Thursday, April 29, 2010

HR 2499 Passes House, Now to be Considered by Senate

The House on Thursday approved legislation that could set in motion changes in Puerto Rico's 112-year relationship with the United States, including a transition to statehood or independence. The House bill would give the 4 million residents of the island commonwealth a two-step path to expressing how they envision their political future. It passed 223-169 and now must be considered by the Senate.

Initially, eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but residing in the United States, would vote on whether they wish to keep their current political status or opt for a different direction.

If a majority are in favor of changing the current situation, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote and people would choose among four options: statehood, independence, the current commonwealth status or sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state.

Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate to the House, said that while the island has had votes on similar issues in the past, Congress has never authorized a process where Puerto Ricans state whether they should remain a U.S. territory or seek a nonterritorial status.

Now will the Senate take this up or will it die?

X-37B Flew and Some Reactions

There have been a variety of reactions to the X-37B launch. Some of asked questions. Others have simply reported. Some have been...bizarre.

Glacial Lake Atna Megaflood Described

New research indicates that one of the largest fresh-water floods in Earth's history happened about 17,000 years ago and inundated a large area of Alaska that is now occupied in part by the city of Wasilla, widely known because of the 2008 presidential campaign.

The event was one of at least four "megafloods" as Glacial Lake Atna breached ice dams and discharged water. The lake covered more than 3,500 square miles in the Copper River Basin northeast of Anchorage and Wasilla.

The megaflood that covered the Wasilla region released as much as 1,400 cubic kilometers, or 336 cubic miles, of water, enough to cover an area the size of Washington, D.C., to a depth of nearly 5 miles. That water volume drained from the lake in about a week and, at such great velocity, formed dunes higher than 110 feet, with at least a half-mile between crests. The dunes appear on topographical maps but today are covered by roads, buildings and other development.

"Your mind doesn't get around dunes of that size. Obviously the water had to be very deep to form them," said Michael Wiedmer, an Anchorage native who is pursuing graduate studies in forest resources at the University of Washington.

Wiedmer is the lead author of a paper describing the Wasilla-area megaflood, published in the May edition of the journal Quaternary Research. Co-authors are David R. Montgomery and Alan Gillespie, UW professors of Earth and space sciences, and Harvey Greenberg, a computer specialist in that department.

By definition, a megaflood has a flow of at least 1 million cubic meters of water per second (a cubic meter is about 264 gallons). The largest known fresh-water flood, at about 17 million cubic meters per second, originated in Glacial Lake Missoula in Montana and was one of a series of cataclysmic floods that formed the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington.

The megaflood from Glacial Lake Atna down what is now the Matanuska River to the Wasilla region might have had a flow of about 3 million cubic meters per second. Another suspected Atna megaflood along a different course to the Wasilla region, down the Susitna River, might have had a flow of about 11 million cubic meters per second. The researchers also found evidence for two smaller Atna megafloods, down the Tok and Copper rivers.

no time.

House of Representatives is Debating HR 2499

he House on Thursday took up legislation that could set in motion changes in Puerto Rico's 112-year relationship with the United States, including a transition to statehood or independence. The House bill would give the 4 million residents of the island commonwealth a two-step path to expressing how they envision their political future.

Initially, eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but residing in the United States, would vote on whether they wish to keep their current political status or opt for a different direction.

If a majority are in favor of changing the current situation, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote and people would choose among three options: statehood, independence and sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state.

Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate to the House, said that while the island has had votes on similar issues in the past, Congress has never authorized a process where Puerto Ricans state whether they should remain a U.S. territory or seek a nonterritorial status.

"The American way is to allow people to vote, to express themselves and to tell their elected officials how they feel about their political arrangements," said Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno at a news conference with Pierluisi. "For 112 years, we haven't had the chance ... to fully participate in one way or another in the decisions that affect our daily lives."

here we go! Let's see if it passes...and then if it makes it through the Senate.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Aetodactylus halli Hints at Hidden Pterosaur Diversity?

A 95 million-year-old fossilized jaw discovered in Texas has been identified as a new genus and species of flying reptile, Aetodactylus halli.

Aetodactylus halli is a pterosaur, a group of flying reptiles commonly referred to as pterodactyls.

The rare pterosaur — literally a winged lizard — is also one of the youngest members in the world of the pterosaur family Ornithocheiridae, according to paleontologist Timothy S. Myers, who identified and named Aetodactylus halli. The newly identified reptile is only the second ornithocheirid ever documented in North America, says Myers, a postdoctoral fellow in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Aetodactylus halli would have soared over what is now the Dallas-Fort Worth area during the Cretaceous Period when much of the Lone Star state was under water, covered by a vast ancient sea.

While rare in North America, toothed pterosaurs belonging to the Ornithocheiridae are a major component of Cretaceous pterosaur faunas elsewhere in the world, Myers says. The Texas specimen — a nearly complete mandible with most of its 54 teeth missing — is definitively younger than most other ornithocheirid specimens from Brazil, England and China, he says. It is five million years younger than the only other known North American ornithocheirid.

Myers describes the new species in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Go to to see illustrations of Aetodactylus halli and the Cretaceous marine environment, an image of the fossilized jaw and links to more information.


North American pterosaurs that date from the Cretaceous are all toothless, except for Aetodactylus and Coloborhynchus, Myers says. The thinness of the jaws, the upward angle of the back half of the mandible and the lack of a pronounced expansion of the jaw tips indicate that Aetodactylus is different from other ornithocheirids and represents a new genus and species of pterosaur.

