulfide availability and water column oxygenation. Thus, we argue that the proportional contribution of anoxygenic photosynthesis to overall primary production would have influenced oceanic redox and the Proterozoic O2 budget. Later Neoproterozoic collapse of widespread euxinia and a concomitant return to ferruginous (anoxic and Fe2+ rich) subsurface waters set in motion Earth's transition from its prokaryote-dominated middle age, removing a physiological barrier to eukaryotic diversification (sulfide) and establishing, for the first time in Earth's history, complete dominance of oxygenic photosynthesis in the oceans. This paved the way for the further oxygenation of the oceans and atmosphere and, ultimately, the evolution of complex multicellular organisms.

I'm reading and chewing on this one. Big time.

Cerrejón Formation, Colombia: Earliest Record of Neotropical Forest

Late Paleocene fossils from the Cerrejón Formation, Colombia, are the earliest record of Neotropical rainforest

1. Scott L. Wing (a,1)
2. Fabiany Herrera (b,c)
3. Carlos A. Jaramillo (b)
4. Carolina Gómez-Navarro (b,d)
5. Peter Wilf (e)
6. Conrad C. Labandeira (a)

a. Department of Paleobiology, P.O. Box 37012, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC 20013;

b. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancon, Panamá, República de Panamá;

c. Florida Museum of Natural History and Department of Biology, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117800, Gainesville, FL 32611-7800;

d. Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720; and

e. Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802

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


Neotropical rainforests have a very poor fossil record, making hypotheses concerning their origins difficult to evaluate. Nevertheless, some of their most important characteristics can be preserved in the fossil record: high plant diversity, dominance by a distinctive combination of angiosperm families, a preponderance of plant species with large, smooth-margined leaves, and evidence for a high diversity of herbivorous insects. Here, we report on an ≈58-my-old flora from the Cerrejón Formation of Colombia (paleolatitude ≈5 °N) that is the earliest megafossil record of Neotropical rainforest. The flora has abundant, diverse palms and legumes and similar family composition to extant Neotropical rainforest. Three-quarters of the leaf types are large and entire-margined, indicating rainfall >2,500 mm/year and mean annual temperature >25 °C. Despite modern family composition and tropical paleoclimate, the diversity of fossil pollen and leaf samples is 60–80% that of comparable samples from extant and Quaternary Neotropical rainforest from similar climates. Insect feeding damage on Cerrejón fossil leaves, representing primary consumers, is abundant, but also of low diversity, and overwhelmingly made by generalist feeders rather than specialized herbivores. Cerrejón megafossils provide strong evidence that the same Neotropical rainforest families have characterized the biome since the Paleocene, maintaining their importance through climatic phases warmer and cooler than present. The low diversity of both plants and herbivorous insects in this Paleocene Neotropical rainforest may reflect an early stage in the diversification of the lineages that inhabit this biome, and/or a long recovery period from the terminal Cretaceous extinction.


Looks Like the Euros Got a Terrestrial

"On Monday 19 October 2009, astronomers will report at the international ESO/CAUP exoplanet conference in Porto, Portugal, on a significant discovery in the field of exoplanets, obtained with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, better known as HARPS, the spectrograph for ESO's 3.6-meter telescope."

From the same authors, using the same instrument: arXiv:0906.2780: The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets XVIII. An Earth-mass planet in the GJ 581 planetary system

"We report here the detection of an additional planet - GJ 581e - with a minimum mass of 1.9 M_earth With a period of 3.15 days, it is the innermost planet of the system and has a 5% transit probability."

Interesting. Let's see if that's what they announce.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shiva Impact Rising Again?


CHATTERJEE, Sankar, Geosciences, Texas Tech Univ, MS Box 41053, Lubbock, TX 79409-3191, and MEHROTRA, Naresh M., Paleobotany, Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleobotany, 53 University Road, Lucknow, 226007, India

