Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Take With a Grain of Salt: North Koreans Claim Ediacaran Fossils

North Korean researchers have discovered a 620,000,000-year-old fossil of a tubular animal, the first organism with skeletal structure on Earth, the state media reported today.

Researchers from the geology faculty of Kim Il Sung University excavated the fossil of the tubular animal in the Proterozoic era of North Hwanghae province, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report.

According to the report, the tubular animal was the first organism with skeletal structure on Earth. It was an elliptic tube-shape animal with nothing in abdomen.

The researchers said they found fossils of primitive seaweeds and primitive jellyfish belonging to the period of transition from one-cell to multi-cell in 2001.

During their recent in-depth research into the fossil, they discovered the fossil of the 5 cm-long tubular animal again on the same stratum, Xinhua news agency quoted KCNA as saying.


The Big Five Mass Extinctions Hit Open Water Oceans Harder

For many years, paleobiological researchers interested in the history of biodiversity have focused on charting the many ups (evolutionary radiations) and downs (mass extinctions) that punctuate the history of life. Because the preserved record of marine (sea-dwelling) animals is unusually extensive in comparison, say, to that of terrestrial animals such as dinosaurs, it's been easier to accurately calibrate the diversity and extinction records of marine organisms.

“Paleontologists now recognize that there were five particularly large, worldwide mass extinction events during the history of life, known among the cognoscenti as ‘The Big Five,’” says Miller. “Much ink in research journals has been spilled over the past few decades on papers investigating the causes of these events.”

Although researchers have long understood the potential value of “dissecting” mass extinctions, to ask whether some environments and organisms were affected more dramatically than others, little attention has been paid to a major dichotomy observed among marine sedimentary rocks and fossils: the distinction between epicontinental seas, which were broad shallow seas (typically less than 100 meters in depth) that once covered large regions of present-day continents, and open-ocean-facing coastlines, such as the continental shelves that rim many continents.

Today, it is difficult to appreciate that there was a time when regions such as Cincinnati were once covered by epicontinental seas, which gradually diminished over time so that almost none are left in the present day. And yet, a large percentage of Earth’s fossil record is associated with these settings in the geological past, and there are many reasons to believe that their environmental properties were very different from open-ocean settings.

For one thing, because they were so broad and relatively flat, drops in sea level should have had more drastic effects on epicontinental seas because large regions could have been drained entirely in a short amount of time. On the other hand, the sluggish circulation associated with epicontinental seas may have inhibited the spread of the waterborne effects of such events as volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts, which may have been more effective killing agents in open oceans.

In their research, Miller and Foote assembled data on the occurrences of marine genera from the Paleobiology Database for the Permian through Cretaceous periods, during which both major settings are well preserved in the fossil record. From that, they determined whether these occurrences were from epicontinental seas or open-ocean-facing settings, and they then compared extinction and origination rates in the two settings throughout the interval.

“This was a particularly juicy interval to work with, because it includes three of The Big Five, including the Late Permian mass extinction, the largest extinction in the history of marine animal life, and the end-Cretaceous event, which also did in the dinosaurs and has been associated previously with the impact of a big comet or asteroid,” Miller says.

Miller and Foote found that, while extinction rates in the two settings did not generally differ from one another during “background” times between mass extinctions, there was a strikingly different pattern for the mass extinctions: extinctions rates during mass extinctions were significantly higher in open-ocean-facing settings than in epicontinental seas, indicating that open-ocean settings were more susceptible to the mass-extinction-causing agents.

The only exception to Miller and Foote’s basic finding was an interval of heightened extinction in the run-up to the big event at the end of the Permian, during which the extinction rate was higher in epicontinental seas. But this interval had already been fingered by previous researchers as one in which there was a big sea-level decline, so Miller and Foote’s finding bolsters the view that a drop in sea level was uniquely important as a cause of extinction in that interval.

For their analysis, Miller and Foote looked at several hundred thousand occurrences of fossils throughout the world assembled from the Paleobiology Database and used paleogeographic maps on which they had delineated the boundaries of epicontinental seas to determine whether individual occurrences were from epicontinental seas or the open ocean. “We then determined from these occurrences whether a given genus had a statistically significant tendency to occur in one setting more often than in the other, and if so, it was classified as open-ocean ‘loving’ or epicontinental-sea ‘loving,’” Miller explains. “Our assessments of extinction and origination rates for the two settings were based on these assignments.”


“One clear outcome of our analyses is that different marine environments respond differently to agents of mass extinction,” says Miller. “Given present-day concerns that physical agents such as the accelerated pace of global warming may be inducing a ‘sixth’ extinction, we might also ask whether some present-day marine settings are likely to be more susceptible than others to the effects of extinction-causing agents.”

Interesting, but no time to comment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I think My Canadian Readers Need To Do Some Explaining...

According to a business survey done by PriceWaterhouseCoopers here are the rankings for fraud:

1. Russia.
2. South Africa
3. Kenya
5. Mexico.

Hat tip to Gancho.

Care to 'splain that you not so corrupt ones? ;)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

HELLADS: DARPA's Laser Weapons Takes Another Step Forward

DARPA is getting ready to move to the next phase of its High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) program to demonstrate a laser weapon system compact enough to be carried on board a tactical aircraft - say a B-1B bomber or an AC-130 gunship - without affecting their ability to perform traditional missions.

The research agency has signalled its intent to award a 24-month contract to either or both of the HELLADS developers - General Atomics and Textron Defense Systems - to build and ground-test a 150kW laser compatible with the requirement for a weapon-system weight of 750kg.

Story over at Ares. We're getting really close to a shake up. We're now talking less than a decade for lasers to become deadly weapons on the battlefield. Without the noxious chemicals.

Yet Another Hobbits Are A New Human Species Study

Researchers from Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York have confirmed that Homo floresiensis is a genuine ancient human species and not a descendant of healthy humans dwarfed by disease. Using statistical analysis on skeletal remains of a well-preserved female specimen, researchers determined the "hobbit" to be a distinct species and not a genetically flawed version of modern humans. Details of the study appear in the December issue of Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society, published by Wiley-Blackwell.

