Friday, December 19, 2014

When we get an Exascale Computer?

The global race to build more powerful supercomputers is focused on the next big milestone: a supercomputer capable of performing 1 million trillion floating-point operations per second (1 exaflops). Such a system will require a big overhaul of how these machines compute, how they move data, and how they’re programmed. It’s a process that might not reach its goal for eight years. But the seeds of future success are being designed into two machines that could arrive in just two years.

China and Japan each seem focused on building an exascale supercomputer by 2020. But the United States probably won’t build its first practical exascale supercomputer until 2023 at the earliest, experts say. To hit that target, engineers will need to do three things. First they’ll need new computer architectures capable of combining tens of thousands of CPUs and graphics-processor-based accelerators. Engineers will also need to deal with the growing energy costs required to move data from a supercomputer’s memory to the processors. Finally, software developers will have to learn how to build programs that can make use of the new architecture.

“To some degree it depends on how much money a country is willing to spend,” says Steve Scott, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Cray. “You could build an exaflop computer tomorrow, but it’d be a crazy thing to do because of the cost and energy required to run it.”

Head-desk: The Singularity is Waiting for Us...OUT THERE!

If and when we finally encounter aliens, they probably won’t look like little green men, or spiny insectoids. It’s likely they won’t be biological creatures at all, but rather, advanced robots that outstrip our intelligence in every conceivable way. While scores of philosophers, scientists and futurists have prophesied the rise of artificial intelligence and the impending singularity, most have restricted their predictions to Earth. Fewer thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction, that is—have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.

Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, is one who has. She joins a handful of astronomers, including Seth Shostak, director of NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, program, NASA Astrobiologist Paul Davies, and Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology Stephen Dick in espousing the view that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is probably artificial. In her paper “Alien Minds," written for a forthcoming NASA publication, Schneider describes why alien life forms are likely to be synthetic, and how such creatures might think.

“Most people have an iconic idea of aliens as these biological creatures, but that doesn’t make any sense from a timescale argument,” Shostak told me. “I’ve bet dozens of astronomers coffee that if we pick up an alien signal, it’ll be artificial life.

How Climate Change Will Imact Agriculture

Climate change induced transformations of agricultural systems: insights from a global model


Leclère et al


Climate change might impact crop yields considerably and anticipated transformations of agricultural systems are needed in the coming decades to sustain affordable food provision. However, decision-making on transformational shifts in agricultural systems is plagued by uncertainties concerning the nature and geography of climate change, its impacts, and adequate responses. Locking agricultural systems into inadequate transformations costly to adjust is a significant risk and this acts as an incentive to delay action. It is crucial to gain insight into how much transformation is required from agricultural systems, how robust such strategies are, and how we can defuse the associated challenge for decision-making. While implementing a definition related to large changes in resource use into a global impact assessment modelling framework, we find transformational adaptations to be required of agricultural systems in most regions by 2050s in order to cope with climate change. However, these transformations widely differ across climate change scenarios: uncertainties in large-scale development of irrigation span in all continents from 2030s on, and affect two-thirds of regions by 2050s. Meanwhile, significant but uncertain reduction of major agricultural areas affects the Northern Hemisphere's temperate latitudes, while increases to non-agricultural zones could be large but uncertain in one-third of regions. To help reducing the associated challenge for decision-making, we propose a methodology exploring which, when, where and why transformations could be required and uncertain, by means of scenario analysis.

Brazil Plans 15 SSK & 6 SSN Submarine Force for Navy

Brazilian Navy (Marinha do Brasil - MdB) commander Admiral Julio Soares de Moura Neto reaffirmed on 12 December long-term plans to boost the country's naval power to eventually include 15 conventional and six nuclear-powered submarines.

"Our aim is to propel Brazil forward into the 21st century with a more well-equipped navy supported by a stronger defence industry," Adm de Moura Neto told IHS Jane's at the recent inauguration ceremony of the main facility built for Brazil's submarine development programme (Programa de Desenvolvimento de Submarinos, or PROSUB) at Itaguaí Shipyard, Rio de Janeiro.

"PROSUB is the most ambitious contemporary development of the Brazilian Navy, representing a substantial investment in the country through technology transfer, professional training, and regional growth through the generation of income," he said.

Dilma Rousseff, who presided over the inauguration, stressed the importance of modernising the MdB to ensure the country's sovereignty.

Built under the guidance of DCNS, the new submarine facility is the result of a partnership between Brazil and France providing for the construction of a naval shipyard, a submarine base, and four Scorpène diesel-electric submarines (SSKs) under a technology transfer agreement. The partnership also includes technical assistance for the design and construction of the non-nuclear portions of the Brazilian Navy's first nuclear-powered submarine (SSN). The new building is designed to allow simultaneous construction of two submarines.