India was ground zero for two catastrophic events, the Shiva impact and Deccan volcanism at the KT boundary that have been linked to the dinosaur extinction. The buried and multiringed Shiva crater (~500 km diameter) on the western shelf of India is the remnant of a giant meteorite impact that left high-resolution stratigraphic signals in the sedimentary and volcanic rocks such as shocked quartz, iridium anomaly, nickel-rich spinels, sanidine spherules, magnetic nanoparticles, high pressure fullerenes, megatsunami deposits, and melt lavas. The Shiva crater is the largest hydrocarbon reserve in India, where the central uplift, the Bombay High, and the associated brecciated bodies and peripheral strata form ideal structural traps for oil and gas. The Shiva bolide (~40 km diameter) would generate lethal amount of kinetic energy of 1.45 x 1025 joules. The impact was so powerful that it led to several geodynamic anomalies: it fragmented, sheared, and deformed the lithosphere mantle across the western Indian margin and contributed to major plate reorganization in the Indian Ocean. It initiated rifting between India and Seychelles in the west and created the Laxmi Ridge; it shattered the Indian plate easterly along the Narmada-Son Rift extending 1500 km across, dividing the Indian shield into a southern peninsular block and a northern foreland block. Because of topographic barrier of the Western Ghat Mountain range, the impact-triggered tsunami was restricted along the Narmada-Son Rift at the KT boundary. The relationships between large meteoritic impact, hotspot, flood basalt volcanism, plate tectonics, geodynamic anomalies, and sudden environmental catastrophe on Earth may open up a new field of unified investigation. Although the Reunion hotspot responsible for Deccan eruption was close to the Shiva crater in time and space, impact probably triggered a component of the Deccan Trap: the iridium-rich alkaline igneous complex rocks that were emplaced asymmetrically as a fluid ejecta at the KT boundary along the NE downrange direction of the bolide trajectory outside the crater ring. Two large impacts such as Shiva and Chicxulub in quick succession on the antipodal position, in concert with Deccan eruptions, would have devastating effects globally leading to climatic and environmental catastrophes that wiped out dinosaurs and many other organisms at the KT boundary.

mmmm. This really needs to be commented on, but I'm so far behind, I'm not going to have a chance right now. Let's just say there are a lot of geologists that have doubts that the Shiva crater even exists. In fact, last I checked the majority were not in favour of its existance at all.

As for shoe horning in the Deccan Traps...*sighs*

Did the Chinese Just Create the World's First "Black Hole?"

If you haven't heard of metamaterials and what they can do, where have you been? Most of the media coverage so far has focused on invisibility cloaks but that's just the start of the fun physicists can have with this stuff. Only a few weeks ago we were discussing how to recreate the big bang inside a metamaterial. And earlier this year, a group of physicists suggested that it ought to be possible to create a black hole using metamaterials. That's an interesting idea but a demonstration would be more exciting.

Step forward Qiang Cheng and Tie Jun Cui at the State Key Laboratory of Millimeter Waves at Southeast University in Nanjing, China, who have used metamaterials to create the world's first artificial black hole in their lab. Yep, a real black hole.

That's not quite as scary as it sounds. A black hole is a region of space from which light cannot escape (that's why it's black). According to Einsteins' theory relativity, black holes form when space becomes so distorted by a large mass that light cannot escape its gravitational field.

But gravity needn't be involved. Metamaterials also distort space, as far as light is concerned anyway (in fact there is a formal mathematical analogy between these optical and gravitational distortions).

heh. Not as scary as it first sounds. ;)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Darwinopterus: Glider Hunter

An international group of researchers from the University of Leicester (UK), and the Geological Institute, Beijing (China) have identified a new type of flying reptile – providing the first clear evidence of an unusual and controversial type of evolution.

Pterosaurs, flying reptiles, also known as pterodactyls, dominated the skies in the Mesozoic Era, the age of dinosaurs, 220-65 million years ago. Scientists have long recognized two different groups of pterosaurs: primitive long-tailed forms and their descendants, advanced short-tailed pterosaurs some of which reached gigantic size. These groups are separated by a large evolutionary gap, identified in Darwin's time, that looked as if it would never be filled – until now.

Details of a new pterosaur, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences fits exactly in the middle of that gap. Christened Darwinopterus, meaning Darwin's wing, the name of the new pterosaur honours the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the origin of species.

Gaps in the fossil record are common – only a tiny proportion of all the animals and plants that ever lived were fortunate enough to become fossilised, and only a tiny proportion of these have been collected so far. Consequently, our understanding, both of the history of particular groups such as pterosaurs, and of the evolutionary processes that generated those histories, is still patchy and often controversial.

More than 20 fossil skeletons of Darwinopterus, some of them complete, were found earlier this year in north-east China in rocks dated at around 160 million years old. This is close to the boundary between the Middle and Late Jurassic and at least 10 million years older than the first bird, Archaeopteryx. The long jaws, rows of sharp-pointed teeth and rather flexible neck of this crow-sized pterosaur suggest that it might have been hawk-like, catching and killing other contemporary flying creatures. These included various pterosaurs, tiny gliding mammals and small, pigeon-sized, meat-eating dinosaurs that, aided by their feathered arms and legs had recently taken to the air, and would later evolve into birds.

"Darwinopterus came as quite a shock to us" explained David Unwin part of the research team and based at the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies. "We had always expected a gap-filler with typically intermediate features such as a moderately elongate tail – neither long nor short – but the strange thing about Darwinopterus is that it has a head and neck just like that of advanced pterosaurs, while the rest of the skeleton, including a very long tail, is identical to that of primitive forms".