In 2003 Australian and Indonesian scientists discovered small-bodied, small-brained, hominin (human-like) fossils on the remote island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago. This discovery of a new human species called Homo floresiensis has spawned much debate with some researchers claiming that the small creatures are really modern humans whose tiny head and brain are the result of a medical condition called microcephaly.

Researchers William Jungers, Ph.D., and Karen Baab, Ph.D. studied the skeletal remains of a female (LB1), nicknamed "Little Lady of Flores" or "Flo" to confirm the evolutionary path of the hobbit species. The specimen was remarkably complete and included skull, jaw, arms, legs, hands, and feet that provided researchers with integrated information from an individual fossil.

Need! More! Fossils!

Paper here.

Ocean Carbon Uptake Topping Out

The world's oceans, which normally gobble up carbon dioxide, are getting stuffed to the gills, according to the most thorough study to date of human-made carbon in the seas.

Between 2000 and 2007, as emissions of the potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide skyrocketed, the amount of human-made carbon absorbed by the oceans fell from 27 to 24 percent.

In terms of ocean processes, "that's a pretty large drop, and the trend is pretty clear: The ocean can't keep up with [human-made carbon]," said study leader Samar Khatiwala, an oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Khatiwala is careful to point out that the total uptake of carbon is not declining—the rate is just not growing as fast as it used to.

But if the oceans continue to be overwhelmed by carbon, more of the gas will remain in the already warming atmosphere, the authors say.

"Ultimately the ocean is what's controlling what's going on here," said Chris Sabine, a supervisory oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, who was not involved in the research.

"It's a big deal that it's becoming less efficient in taking up CO2."

It's hitting a wall. Considering that emissions went up in that time frame - this past year up 2% despite the economic slow down and driven by China, not the US - the drop is less than they imply, but still there.

Another Step to the Robo Future

On Oct. 27, 2004, a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle blew himself up alongside a U.S. Army flatbed truck in Balad, in north-central Iraq. The blast killed the truck’s driver, Staff Sgt. Jerome Lemon, from the South Carolina-based 1052nd Transportation Company.

Nearly five years later, at a sandy outdoor range at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an unassuming orange-and-black-painted forklift approached and lifted a pallet of mock munitions, as an audience of Army officers looked on. It might have looked like any day at any austere supply depot, but for one thing: the forklift had no driver.

While separated by years and thousands miles, there’s a direct link between Lemon’s tragic death and the robotic forklift’s quiet feat. From warehouses to highways to supply depots, the Pentagon is working hard to replace human logisticians like Lemon with machines that cannot be killed. After several years of intensive development, the first supply bots are just beginning to crawl and fly towards battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A story from War is Boring.


Robo future is getting here.

However, while I'm excited about the idea of being able to radically downsize the logistics portion of the army (less guys and gals on the tail end and more combatants), this has enormous potential for the civie sector. Just imagine what we could do at the dock yards! You could completely shift the workers away from unloading to inspecting. Even that could be automated in a way.

We need construction and produce picking bots still.

Cretaceous Gondwanan Crocodyliform Diversity

A suite of five ancient crocs, including one with teeth like boar tusks and another with a snout like a duck's bill, have been discovered in the Sahara by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Paul Sereno. The five fossil crocs, three of them newly named species, are remains of a bizarre world of crocs that inhabited the southern land mass known as Gondwana some 100 million years ago.

Sereno, a professor at the University of Chicago, and his team unearthed the strange crocs in a series of expeditions beginning in 2000 in the Sahara. Many of the fossils were found lying on the surface of a remote, windswept stretch of rock and dunes. The crocs galloped and swam across present-day Niger and Morocco when broad rivers coursed over lush plains and dinosaurs ruled.

"These species open a window on a croc world completely foreign to what was living on northern continents," Sereno said. The five crocs, along with a closely related sixth species, will be detailed in a paper published in the journal ZooKeys and appear in the November 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine. The crocs also will star in a documentary, "When Crocs Ate Dinosaurs," to premiere at 9 p.m. ET/PT Saturday, Nov. 21, on the National Geographic Channel.

Extensively covered here, here, here, here, here, and here at least. Paper here.

Avrora and the Rocket

This is from Sat when Lyuda had the baby welcoming party.

Everybody Sick

Even Orest. We think its that nasty flu. We're on the mend though.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Top 500 Supercomputers List Released

From the top 25, 15 are American systems, 2 German, 2 Chinese, 1 Russian, 1 South Korean, 1 Saudi Arabian, 1 Canadian, 1 Brit, and 1 Swiss. *NO*JAPANESE*.

This used to be a tit for tat between the Americans and Japanese, but it seems the rest of the world is joining in now. A list by country for HPC assets, percent of total, is located here.

Once upon a time, this was almost an entirely American list, by the way. Now we have only 55% of it.

PS: Boo hiss! NERSC is at #15!

PPS To even get on the list, you need to have 20 teraflops sustained. That's huge. Soon we will surpass the point where the Earth Simulator doesn't belong on the list at all.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Ectothermic Mammal Found?

A prehistoric goat survived for millennia on a resource-poor island by living like a reptile—changing its growth rate and metabolism to match the available food supply, according to a new study of the animal's bones.

The discovery marks the first time scientists have seen this cold-blooded survival strategy in mammals.


Fossils of the ancient goat, called Myotragus, were first found on Majorca in the early 1900s. The bones show the species lived on the island for more than five million years.


But the new study, which looked at the bone histories of several Myotragus individuals, revealed that the goats may have fine-tuned their growth and metabolic rates both seasonally and during irregular times such as droughts—just like reptiles.

"This way, it burned only the energy that was available from the environment, slowing down the 'fire of life' in times when resources became scarce," Köhler said.

