Friday, February 26, 2010

Rutan Clarifies His Criticism

My basic concern is that the real value of NASA's contributions that America realized in the 60s and early 70s is now being completely discarded. How can we rationalize a surrender of our preeminence in human spaceflight? In my mind, the important NASA accomplishments are twofold: 1) The technical breakthroughs achieved by basic research (not by Development programs like Constellation) and 2) The Forefront Manned Exploration that provided the inspiration for our youth to plan careers in engineering/science and that established the U.S. as the world leader in technology.

In short, it is a good idea indeed for the commercial community to compete to re-supply the ISS and to bring about space access for the public to enjoy. I applaud the efforts of SpaceX, Virgin and Orbital in that regard and feel these activities should have been done at least two
decades ago. However, I do not see the commercial companies taking Americans to Mars or to the moons of Saturn within my lifetime and I doubt if they will take the true Research risks (technical and financial) to fly new concepts that have low confidence of return on investment. Even NASA, regarded as our prime Research agency has not recently shown a willingness to fly true Research concepts.

For years I have stated that a NASA return-to-moon effort must include true Research content, i.e. testing new concepts needed to enable forefront Exploration beyond the moon. The current Ares/Orion does not do that. While I have been critical of Constellation for that reason, I do not think that NASA should 'give up' on manned spaceflight, just that they should be doing it while meeting the 1) or 2) criteria above.

Some backpedaling, but not much. He accuses the journalists of cherry picking his statements. Gosh. That never happens.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Once Again, Global Warming is Inevitable

China's top climate change negotiator has said the world's biggest carbon polluter has no intention of capping greenhouse gas emissions for the time being, state media reported Thursday.

Su Wei, who led China's negotiating team at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen in December, said the country's carbon emissions had to increase because the economy was still developing, the China Daily said.

China "could not and should not" set an upper limit on greenhouse gas emissions at the current stage, Su told a meeting on climate change policy in Beijing on Wednesday.


Neo-Eocene or Neo-Oligocene. What's your poison?

Red Queen Hypothesis Backed?

The team observed viruses as they evolved over hundreds of generations to infect bacteria. They found that when the bacteria could evolve defences, the viruses evolved at a quicker rate and generated greater diversity, compared to situations where the bacteria were unable to adapt to the viral infection.

The study shows, for the first time, that the American evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen was correct in his 'Red Queen Hypothesis'. The theory, first put forward in the 1970s, was named after a passage in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass in which the Red Queen tells Alice, 'It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place'. This suggested that species were in a constant race for survival and have to continue to evolve new ways of defending themselves throughout time.

Dr Steve Paterson, from the University's School of Biosciences, explains: "Historically, it was assumed that most evolution was driven by a need to adapt to the environment or habitat. The Red Queen Hypothesis challenged this by pointing out that actually most natural selection will arise from co-evolutionary interactions with other species, not from interactions with the environment.

"This suggested that evolutionary change was created by 'tit-for-tat' adaptations by species in constant combat. This theory is widely accepted in the science community, but this is the first time we have been able to show evidence of it in an experiment with living things."

Dr Michael Brockhurst said: "We used fast-evolving viruses so that we could observe hundreds of generations of evolution. We found that for every viral strategy of attack, the bacteria would adapt to defend itself, which triggered an endless cycle of co-evolutionary change. We compared this with evolution against a fixed target, by disabling the bacteria's ability to adapt to the virus.

"These experiments showed us that co-evolutionary interactions between species result in more genetically diverse populations, compared to instances where the host was not able to adapt to the parasite. The virus was also able to evolve twice as quickly when the bacteria were allowed to evolve alongside it."

The team used high-throughput DNA sequencing technology at the Centre for Genomic Research to sequence thousands of virus genomes. The next stage of the research is to understand how co-evolution differs when interacting species help, rather than harm, one another.

Competition vs environment, competition vs opportunism. Perhaps evolution is a bit more complicated than a singular vector. So many posts to write, so little time.

Burt Rutan Blasts NASA Plan

Commercial space pioneer Burt Rutan has sharply criticized Obama administration proposals to outsource key portions of NASA's manned space program to private firms.

The White House wants NASA to use outside firms to develop and operate new rockets and spacecraft that would transport astronauts into orbit and beyond, functions that had previously been considered a core function of the agency. Mr. Rutan, a veteran aerospace designer and entrepreneur, in a letter addressed to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, says he is "fearful that the commercial guys will fail" to deliver on the promises to get beyond low earth orbit, and that the policy risks setting back the nation's space program.

"That would be a very big mistake for America to make," according to the letter sent to lawmakers that is expected to be released Wednesday during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on the future of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Such comments are unexpected from a maverick engineer long identified with pushing the boundaries of commercial space projects, and the man who designed the first commercial suborbital rocketship.

"From my past comments on NASA's" lack of direction and success, "an observer might think that I would applaud the decision to turn this important responsibility over to commercial developers," the letter says. However, he adds, that's "wrong."


If Burt is nuking the proposal, that's NOT a good sign. I really want to see that letter.

He's right though. NewSpace isn't ready...yet. We have a ways to go to get to the point where we will be and betting the farm on the noobs isn't a good idea. On the other hand, putting your eggs in a single basket isn't good either. If I were one of the law makers, I'd be looking hard at preventing Constellations canning and looking on how to ramp up NewSpace's capabilities in parallel. It'd be expensive though.

Cray Sweeps DoD HPC Contract Awards

Global supercomputer leader Cray Inc. (NASDAQ: CRAY) today announced it has won all three high performance computing (HPC) system awards by the Department of Defense (DoD) as part of its 2010 High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP). The contract, worth more than $45 million including multi-year services, is the largest DoD HPCMP system award to a single vendor in the history of the program.

Under the terms of the contract, Cray will provide three of its next generation supercomputing systems to top DoD Supercomputing Resource Centers located throughout the United States. These centers include the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio; the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center (ARSC) in Fairbanks, Alaska; and the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Cray supercomputers will be used to support basic and applied research, and product development and evaluation. These systems will help to protect the military through the development of new materials, fuels, armor and weapons systems, and assist long-term weather predictions to plan humanitarian and military operations throughout the world.

"To solve today's hardest research and development challenges, we have to employ leading-edge scalable software and the world's fastest supercomputers," said Mr. Cray Henry, director of the DoD's HPCMP. "We are excited to get the next generation Cray supercomputers working to solve our problems."

The three Cray supercomputers included in the 2010 DoD HPCMP procurement are expected to be delivered in the second half of this year, and will be the company's next generation supercomputing systems code-named "Baker." Featuring a new interconnect chipset known as "Gemini" and enhanced system software improving the performance, productivity and reliability of the system, Cray's planned "Baker" supercomputers build on the Cray XT system architecture of the world's fastest supercomputer and improve it in every dimension.

"We are incredibly honored that Cray supercomputers continue to play a prominent role in this important program," said Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray. "As a result of this award, Cray will provide the DoD with the supercomputing tools necessary for its scientists and engineers to research, develop, test and evaluate breakthrough technologies that will strengthen our national security. This award not only reinforces our leadership position in high performance computing, it also speaks to the exciting potential of our upcoming 'Baker' system."

Cray previously received a DoD HPCMP award in 2008, and with the 2010 award, Cray will have supercomputing systems at five of the six DoD Supercomputing Resource Centers in the U.S.

Commentary another time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pliocene Tropical Cyclone Modeling

More frequent tropical cyclones in Earth's ancient past contributed to persistent El Niño-like conditions, according to a team of climate scientists led by Yale University. Their findings, which appear in the Feb. 25 issue of the journal Nature, could have implications for the planet's future as global temperatures continue to rise due to climate change.