Under current planning, the first SSK (or S-BR) is scheduled to be completed in late 2016 and to enter service around mid-2018 following trials and testing. The remaining three are scheduled to be completed by 2022. Construction of an SSN (SN-BR) is expected to begin in 2017, with completion in 2023 and entry into service around 2025 after testing and trials.

In February 2015 sections 1 and 2 of the first S-BR are scheduled for completion, including fitting of all embedded equipment such as electrical, electronic, and hydraulic systems. Sections 3 and 4 were built in France and have already been transported to Itaguaí. After the installation of the internal components in the four sections, the first S-BR will be welded together.

The PROSUB industrial complex represents a tangible increase in shipbuilding activity, generating thousands of direct and indirect jobs with involvement from hundreds of domestic defence industry suppliers.

The building of the first SSN will signal a major technological leap forward for Brazil, placing it in a select group of five countries - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States - that dominate the world's building of nuclear-powered submarines.

In all, the PROSUB programme has received investments totalling BRL34 billion (USD12.5 billion).

Demographics Impact Japanese Military Recruiting, not Policy

On Nov. 20, the Japanese Ministry of Defense confirmed that military recruitment figures for the 2014 fiscal year had declined compared to the previous year. The number of applicants on the non-commissioned officer fast-track fell 10 percent. The number of aviation school applicants fell five percent.

Mainichi Shimbun was the only Japanese news agency to report the fall in applications. Its story spread around the Chinese press via South China Morning Press.

While the figures are probably correct, Mainichi’s article betrays its political bias. The paper assumes, without much evidence, that the decline is a result of the government’s recent—and controversial—decision to give Japan the legal right to go to war to defend its allies.

“The Defense Ministry started soliciting applications after the government made a cabinet decision on July 1 to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense,” Mainichi asserts.

The Defense Ministry denied there was any link between the fall in prospective servicemembers and the constitutional reinterpretation, according to the paper.

Mainichi Shimbun opposes collective self-defense. The article pushes that stance at the expense of the broader context. Namely, a declining birthrate, low unemployment and a ministry desperately competing for young workers.

In other words, there’s a better explanation for Japan’s military recruitment problem than some popular revolt against the government’s new war policy.

US Navy Firescout Helicopter Drone Developments and Progress, IOC in 2016

They get so big, so fast. Once a child-sized helicopter that could just collect reconnaissance imagery, the Navy’s MQ-8 Fire Scout has graduated to a bigger airframe that will also carry a maritime search radar and laser-guided rockets.

The tentative plan is to kick off the competition for the new radar with a formal Request For Proposals in the first quarter of (calendar year) 2015, the program manager told reporters here this morning. While the Navy as already tested a Telephonics radar on the smaller B-model — indeed, a radar-equipped B recently flew off a Coast Guard cutter — the bigger C-model could accommodate a larger and more powerful radar, so the service wants to explore its options, said Capt. Jeff Dodge.

US Army's High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator Getting 50 Kilowatt Laser Upgrade

The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator or HEL MD is back in Huntsville after more than a year of testing at White Sands Missile Range’s High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility in New Mexico. The Space and Missile Defense Command/Armed Forces Strategic Command is the program sponsor of the HEL MD demonstrator, which is not yet a program of record.

The high powered defense laser was built by Boeing and has recently returned home to Huntsville for an upgrade.

The truck based system currently has a 10 KW solid state laser mounted on a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, but will soon be fitted with a 50 KW laser.

Evidence of Aptian Cretaceous Marine Anoxia From France

Three successive phases of platform demise during the early Aptian and their association with the oceanic anoxic Selli episode (Ardèche, France)


Pictet et al


A stratigraphic and depositional model, constrained by biostratigraphy, geochemistry, total phosphorus contents, and bulk-rock mineralogy, is proposed for lower Aptian sediments from the Languedoc platform in Ardèche, SE France. The upper lower Aptian is documented by the Chabert Formation (upper Deshayesites forbesi Zone to upper Dufrenoyia dufrenoyi Subzone), deposited on a discontinuity surface on top of the Urgonian platform, recording a first emersion phase and consecutive drowning event. The Chabert Formation starts with the marly Violette Member, which passes into crinoidal limestone of the Rocherenard Member. The top of this member is associated with a second discontinuity, recording a further drowning phase, which is followed by the deposition of the glauconitic and partly phosphatic Picourel Member (upper Deshayesites grandis to upper Dufrenoyia dufrenoyi Subzone). A third erosive phase is documented by a phosphatic conglomerate (upper Dufrenoyia furcata Zone), which represents a lag deposit derived from underlying sediments. The formation of this conglomerate was associated with a substantial emersion phase. This emersion was followed by a drowning event reworking the phosphatic conglomerate into the base of the upper Aptian black marls (Frayol Formation). The carbon-isotope record shows a negative excursion which coincides with the onset of the early Aptian oceanic anoxic Selli episode (OAE 1a) in the middle/upper part of the Deshayesites forbesi Zone. Emersion phases were an important factor implied in the formation of the sequence boundaries, which were transformed into drowning unconformities during subsequent phases of significant transgressions. These phases were associated with the installation of higher trophic levels, transforming or impeding carbonate production. The first drowning phase preceded the onset of the Selli episode, suggesting that rapid sea-level change and associated environmental change were already an important element of the early Aptian before the major phase of environmental change during the Selli episode.