The lizard-like lifestyle, however, meant that Myotragus's newborns were extremely small—the sizes of large rats—and the young took years to reach adult size.

The goat also saved a lot of energy in its nervous system—among the body's most "costly" tissues—by sporting a brain only half the size of a similar-size hoofed mammal and eyes only a third as large.

The combined effect was that Myotragus was sluggish, with slow reaction times, the bone study suggests.

Like modern-day reptiles, the goats probably "saved as much energy as possible just lying around and basking in the sun," Köhler said.

"The postcranial skeleton indicates that this animal was not able to run, jump, or move fast around, and [would have been] easy prey."

Someone have a link to the paper? I'd like to see if this is really the case that the goat lost endothermy. It has been posited for crocs, but not many other animals.

Note the brain size decrease, folks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Did A Giant Asteroid Stir The Oceanic Pot?

The collision of a large extraterrestrial object with Earth almost 2 billion years ago may have stirred the seas worldwide and delivered a huge serving of oxygen to the deep ocean.

The Sudbury impact, named after the Canadian city located near the center of what remains of the ancient crater, happened around 1.85 billion years ago (SN: 6/15/02, p. 378). Despite erosion since then, the impact structure —at least 200 kilometers across — is recognized to be the second-largest on the face of the planet, says William Cannon, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., and coauthor on a paper in the November Geology. The event fundamentally affected the concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the deep sea — enough to almost instantly shut down the accumulation of marine sediments known as banded iron formations, report Cannon and coauthor John F. Slack, also of the USGS in Reston.

Banded iron formations, massive deposits rich in iron oxides, have accumulated at several periods in Earth’s long-distant geological past, mostly when atmospheric concentrations of oxygen were low (SN: 6/20/09, p. 24).

One extended episode of banded iron formation (or BIF) buildup suddenly — and without an obvious explanation — ended about 1.85 billion years ago, says Cannon. Over a very short interval, he notes, “the environment shifted from one happily making banded iron to one that wasn’t.”

In northern Minnesota and other areas nearby, the formations lie directly underneath a thick layer of material only recently recognized as ejecta from the Sudbury impact. Mark Jirsa, a geologist with the Minnesota Geological Survey in St. Paul, was a member of the team that identified the ejecta layer. “We intuitively connected the Sudbury impact with the shutdown of BIF accumulation,” he says. “But now [Cannon and Slack] have come up with a model for how that might have happened.”

About 1.85 billion years ago, Earth’s now separate landmasses were joined in a single supercontinent. That also means there was one large ocean, says Cannon. Many scientists suggest that the object that slammed into Earth then — probably an asteroid abut 10 kilometers across — splashed down in that ocean, in waters about 1 kilometer deep on the shallow shelf surrounding the supercontinent. Models hint that the tsunami spawned by the event would have been 1 kilometer tall at the impact site and remained at least 100 meters tall about 3,000 kilometers away, Cannon adds.

Those immense waves and large underwater landslides triggered by the impact stirred the ocean, bringing oxygenated waters from the surface down to the ocean floor, the researchers propose. Sediments deposited on the seafloor before the impact, including BIFs, contained little if any iron in its Fe(III) form but were high in Fe(II), a sign that most parts of the ocean were oxygen-free. But marine sediments deposited after the impact included substantial amounts of Fe(III) but very little Fe(II) — and, therefore, sizable amounts of dissolved oxygen. The team’s analyses suggest that after the impact, dissolved iron spewed into the deepest parts of the ocean by hydrothermal vents would have reacted with oxygen within a day or so, thereby choking off most of the supply of Fe(II) to shallower waters where BIFs typically accumulated.

Interesting. Not the first time that it has been suggested that an asteroid stirred the oceanic pot. That was back in the early 1970s as an explanation for the Devonian Mass Extinctions: FF, iirc.

Thanx, Randy.

Microbial Mats in Archaen

Palaeontology: Modern life in ancient mats

Michael M. Tice1
Top of page

Microbial communities seem to have inhabited tidal sediments 2.9 billion years ago much as they do today — but what organisms were involved, and how they made their living, remain intriguing questions.

Establishing from fossil records how microbes and microbial ecosystems evolved is not an easy task: although 'microfossils' have been used to infer the presence and identity of microbes in particular environments1, 2, their simple shapes and comparative rarity limit what they can tell us. An alternative approach is to look for traces of products from communities of microorganisms3, 4. Research by Noffke et al.5, reported in Geobiology, illustrates this possibility. These authors have discovered evidence of 'microbial mats' in 2.9-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks from South Africa — a find that significantly augments the record of such structures from the Archaean eon, which ended 2.5 billion years ago.

Microbial mats are communities of microorganisms that grow in or on otherwise loose sediments, giving their substrate cohesiveness and tensile strength. Their consolidating effect means that they can produce a trace fossil record in sandstones and mudstones — even when no organic matter or microfossils are preserved. Structures that owe their existence to the stabilizing influence of mats can thus be important markers of ancient microbial ecosystems that would otherwise remain undetected.

Noffke et al.5 describe sandstones of the Sinqueni Formation, part of the Pongola Supergroup of eastern South Africa. These rocks were formed from sandy sediments deposited in a tidal environment 2.9 billion years ago, but several features preserved in them demonstrate a cohesiveness not seen in unconsolidated sand. Three structures seem to point particularly conclusively to an overlying microbial mat (Fig. 1). First, anomalously coherent, deformed chunks of sandy bed would have originated as chips of mat ripped up by energetic tidal currents and subsequently redeposited (Fig. 1a). Second, overfolded chips of rock (clasts) indicate where pieces of mat were rolled over on themselves, unexpected behaviour for layers of loosely associated sand grains (Fig. 1b). Third, oscillation cracks are present; these features would have been formed above the normal tidal range when pockets of gas periodically accumulated under, and escaped from, the mats (Fig. 1c). Such processes caused the mats' surfaces to expand and contract, forming cracked beds with upturned edges.