The team used both cyclone and climate models to study the frequency and distribution of tropical cyclones (also known as hurricanes or typhoons) during the Pliocene epoch, a period three to five million years ago when temperatures were up to four degrees Celsius warmer than today.

The team found that there were twice as many tropical cyclones during this period, that they lasted two to three days longer on average than they do now, and that, unlike today, they occurred across the entire tropical Pacific Ocean.

"The Pliocene is the best analog we have in the past for what could happen in our future," said Christopher Brierley, a Yale postdoctoral associate and an author of the study. "We wondered whether all these storms could have contributed to the warmer climate."

In fact, the team discovered a positive feedback cycle between tropical cyclones and upper-ocean circulation in the Pacific that explains the increase in storms and appears to have led to permanent El Niño-like conditions.

Today, cold water originating off the coasts of California and Chile skirts around the region of tropical cyclone activity on its way to the Equator, where it results in a "cold tongue" that stretches west off the coast of South America. During the Pliocene, however, the team found that this cold water could not avoid being hit by one of the many tropical cyclones, which would churn up and mix warmer water into it. This warming at the Equator led to changes in the atmosphere that in turn created more tropical storms—and the cycle would repeat.

The team hopes to study how much mixing could result from tropical cyclones in today's ocean waters—something that is hard to incorporate in global climate models, said Alexey Fedorov, an associate professor at Yale and lead author of the paper.

Fedorov cautioned that there is not necessarily a direct link between what happened during the Pliocene and what might happen in the future, as the team's results for this epoch differed in many respects from current projections for future global warming. For example, the existing consensus is that, while the number of intense hurricanes will increase, the overall number will actually decrease.

No time, but rather interesting.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Brachiosaur Found

A team of paleontologists has discovered a new dinosaur species they're calling Abydosaurus, which belongs to the group of gigantic, long-necked, long-tailed, four-legged, plant-eating dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus.

In a rare twist, they recovered four heads – two still fully intact – from a quarry in Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah. Complete skulls have been recovered for only eight of more than 120 known varieties of sauropod.

"Their heads are built lighter than mammal skulls because they sit way out at the end of very long necks," said Brooks Britt, a paleontologist at Brigham Young University. "Instead of thick bones fused together, sauropod skulls are made of thin bones bound together by soft tissue. Usually it falls apart quickly after death and disintegrates."

Britt is a co-author on the discovery paper scheduled to appear in the journal Naturwissenshaften.

The lead author is Daniel Chure, a paleontologist at Dinosaur National Monument, who has no trouble boiling down the significance of the discovery.

"We've got skulls!" he shouted with sweeping hand gestures during a recent visit to the site.

BYU geology students and faculty resorted to jackhammers and concrete saws to cut through the hardened 105-million-year-old sandstone containing the bones. At one point the National Park Service called in a crew to blast away the overlying rock with explosives.

The skulls are temporarily on display at BYU's Museum of Paleontology, where visitors can also watch BYU students prepare other bones from Abydosaurus.

"The hardest bone I personally have worked on is a vertebra that was half-eroded before discovery and is so fragile that it crumbles if you look at it wrong," said Kimmy Hales, a geology major studying vertebrate paleontology at BYU. "The funnest project I have worked on was a set of five toe bones. Each toe bone was larger than my hand."

Analysis of the bones indicates that the closest relative of Abydosaurus is Brachiosaurus, which lived 45 million years earlier. The four Abydosaurus specimens were all juveniles.

Most of what scientists know about sauropods is from the neck down, but the skulls from Abydosaurus give a few clues about how the largest land animals to roam the earth ate their food.

"They didn't chew their food; they just grabbed it and swallowed it," Britt said. "The skulls are only one two-hundredth of total body volume and don't have an elaborate chewing system."

All sauropods ate plants and continually replaced their teeth throughout their lives. In the Jurassic Period, sauropods exhibited a wide range of tooth shapes. But by the end of the dinosaur age, all sauropods had narrow, pencil-like teeth.

Abydosaurus teeth are somewhere in between, reflecting a trend toward smaller teeth and more rapid tooth replacement.

No time to discuss...however, does anyone have the age of the fossils?

Grizzlies Moving Into Polar Bear Habitat in Manitoba

iologists affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and City College of the City University of New York have found that grizzly bears are roaming into what was traditionally thought of as polar bear habitat—and into the Canadian province of Manitoba, where they are officially listed as extirpated. The preliminary data was recently published in Canadian Field Naturalist and shows that sightings of Ursus arctos horribilis in Canada's Wapusk National Park are recent and appear to be increasing in frequency.

"Grizzly bears are a new guy on the scene, competition and a potential predator for the polar bears that live in this area," says Robert F. Rockwell, a research associate at the Museum and a professor of Biology at CUNY. "The first time we saw a grizzly we were flying over the middle of Wapusk, counting fox dens, when all of the sudden Linda Gormezano, a graduate student working with Rockwell and a co-author of the paper, shouted 'Over there, over there—a grizzly bear.' And it wasn't a dirty polar bear or a moose—we saw the hump."

That sighting in August 2008 spurred Rockwell and Gormezano to look through records to get a better picture of the bear population in the park. There was no evidence of grizzly bears before 1996, not even in the trapping data from centuries of Hudson Bay Company operation. But between 1996 and 2008 the team found nine confirmed sightings of grizzly bears, and in the summer of 2009 there were three additional observations.

"The opportunistic sightings seem to be increasing," says Gormezano. "This is worrying for the polar bears because grizzly bears would likely hibernate in polar bear maternity denning habitat. They would come out of hibernation at the same time and can kill polar cubs."

Before this study, researchers thought that the barren landscape north of the Hudson Bay was an impassable gap in resources for potentially migrating grizzly bears. But some U. arctos horribilis have managed to move from their historic ranges in the Rockies, the Yukon, and Nunavut, probably because of their flexible, mixed diet of berries and meat. The potential gap was navigable, and now some grizzly bears have reached the abundant caribou, moose, fish, and berries found to the south in Canada's Wapusk National Park.

No time to comment.

Just Outside the Office

Clipped running a red at extreme speed in DT Oakland.



Monday, February 22, 2010

Island Dwarfing in Romanian Dinosaurs Confirmed

The idea of the small prehistoric beasts on Hateg Island, Romania, was proposed 100 years ago by the colourful Baron Franz Nopcsa, whose family owned estates in the area.

He found that many dinosaur remains on Hateg were half the size of their close relatives in older rocks in England, Germany, and North America.

The baron's theory has been tested for the first time by Professor Mike Benton at the University of Bristol, and six other authors from Romania, Germany, and the United States.

The team found that the Hateg Island dinosaurs were indeed dwarfs and not just young dinosaurs.

A favourite theme of evolutionary ecologists is whether there is an ''island rule'' - where large animals isolated on islands evolve to become smaller.

Three species of the Hateg dinosaurs - the plant-eating sauropod Magyarosaurus and the plant-eating ornithopods Telmatosaurus and Zalmoxes - are half the length of their nearest relatives elsewhere.

The team examined these three dinosaurs, each represented by many specimens. They found no evidence of any large bones such as they would expect to find in their normal-sized relatives.

More importantly, a close study of the bones confirmed that the dinosaurs had reached adulthood so they were not just underdeveloped youngsters.

Colorful baron? hmmm. Sounds like there's a story behind the science there.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Query: Were Mesosaurs Parareptiles or Basal Amniotes?