Dr Unwin added: "The geological age of Darwinopterus and bizarre combination of advanced and primitive features reveal a great deal about the evolution of advanced pterosaurs from their primitive ancestors. First, it was quick, with lots of big changes concentrated into a short period of time. Second, whole groups of features (termed modules by the researchers) that form important structures such as the skull, the neck, or the tail, seem to have evolved together. But, as Darwinopterus shows, not all these modules changed at the same time. The head and neck evolved first, followed later by the body, tail, wings and legs. It seems that natural selection was acting on and changing entire modules and not, as would normally be expected, just on single features such as the shape of the snout, or the form of a tooth. This supports the controversial idea of a relatively rapid "modular" form of evolution.

Paper anyone?

Gene May Affect Mental Adaptability

People with a specific genetic mutation seem to be "smarter," in the sense of being able to adapt to changing situations and continue to make correct decisions quickly, a new German study suggests.

And people graced with this genotype showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, activity that is probably linked to metabolism of the brain chemical dopamine.

"Dopamine is related to reward so perhaps some individuals can make quicker decisions because they have more dopamine in the prefrontal cortex," said Paul Sanberg, a professor of neurosurgery and director of the University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair in Tampa.

The findings, reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, raise the hope of one day helping people with disorders such as Parkinson's disease that involve dopamine irregularities.

Looking for the paper. It's in PNAS.

This World [is] Being Watched Keenly and Closely

Earth and Moon as seen from Mars.

50 Years of Exploring the Solar System

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

HR 2499 Takes a Step Forward...but will it advance further?

Oct 8th Placed on the Union Calendar, Calendar No. 164.

Oct 8th Reported (Amended) by the Committee on Natural Resources. H. Rept. 111-294.

So. HR2499 has made it as far as as HR 900, the previous attempt at getting the status question for Puerto Rico settled. However, once the previous bill was placed on the calendar, Pelosi et al quashed it. Will this one make it further? This one has almost 50% more cosponsors (127 to the 181 of this bill (and growing)).

One can be hopeful at least that it will get further, but I won't hold my breath. I WOULD be delighted if PR was the 51st state by the time the 2012 elections happened though.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Rapid Resurgence of Marine Productivity After the Cretaceous-Paleogene Mass Extinction

Rapid Resurgence of Marine Productivity After the Cretaceous-Paleogene Mass Extinction

Julio Sepúlveda (1,2,*)
Jens E. Wendler (3)
Roger E. Summons (4)
Kai-Uwe Hinrichs (1,2)

1 Organic Geochemistry Group, Department of Geosciences, and Center for Marine Environmental Sciences (MARUM), University of Bremen, 28334 Bremen, Germany.

2 International Graduate College–Proxies in Earth History (EUROPROX), University of Bremen, 28334 Bremen, Germany.

3 Research Group Geochronology–Basin Analysis, Department of Geosciences, University of Bremen, 28334 Bremen, Germany.

4 Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 45 Carleton Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.

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


The course of the biotic recovery after the impact-related disruption of photosynthesis and mass extinction event at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary has been intensely debated. The resurgence of marine primary production in the aftermath remains poorly constrained because of the paucity of fossil records tracing primary producers that lack skeletons. Here we present a high-resolution record of geochemical variation in the remarkably thick Fiskeler (also known as the Fish Clay) boundary layer at Kulstirenden, Denmark. Converging evidence from the stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen and abundances of algal steranes and bacterial hopanes indicates that algal primary productivity was strongly reduced for only a brief period of possibly less than a century after the impact, followed by a rapid resurgence of carbon fixation and ecological reorganization.

Maotherium: Hints as to the Development of the Mammalian Ear?

Researchers digging in north eastern China say they have discovered the fossil of a previously unknown chipmunk-sized mammal that could help explain how human hearing evolved.

Paleontologists unearthed the 123-million-year-old creature, which is just 15 centimeters (five inches) long, in fossil-rich Liaoning Province, near the Chinese border with North Korea.

"What is most surprising, and thus scientifically interesting, is the animal's inner ear," said Zhe-Xi Luo, a curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and one of the study's authors.

The condition of the "remarkably well preserved" three dimensional fossil has allowed an international team of researchers to reconstruct how the creature's middle ear was connected to its jaw.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What is Medean Life Part 4: Biodiversity Through Time

As some of my blog followers have been noting that I have been posting on the Medea Hypothesis as posited by Dr Peter Ward in his book of the same name. I have been working my way through what I think are the relevant parts and posting summaries (and quotes) from them. The first post about what the different hypotheses, Gaian and Medean, are. The second post covered what would make life Medean, rather than Gaian, is here. The third post is about the Medean "Events" of the past. Originally, I had planned to do this fourth post on biodiversity and biomass through deep time and into the future. I realized though that biodiversity through time and biomass through time are independent subjects and ought to be covered separately.