Just an fyi.

Oh, and bacterial/microbial mats are hardly strictly in the past. Ward strongly implies as much in The Medea Hypothesis. Next post on that relatively soon.

Japan Plans Solar Sail Called Ikaros

Japan is planning to launch an interplanetary solar sail mission called Ikaros next May.


Ikaros stands for the Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun. The name also harkens to the Greek mythological figure Icarus, who fashioned feathers and attempted to escape exile but flew too close to the sun.

The mission will launch next May on an H-2A rocket with the Akatsuki mission to Venus, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The sqaure Ikaros sail, with a diagonal diameter of 66 feet, is covered with thin film solar cells to generate electricity. The spacecraft will spin up to about 20 rpm for stability during its mission.

Interesting...mmm. the cells on the sail make me wonder if this is truly a solar sail rather than a light weight solar panel, but...they say so, even in the acronym.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Watch Out Paleoenvironmental Modelers! Heeeeerrreeee's Hard Data!

Earth's early ocean cooled more than a billion years earlier than thought: Stanford study

The scalding-hot sea that supposedly covered the early Earth may in fact never have existed, according to a new study by Stanford University researchers who analyzed isotope ratios in 3.4 billion-year-old ocean floor rocks. Their findings suggest that the early ocean was much more temperate and that, as a result, life likely diversified and spread across the globe much sooner in Earth's history than has been generally theorized.

It also means that the chemical composition of the ancient ocean was significantly different from today's ocean, which in turn may change interpretations of how the early atmosphere evolved, said Page Chamberlain, professor of environmental earth system science.

When rocks form on the ocean floor, they form in chemical equilibrium with the ocean water, incorporating similar proportions of different isotopes into the rock as are in the water. Isotopes are atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus, giving them different masses. However, because the exact proportion of different isotopes that go into the rock is partly temperature dependent, the ratios in the rock provide critical clues into how warm the ocean was when the rock formed.

Previous studies of similarly aged rocks had looked only at oxygen isotope ratios, which suggested that in the Archean era (about 3.5 billion years ago), the ocean temperature was at least 55 degrees Celsius and may have been as high as 85 C, or 185 F. At a water temperature so perilously close to the boiling point, the only organisms that could have thrived would have been extremophiles – life forms adapted to extreme environments – such as the microbes that live in the intense heat of deep-sea hydrothermal vents or in hot springs such as at Yellowstone National Park.

But isotope ratios recorded in rocks on the ocean floor are also dependent on the chemical composition of the seawater in which those rocks formed, and the past studies assumed the composition of the ancient ocean was essentially what it is today [WB: *searing cry of soul destroying pain* with a blink tag!], which the Stanford study did not.

Using a relatively new approach, Michael Hren and Mike Tice, both Stanford graduate students at the time, analyzed hydrogen isotopes as well as oxygen isotopes in chert, a type of fine-grained sedimentary rock consisting primarily of quartz. The chert they studied was from an ancient deposit, formerly underwater but now on dry land in South Africa.

"By looking at both oxygen and hydrogen in these ancient rocks we were able to put some constraints on how different the ancient ocean composition may have been from today, and then use that composition to try to determine how hot the ancient ocean was," said Hren, who is the lead author of a paper describing the work being published online Nov. 12 by Nature. Tice and Chamberlain are coauthors.

Having data from isotope ratios of two elements allowed the researchers to calculate upper and lower bounds for the range of temperature and composition that could have given rise to the observed ratios. They determined that the ocean temperature could not have been more than 40 C (104 F) – the temperature of a hot tub – and may have been lower in some parts.

"This means that by 3.4 billion years ago, there were at least some places on the surface of the Earth where organisms that could not survive in these hot hydrothermal conditions could exist and thrive," Hren said. "It also suggests that the chemical composition of the ancient ocean was probably not identical to today, as previous studies assumed. It may have been quite different."

The researchers found that the ratio of the two stable isotopes of hydrogen in the chert was tilted away from the heavier of the isotopes – called deuterium.

"The ancient ocean had a lot more hydrogen in it, relative to deuterium, than modern oceans," Chamberlain said.

If the composition of the Archean ocean was significantly different from today, then the atmosphere must have been markedly different, too, owing to the ease with which gases move across the air-water boundary as the ocean and lower atmosphere strive to stay in a rough equilibrium.

That means that sometime during the past 3.4 billion years, the ocean had to lose a lot of hydrogen to the atmosphere to bring the hydrogen isotope ratio in seawater to where it is today. And since oxygen, not hydrogen, has built up in Earth's atmosphere over that same period of time, the atmosphere must have discharged a lot of hydrogen to the only other place it could go: space.

Hren said that some recent models of the early Earth atmosphere suggest that there may have been a prolonged period of hydrogen escaping to space, which would be consistent with the Stanford team's findings.

Oh hohoho! Talk about timing.


Update: Paper link.

* atmospheric contents, oceanic contents, continental mass, etc.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Congo's Jurassic Climate Was Arid

The Congo Basin — with its massive, lush tropical rain forest — was far different 150 million to 200 million years ago. At that time Africa and South America were part of the single continent Gondwana. The Congo Basin was arid, with a small amount of seasonal rainfall, and few bushes or trees populated the landscape, according to a new geochemical analysis of rare ancient soils.

The geochemical analysis provides new data for the Jurassic period, when very little is known about Central Africa's paleoclimate, says Timothy S. Myers, a paleontology doctoral student in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"There aren't a whole lot of terrestrial deposits from that time period preserved in Central Africa," Myers says. "Scientists have been looking at Africa's paleoclimate for some time, but data from this time period is unique."

There are several reasons for the scarcity of deposits: Ongoing armed conflict makes it difficult and challenging to retrieve them; and the thick vegetation, a humid climate and continual erosion prevent the preservation of ancient deposits, which would safeguard clues to Africa's paleoclimate.