I'm a little bit confused. I've been reading a few different papers on parareptiles and I am getting a conflicting picture from various group's cladistic analyzes. Some place mesosaurs as parareptiles. Others have been placing them as basal amniotes. So, my appeal to the professional paleo types that read my blog at least occasionally:

What are they?


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Speciation Through Morphological Subtypes (or too much paper/rock/scissors can cause you to speciate!)

New research on lizards supports an old idea about how species can originate. Morphologically distinct types are often found within species, and biologists have speculated that these "morphs" could be the raw material for speciation. What were once different types of individuals within the same population could eventually evolve into separate species.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, supports this idea. The study documents the disappearance of certain morphs of the side-blotched lizard in some populations. The researchers reported their findings in a paper published this week in the online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana, has three morphs differing in color and mating behavior. Barry Sinervo, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC, has studied a population of side-blotched lizards near Los Baños, Calif., for over 20 years. Ammon Corl, now a postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, led the new study as a graduate student at UCSC and is first author of the paper.

Previous work by Sinervo and his colleagues showed that competition among male side-blotched lizards takes the form of a rock-paper-scissors game in which each mating strategy beats and is beaten by one other strategy. Males with orange throats can take territory from blue-throated males because they have more testosterone and body mass. As a result, orange males control large territories containing many females. Blue-throated males cooperate with each other to defend territories and closely guard females, so they are able to beat the sneaking strategy of yellow-throated males. Yellow-throated males are not territorial, but mimic female behavior and coloration to sneak onto the large territories of orange males to mate with females.

"My goal when starting my Ph.D. thesis research was to understand how this fascinating mating system evolved," Corl said. "We studied lizard populations from California to Texas and from Washington State down to Baja California Sur in Mexico."

Corl found the three color morphs in many places, but not everywhere. Some populations were missing some of the color morphs. For example, populations in the northwest only have orange-throated lizards, while only orange- and blue-throated morphs are found on Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands. In the field, the researchers captured lizards to collect tissue samples for DNA analysis and then released them back into the wild. In the lab, they used the tissue samples to get DNA sequences from all of the lizard populations in the study.

"Based on these sequences, we reconstructed the 'family tree' of the lizard populations and figured out which populations were more closely related to one another. This let us figure out how the mating strategies evolved," Corl said.

The results showed that all three color morphs existed millions of years ago and have persisted since then in many populations. Over time, however, some branches of the lizard family tree lost some of the color types.

"What was particularly interesting was the pattern in how color morphs were lost," Corl said. "Any time there was a loss, the yellow type--the sneaky males that mimic females--was the first to go. Thus, the rock-paper-scissors game can break down on an evolutionary timescale. Something about the game must change so that, for instance, both the rock and scissors strategies are able to beat paper."

Sinervo has documented the cycling of the rock-paper-scissors game at his main study site for 22 years, with the dominant morph in the population changing every four to five years. "It's like an evolutionary clock ticking between rock, paper, scissors then back to rock," he said. "Ammon's research indicates that the game has been cycling for millions of years at some sites, and yet at other sites it collapses on one or two strategies and begins to create new species. It is simply mind-boggling to think about deep time and these evolutionary cycles."

Many aspects of the evolutionary history of these lizards are consistent with the theory that morphs can be involved in speciation, Corl said. Evolutionary theory predicts that new species could arise from particular morphs originally found in a population containing multiple morphs. Side-blotched lizards started off with three color morphs. If just one or two types occur in a population, they look just like the original morphs.

The theory was also supported by patterns in the formation of subspecies, which are the precursors to new species. Two subspecies of side-blotched lizard that originated from populations with three morphs now have only a single color morph. Thus, populations that lose morphs are not transitory, but can persist and eventually become a different species.

The study also found evidence to support the hypothesis that rapid evolutionary change occurs when particular morphs are lost from the system. "Imagine the three lizard morphs playing rock-paper-scissors," Corl explained. "They have very specific adaptations for fighting one another. Now imagine that some morphs are lost, leaving a population of all rock morphs. Their adaptations for fighting the paper and scissors morphs are no longer useful. Therefore, rapid evolutionary change is expected in a population of rock morphs as they adapt to a new game in which they only fight other rock morphs."

The study showed clear evidence of very rapid evolution of body size when morphs are lost from a population. "Such rapid evolution could eventually cause populations to evolve into distinct species. We are the first group to provide a statistical test of this hypothesis," Corl said.

no time to comment!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Population III Stars Finally Found?

"We have, in effect, found a flaw in the forensic methods used until now," says Else Starkenburg, lead author of the paper reporting the study. "Our improved approach allows us to uncover the primitive stars hidden among all the other, more common stars."

Primitive stars are thought to have formed from material forged shortly after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. They typically have less than one thousandth the amount of chemical elements heavier than hydrogen and helium found in the Sun and are called "extremely metal-poor stars" [1]. They belong to one of the first generations of stars in the nearby Universe. Such stars are extremely rare and mainly observed in the Milky Way.

Cosmologists think that larger galaxies like the Milky Way formed from the merger of smaller galaxies. Our Milky Way's population of extremely metal-poor or "primitive" stars should already have been present in the dwarf galaxies from which it formed, and similar populations should be present in other dwarf galaxies. "So far, evidence for them has been scarce," says co-author Giuseppina Battaglia. "Large surveys conducted in the last few years kept showing that the most ancient populations of stars in the Milky Way and dwarf galaxies did not match, which was not at all expected from cosmological models."

Element abundances are measured from spectra, which provide the chemical fingerprints of stars [2]. The Dwarf galaxies Abundances and Radial-velocities Team [3] used the FLAMES instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope to measure the spectra of over 2000 individual giant stars in four of our galactic neighbours, the Fornax, Sculptor, Sextans and Carina dwarf galaxies. Since the dwarf galaxies are typically 300 000 light years away — which is about three times the size of our Milky Way — only strong features in the spectrum could be measured, like a vague, smeared fingerprint. The team found that none of their large collection of spectral fingerprints actually seemed to belong to the class of stars they were after, the rare, extremely metal-poor stars found in the Milky Way.

The team of astronomers around Starkenburg has now shed new light on the problem through careful comparison of spectra to computer-based models. They found that only subtle differences distinguish the chemical fingerprint of a normal metal-poor star from that of an extremely metal-poor star, explaining why previous methods did not succeed in making the identification.

The astronomers also confirmed the almost pristine status of several extremely metal-poor stars thanks to much more detailed spectra obtained with the UVES instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope. "Compared to the vague fingerprints we had before, this would be as if we looked at the fingerprint through a microscope," explains team member Vanessa Hill. "Unfortunately, just a small number of stars can be observed this way because it is very time consuming."

"Among the new extremely metal-poor stars discovered in these dwarf galaxies, three have a relative amount of heavy chemical elements between only 1/3000 and 1/10 000 of what is observed in our Sun, including the current record holder of the most primitive star found outside the Milky Way," says team member Martin Tafelmeyer.

No time to read the paper now. I'd like to see the data about the stars to see how well they match up against the theoretical pop 3 stars I've read about for so long.

Subtropical Waters Flushing Through Greenland Fjord

Waters from warmer latitudes — or subtropical waters — are reaching Greenland's glaciers, driving melting and likely triggering an acceleration of ice loss, reports a team of researchers led by Fiamma Straneo, a physical oceanographer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

"This is the first time we've seen waters this warm in any of the fjords in Greenland," says Straneo. "The subtropical waters are flowing through the fjord very quickly, so they can transport heat and drive melting at the end of the glacier."

Greenland's ice sheet, which is two-miles thick and covers an area about the size of Mexico, has lost mass at an accelerated rate over the last decade. The ice sheet's contribution to sea level rise during that time frame doubled due to increased melting and, to a greater extent, the widespread acceleration of outlet glaciers around Greenland.