"Discovery of another ornithocheirid species in Texas hints at a diversity of pterosaurs in the Cretaceous of North America that wasn't previously realized," Myers says. "Aetodactylus also represents one of the final occurrences of ornithocheirids prior to the Late Cretaceous transition to pterosaur faunas that were dominated by the edentulous, or toothless, species."

No time! Off to a meeting!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Codexis Goes Public, But At Lower End of Expectations

Less than six months after filing to go public, Codexis, one of several makers of microbes and catalysts used to generate green fuels and chemicals, debuted on the Nasdaq this morning under the symbol CDXS. But the news is bittersweet for the cleantech sector. Yes, the company made it to market — but it only fetched $78 million in what it expected to be a $100 million sale.

Based in Redwood City, Calif., Codexis sold 6 million shares to its existing investors for $13 each (instead of $15). Its most significant backer, Royal Dutch Shell, is holding on to its sizable stake. Today’s IPO is the culmination of a long journey for both the company and its investors, who had originally planned to take it public two years ago before the economic downturn set in.

While it may not have performed as hoped, Codexis still marks the first IPO of 2010 for the green sector, which could open the floodgates for more. And at least it beat biofuel competitor Amyris Biotechnologies, which just filed, to market. Both cylindrical solar module maker Solyndra and electric car darling Tesla Motors have filed to go public as well this year. Smart Grid networking company Silver Spring Networks has also retained underwriters for a prospective IPO.

CDXS closed at $13.26 after opening at $13.

Amryis is in Emeryville and has a LBL synthetic biologist as a founder, fwiw.

How the CleanTech guys do in their IPOs will be interesting: it's being touted as the next boom for the Bay. I have a nontrivial interest in Tesla going public. No, no, not because I have money in it. That's all I am going to say.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

And It Got Madder!

No Cows on GJ 436b

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered something odd about a distant planet -- it lacks methane, an ingredient common to many of the planets in our solar system.

"It's a big puzzle," said Kevin Stevenson, a planetary sciences graduate student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, lead author of a study appearing tomorrow, April 22 in the journal Nature. "Models tell us that the carbon in this planet should be in the form of methane. Theorists are going to be quite busy trying to figure this one out."

The discovery brings astronomers one step closer to probing the atmospheres of distant planets the size of Earth. The methane-free planet, called GJ 436b, is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest distant planet that any telescope has successfully "tasted," or analyzed. Eventually, a larger space telescope could use the same kind of technique to search smaller, Earth-like worlds for methane and other chemical signs of life, such as water, oxygen and carbon dioxide.

"Ultimately, we want to find biosignatures on a small, rocky world. Oxygen, especially with even a little methane, would tell us that we humans might not be alone," said Stevenson.

"In this case, we expected to find methane not because of the presence of life, but because of the planet's chemistry. This type of planet should have cooked up methane. It's like dipping bread into beaten eggs, frying it, and getting oatmeal in the end," said Joseph Harrington of the University of Central Florida, the principal investigator of the research.

Methane is present on our life-bearing planet, manufactured primarily by microbes living in cows and soaking in waterlogged rice fields. All of the giant planets in our solar system have methane too, despite their lack of cows. Neptune is blue because of this chemical, which absorbs red light. Methane is a common ingredient of relatively cool bodies, including "failed" stars, which are called brown dwarfs.

In fact, any world with the common atmospheric mix of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, and a temperature up to 1,000 Kelvin (1,340 degrees Fahrenheit) is expected to have a large amount of methane and a small amount of carbon monoxide. The carbon should "prefer" to be in the form of methane at these temperatures.

At 800 Kelvin (or 980 degrees Fahrenheit), GJ 436b is supposed to have abundant methane and little carbon monoxide. Spitzer observations have shown the opposite. The space telescope has captured the planet's light in six infrared wavelengths, showing evidence for carbon monoxide but not methane.

"We're scratching our heads," said Harrington. "But what this does tell us is that there is room for improvement in our models. Now we have actual data on faraway planets that will teach us what's really going on in their atmospheres."

GJ 436b is located 33 light-years away in the constellation Leo, the Lion. It rides in a tight, 2.64-day orbit around its small star, an "M-dwarf" much cooler than our sun. The planet transits, or crosses in front of, its star as viewed from Earth.

Spitzer was able to detect the faint glow of GJ 436b by watching it slip behind its star, an event called a secondary eclipse. As the planet disappears, the total light observed from the star system drops -- this drop is then measured to find the brightness of the planet at various wavelengths. The technique, first pioneered by Spitzer in 2005, has since been used to measure atmospheric components of several Jupiter-sized exoplanets, the so-called "hot Jupiters," and now the Neptune-sized GJ 436b.

"The Spitzer technique is being pushed to smaller, cooler planets more like our Earth than the previously studied hot Jupiters," said Charles Beichman, director of NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, both in Pasadena, Calif. "In coming years, we can expect that a space telescope could characterize the atmosphere of a rocky planet a few times the size of the Earth. Such a planet might show signposts of life."

No time.

Monday, April 19, 2010

That Icelandic Volcano Got Mad When I Called it Obnoxious

Seen via James.

New Hard Headed Texan (a dinosaur, guys, dinosaur)

Paleontologists have discovered a new species of dinosaur with a softball-sized lump of solid bone on top of its skull, according to a paper published in the April issue of the journal Cretaceous Research.

The species was a plant-eating dinosaur about as big as a medium-sized dog that lived 70 to 80 million years ago, said Nicholas Longrich of Yale University, lead author of the paper. The team discovered two skull fragments in Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas in 2008. They compared them to dozens of fossils from related species found in Canada and Montana before confirming that the fossils represented a new genus of pachycephalosaur, a group of bipedal, thick-skulled dinosaurs.