Myers' research is based on a core sample drilled by a syndicate interested in the oil and mineral deposits in the Congo Basin. Myers accessed the sample — drilled from a depth of more than 2 kilometers — from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, where it is housed. With the permission of the museum, he analyzed pieces of the core at the SMU Huffington Department of Earth Sciences Isotope Laboratory.

"I would love to look at an outcrop in the Congo," Myers says, "but I was happy to be able to do this."

The Samba borehole, as it's known, was drilled near the center of the Congo Basin. The Congo Basin today is a closed canopy tropical forest — the world's second largest after the Amazon. It's home to elephants, great apes, many species of birds and mammals, as well as the Congo River. Myers' results are consistent with data from other low paleolatitude, continental, Upper Jurassic deposits in Africa and with regional projections of paleoclimate generated by general circulation models, he says.

"It provides a good context for the vertebrate fossils found in Central Africa," Myers says. "At times, any indications of the paleoclimate are listed as an afterthought, because climate is more abstract. But it's important because it yields data about the ecological conditions. Climate determines the plant communities, and not just how many, but also the diversity of plants."

While there was no evidence of terrestrial vertebrates in the deposits that Myers studied, dinosaurs were present in Africa at the same time. Their fossils appear in places that were once closer to the coast, he says, and probably wetter and more hospitable.

The Belgium samples yielded good evidence of the paleoclimate. Myers found minerals indicative of an extremely arid climate typical of a marshy, saline environment. With the Congo Basin at the center of Gondwana, humid marine air from the coasts would have lost much of its moisture content by the time it reached the interior of the massive continent.

"There probably wouldn't have been a whole lot of trees; more scrubby kinds of plants," Myers says.

The clay minerals that form in soils have an isotopic composition related to that of the local rainfall and shallow groundwater. The difference in isotopic composition between these waters and the clay minerals is a function of surface temperature, he says. By measuring the oxygen and hydrogen isotopic values of the clays in the soils, researchers can estimate the temperature at which the clays formed. For more information see www.smuresearch.com.

No time to comment.

Planetary Society Trying Solar Sail Again

The Planetary Society announced today that an anonymous donor has put upone million dollars to help us get a solar sail in flight. That money will kick-start our ambitious new LightSail program, a series of three increasingly large solar sails that mark individual steps in the path toward viable solar sail flight.

LightSail-1 will start with the same basic goal that Cosmos-1 had: to demonstrate that sunlight alone can propel a spacecraft in Earth orbit. But its design is quite different: it will be built of a stack of three cubesats, each only ten centimeters on a side, or one liter in volume. One cubesat will house the electronics, and the other two the ultrathin Mylar sails, four of them, together comprising 32 square meters of sail area. It'll launch to an orbit more than 800 kilometers above Earth, out of reach of the atmosphere.


I wish I had million dollar donors.

I actually love solar sails more than rockets, but there's more of a market for rockets than solar sails.

A Japanese TV Spot on the ShinShin Stealth Fighter Prototype

Hat tip: Dew Line.

Forgive me, but the style feels very 1980s for some reason for me.

Monday, November 09, 2009

NERSC's New System: Announcing Carver

Carver: IBM iDataPlex

NERSC's next medium-sized scientific computing system will be an IBM iDataPlex Linux cluster. The IBM system, selected in a competitive procurement, provides excellent performance, good energy efficiency per flop, and a familiar environment for mid-range parallel applications. It is intended to replace Bassi and Jacquard.

The system will be named after the American scientist George Washington Carver.

410 nodes with dual quad core Nehalems. IB interconnect. More than 10 TB of memory. 1.2 PB of disk. 34.2 TFlops peak. Link in title, as always.

Insect Pollination Before Angiosperms

A Probable Pollination Mode Before Angiosperms: Eurasian, Long-Proboscid Scorpionflies

1. Dong Ren (a)
2. Conrad C. Labandeira (b,c,*)
3. Jorge A. Santiago-Blay (b,d)
4. Alexandr Rasnitsyn (e,f)
5. ChungKun Shih (a)
6. Alexei Bashkuev (e)
7. M. Amelia V. Logan (g)
8. Carol L. Hotton (b,h)
9. David Dilcher (b,i)

a College of Life Sciences, Capital Normal University, Beijing 100048, China.

b Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20013, USA.

c Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.

d Department of Biology, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC 20003, USA.

e Paleontological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 117997, Russia.

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

g Department of Mineral Sciences, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20013, USA.

h National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.

i Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: labandec@si.edu


The head and mouthpart structures of 11 species of Eurasian scorpionflies represent three extinct and closely related families during a 62-million-year interval from the late Middle Jurassic to the late Early Cretaceous. These taxa had elongate, siphonate (tubular) proboscides and fed on ovular secretions of extinct gymnosperms. Five potential ovulate host-plant taxa co-occur with these insects: a seed fern, conifer, ginkgoopsid, pentoxylalean, and gnetalean. The presence of scorpionfly taxa suggests that siphonate proboscides fed on gymnosperm pollination drops and likely engaged in pollination mutualisms with gymnosperms during the mid-Mesozoic, long before the similar and independent coevolution of nectar-feeding flies, moths, and beetles on angiosperms. All three scorpionfly families became extinct during the later Early Cretaceous, coincident with global gymnosperm-to-angiosperm turnover.


Arctic Traps 25% of the World's Carbon

The arctic could potentially alter the Earth’s climate by becoming a possible source of global atmospheric carbon dioxide. The arctic now traps or absorbs up to 25 percent of this gas but climate change could alter that amount, according to a study published in the November,2009 issue of Ecological Monographs.

In their review paper, David McGuire of the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and his colleagues show that the Arctic has been a carbon sink since the end of the last Ice Age, which has recently accounted for between zero and 25 percent, or up to about 800 million metric tons, of the global carbon sink. On average, says McGuire, the Arctic accounts for 10-15 percent of the Earth’s carbon sink. But the rapid rate of climate change in the Arctic – about twice that of lower latitudes – could eliminate the sink and instead, possibly make the Arctic a source of carbon dioxide.

mmm. Toasty.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Hrm. Kickstarter invite? Anyone?