While melting due to warming air temperatures is a known event, scientists are just beginning to learn more about the ocean's impact — in particular, the influence of currents — on the ice sheet.

"Among the mechanisms that we suspected might be triggering this acceleration are recent changes in ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which are delivering larger amounts of subtropical waters to the high latitudes," says Straneo. But a lack of observations and measurements from Greenland's glaciers prior to the acceleration made it difficult to confirm.

The research team, which included colleagues from University of Maine, conducted two extensive surveys during July and September of 2008, collecting both ship-based and moored oceanographic data from Sermilik Fjord — a large glacial fjord in East Greenland.

Sermilik Fjord, which is 100 kilometers (approximately 62 miles) long, connects Helheim Glacier with the Irminger Sea. In 2003 alone, Helheim Glacier retreated several kilometers and almost doubled its flow speed.

Deep inside the Sermilik Fjord, researchers found subtropical water as warm as 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). The team also reconstructed seasonal temperatures on the shelf using data collected by 19 hooded seals tagged with satellite-linked temperature depth-recorders. The data revealed that the shelf waters warm from July to December, and that subtropical waters are present on the shelf year round.

"This is the first extensive survey of one of these fjords that shows us how these warm waters circulate and how vigorous the circulation is," says Straneo. "Changes in the large-scale ocean circulation of the North Atlantic are propagating to the glaciers very quickly — not in a matter of years, but a matter of months. It's a very rapid communication."

No time to comment except cower a bit.

Southern Permafrost Line Retreated 130 km in 50 Years

The southern limit of permanently frozen ground, or permafrost, is now 130 kilometers further north than it was 50 years ago in the James Bay region, according to two researchers from the Department of Biology at Université Laval. In a recent issue of the scientific journal Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, Serge Payette and Simon Thibault suggest that, if the trend continues, permafrost in the region will completely disappear in the near future.

The researchers measured the retreat of the permafrost border by observing hummocks known as "palsas," which form naturally over ice contained in the soil of northern peat bogs. Conditions in these mounds are conducive to the development of distinct vegetation—lichen, shrubs, and black spruce—that make them easy to spot in the field.

In an initial survey in 2004, the researchers examined seven bogs located between the 51st and 53rd parallels. They noted at that time that only two of the bogs contained palsas, whereas aerial photos taken in 1957 showed palsas present in all of the bogs. A second assessment in 2005 revealed that the number of palsas present in these two bogs had decreased over the course of one year by 86% and 90% respectively.

Helicopter flyovers between the 51st and 55th parallels also revealed that the palsas are in an advanced state of deterioration over the entire James Bay area.
Publish Post


Is this anthrogenic climate change driven or still more of the recovery from the Pleistocene?

Family Pictures: Bairds in Winter

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Enzyme Companies Have Cellulosic Fuel Breakthrough?

Many cellulosic fuel producers are working with enzymes to break down tough, inedible plant parts, such as corncobs or switch grass, into simpler sugars that can be fermented to ethanol. Now enzyme companies say they are near to breaking down another tough obstacle: the cost of enzymes that will make the next generation of low-carbon fuels.

The progress may help put cellulosic ethanol on course to compete commercially when the first large plants open next year.

Novozymes, the world's largest industrial enzyme producer, today launched a new line it says will yield ethanol from plant wastes at an enzyme price of about 50 cents a gallon. The latest product of a decade of research, this marks an 80 percent price drop from two years ago, according to Global Marketing Director Poul Ruben Andersen.

The advances, Andersen said, will help bring cellulosic ethanol production prices to under $2 a gallon by 2011, a cost on par with both corn-based ethanol and gasoline at current U.S. market prices.

Yesterday, Novozyme's competitor, California-based Genencor, a division of enzyme giant Danisco, announced its own new enzyme product, which falls within a similar price range of about 50 cents to make a gallon of fuel, according to Philippe Lavielle, executive vice president of business development.

"What we can see now is that it's feasible to do this today. Of course, that being said, you have to bear in mind that you have to build the large-scale factories to do this," Andersen said.

That capacity, though nearer than ever, has long been a future prospect. Next year, the nation's first commercial-sized plants are expected to open their doors. Among the climate benefits experts see are that the use of corn stover and other waste products rather than corn will cut the need for fertilizer, plowing and other greenhouse gas-producing steps currently used to make ethanol.

*crosses fingers*

Insect Origins Revealed?

Since the dawn of the biological sciences, mankind has struggled to comprehend the relationships among the major groups of "jointed-legged" animals — the arthropods. Now, a team of researchers, including Dr. Joel Martin and Dr. Regina Wetzer from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM), has finished a completely new analysis of the evolutionary relationships among the arthropods, answering many questions that defied previous attempts to unravel how these creatures were connected. Their study is scheduled for publication in the journal Nature on Feb. 24.

Now, for the first time, science has a solid grasp of what those relationships are, and a framework upon which to build. The new study makes a major contribution to our understanding of the nature and origins of the planet's biodiversity. The paper's other researchers are Jerome C. Regier, Andreas Zwick and April Hussey from the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute; Jeffrey W. Shultz of the University of Maryland's Department of Entomology; and Bernard Ball and Clifford W. Cunningham from Duke University's Department of Biology.

There are millions of distinct species of arthropods, including all the insects, crustaceans, millipedes, centipedes, spiders, and a host of other animals, all united by having a hard external shell and jointed legs. They are by far the most numerous, and most diverse, of all creatures on Earth — in terms of the sheer number of species, no other group comes close. They make up perhaps 1.6 million of the estimated 1.8 to 1.9 million described species, dominating the planet in number, biomass, and diversity.

The economic aspects of arthropods are also overwhelming. From seafood industries worth billions of dollars annually to the world's economy, to the importance of insects as pollinators of ornamental and agriculturally important crops, to the medical role played by arthropods (e.g. as disease vectors and parasites), to biological control of introduced species, to their role in every known food web, to toxicology and biopharmaceuticals, arthropods are by far the planet's most important group of animals.

"We've never really known how arthropods, the most successful animals on Earth, evolved into the diversity we see today," said research scientist and co-author Dr. Regina Wetzer. "For me, what makes this study really exciting is getting such a solid understanding of how these animals are related, so that now we can better understand how they evolved."

Because of their amazing diversity, deciphering the evolutionary history and relationships among the major subgroups of arthropods has proven difficult. Scientists have tried using various combinations of features, in recent years including DNA sequences, to try to understand which groups are related through common ancestors. To date, those attempts have been stymied by the sheer number of species and wild shape variations between the various groups.

One of the most important results of this new study is support for the hypothesis that the insects evolved from a group of crustaceans. So flies, honeybees, ants, and crickets all branched off the arthropod family tree from within the lineage that gave rise to today's crabs, shrimp, and lobsters. Another important finding is that the "Chelicerata" (a group that includes the spiders, scorpions, ticks, and mites) branched off very early, earlier than the millipedes, centipedes, crustaceans, and insects. That means that the spiders, for example, are more distantly related to the insects than many researchers previously thought.

This team approached the problem of illuminating the arthropod family tree by using genetic data (DNA sequences) obtained from 75 species carefully selected to sample the range of arthropod diversity. Many previous analyses were based on the sequences of a handful of genes. The researchers in this study, knowing the daunting diversity they faced, used DNA sequence information from as many genes as they could. In the end, they were able to apply data from 62 protein-coding genes to the problem, leading to an extremely well-supported analysis.

Slightly overblown press release, but still interesting.