The researchers named the new species Texacephale langstoni. ("Texacephale" means "Texas head" and "langstoni" is in honor of Wann Langston, a fellow paleontologist.) The new species is one of about a dozen known to have solid lumps of bone on top of their skulls, which Longrich speculates was probably used to ram one another head-on in a manner similar to modern-day musk oxen and cape buffalo.

The discovery of the new species lends further weight to the idea, which has gained popularity in recent years, that dinosaurs found in Canada and the northern United States were distinct from their southern neighbors.

"Instead of roaming across the North American continent, we see pockets of different dinosaurs that are pretty isolated from one another," Longrich said. "Every time we get good fossils from Texas, they end up looking very different from those to the north."

Because fossils from the Big Bend region are rare and tend to be poorly preserved, scientists do not have a complete picture of the different species that once inhabited the area, Longrich said.

But the team may have uncovered an important piece of the puzzle with their discovery. They found that this particular group of dinosaurs, which was previously thought to have originated in Asia, likely evolved in North America.

Longrich expects more related species to be discovered in the future as fossils from the Texas site and elsewhere continue to be examined.

"I think we underestimate how many different species there were," he says.

That last quote is an interesting one. We underestimate the number of species runs in vast contrast to some other statements from other groups as of late.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Indian Indigenous Cryogenic Rocket Suffers Failure

An Indian rocket showcasing domestically built booster technology crashed soon after take-off on Thursday in a blow to the country's space ambitions, officials said.

The launch of the first Indian-made cryogenic powered rocket, a complex technology mastered by just five countries, failed soon after lift-off from India's space centre at Sriharikota in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh.

"The rocket along with the satellite tumbled from space and plunged into the Bay of Bengal," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) director S. Satish told AFP from Sriharikota.

Satish said controllers lost contact with the 50-metre (165-foot) rocket, named GSLV and carrying a 2.2-tonne satellite, and it plunged into the sea eight minutes after the launch.

ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan told reporters that it appeared the cryogenic engines "did not ignite" but added that data analysis was required to pinpoint the reasons for the failure.

It took ISRO scientists 18 years to develop cryogenic motors after its bid to import the technology from Russia in 1992 failed because of opposition from the United States.

The powerful booster technology using supercooled liquid fuel is designed to put heavier satellites into high orbits, about 36,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) from Earth.

"We will confirm if the main cryogenic engines ignited and then we would put all our efforts to ensure we have the next flight with an indigenous cryogenic engine within an year from now," Radhakrishnan added.

Cryogenic boosters have only been successfully developed by the United States, Russia, France, Japan and China.

In the past decade, India has bought cryogenic engines from Russia and five of them have been used on missions, but the country wanted to showcase its ability to develop the technology itself, the ISRO said before the launch.

India aims to launch its first manned space mission in 2016 and wants to grab a larger share of the multi-billion-dollar market for launching commercial satellites.

Let's see what Obama has to say today about US space policy.

Chinese J-20: Real or More Fanwank?

Looks a lot like the YF-21 from Macross plus.

Update 1/4/2011: Go here for an up to date post on the real J-20.

Stalagmite Gives Evidence of 2100 YA NorAm Natve Ecological Impact

A new study led by Ohio University scientists suggests that early Native Americans left a bigger carbon footprint than previously thought, providing more evidence that humans impacted global climate long before the modern industrial era.

Chemical analysis of a stalagmite found in the mountainous Buckeye Creek basin of West Virginia suggests that native people contributed a significant level of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through land use practices. The early Native Americans burned trees to actively manage the forests to yield the nuts and fruit that were a large part of their diets.

"They had achieved a pretty sophisticated level of living that I don't think people have fully appreciated," said Gregory Springer, an associate professor of geological sciences at Ohio University and lead author of the study, which was published a recent issue of the journal The Holocene. "They were very advanced, and they knew how to get the most out of the forests and landscapes they lived in. This was all across North America, not just a few locations."

Initially, Springer and research collaborators from University of Texas at Arlington and University of Minnesota were studying historic drought cycles in North America using carbon isotopes in stalagmites. To their surprise, the carbon record contained evidence of a major change in the local ecosystem beginning at 100 B.C. This intrigued the team because an archeological excavation in a nearby cave had yielded evidence of a Native American community there 2,000 years ago.

Springer recruited two Ohio University graduate students to examine stream sediments, and with the help of Harold Rowe of University of Texas at Arlington, the team found very high levels of charcoal beginning 2,000 years ago, as well as a carbon isotope history similar to the stalagmite.

This evidence suggests that Native Americans significantly altered the local ecosystem by clearing and burning forests, probably to make fields and enhance the growth of nut trees, Springer said. This picture conflicts with the popular notion that early Native Americans had little impact on North American landscapes. They were better land stewards than the European colonialists who followed, he said, but they apparently cleared more land and burned more forest than previously thought.

I wonder if the megafauna agrees with assessment that they were better stewarts. The Yucatan begs to differ, too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Carboniferous Cockroach Relative Modeled in 3D

Scientists at Imperial College London have made a comprehensive 3D model of a fossilised specimen called Archimylacris eggintoni, which is an ancient ancestor of modern cockroaches, mantises and termites. This insect scuttled around on Earth during the Carboniferous period 359 - 299 million years ago, which was a time when life had recently emerged from the oceans to live on land.

The study reveals for the first time how Archimylacris eggintoni's physical traits helped it to thrive on the floor of Earth's early forests. The fossils of these creatures are normally between 2cm and 9cm in length and approximately 4cm in width.