The complete Medea Hypothesis Review Table of Contents is here.

This time we are tackling biodiversity through deep time.

Ward paints three different possible scenarios of how biodiversity could exist through time.

Scenario One: Ever Increasing Complexity & Diversity

The first one is where over time, life has become more and more diverse. Life is growing ever more diverse and ever more complex in its interactions. The ecology through time has been becoming more and more complex in the methods that life extracts energy from its environment. As more complex ways are evolved, more opportunities for further niches arise which in turn life moves on to occupy.

This has been the relatively traditional view that the scientific field has held. In fact, it's held this since the 19th century. Work up through the end of the 20th century appears to have confirmed it. Specifically, it has been supported by the work of the late Dr Sepkoski. His work is based on surveying the scientific literature and picking up the named genera. This work has, iirc, continued by successors.

The biggest critique of this view is what is called the "Pull of the Recent." What is that? The problem cited is just the fact that the more recent the sediments, the more common they are. There are more locations for Pleistocene fossils (what is popularly called the Ice Age) than there are for Eocene (the hot house 35 million years ago). The further back in Deep Time you go, the lower number of locations where fossil bearing sediments are available. Therefore, you will get a bias to the present. Or at least will be biased to whichever eras have the most locations. Or have been the most collected from. or...There are a number of good criticisms. More later.

Scenario Two: Diversity Plateaus

The second view is that at some time in Deep Time, life hits diversity plateaus. That is to say that at different times, life had innovations that allowed it to diversify and then hit some inherent limit within the ecology: it was impossible to diversify more because all the potential niches were occupied.

Where these plateaus are is a very contentious issue. Some work indicates that the Late Paleozoic was as diverse as now. Other research suggests that the peak was actually in the Late Cretaceous as part of the Cretaceous Ecological Revolution with the introduction of flowering plants. Still others argue that life hit a step function at different times. The Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic were each more diverse than the last. The work, in general, is pretty new. Paleontologists are more collectors and analyzers of animals and only a handful - a very argumentative group at that - study the larger issues of diversity and ecology in Deep Time. I find the same names from 30 years ago that are arguing about it now when digging through all of this.

Third Scenario: Peak Diversity is Past

There is another, very heretical (ie not accepted) view that the diversity of life hit its peak in the past. Ward argues that, in fact, that life actually hit its peak during the Eocene as far as its diversity and we are now in the long slide to ecological simplification. Think of the old simple curves they used to do for civilizations (Toynbee's Organic Cycle of Civilizations? I think?): there was a period of youth where they would grow and expand. This was followed by a mature stance or period where expansion stopped, but maintained itself. Then, old age sets in and contraction sets in and ultimate decline, fall, and extinction follow. While not exactly excepted much in history studies these days, Ward presents that the decline stage has already set in. He asserts that life is the cause of its own decline in biodiversity. This makes it Medean.

His arguments for the passing of the peak of biodiversity fold into the next post: that biomass has been declining through time and life is the cause. We'll cover that in the next post.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


We're a little out of sorts. I've been on paternity leave and we moved. I've been scrambling to get back in the groove for the rocket and more. We had a nightmare for getting back online with the move: AT&T treated us like we were some sort of cat toy. To make matters worse, our camera had fallen out the back of the fscking car!!! We just got a replacement. Pix to come.

Orest is doing really, really well. At his first appointment 3 days after he was born, he only lost 4 oz: normally that's 10 for a new born we were told. His appointment last thursday showed he'd grown 1/2 inch and gained two lbs. His nickname at home right now is Bear. He growls a lot. It's pretty funny. He has AWESOME control of his head and follows voices and watches people. He even has differentiated the cries into the hungry, wet diaper, and wanna be held. He's even gone a step further and calls each of us differently, without crying. If he wants me, he calls one way. if he wants mom, he calls another. If he wants Avrora (!!!), he calls another. It's not a scream or crying...just a vocalization.

His mom is doing well too. She's recovering and handling being a double mom. She's still very sore. If I'd done what she did, I'd be more than merely sore. o.O She's sleep deprived, but, hey, we all are.

Avrora is handling this pretty well. She gets a little jealous now and again, but...not too bad. We have to make sure that we are doing things for her too. Only a couple temper tantrums and some acting out. She's been a trooper in general though.

Rocket frame and tanks get delivered to TechShop on Friday from the welder. We already had the pressure tests done. No sweat. Final assembly and...;)

Blogging will resume more normally next week when I return to work.