Beast of Khandahar...In South Korea

The Beast of Kandahar gets around. The hitherto-classified Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned air vehicle (UAV), its existence disclosed after our enquiries in December, has been sighted outside Afghanistan.

A Korean newspaper report - overlooked when it appeared in December - has now surfaced and states that the UAV had been flying for several months from a South Korean base - probably Osan, where the USAF currently operates U-2s - before it was disclosed.

This revelation points directly to an answer to one of the puzzling questions about the Beast: why would you use a stealthy aircraft to spy on the Taliban? The answer is that you don't, but Afghanistan and South Korea have a common feature: they are next door to nations with missile development programs.

And also nuclear weapon programs for that matter.

Russia's Demographic Distrbution

Not so purty. Nicked from demography matters.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Airborne Laser Shoots Down Ballistic Missile

When I worked at HELSTF, I chopped up videos for THEL tests. It's amusing that they have outright said what ought to have been implied all along. The exact timing for a kill is actually very classified. The Airborne Laser, despite being a megawatt class laser like MIRACL (different tech though), is a technological deadend. Chemical lasers are too damned scary to actually have on the battlefield. They are also too damned expensive to operate in the manner that they will be needed.

That said, solid state lasers of a similiar power will be really, really useful and have a vast impact on warfare when they come into play. See it? It dies. Especially since SSLs are normally pulsed weapons rather than continueous wave. Shock effects are damn impressive to see from a beam of light. When lasers get ubiquitous, warfare will change. A lot.

Here are a plethora of links on the subject:

From Ares with still photos, from The Dewline and Flight Global.

Awesome Shuttle Pic

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ukrainian Presidential Run-off Results

Via World Elections.

The crucial thing now is Yulia. What will she do? She could fracture Ukraine really badly. My hope is that she backs off and runs for PM again. Then she can bide her time and run again in 4 years. The peaceful hand over of power is damned important. I sincerely hope she realizes that.

Orion Nebula: Wow!

Just How Much Contact Did the PreColumbian New World Have?

Randy in his LJ (A Bit More Detail) pointed out the article in the SF Chronicle (sfgate) about some evidence that the Chumash of California may have had some tech transfer from the Polynesians. Namely their plank boats. The article rests on a linguistic oddity, tech similarity (maybe), and new radiocarbon dates for abalone shells. I'm not sure that I am convinced, but, truthfully, I'd like to think that the Chumash came up with their uber awesome boats on their own. But that's just me.

However, let me state that this is not the first paper in support of the idea that the Polynesians having contact with the new world. A few years ago, there was a dna study (that is now in contention) about PreColumbian South American chickens (in dispute, of course). Furthermore, it seems that sweet potatoes, a SoAm botanical resident, made their way into the diet of Polynesians as well (possibly rafted from SoAm, or so sayeth the critics).

All of this makes you wonder. Just how much contact did the New World have with the rest PreColumbian? We know about the Norse for sure. The Polynesians are looking promising at this point. Are there any other hard bits of data that lead to others?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Carbon-22: The Latest Borromean Nucleus.

The neutron halo is one of the most spectacular phenomena that nuclear structure physicists have observed in their exploration of the isotopes at and close to the neutron dripaline (the curve on a plot of atomic number versus neutron number beyond which neutron-rich nuclei begin “leaking” neutrons) using exotic beam facilities. Atomic nuclei are usually uniformly dense objects with surfaces that are nearly well defined, having only a modest amount of diffuseness. However, in halo nuclei one or more nucleons have wave functions that extend far outside the nucleus so that the matter distribution has a long tail.

The first halo nucleus observed was 11Li [1], which has two correlated neutrons in its halo [2]. The experiment that resulted in the observation of the halo was performed at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory with the Bevalac, the only relativistic heavy-ion accelerator in the world in the mid 1980s. Researchers slammed a high-energy beam of the stable isotope 20Ne into a “production target,” and then separated the short-lived products of that “fragmentation” reaction using magnets mounted on the beam line. The resulting short-lived (half-life 8.6 ms) 11Li nuclei were then steered onto targets of beryllium, carbon, and aluminum and the cross-sections for these resulting reactions measured.

The radius of a nucleus as a function of atomic mass number A can typically be calculated as (1.2 fm)A1/3, which for 11Li would give 2.7 fm. The initial analysis of the data of Tanihata et al. gave a large rms matter radius of 3.11±0.16 fm, but refinements to the reaction model eventually resulted in a conclusion that the rms radius is even larger (3.53±0.10 fm [3]). Weak binding is critical to the formation of a halo, and with a two-neutron separation energy of 300±19 keV, 11Li provided the prototypical example of this as well. Finally, 11Li essentially consists of three pieces—two neutrons and a 9Li “core”—that all must be present for the system to be bound since 10Li is unbound. Such a three-body quantum system where all three parts must be present for the existence of the system is called “Borromean” after the three interlocking rings on the 15th century coat of arms of the Borromeo family in northern Italy (Fig. 1). The three rings are connected in such a way that the cutting of one ring results in the separation of all three.

With advances in the production of exotic beams that have involved both improvements in the accelerators for the “primary” stable beams and the development of highly sophisticated magnetic spectrometers to separate the exotic products of the fragmentation reactions between the stable beams and the production targets, detailed studies of dripline isotopes of heavier elements have become possible. As K. Tanaka and colleagues from several institutions in Japan now report in Physical Review Letters, the Radioactive Isotope Beam Factory at RIKEN [4], which delivered its first beam in 2006, has now been used to measure a two-neutron halo in the dripline nucleus 22C [5].

The sensitivity of the measurement is impressive, having been performed with a beam rate of only ten 22C nuclei per hour. With twice as many protons and neutrons as 11Li, 22C is the heaviest Borromean nucleus yet observed. The rms matter radius of 5.4±0.9 fm deduced for 22C differs markedly from the “standard” nuclear radius of (1.2 fm)A1/3=3.4 fm. Furthermore, the cross section for the 22C breaks sharply from the trend exhibited by the measurements of lighter carbon isotopes that Tanaka et al. also performed.

Link in the title. This is really cool!

Medea Hypothesis (Part 9): Contradictions in the Evidence

Ward draws on many sources to present as evidence for the Medea Hypothesis. Some are papers on the deepest Deep Time of the Earth about the Archean, Protreozoic, and even Hadean eras. Others are models that project backwards and forward both the carbon cycles and the biosphere contents (biodiversity and biomass). He also draws upon the astrobiology realm that he has ventured into several times. Finally, of course, he draws on his rich paleontological background as well. This would seem like an excellent brew for producing a synthesis of ideas about the past, present, and future of the biosphere, which Ward attempted to actually do. However, unfortunately, Ward makes a lot of missteps and pulls together data and models that contradict each other. It can be that scientists often do this, putting a different interpretation on the data, rectifying the contradictions or at least offering proposals how they might be less incongruous by predicted discoveries. Alas, Ward doesn’t offer any such thing.

Some of the contradictions:

1. Franck et al’s carbon cycling model and Ward’s interpretation of the Kasting Methane disaster. The Kasting methane disaster, if it was present, ought to have impacted the global temperature sufficiently to have at least shown up in the model.

2. Ward’s presentation of Archean and Proterozoic Periods as peak biomass periods and the temperature of the world, as he states it, as being higher than the ‘optimum’ for productivity.

3. At what period the peak of biomass was is presented in a contradictory fashion. At different junctures he states that it is the Pre-Cambrian, Cambrian, Devonian through Carboniferous, and Eocene.

4. At what period the peak of biodiversity is presented as is also equally contradictory

5. States that biomass and biodiversity are independent, yet states that the periods with the highest biomass and biodiversity are the same in their respective sections.