The lead author of the study, Mr Russell Garwood, a PhD student from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says:

"The Carboniferous period is sometimes referred to as the age of the cockroach because fossils of Archimylacris eggintoni and its relatives are amongst the most common insects from this time period. They are found all over the world. People joke about it being impossible to kill cockroaches and our 3D model almost brings this one back to life. Thanks to our 3D modelling process, we can see how Archimylacris eggintoni's limbs were well adapted for all terrains, as it was not only adept in the air but also very agile on the ground."

The researchers created their images using a CT scanning device, based at the Natural History Museum in London, which enabled them to take 3142 x-rays of the fossil and compile the images into an accurate 3D model, creating a 'virtual fossil' of the creature, using specially designed computer software. The scientists used the models to visualise the Archimylacris eggintoni's legs, antennae, mouth parts and body, which had never been seen by human eyes before.

Scientists had previously known that Archimylacris eggintoni had wings, which suggested the bug could fly. However, very few limbs of this species - or other roach-like insects from this era - have been preserved in fossils, making it hard for scientists to glean insights into their way of life.

In the new study, the researchers' computer model reveals that Archimylacris eggintoni had sticky structures on its legs called euplantulae. The researchers believe the euplantulae enabled Archimylacris eggintoni to stick to smooth surfaces such as leaves as they climbed across them, which may have helped them to lay their eggs above the ground in safer locations away from predators.

In addition, the scientists also discovered that Archimylacris eggintoni had claws at the base of its legs, which helped it to climb rough surfaces like trees, so that it could perch above the forest floor for safety or find alternate sources of food higher up.

The 3D model also reveals how Archimylacris eggintoni's legs could help it to run fast. The team noted that the legs were at a low angle to the body and fairly long, which they believe helped it to move quickly even when the terrain was difficult or uneven.

The scientists also reveal Archimylacris eggintoni's [...] mandibles are similar in appearance to modern day cockroach mandibles, suggesting they ate similar food, munching on decaying leaf and insect matter as it scurried from place to place.

No time. :(

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

India Prepares for Manned Spaceflight

India is moving steadily toward sending its first astronauts to orbit on indigenous spacecraft, but it is taking a “stepwise” approach and has not yet committed funds to human missions, according to the new chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Instead, India’s human spaceflight program is funded for a four-year development and test effort that will build and fly an unmanned capsule to test its crew environmental control and life support system (Eclss) and launch-escape system, says K. Radhakrishnan, who became ISRO chairman Oct. 31, 2009.

Flying a two-person crew will also require development of a new cryogenic upper-stage engine for the upgraded Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mark III) now in development. ISRO is on the verge of becoming only the fourth space agency to develop and fly a cryogenic upper-stage engine (AW&ST March 29/April 5, p. 18). But the staged-combustion engine set to fly this month will be followed by a more powerful gas-generator cryogenic engine for human-rated flights.

If development work goes well, ISRO will seek funding for manned tests of the vehicle on the GSLV. Although the 2.5-meter-dia. (8.2-ft.) capsule is being designed for three crewmembers, initial flights will carry two astronauts.

“We will first make this unit with an Eclss system, and will have a few unmanned flights of this module before we actually put a human being inside, initially monitoring the conditions, et cetera,” Radhakrishnan told Aviation Week at ISRO headquarters in this city, formerly known as Bangalore.

The first unmanned flight will lift off on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), followed by a test on the GSLV-D3 with India’s new indigenous cryogenic upper-stage engine.

“That is the one that is now getting funded,” the ISRO chairman says. “Then it will be followed by the others. . . . We are asking for them in phases.”

The initial four-year effort is funded at Rupees 12,400 crore ($2.8 billion), Radhakrishnan says.

The first GSLV-D3 is scheduled to launch the third week in April with the GSAT-4, a Ka-band testbed that will also carry an experimental GPS-augmentation payload. The human-rated vehicle will fly on the planned GSLV Mark III, which will use two new S200 solid-propellant strap-on boosters generating almost 500 metric tons of thrust each, and an upper stage with the planned gas-generator (GG) cryogenic engine.

No date set yet for the first Indian astronaut in orbit. I wonder if they will get their own name for astronaut or share the english one? Astronaut (english/american), cosmonaut (russian), taikonaut (not so official chinese), and...?

PreColumbian Agricultural Impacts in the Amazon

Pre-Columbian agricultural landscapes, ecosystem engineers, and self-organized patchiness in Amazonia

1. Doyle McKey (a,1)
2. Stéphen Rostain (b)
3. José Iriarte (c)
4. Bruno Glaser (d,2)
5. Jago Jonathan Birk (d)
6. Irene Holst (e)
7. Delphine Renard (a)

a. Université Montpellier II and Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Unité Mixte de Recherche (UMR) 5175 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), F-34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France;

b. Archéologie des Amériques, UMR 8096 CNRS, F-92323 Nanterre, France;

c. Department of Archaeology, School of Geography, Archaeology, and Earth Resources, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QE, United Kingdom;

d. Department of Soil Physics, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth D-95447 Germany; and

e. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843 -03092, Balboa, Republic of Panama

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

2. Present address: Terrestrial Biogeochemistry, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, 06108 Halle, Germany.