After Tom's suggestion, I thought trying kickstarter might be a good idea to give it a try. However, given its requirement to have an invite to start a project....would there happen to be someone with an available invite?

w baird at team phoenicia dot org.


Dust Plumes Over the Med

Basal Therian Mammal Discovered in France

The oldest modern therian mammal from Europe and its bearing on stem marsupial paleobiogeography

1. Romain Vullo (a,b,1)
2. Emmanuel Gheerbrant (c)
3. Christian de Muizon (c)
4. Didier Néraudeau (b)

a. Unidad de Paleontología, Departamento de Biología, Calle Darwin, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Cantoblanco, 28049 Madrid, Spain;

b. Université de Rennes 1, Unité Mixte de Recherche Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique 6118, Campus de Beaulieu, 35042 Rennes, France; and

c. UMR 7207 du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - CR2P Centre de Recherches sur la Paléobiodiversité et les Paléoenvironnements, CP 38, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, 75005 Paris, France

1. To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: romain.vullo@gmail.com


We report the discovery of mammalian tribosphenic teeth from the basal Cenomanian of southwestern France that we refer to a new primitive marsupial-like form identified as a basal taxon of Marsupialiformes, a new clade recognized here to include the crown group Marsupialia and primitive stem lineages more closely related to Marsupialia than to Deltatheroida. Arcantiodelphys marchandi gen et sp nov. shares several significant marsupial-like features (s.l.) with marsupialiform taxa known from the North American Mid-Cretaceous. Among marsupialiforms, it shows a closer resemblance to Dakotadens. This resemblance, which is plesiomorphic within “tribotherians,” makes Arcantiodelphys one of the most archaic known Marsupialiformes. Moreover, Arcantiodelphys is characterized by an original and precocious crushing specialization. Both the plesiomorphic and autapomorphic characteristics of Arcantiodelphys among Marsupialiformes might be explained by an Eastern origin from Asian stem metatherians, with some in situ European evolution. In addition, the presence of a mammal with North American affinities in western Europe during the early Late Cretaceous provides further evidence of a large Euramerican biogeographical province at this age or slightly before. Concerning the paleobiogeographical history of the first stem marsupialiforms during the Albian–Cenomanian interval, 2 possible dispersal routes from an Asian metatherian ancestry can be proposed: Asia to Europe via North America and Asia to North America via Europe. The main significance of the Archingeay-Les Nouillers mammal discovery is that it indicates that the beginning of the stem marsupialiforms history involved not only North America but also Europe, and that this early history in Europe remains virtually unknown.

no time to comment today.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Muscle Extracted from 18 MYO Salamander Fossil

The scientists claim that their discovery is unequivocal evidence that high-fidelity organic preservation of extremely decay prone soft tissues is more common in the fossil record - the only physical record of the history of life on earth.

Previous examples of soft tissues fossilised in this way have been limited to samples extracted from amber or inside bone - a very rare set of circumstances. This latest discovery simply occurs inside the body of the salamander tucked in beside the spine.

“We came across the muscle tissue during our analysis of several hundred fossil samples taken from an ancient lake bed in Southern Spain. It was immediately identifiable by the sinewy texture visible under the microscope,” says Dr Patrick Orr from the UCD School of Geological Sciences, University College Dublin.

“After first sighting the material, we completed a series of highly detailed analyses to limit the possibility that it was simply an artefact of preservation or something unrelated to the biology of the animal.” says UCD geologist, Dr Maria McNamara, the lead author of the report.

”We noticed that there had been very little degradation since it was originally fossilised about 18 million years ago, making it the highest quality soft tissue preservation ever documented in the fossil record.”

According to the University College Dublin geologists, the muscle tissue is organically preserved in three dimensions, with circulatory vessels infilled with blood.


It's muscle. 18 MILLION YEAR OLD muscle. Obviously its past its expiration date. Don't eat it!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Baby Pix

More on the Archaen Sulfuric Ocean Paper

Scientists widely accept that around 2.4 billion years ago, the Earth’s atmosphere underwent a dramatic change when oxygen levels rose sharply. Called the “Great Oxidation Event” (GOE), the oxygen spike marks an important milestone in Earth’s history, the transformation from an oxygen-poor atmosphere to an oxygen-rich one paving the way for complex life to develop on the planet.

Two questions that remain unresolved in studies of the early Earth are when oxygen production via photosynthesis got started and when it began to alter the chemistry of Earth’s ocean and atmosphere.

Now a research team led by geoscientists at the University of California, Riverside corroborates recent evidence that oxygen production began in Earth’s oceans at least 100 million years before the GOE, and goes a step further in demonstrating that even very low concentrations of oxygen can have profound effects on ocean chemistry.

To arrive at their results, the researchers analyzed 2.5 billion-year-old black shales from Western Australia. Essentially representing fossilized pieces of the ancient seafloor, the fine layers within the rocks allowed the researchers to page through ocean chemistry’s evolving history.

Specifically, the shales revealed that episodes of hydrogen sulfide accumulation in the oxygen-free deep ocean occurred nearly 100 million years before the GOE and up to 700 million years earlier than such conditions were predicted by past models for the early ocean. Scientists have long believed that the early ocean, for more than half of Earth’s 4.6 billion-year history, was characterized instead by high amounts of dissolved iron under conditions of essentially no oxygen.

“The conventional wisdom has been that appreciable atmospheric oxygen is needed for sulfidic conditions to develop in the ocean,” said Chris Reinhard, a Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Earth Sciences and one of the research team members. “We found, however, that sulfidic conditions in the ocean are possible even when there is very little oxygen around, below about 1/100,000th of the oxygen in the modern atmosphere.”