There are more, but this is sufficient. For a book of 150 pages, with 103 mostly dedicated to the scientific side of the Medea Hypothesis, there seems to be a nontrivial number of contradictions. He could have addressed the contradictions and ought to have.

For example, Ward could have acknowledged the shortfalls of the Franck model even if this would have opened up more criticism and explained why the model was not addressing the Kasting scenario. Furthermore, he could have given evidence based on the geological record for the Kasting scenario. He doesn’t bother.

This may be sloppiness in his writing. This may be that he hasn’t finished baking the Medea Hypothesis. So far, the mortar seems wet between the bricks. Extremely wet: it's weeping.

More coming, James. Hang on.

For the previous posts on the Medea Hypothesis look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The completed Medea Hypothesis Review Table of Contents is here.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Better PAK-FA Pix Released

Hat tip to China Military Report.

It's a purty bird, but stealthy she ain't. Not at this point at least. gaps! Mind the gaps!

C4 Grass Evolution Linked to Rainfall Drop, Not Temperature

Around 30 to 40 million years ago, grasses on Earth underwent an epic evolutionary upheaval. An assemblage capitalized on falling levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide by engineering an internal mechanism to concentrate the dwindling CO2 supply that, like a fuel-injection system in a car, could more efficiently convert sunlight and nutrients into energy.

The rise of C4 grasses is not disputed. They dominate in hot, tropical climes and now make up to 20 percent of our planet's vegetational covering. Scientists have pinned the rise of C4 plants primarily to dwindling concentrations of CO2. But C4 grasses have been closely linked with warmer temperatures. Indeed, on a map, C4 grasses are found along tropical gradients, while C3 grasses occupy the northern, or colder, end of the temperature gradient. Considering knowledge of their past and their current distribution, what was left to question?

Everything, apparently, according to Erika Edwards, an evolutionary biologist at Brown University. In a paper published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Edwards and Stephen Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in North Carolina, have found that rainfall — not temperature — was the primary trigger for C4 grasses' evolutionary beginnings. Moreover, the pair say C4 grasses were already in tropical forests before moving out of the shade of the taller trees and into drier, sunnier environments.

"We've kind of changed the story a bit," said Edwards, assistant professor of biology.

The paper is important, Smith said, because it "demonstrates the importance of precipitation in the evolution of grasses and particularly in the evolution of C4 grasses — specifically, their movement into drier, not necessarily warmer climates."

To arrive at their findings, the biologists compiled a database of roughly 1.1 million specimens of grasses collected by botanists worldwide. They mapped the locations for these species and then added global precipitation and temperature charts.

"By combining all these data," Edwards said, "we could get individual climate profiles for each grass species."

The pair then went a step further. They whittled the list to approximately 1,230 species for which the plants' genes had been sequenced and from there built a phylogenetic profile for the collection, the most comprehensive evolutionary tree to date for grasses. The reason for building the phylogeny, Edwards said, was to tease out the junctures at which C3 and C4 grasses diverged over time. The scientists zeroed in on 21 such "transition nodes" and examined the climatic conditions during those branching periods.

They found that in 18 of the 21 instances, precipitation, rather than temperature, had changed. "That was the clincher," Edwards said.

Looking more closely at the differences in rainfall, Edwards and Smith noticed the shifts in the amount of rainfall between C3 and C4 grasses in the tropics dictated in sharp relief how the different lineages evolved. Generally speaking, C3 grasses flourished in areas that received, on average, 1,800 millimeters (71 inches) of rain annually; C4 grasses took root in areas that received, on average, 1,200 millimeters (47 inches) of rain annually.

"Twelve-hundred millimeters isn't a desert," Edwards noted. "It's still a fairly mesic place. And so when you start looking at climate profiles, these closely related C3 and C4 lineages are straddling this transition zone between tropical forests and tropical woodlands and savanna."

So, did C4 grasses evolve in the tropical forest and then move out from the canopy or did they move out first and then adopt a different photosynthetic pathway? Edwards isn't sure, but she thinks the pathway may have begun to form with C3 grasses on the forest margins, where those plants would have been subjected to greater fluctuations in precipitation, sunlight, temperature and other environmental stresses, spurring the photosynthetic innovation.

What that all means for the future of C4 grasses and climate change is an open question. While the grasses would presumably benefit from projections of lower mean rainfall in some areas of the tropics, they may be less competitive with rising levels of atmospheric CO2. Also, the effects of changes in land through deforestation and other practices would need to be considered, Edwards said.

In a related finding, the scientists attempt to explain the dominance of a lineage of C3 grasses, called Pooideae, in northern, cold areas of the globe, such as the Mongolian steppes. "The global latitudinal gradients of C3 and C4 always has been explained by the physiological advantages that C4 grasses have under high temperatures," Edwards explained. "No one has considered that the evolution of cold tolerance might have been equally important in setting up that latitudinal gradient. Climatically speaking, the cool-climate Pooideae are really the grasses that are doing something very different."

I'll look at the paper later.

Autism Risk Linked to Mother's Age

Advanced maternal age is linked to a significantly elevated risk of having a child with autism, regardless of the father's age, according to an exhaustive study of all births in California during the 1990s by UC Davis Health System researchers. Advanced paternal age is associated with elevated autism risk only when the father is older and the mother is under 30, the study found.

Published online today in the February issue of the journal Autism Research, the study, "Independent and Dependent Contributions of Advanced Maternal and Paternal Ages to Autism Risk," is one of the largest population-based studies to quantify how each parent's age — separately and together — affects the risk of having a child with autism.

The study found that the incremental risk of having a child with autism increased by 18 percent — nearly one fifth — for every five-year increase in the mother's age. A 40-year-old woman's risk of having a child later diagnosed with autism was 50 percent greater than that of a woman between 25 and 29 years old.

Advanced parental age is a known risk factor for having a child with autism. However, previous research has shown contradictory results regarding whether it is the mother, the father or both who contribute most to the increased risk of autism. For example, one study reported that fathers over 40 were six times more likely than fathers under 30 to have a child with autism.

"This study challenges a current theory in autism epidemiology that identifies the father's age as a key factor in increasing the risk of having a child with autism," said Janie Shelton, the study's lead author and a doctoral student in the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences. "It shows that while maternal age consistently increases the risk of autism, the father's age only contributes an increased risk when the father is older and the mother is under 30 years old. Among mothers over 30, increases in the father's age do not appear to further increase the risk of autism."

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder of deficits in social skills and communication, as well as repetitive and restricted behaviors, with onset occurring prior to age 3. Abnormal brain development, probably beginning in the womb, is known to be fundamental to the behaviors that characterize autism. Current estimates place the incidence of autism at between 1 in 100 and 1 in 110 children in the United States.

During the 1990s, the number of California women over 40 giving birth increased by more than 300 percent. But only about 5 percent of the 600-percent increase in the number of autism cases in the state can be attributed to women waiting longer to have children, the study suggests.

To conduct their investigation, the researchers obtained the electronic records for all births in California between Jan. 1, 1990 and Dec. 31, 1999. The records incorporated detailed demographic information, including the ages of both parents. To identify which children would develop autism, the researchers obtained electronic records identifying children born during the study period who later received an autism diagnosis from state Department of Developmental Services. In this study autism was defined as a diagnosis of full-syndrome autism at a California Regional Center.

The researchers also excluded a small number of births where demographic information about parents, such as their ages and levels of education, was not available. Instances of multiple births were analyzed separately. The exclusions brought the total size of the study sample to approximately 4.9 million births and 12,159 cases of autism.