The scale and nature of pre-Columbian human impacts in Amazonia are currently hotly debated. Whereas pre-Columbian people dramatically changed the distribution and abundance of species and habitats in some parts of Amazonia, their impact in other parts is less clear. Pioneer research asked whether their effects reached even further, changing how ecosystems function, but few in-depth studies have examined mechanisms underpinning the resilience of these modifications. Combining archeology, archeobotany, paleoecology, soil science, ecology, and aerial imagery, we show that pre-Columbian farmers of the Guianas coast constructed large raised-field complexes, growing on them crops including maize, manioc, and squash. Farmers created physical and biogeochemical heterogeneity in flat, marshy environments by constructing raised fields. When these fields were later abandoned, the mosaic of well-drained islands in the flooded matrix set in motion self-organizing processes driven by ecosystem engineers (ants, termites, earthworms, and woody plants) that occur preferentially on abandoned raised fields. Today, feedbacks generated by these ecosystem engineers maintain the human-initiated concentration of resources in these structures. Engineer organisms transport materials to abandoned raised fields and modify the structure and composition of their soils, reducing erodibility. The profound alteration of ecosystem functioning in these landscapes coconstructed by humans and nature has important implications for understanding Amazonian history and biodiversity. Furthermore, these landscapes show how sustainability of food-production systems can be enhanced by engineering into them fallows that maintain ecosystem services and biodiversity. Like anthropogenic dark earths in forested Amazonia, these self-organizing ecosystems illustrate the ecological complexity of the legacy of pre-Columbian land use.

no time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Psittacosaurus' Got Color

The integument of Psittacosaurus from Liaoning Province, China: taphonomy, epidermal patterns and color of a ceratopsian dinosaur

1. Theagarten Lingham-Soliar (A, 1)
2. Gerhard Plodowski (B)

A. Biological and Conservation Sciences, Biological Sciences Building, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville Campus, P. Bag X54001, Durban, South Africa

B. Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

1. Email:


Preserved skin of small dinosaurs is rare. Here, a specimen of the ceratopsian dinosaur, Psittacosaurus, presents some of the best preserved epidermal scales observed to date in a relatively small dinosaur, over wide areas extending from the head to the tail. We study the preserved epidermis of SMF R 4970, the different types of scales, color, and patterns, and their respective locations in the body. We use modern application of high-power digital imaging for close-up analysis of the tubercles and fragments of preserved color. Three types of scales are preserved, large plate-like scales, smaller polygonal scales or tubercles, and round pebble-like scales. The sizes of the plate-like scales vary in different parts of the body and vanish altogether posteriorly. Light and dark cryptic patterns are created by the associations of the tubercle and plate-like scales, and there is also evidence of countershading in the proximal caudal region, the body darker dorsally and lighter ventrally. Perhaps most impressive are the distinctive pigmented impressions of scales over most of the skeletal elements. The pigmentation follows the curvature of the bones implying that when it was deposited, the skin was still pliable and able to wrap around the visible parts of the elements. The present record of color is the first in a non-theropod dinosaur and only the second record in a non-avian dinosaur. Because of its resistance to degradation and ability to produce various color tones from yellows to blacks, we suggest that melanin was the dominant chemical involved in the coloration of Psittacosaurus. The data here enable us to reconstruct the colors of Psittacosaurus as predominantly black and amber/brown, in cryptic patterns, somewhat dull, but useful to a prey animal. Indeed, skin pigment within a partially degraded bone indicates that Psittacosaurus was scavenged shortly after death. The theropod dinosaur Sinosauropteryx has recently been reported to have naturally pigmented integumental structures, which the authors interpret as proof that they are protofeathers and not support fibers of collagen. Our findings in Psittacosaurus, on the other hand, indicate a more parsimonious and less profound alternative explanation, i.e., decomposition of the skin releases pigments that readily permeate underlying structures.

Now...Zach...what was that about not getting ceratopsian colors? ;)

NorAm Paleoindian Population Took Younger Dryas in Step

Paleoindian groups* occupied North America throughout the Younger Dryas interval, which saw a rapid return to glacial conditions approximately 11,000 years ago. Until now, it has been assumed that cooling temperatures and their impact on communities posed significant adaptive challenges to those groups. David Meltzer from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, USA, and Vance Holliday from the University of Arizona in Tucson, USA, suggest otherwise in their review of climatic and environmental records from this time period in continental North America, published in Springer's Journal of World Prehistory.

From their analysis, they conclude that on the Great Plains and in the Rocky Mountains, conditions were in reality less extreme and therefore may not have measurably added to the challenge routinely faced by Paleoindian groups, who during this interval, successfully dispersed across the diverse habitats of Late Glacial North America.

Meltzer and Holliday question whether the impact of cooling on Pleistocene North Americans was actually that pronounced or widespread and, if it was, whether it was similarly abrupt and severe, and in the same direction, across North America. Their comprehensive review of the climate and environment of North America during that time and its possible impact suggests that the Young Dryas age cooling was not as sudden, extensive, or severe as has previously been suggested and the notion that these conditions may have taken the Paleoindians by surprise is questionable.

The authors conclude: "All things considered, it is likely that across most of North America, south of the retreating ice sheets, Paleoindians were not constantly scrambling to keep up with Younger Dryas age climate changes. After all, adapting to changing climatic and environmental conditions was nothing new to them – it was what they did."

no time...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Medea Hypothesis Review Conclusion

I am wrapping up my commentary on Ward’s Medea Hypothesis. This has been an extra long and ridiculous process. When I first started out writing about the Ward’s book, I never imagined that my commentary would still be unfinished nine months later. Here and now, I wrap this up though. While this final chapter is not going to be very long, unfortunately, this is not going to be a happy ending for any Ward supporters: this will be a bit harsh.

Ward can write. His prose is entertaining and he keeps his reader engaged. He can also write convincingly. So long as you do not look too closely. If you happen to have more than a cursory knowledge on a subject you get a lot of moments that are “huh?” and cause some head scratching. I can only imagine for the specialist in the areas that he is writing about that it would cause frothing at the mouth.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy

Ward’s work in the Medea Hypothesis is horribly sloppy. This may or may not be true for his other works, but it is painfully apparent in this book. Fact checking is almost nonexistent here. Conjectures are passed as fact. Criticisms were obviously taken, but only sloppily added in. The editing in general is atrocious. Works that were mentioned and cited are missing from the bibliography. A number of graphs and other bits are not provide a source. Those are just problems with the book on publisher/writer level. There are deeper levels of sloppiness here.