Reinhard explained that at even very low oxygen levels in the atmosphere, the mineral pyrite can weather on the continents, resulting in the delivery of sulfate to the ocean by rivers. Sulfate is the key ingredient in hydrogen sulfide formation in the ocean.

Timothy Lyons, a professor of biogeochemistry, whose laboratory led the research, explained that the hydrogen sulfide in the ocean is a fingerprint of photosynthetic production of oxygen 2.5 billion years ago.

“A pre-GOE emergence for oxygenic photosynthesis is a matter of intense debate, and its resolution lies at the heart of understanding the evolution of diverse forms of life,” he said. “We have found an important piece of that puzzle.”

Study results appear in the Oct. 30 issue of Science.

“Our data point to oxygen-producing photosynthesis long before concentrations of oxygen in the atmosphere were even a tiny fraction of what they are today, suggesting that oxygen-consuming chemical reactions were offsetting much of the production,” said Reinhard, the lead author of the research paper.

The researchers argue that the presence of small amounts of oxygen may have stimulated the early evolution of eukaryotes – organisms whose cells bear nuclei – millions of years prior to the GOE.

“This initial oxygen production set the stage for the development of animals almost two billion years later,” Lyons said. “The evolution of eukaryotes had to take place first.”

The abstract is here. This is more the popsci version.

Ares 1-Y Recommended for Cancellation for Ares 1-X' Flight

NASA's Constellation Program has recommended dropping a planned follow-on to last week's successful Ares I-X flight-test because it doesn't have the funding necessary to get an upper stage engine ready in time.

Instead, the Ares I-X engineering team will study the costs and benefits of going ahead with a 2012 launch previously dubbed "Ares I-X prime" that would flight-test a full five-segment Ares I solid-fuel first stage and the Orion crew exploration vehicle launch abort system at high altitude, according to Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley.

Hanley said on Nov. 3 he has recommended to NASA headquarters that the Ares I-Y test planned for March 2014 be canceled because the J-2X engine needed to propel the upper stage won't be ready in time to support that test date. The problem is money, he said.

"Because of the cost-constrained environment that we've been in, I just cannot get an engine to that vehicle soon enough," Hanley said.

"The engine has to be available months in advance of that to be integrated with the stage and the engine and stage itself tested."

Bob Ess, the Ares I-X mission manager, will oversee the I-X prime study. Expected to take about two months, the study will apply the lessons learned from the Oct. 28 Ares I-X test to a more elaborate flight that also will test the Ares I stage separation system and a water landing and recovery of a higher fidelity Orion capsule than the boilerplate version that flew last week.

uh oh.

I was concerned with the lack of test flights and their spacing already, but...now...not good. Not good at all.

HR 3940: Educate Guam on the Status Question Options

HR 3940 IH


1st Session

H. R. 3940
To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to extend grants and other assistance to facilitate a political status public education program for the people of Guam.CommentsClose CommentsPermalink


October 27, 2009

Ms. BORDALLO introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources


To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to extend grants and other assistance to facilitate a political status public education program for the people of Guam.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


Congress reaffirms that it is the responsibility of the Secretary of the Interior to advance the economic, social, and political development of the Territories of the United States.


The Secretary of the Interior may, in exercise of the administrative authority granted under section 3 of the Organic Act of Guam (48 U.S.C. 1421a), extend to the Government of Guam and its agencies and instrumentalities assistance, including assistance in the form of grants, research, planning assistance, studies, and agreements with Federal agencies, to facilitate a public education program regarding political status options for the Territory of Guam.


Spanning just 10 feet in length and sporting a tiny horn on its nose, a newly identified dinosaur has become the oldest known relative of the fierce meat-eater, Tyrannosaurus rex. The discovery suggests such tyrannosaurs were quite petite before they evolved into giant killing machines just before their demise.

The dinosaur, called Proceratosaurus, lived some 170 million years ago. "We can say conclusively it's the earliest representative of the line of evolution that led to Tyrannosaurus," said study researcher Angela Milner of the Natural History Museum in London.

The group of huge carnivores called tyrannosaurs ruled the land about 85 million to 65 million years ago when a mass extinction event wiped them out along with most dinosaurs and many other animals and plants.

Another miniature T. rex of sorts that lived about 125 million years ago was described just recently from remains unearthed in northeast China.

"In other words, tyrannosaurs for a long time were a group of quite small animals going back through time. And they only got suddenly very large right toward the end of the age of dinosaurs," Milner told LiveScience.

The latest discovery involves a skull, measuring just 11 inches (30 cm) long, that was dug up during an excavation near Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire, England. When it was first described in 1910, scientists thought the remains came from a Megalosaurus (not a type of tyrannosaur).

Then, in the late 1920s, a German scientist found that the skull belonged to a different species of meat-eating dinosaur, which is when it got its current name. But only recently have scientists figured out exactly how this horned beast fits in with other dinosaurs and its link with the prehistoric Hollywood star.

Milner and her colleagues scanned the skull using computed tomography techniques to create a 3D image showing the noggin's internal structure.

The image showed three suites of features specifically found in T. rex and its relatives: specializations of its teeth, large windows in the side of its skull, and air spaces inside the skull. For instance, rather than knife-like teeth found in some carnivorous dinosaurs, Proceratosaurus had banana-shaped front teeth like T. rex.

"The tyrannosaurs fed by a puncture-and-pull technique using the mouth to bite down on prey and just pull pieces off," Milner said. "Some other kinds of meat-eating dinosaurs had slicing teeth."

And the skull windows, or openings, would've allowed this dinosaur, like T. rex, to have a powerful bite.

"The side of the skull is composed of a series of engineering struts, and they allow the skull to be much lighter and provide a lot more area for muscles that open and close the jaws," Milner said. "They can actually bulge through these windows."

The new finding is published in the most recent issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

erm. ok...

huh. It seems that dinosaur diversity took place very early in their history. Interesting thought that.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

An Official Shift in Chinese Space Weapons Policy?