For older mothers, the step-wise progression in the risk of having a child who later would be diagnosed with autism was apparent among every age group of fathers. When the father was older and the mother was younger — under 30 — the child's risk for developing autism also was elevated. For example, among births to mothers under 25, children fathered by a man over 40 were twice as likely to develop autism as those whose father was between 25 and 29. Among mothers over 30, the increased risk associated with older fathers dissipated, the study found.

Because of the large study size, the researchers were able to show how risk for autism was affected by each parent's age by holding one parent's age constant and then comparing autism incidence across the age of the other parent across five-year increments. The subtle interaction of how each parent's age affects the risk of autism then became quantifiable even when it was reliant on the other parent's age. This methodology is more efficacious and requires fewer assumptions than the mathematical modeling used by earlier studies, the researchers said.

The researchers note that understanding the relationship between increased parental age and autism risk is critical to understanding its biological causes. Earlier studies have observed that advanced maternal age is a risk factor for a variety of other birth-related conditions, including infertility, early fetal loss, low birth-weight, chromosomal aberrations and congenital anomalies.

I have to admit that when I first started reading about autism and getting a bit scared with the potential that one of my kids could end up with it, I came to the conclusion - or perhaps jumped to it! - that paternal age was linked to the problem. We already knew about the problems of having kids at age 35 for women (increased risk of Down's Syndrome, frex). The thought immediately crossed my mind that the primary difference between times prior and now was the increased age - fertility postponement - of parenthood. No proof then. This certainly adds credence to my hunch, that's for sure!

Dinosaur Migration? Or Mass Panic?

Archaeologists in China have uncovered more than 3,000 dinosaur footprints, state media reported, in an area said to be the world's largest grouping of fossilised bones belonging to the ancient animals.

The footprints, believed to be more than 100 million years old, were discovered after a three-month excavation at a gully in Zhucheng in the eastern province of Shandong, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The prints range from 10 to 80 centimetres (four to 32 inches) in length, and belonged to at least six different kinds of dinosaurs, including tyrannosaurs, the report said Saturday.

Wang Haijun, a senior engineer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the prints faced the same direction, Xinhua said.

This indicated a possible migration or a panic escape by plant-eating dinosaurs after an attack by predators, Wang added.

No time to comment. Just cool.

Timoshenko Loses By 2.8%, Called on to Concede

Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich pressed rival Yulia Tymoshenko to concede defeat on Monday after a narrow victory in a presidential election that could tilt the ex-Soviet state back toward Moscow.

Adding to pressure on the fiery Tymoshenko, international monitors declared the election an "impressive display" of democracy and urged her to shake hands with her opponent.

With 98.4 percent of votes counted, official figures gave ex-mechanic Yanukovich, whose party is allied to the Kremlin's United Russia, a margin of 2.8 percentage points over Prime Minister Tymoshenko, meaning she could not catch him up.

Tymoshenko, who called supporters onto the streets in the 2004 "Orange Revolution" to overturn a Yanukovich election win that was ruled fraudulent, was uncharacteristically quiet on Monday. She put off a planned news conference until Tuesday.

Her supporters alleged numerous violations of electoral law in Sunday's runoff vote but election officials and monitors said they had not seen serious faults.

The international observer team headed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called on Ukraine's feuding political leaders to "listen to the people's verdict."

The OSCE verdict was tantamount to a call for Tymoshenko to accept the fight was over.

"Normally for the good of the nation the one who loses shakes hands with the one who wins," Assen Agov, head of a NATO monitoring delegation, told a news conference.

She seemed likely to make clear her position on Tuesday.

We'll see what Tuesday brings.

She lost this election based on her commentary about the East. The Donbas rejected her because her nasty, nasty comments she made the first time around in 2004. She really, truly lost this on her own, fair and square. I really hate Yanukovich. However, this election does seem clean. So long as Yulia concedes, then we will have seen a real and truly transformative event in Ukrainian history (which I hope Yanukovich doesn't undo), that the party in power hands over to the other...peacefully. This is a serious accomplisment.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Princeton Demonstrates Single Electron Manipulation

A major hurdle in the ambitious quest to design and construct a radically new kind of quantum computer has been finding a way to manipulate the single electrons that very likely will constitute the new machines' processing components or "qubits."

Princeton University's Jason Petta has discovered how to do just that -- demonstrating a method that alters the properties of a lone electron without disturbing the trillions of electrons in its immediate surroundings. The feat is essential to the development of future varieties of superfast computers with near-limitless capacities for data.

Petta, an assistant professor of physics, has fashioned a new method of trapping one or two electrons in microscopic corrals created by applying voltages to minuscule electrodes. Writing in the Feb. 5 edition of Science, he describes how electrons trapped in these corrals form "spin qubits," quantum versions of classic computer information units known as bits. Other authors on the paper include Art Gossard and Hong Lu at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Previous experiments used a technique in which electrons in a sample were exposed to microwave radiation. However, because it affected all the electrons uniformly, the technique could not be used to manipulate single electrons in spin qubits. It also was slow. Petta's method not only achieves control of single electrons, but it does so extremely rapidly -- in one-billionth of a second.

"If you can take a small enough object like a single electron and isolate it well enough from external perturbations, then it will behave quantum mechanically for a long period of time," said Petta. "All we want is for the electron to just sit there and do what we tell it to do. But the outside world is sort of poking at it, and that process of the outside world poking at it causes it to lose its quantum mechanical nature."

awesome news!


Cali Repugnants are Getting Very, Very Weird

I blame James. He has to be behind this bizarro primary we have coming up.


*SHEEP* as the ideal for fiscal conservatives?! That' Just wow.

Paleo Ocean Chemistry Revealed Through Carbonate Deposits

The chemical composition of our oceans is not constant but has varied significantly over geological time. In a study published this week in Science, researchers describe a novel method for reconstructing past ocean chemistry using calcium carbonate veins that precipitate from seawater-derived fluids in rocks beneath the seafloor. The research was led by scientists from the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES) hosted at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS).

"Records of ancient seawater chemistry allow us to unravel past changes in climate, plate tectonics and evolution of life in the oceans. These processes affect ocean chemistry and have shaped our planet over millions of years," said Dr Rosalind Coggon, formerly of NOCS now at Imperial College London.

"Reconstructing past ocean chemistry remains a major challenge for Earth scientists, but small calcium carbonate veins formed from warm seawater when it reacts with basalts from the oceanic crust provide a unique opportunity to develop such records," added co-author Professor Damon Teagle from SOES.

Calcium carbonate veins record the chemical evolution of seawater as it flows through the ocean crust and reacts with the rock. The composition of past seawater can therefore be determined from suites of calcium carbonate veins that precipitated millions of years ago in ancient ocean crust.

The researchers reconstructed records of the ratios of strontium to calcium (Sr/Ca) and magnesium to calcium (Mg/Ca) over the last 170 million years. To do this, they analysed calcium carbonate veins from basaltic rocks recovered by several decades of scientific deep-ocean drilling by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) and its predecessors.

"The carbonate veins indicate that both the Sr/Ca and Mg/Ca ratios of seawater were significantly lower than at present prior to about 25 million years ago. We attribute the increases in seawater Sr/Ca and Mg/Ca since then to the long-term effects of decreased seafloor volcanism and the consequent reduction in chemical exchange between seawater and the ocean crust," said Professor Teagle.

Someone have a copy of the paper? For some reason the Lab doesn't subscribe to Science.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


pictures later tonight!

Little guy is trying to compete with me. I had my first one at 3 months. He's at almost 4.

More Dino Plummage Unveiled

A group of paleontologists has used a new scientific method to reconstitute the vibrant colors that adorned the plumage of a tiny dinosaur over 150 million years ago, a study said on Thursday.