The basic thought process behind the hypothesis is horribly as well. This is something that I would have expected from a bright but not terribly well schooled undergrad. That is someone I would be expecting would be looking at the general works and not intimate with the details at all. It’s an old Friday Night Fight argument from my Las Cruces days. The equivalent of a beer and pretzels argument between friends, not something that ought to have presented by a respected paleontologist in the public arena.

Through the examples that I mentioned in the past posts on the Medea Hypothesis, you can see where the leap from A to B to get C just didn’t happen. A was often contradictory to B and C wasn’t even in the same parsec, nevermind with the proverbial intellectual wormhole between when you look at the accurate data. Ward makes leaps and unfounded bounds between inaccuracy and misrepresentation to back his idea. This is criminally sloppy.

Is there an explanation?

Ward’s rigorous work in the past is rightly acknowledged. He has done some things that have been immensely useful in establishing the KT Extinction as being catastrophic. He has made useful contributions to the work on the PT Extinction. If his published works are so useful, why is this popular work so awful? There is a reason, but its even more awful.

I think Ward’s words speak for themselves:

This could be the end of the book. But it was never my goal just to lay siege to the Gaia, replacing the benevolent mother figure with a silent murderess. Let us move to two final chapters: the first dealing with environmental implications, and the second, a brief essay on what we might do to save our species from extinction.

The Medea Hypothesis, Pg 127.

If you view the Medea Hypothesis through the lens that the Medea Hypothesis was purely an agenda driven piece of “science,” then everything falls into place. Ward assumed his conclusion and forced, shoehorned and bent evidence so that he could show he was right. This isn’t science. This is something else.

Ward didn’t come to his idea because the evidence compelled him. There was no intuitive leap. It was that Ward wanted to knock the “Deep Greens” on the head for their silly beliefs. Don’t get me wrong: the Deep Greens frequently make me see red. However, pursuing truth by perpetuating falsehood is not the way to do it.

Summation (Duck Roast Time!)

Ward presents an interesting idea: that the Gaia Hypothesis is wrong and that there is an alternate one we ought to consider. Unfortunately, in his writing and presentation, Ward commits numerous egregious sins. Perhaps there is something to the Medea Hypothesis. Perhaps there is a kernel of truth to his idea. However, given that it seems to say that life systems are subject to entropy, too, it feels like we have been put over. What did he really prove? That the Gaia Hypothesis was wrong? Not really. In his effort to present an alternative, the book largely fails.

Ward did highlight some things that are more than worthy of our attention and have not been brought into the public eye much. The first is that there are numerous positive feedback cycles in the biosphere that need to be watched. They need to be brought out into the open as things we need to be concerned about and they are far more nuanced than comments on the tipping points in global climate change. The second is that, yes, biogenic climate change does, in fact, happen. Life changes the atmosphere enough that it will cause the climate to change. That, too, is something that needed to be exposed to the public light since by and large it has not right now. It’s a real pity that he decided to stitch these into an agenda driven ‘grand narrative’ he did rather than write about the feedbacks and biogenic climate change. He would have had a riveting book there and then on largely unknown subjects.

Instead, he overreached, warping the presentation around his agenda, and has muddied the waters. The discussions will no longer be on the merits of the science, but rather the back and forth that takes place over him and his flawed, inadequate and very agenda driven interpretation of the science. The idea of the Medea Hypothesis may, in fact, be worth considering. However, because the book needed a few more iterations through rewrites and fact checking, his idea falls flat and probably will not be considered in a rigorous manner.

Perhaps he doesn’t care. Perhaps he’s merely trolling the environmentalists, the Deep Greens, that he seems to despise while winking at the rest of us; however, perhaps I’ve lost my sense of humor, but I detect no wink. I do think he ought to have taken a little more effort, a little more care in his work rather than extruding book after book. Maybe I am wrong and simply am nitpicking. However, I don’t believe so. I have to say that I think Ward let his agenda hijack his work and because of it, now all his popular work, at least, must be subject to a very, very careful scrutiny for bias…and factuality.

I doubt that this review will have much impact on people’s purchase or view of Ward’s works. There have been numerous sources of strong commentary on Jared Diamond and his extraordinarily dodgy works. However, Diamond’s still venerated even by scientists, sadly enough. Ward isn’t Diamond. However, this latest work suggests a future of Diamondism. I sincerely hope I am wrong about that though.

That's it. I'm done. Thank the maker. This could use an edit or two, but I've had enough of Ward's idea. For all the posts, go to the Medea Hypothesis TOC.

James, there ya go. Link away.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Cray Nabs NCAR HPC Contract

Global supercomputer leader Cray Inc. (NASDAQ: CRAY) today announced that after an eight-year hiatus, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has become a Cray customer once again with an order for a Cray XT5m supercomputing system. NCAR purchased the world's first production Cray-1A supercomputer in 1976, and continued to perform scientific research on various Cray supercomputing systems for more than 25 years.

NCAR's new Cray XT5m midrange supercomputer, nicknamed "Lynx," will be installed in NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) in Boulder, Colorado later this month. "Lynx" will be used primarily as a development and test platform for CISL and NCAR users who also have access to larger Cray XT supercomputers located at other institutions, including the petascale "Jaguar" and "Kraken" Cray XT5 systems housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the "Franklin" Cray XT4 system at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

Hey! Hopper's coming along too! ;)

Announcing Australopithecus sediba

So. Close to Homo? Or yet another branch on the australopithecine bush?