A top China air force commander has called the militarisation of space an "historical inevitability", state media said Monday, marking an apparent shift in Beijing's opposition to weaponising outer space.

In a wide-ranging interview in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Daily, air force commander Xu Qiliang said it was imperative for the PLA air force to develop offensive and defensive operations in outer space.

"As far as the revolution in military affairs is concerned, the competition between military forces is moving towards outer space... this is a historical inevitability and a development that cannot be turned back," Xu told the paper.

"The PLA air force must establish in a timely manner the concepts of space security, space interests and space development.

"We must build an outer space force that conforms with the needs of our nation's development (and) the demands of the development of the space age."

Superiority in outer space can give a nation control over war zones both on land and at sea, while also offering a strategic advantage, Xu said, noting that such dominance was necessary to safeguard the nation.

"Only power can protect peace," the 59-year-old commander said in the interview given to coincide with this month's 60th anniversary of the founding of the PLA air force.

Interesting, but cynically not unexpected. Now that we have an administration that his NOT supportive of space based weapons, the Chinese are expressing their own support.

Russia Wargames Nuking, Invading Poland?

The armed forces are said to have carried out "war games" in which nuclear missiles were fired and troops practised an amphibious landing on the country's coast.

Documents obtained by Wprost, one of Poland's leading news magazines, said the exercise was carried out in conjunction with soldiers from Belarus.

The manoeuvres are thought to have been held in September and involved about 13,000 Russian and Belarusian troops.

Poland, which has strained relations with both countries, was cast as the "potential aggressor".

The documents state the exercises, code-named "West", were officially classified as "defensive" but many of the operations appeared to have an offensive nature.

The Russian air force practised using weapons from its nuclear arsenal, while in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which neighbours Poland, Red Army forces stormed a "Polish" beach and attacked a gas pipeline.

The operation also involved the simulated suppression of an uprising by a national minority in Belarus – the country has a significant Polish population which has a strained relationship with authoritarian government of Belarus.

Real or not?

However, the use of nukes on the first roll of the dice is perfectly in line with the Russian military doctrine.

Dust Storm in the Copper River Valley, Alaska

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ethopian Rift Confirmed to be New Sea Floor

In 2005, a gigantic, 35-mile-long rift broke open the desert ground in Ethiopia. At the time, some geologists believed the rift was the beginning of a new ocean as two parts of the African continent pulled apart, but the claim was controversial.

Now, scientists from several countries have confirmed that the volcanic processes at work beneath the Ethiopian rift are nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world's oceans, and the rift is indeed likely the beginning of a new sea.

The new study, published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of little by little as has been predominantly believed. In addition, such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, says Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study.

"This work is a breakthrough in our understanding of continental rifting leading to the creation of new ocean basins," says Ken Macdonald, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and who is not affiliated with the research. "For the first time they demonstrate that activity on one rift segment can trigger a major episode of magma injection and associated deformation on a neighboring segment. Careful study of the 2005 mega-dike intrusion and its aftermath will continue to provide extraordinary opportunities for learning about continental rifts and mid-ocean ridges."

"The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in Ethiopia is like what is happening at the bottom of the ocean where it's almost impossible for us to go," says Ebinger. "We knew that if we could establish that, then Ethiopia would essentially be a unique and superb ocean-ridge laboratory for us. Because of the unprecedented cross-border collaboration behind this research, we now know that the answer is yes, it is analogous."

Atalay Ayele, professor at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, led the investigation, painstakingly gathering seismic data surrounding the 2005 event that led to the giant rift opening more than 20 feet in width in just days. Along with the seismic information from Ethiopia, Ayele combined data from neighboring Eritrea with the help of Ghebrebrhan Ogubazghi, professor at the Eritrea Institute of Technology, and from Yemen with the help of Jamal Sholan of the National Yemen Seismological Observatory Center. The map he drew of when and where earthquakes happened in the region fit tremendously well with the more detailed analyses Ebinger has conducted in more recent years.

Ayele's reconstruction of events showed that the rift did not open in a series of small earthquakes over an extended period of time, but tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. A volcano called Dabbahu at the northern end of the rift erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began "unzipping" the rift in both directions, says Ebinger.

So are we going to get Dixon's Lemuria? Or something kewler? Anyone with some speculative bio? I started one with some folks, but it died when didn't want to continue it. Right now, more focused on the xenopemian. and rockets. However, if there's interest, make a thread here on what might arise in the future on the new continent ripped from Africa.

Late Archean Sulfidic Sea Caused by Continental Weathering?

A Late Archean Sulfidic Sea Stimulated by Early Oxidative Weathering of the Continents

1. Christopher T. Reinhard (1)

2. Rob Raiswell (2)

3. Clint Scott (1)

4. Ariel D. Anbar (3)

5. Timothy W. Lyons (1,*)

1 University of California–Riverside, Department of Earth Sciences, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.

2 University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment, Leeds, UK LS2 9JT.

3 Arizona State University, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: timothyl@ucr.edu


Iron speciation data for the late Archean Mount McRae Shale provide evidence for a euxinic (anoxic and sulfidic) water column 2.5 billion years ago. Sulfur isotope data compiled from the same stratigraphic section suggest that euxinic conditions were stimulated by an increase in oceanic sulfate concentrations resulting from weathering of continental sulfide minerals exposed to an atmosphere with trace amounts of photosynthetically produced oxygen. Variability in local organic matter flux likely confined euxinic conditions to midportions of the water column on the basin margin. These findings indicate that euxinic conditions may have been common on a variety of spatial and temporal scales both before and immediately after the Paleoproterozoic rise in atmospheric oxygen, hinting at previously unexplored texture and variability in deep ocean chemistry during Earth’s early history.

I wonder how this dovetails (or doesn't) with "Anoxygenic photosynthesis modulated Proterozoic oxygen and sustained Earth's middle age." IDK why in the world the Lab doesn't have access to Science of all journals.

*shakes head*