The researchers analyzed color-imparting structures called melanosomes in the fossil of a tiny feathered dinosaur and discovered the creature sported a gray body, a reddish-brown Mohawk crest and facial speckles, and white feathers with black-spangled tips on its wings and legs.

"This was no crow or sparrow, but a creature with a very notable plumage," said Richard Prum, a professor of ornithology, ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University and a co-author of the study, which appeared in the February 4 online edition of Science.

"This would be a very striking animal if it was alive today," he added.

The team of paleontologists analyzed the fossil of an Anchiornis huxleyi dinosaur, which lived in China in the late Jurassic period and, at just 12 centimeters tall, is the smallest dinosaur known to researchers.

The study examined 29 feather samples from the dinosaur and measured and located within them the granular-like structures called melanosomes that contain melanin -- a light-absorbing pigment in animals, including birds.

The team then compared the melanosomes in the dinosaur to those that impart certain colors in living birds, using existing data, which allowed them to discern with 90 percent certainty the colors of the petite creature.

The study found that the color pattern on the diminutive dinosaur's legs strongly resemble those found on the modern day Spangled Hamburg chicken, and believe the pattern served to help with communication and attracting mates, Prum said.

The work done by the scientists from Yale, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Akron, Peking University and the Beijing Museum of Natural History, added weight to the theory that dinosaurs first evolved feathers for purposes other than flight.

"This means a color-patterning function -- for example camouflage or display -- must have had a key role in the early evolution of feathers in dinosaurs, and was just as important as evolving flight or improved aerodynamic function," said Julia Clarke, an associate paleontology professor at University of Texas at Austin.


no time again.

We want SAUROPOD colors now!


The Medea Hypothesis (Part 8): The Misuse of a Model

So, this post is a spin out of my overly long critique post on the Medea Hypothesis. I am trying to condense what I wrote into something more palatable. I realized that my commentary on the misuse of the Franck et al model deserved a post of its own.

First to the scientists and others that are misusing models. For the love of Gawd and all that is good and light (or science, at least), JUST PLAIN STOP!

I am getting exasperated by this. I, personally, dink with models, but it is not my main duty at the day job. I make sure that the computers that the scientists use are up and running. I am privileged to work with people that are developing some really intricate models for simulating a variety of subjects: the world's climate, combustion, qcd, and fusion are a few off the top of my head.

Modeling the biosphere and its interactions with the rest of the Earth system has a moderate tradition Computer models have only become viable for most scientists to use in the past thirty years and the field of earth systematics has only really come into fruition in the past twenty to thirty years. Our understanding of the carbon cycle is ever growing and while the basics have been understood for some time, the devil is in the details.

Modeling for use by scientists up and down the far, far future and into the deepest Deep Time is a relatively young science. There are few researchers working on it. They are even working on it part time and so the ground is largely contested but slowly and the models evolve and countermodels proposed very, very glacially. Getting the various cycles right in their models for the now is very difficult. We still don’t quite have it right even for modern atmospheres and climate change (we're damned close though).

Doing it for Deep Time (and the far future) is definitely a worthwhile venture, but one ought to keep in mind that if we have a hard time working out exactly the details of a world we can sample now then we will have a harder time, with greater inaccuracies, projecting back three and a half to four billion years and forward a couple billion years. The people working on these models realize this. Unfortunately, those outside of the modeling and simulation field often don’t.

Unfortunately, this means a lot of scientists have this problem, since they are not modelers themselves.

In the Medea Hypothesis, Ward relies on Franck et al's model for carbon cycling over multiple billions of years. Franck's model is very simple. It can be run on your desktop or even laptop using Mathematica. The model itself describes how carbon is cycled and sequestered in the earth system. It takes into account continental growth, some biological activity, and even weathering of kerogen. Biomass is represented as a function of carbon dioxide and temperature. It's a nice, simple, useful tool, but its not without its issues.

For example, it cannot take into account the Snowball Earth episodes: nowhere in there can they fit these important planet wide episodes in their model's data (as yet, maybe ever). Furthermore, it cannot account for the temperature fluctuations of the Pharenozoic much at all: the ice ages that have come and gone are not represented almost at all. Likewise, the temperature spikes (Permian, Eocene) cannot be included either. The increase in vulcanism attributed to supercontinental fragmentation is also not included. Mass extinctions that are oh-so important to biodiversity and biomass cannot be included or represented in this data. There are more examples, but this is sufficient for my point.

The nifty thing is that the authors of the model acknowledge this stuff. They made it as a first step, a first brick in the wall to understand how the world works. This is a simple, yet useful tool.

The best analogy for this model is a cube in wind tunnel. Understanding how air flows around the cube is useful. It teaches us a great many things. However, no one working on aerodynamic flows has any pretensions when they are doing anything other than getting simple, basic data from their cube. They certainly are not making proclamations on how airflow will be around a fighter plane based on that cube.

Unfortunately, Ward uses the cube to describe the aircraft and make great pronunciations about the future of life on the planet. This is a mistake. A terrible mistake. The model is far too simple and Ward, being familiar with the observational/paleontological data, ought to know better.

When a model cannot take into account some very fundamental and important events as they pertain to the question of what you are trying to answer, it should not be used.

When a model contradicts key observational data, it should not be used.

It does not mean that the model doesn't have a use. It doesn't mean that this model is junk. This model is an early step in developing realistic models. Everyone jokes about the spherical best, this cow here is a sphere and it is going to be for a long, long time. Even so spherical cows do have their place.

Ward really should know better. Yet he misuses the model anyways. He even builds on it as the foundation of his future projections that the Medea Hypothesis has. This is a mistake and calls into question the Medea Hypothesis as a whole, especially since it contradicts some of his other evidence that he uses for supporting his Medea Hypothesis. There are other problems with the MH, but this is a biggie.

To other researchers. Please. DO NOT DO THIS. Thank you.

For the previous posts on the Medea Hypothesis look here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

The completed Medea Hypothesis Review Table of Contents is here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Ediacaran Fossil Trails Identified

Trails found in rocks dating back 565 million years are thought to be the earliest evidence of animal locomotion ever found.

The newly-discovered fossils, from rocks in Newfoundland in Canada, were analysed by an international team led by Oxford University scientists. They identified over 70 fossilised trails indicating that some ancient creatures moved, in a similar way to modern sea anemones, across the seafloors of the Ediacaran Period.

The team publish a report of their research in the February edition of the journal Geology.

'The markings we've found clearly indicate that these organisms could exert some sort of muscular control during locomotion,' said Alex Liu of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences, an author of the paper. 'This is exciting because it is the first evidence that creatures from this early period of Earth's history had muscles to allow them to move around -- enabling them to hunt for food or escape adverse local conditions and, importantly, indicating that they were probably animals.'

Scientists compared the trails to those left by the modern sea anemone Urticina, and found many similarities suggesting that the animals that made them were anemone-like -- perhaps using a muscular disc-shaped 'foot' to get around as anemones do today.

Evidence for animal movement from before the Cambrian Period (542-488 million years ago) is very rare, which has led many palaeontologists to suggest that earlier organisms were stationary and perhaps resembled modern fungi rather than animals.

Discovering evidence for animal movement in the Ediacaran Period (630-542 million years ago), nearly 30 million years before the Cambrian, is especially significant as it sheds light on the world before the so-called 'Cambrian explosion' in which a vast array of animal life rapidly appears in the fossil record -- an event whose apparent suddenness greatly troubled Charles Darwin when he was gathering evidence for his theory of evolution.

WOW! No time to comment though.