Read here, here, here, and here.

T-95 Tank Cancelled (Again)

On April 5 the Russian government discussed the program for the development of the national defense industry for 2011-2020. The Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appealed to the military to define what weapons they really need and for what tasks. He stated that 40% of defense R&D programs don’t result in anything representing just a waste of resources.

The military was quick to respond. Two days later deputy defense minister and chief of armaments Vladimir Popovkin announced that a number of programs for development of new armor and artillery weapons will be cancelled. The main victim is the mysterious Object 195 program that was aimed to develop a new generation main battle tank to replace existing T-80 and T-90 tanks in the Russian Army. The new tank also dubbed T-95 has been developed by Nizhny Tagil Uralvagonzavod armor manufacturer in complete secrecy for more than 15 years. Popovkin said the military will focus on modernization of the T-90 instead.

Among other cancelled development programs are the 152 mm Koalitziya-SV self-propelled double-barrel artillery system, BMD-4 airborne combat vehicle, 125 mm Sprut-SD self-propelled anti-tank gun and BMPT tank support combat vehicle. All these programs were in the phase of prototype testing. Popovkin said these weapons hadn’t been included in the defense procurement program, but the government will reimburse the designers for their development expenses.

A year and a half ago this was reported before. Either the "T-95" has ninety-five lives...or if Russia was the US, someone inserted the line item as an amendment on the animal rights act or something.

Venus Probably Has Volcanoes

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

CleanTech Cleans Up Investment

Investors are betting big on cleantech. In the first quarter of 2010, companies raised more than $1.9 billion globally in 180 deals, a new high, according to a report released last week by the Cleantech Group and the accounting firm Deloitte.

Investment leaped 29 percent from the fourth quarter of 2009 and 83 percent from the same period a year ago, with both venture capitalists and big corporations (among them Royal Dutch Shell and General Motors) showing an interest.

But while the number of deals set a new record — the previous peak was 165 deals in the fourth quarter of 2009 — the total value is still $1 billion off the high, which was in the third quarter of 2008, and the deals are much smaller in size.

"The first three months of 2010 represent the strongest start to a year we have ever recorded," Sheeraz Haji, president of the Cleantech Group consultancy, says about the deal volume. But the environment is still tough for many cleantech companies. "You have less dollars per deal going into startups, and plenty of big companies are struggling to raise the capital they need."

Investors were sweet on the transportation sector, in particular electric vehicles. A $350 million investment in Better Place, a Palo Alto-based company that is building a network of charging stations for electric cars in Australia, California, Canada, Denmark, Hawaii and Israel, lifted transportation to a record quarter: $704 million in 27 deals. Two other California start-ups – Fisker Automotive and Coda Automotive – picked up $140 million and $30 million, respectively.

Why the interest in transportation, which requires huge outlays of cash? It's cooler, Haji told the Daily Finance. "People are watching exactly where Nissan's lease price is at," he said, referring to the company's pricing of its Leaf electric car. "There's anticipation that there's a market there."

The solar sector recorded $322 million in 27 deals, and investors poured $217 million into 39 deals in energy efficiency. The top three deals all went to lighting start-ups.

"Lighting is hot," Haji said in a statement. "A lot of entrepreneurs and venture firms are looking for lighting deals."

North American companies received 81 percent of investment globally, with Europe (including Israel) picking up 14 percent; China, 4 percent; and India, 1 percent. North American companies raised $1.5 billion in the first quarter. California-based companies topped the list, pulling in more than half of the total investment: 57 percent, or $870 million. Oregon was a distant second, with $179 million or 12 percent of the total investment.

There were 13 clean-tech IPOs during the quarter, which raised a total of $1.5 billion. China led the way with eight offerings. In February, Tesla Motors (founded by Inc.'s 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year Elon Musk) filed its IPO documents – following filings by Fremont, California-based Solyndra, a maker of skinny tube-shaped solar panels for commercial rooftops, and Codexis (No. 924 on Inc.'s 2009 Inc. 5000), a Redwood City, California company that crafts designer enzymes for biofuel production.

no time again...

NASA, USN, UC, etc Make Thermal Recharging Unmanned Submarine

NASA, U.S. Navy and university researchers have successfully demonstrated the first robotic underwater vehicle to be powered entirely by the natural temperature differences found in varying depths of the ocean.

The new technology, found on an undersea robot called the Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging (SOLO-TREC), is scalable for use on most other robotic oceanographic vehicles, NASA said.

The energy-reaping technology could usher in a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles capable of virtually indefinite ocean monitoring for climate and marine animal studies, exploration and surveillance.

The performance of underwater robotic vehicles has traditionally been limited by power considerations. SOLO-TREC, with its novel thermal recharging engine, might offer a way around this problem.

"People have long dreamed of a machine that produces more energy than it consumes and runs indefinitely," Jack Jones, a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) principal engineer in Pasadena, Calif. and SOLO-TREC co-principal investigator, said in a statement.

"While not a true perpetual motion machine, since we actually consume some environmental energy, the prototype system demonstrated by JPL and its partners can continuously monitor the ocean without a limit on its lifetime imposed by energy supply," Jones said.

The 183-pound (84-kilogram) SOLO-TREC prototype was tested and deployed by a joint JPL and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego team on Nov. 30, 2009, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. The three-month test wrapped up last month.

no time. :(

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Anaerobic Metazoans!!!

Living exclusively oxygen-free was thought to be a lifestyle open only to viruses and single-celled microorganisms. A group of Italian and Danish researchers has now found three species of multicellular animal, or metazoan, that apparently spend their entire lives in oxygen-starved waters in a basin at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

The discovery "opens a whole new realm to metazoans that we thought was off limits", says Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

Roberto Danovaro from the Polytechnic University of Marche in Ancona, Italy, and his colleagues pulled up the animals during three research cruises off the south coast of Greece. The species, which have not yet been named, belong to a phylum of tiny bottom-dwellers called Loricifera. Measuring less than 1 millimetre long, they live at a depth of more than 3,000 metres in the anoxic sediments of the Atalante basin, a place so little explored that Danovaro likens his team's sampling to "going to the Moon to collect rocks".

Researchers have previously found multicellular animals living in anoxic environments, but Danovaro says that it was never clear whether those animals were permanent residents. The new loriciferans, which he and his team reported this week (R. Danovaro et al. BMC Biol. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-30; 2010), seem to "reproduce and live all their life in anoxic conditions", he says.

The researchers identified an adaptation that helps these loriciferans to survive in their environment. Instead of mitochondria, which rely on oxygen, the creatures have organelles that resemble hydrogenosomes, which some single-celled organisms use to produce energy-storing molecules anaerobically.




Monday, April 05, 2010

Vulcanism and the Late Triassic Mass Extinction

Compound-specific carbon isotopes from Earth’s largest flood basalt eruptions directly linked to the end-Triassic mass extinction

1. Jessica H. Whiteside (a,1)
2. Paul E. Olsen (b,1)
3. Timothy Eglinton (c)
4. Michael E. Brookfield (d)
5. Raymond N. Sambrotto (e)

a. Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University, Box 1846, Providence, RI 02912;

b. Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964;

c. Department of Marine Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543;

d. Institute of Earth Sciences Academia Sinica, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan; and

e. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964

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


A leading hypothesis explaining Phanerozoic mass extinctions and associated carbon isotopic anomalies is the emission of greenhouse, other gases, and aerosols caused by eruptions of continental flood basalt provinces. However, the necessary serial relationship between these eruptions, isotopic excursions, and extinctions has never been tested in geological sections preserving all three records. The end-Triassic extinction (ETE) at 201.4 Ma is among the largest of these extinctions and is tied to a large negative carbon isotope excursion, reflecting perturbations of the carbon cycle including a transient increase in CO2. The cause of the ETE has been inferred to be the eruption of the giant Central Atlantic magmatic province (CAMP). Here, we show that carbon isotopes of leaf wax derived lipids (n-alkanes), wood, and total organic carbon from two orbitally paced lacustrine sections interbedded with the CAMP in eastern North America show similar excursions to those seen in the mostly marine St. Audrie’s Bay section in England. Based on these results, the ETE began synchronously in marine and terrestrial environments slightly before the oldest basalts in eastern North America but simultaneous with the eruption of the oldest flows in Morocco, a CO2 super greenhouse, and marine biocalcification crisis. Because the temporal relationship between CAMP eruptions, mass extinction, and the carbon isotopic excursions are shown in the same place, this is the strongest case for a volcanic cause of a mass extinction to date.

And the commentary from Rampino.

Could someone send these to me? For some reason the Lab has lost its subscription to PNAS, of all goofy things.

anzha el-why-you at gmail dot com.


Cray to Provide Petaflop System to LANL/NNSA Labs

Global supercomputer leader Cray Inc. (NASDAQ: CRAY) today announced that it has signed a sub-contract with Los Alamos National Security, LLC to provide the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a next-generation Cray supercomputer. Currently valued at more than $45 million, the multi-year, multi-phase contract can be expanded if the NNSA exercises an option for a future upgrade. The new system will create a new supercomputing platform, named Cielo, for the Advanced Simulation and Computing program at the NNSA.

The Cielo platform will support all three of the NNSA national laboratories, which include Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The NNSA will use the new supercomputing system to ensure the safety, security and effectiveness of the United States' nuclear stockpile, and will run the NNSA's largest and most demanding modeling and simulation workload.

"Cielo is being acquired and deployed by the NNSA's New Mexico Alliance for Computing at Extreme Scales (ACES). This is a joint partnership between Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. Both Los Alamos and Sandia have a long history with Cray, going back to the very beginning of the supercomputing era," said John Morrison, High Performance Computing Division Leader at Los Alamos. "With the Cielo platform, that history continues with the next generation of capability computing in support of the U.S. nuclear security enterprise."

"Cielo is the culmination of a two year partnership between Sandia and LANL on ACES," said Sudip Dosanjh, Sandia co-director for ACES. "We look forward to working with Cray to create an order of magnitude increase in capability for key NNSA national security applications. Cielo will target extremely large problems that require production, petascale supercomputing."

"The NNSA plays a critical role in protecting the safety and security of our country, and we are quite proud that some of the organization's most critical scientific research will be done on a Cray supercomputer," said Peter Ungaro, Cray president and CEO. "We have had a great partnership with the NNSA including the development of Red Storm -- a collaboration that enabled the launch of our first Cray XT3 supercomputer. We are honored to be able to continue this important partnership and are encouraged that the NNSA laboratories share in the excitement around our next-generation 'Baker' supercomputer."

The next-generation Cray supercomputer will be housed at the Strategic Computing Complex at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is expected to be delivered in the second half of 2010. Code-named "Baker," Cray's new supercomputing system will feature a new interconnect chipset known as "Gemini" and enhanced system software that improves the performance, productivity and reliability of the system. Cray's planned "Baker" supercomputer builds on the Cray XT system architecture found in the world's fastest supercomputer and improves it in every key dimension.

no time to comment. I didn't even get a chance to work on the Medea post this weekend.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Not Posting Today

I really don't care for April First Online. gah. Feels like a waste of a day.