Titan's "Hydrology" is Exotic and Different From Earth's

Titan’s liquids: Exotic behavior and its implications on global fluid circulation


Tan et al


Based on a validated model for cryogenic chemical systems, referred to as CRYOCHEM (“Cryogenic Chemistry Model”), surface liquids on Titan are shown to exhibit exotic behavior of density increase with temperature but decrease with pressure, unless the temperature falls below 89.8 K. It is also the case for the atmospheric liquid condensates below an altitude where the liquid density is minimum. The exotic behavior is of compositional origin, which does not have an analog in the atmosphere and liquid water on Earth. As the latitudinal and seasonal variations of surface temperature are known, it is possible to map out the global liquid and vapor density variations as well as the equilibrium phase compositions, which will be useful as inputs for atmospheric general circulation models (GCMs) and investigations of Titan’s methane-equivalent of Earth’s hydrological cycle, local subsurface alkanology (equivalent to hydrology on Earth), lake convection, and clastic and chemical sedimentation in the lakes. Further, the density variations can be used to derive a general idea about global fluid circulation in the upper crust based on averaged conditions on Titan. The surface liquid should tend to flow toward the hottest spot on Titan and a return flow occurs beneath the surface, thus providing analogies with thermohaline circulation in Earth’s oceans. The vapor phase, on the other hand, has ordinary properties that make the global atmospheric circulation similar to the Hadley cell on Earth, but Titan’s cycle reaches the polar regions. The calculated compositions of surface liquids are more methane-rich than other models indicated, thus qualitatively in the right direction to satisfy polar-lake compositions deduced from loss tangents. However, quantitatively there remains a need to find yet more accurate liquid compositions and an optimum equilibrium within constraints of the atmospheric measurements.

The PaleoGenetics of Horse Domestication

Prehistoric genomes reveal the genetic foundation and cost of horse domestication


Schubert et al


The domestication of the horse ∼5.5 kya and the emergence of mounted riding, chariotry, and cavalry dramatically transformed human civilization. However, the genetics underlying horse domestication are difficult to reconstruct, given the near extinction of wild horses. We therefore sequenced two ancient horse genomes from Taymyr, Russia (at 7.4- and 24.3-fold coverage), both predating the earliest archeological evidence of domestication. We compared these genomes with genomes of domesticated horses and the wild Przewalski’s horse and found genetic structure within Eurasia in the Late Pleistocene, with the ancient population contributing significantly to the genetic variation of domesticated breeds. We furthermore identified a conservative set of 125 potential domestication targets using four complementary scans for genes that have undergone positive selection. One group of genes is involved in muscular and limb development, articular junctions, and the cardiac system, and may represent physiological adaptations to human utilization. A second group consists of genes with cognitive functions, including social behavior, learning capabilities, fear response, and agreeableness, which may have been key for taming horses. We also found that domestication is associated with inbreeding and an excess of deleterious mutations. This genetic load is in line with the “cost of domestication” hypothesis also reported for rice, tomatoes, and dogs, and it is generally attributed to the relaxation of purifying selection resulting from the strong demographic bottlenecks accompanying domestication. Our work demonstrates the power of ancient genomes to reconstruct the complex genetic changes that transformed wild animals into their domesticated forms, and the population context in which this process took place.

The First Herbivorous Planet Found

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, which can be found in many lakes and ponds worldwide, does not only gain profit from eating little animals but also by consuming algae and pollen grains. This results in survival in aquatic habitats where prey animals are rare, and in increased fitness if the animals and algae are caught in a well-balanced diet. An Austrian research group around Marianne Koller-Peroutka and Wolfram Adlassnig published these results in the respected journal Annals of Botany.

The bladderworts (Utricularia) are one of the largest genera in carnivorous plants with over 200 species. Aquatic bladderworts catch their prey with highly sophisticated suction traps consisting of little bladders that produce a hydrostatic under pressure. A valve-like trap door opens upon stimulation and the surrounding water including tiny organism flushes in rapidly within three milliseconds. Once inside the trap, the prey dies of suffocation and is degraded by digestive enzymes. Due to the minerals provided by prey organisms, bladderworts are able to live and propagate even in habitats that are extremely poor in nutrients.

Parasite Egg Found in Ladinian Triassic Cynodont Coprolite

Discovery of a 240 million year old nematode parasite egg in a cynodont coprolite sheds light on the early origin of pinworms in vertebrates


Hugot et al



We report the discovery of a nematode parasite egg (Nemata: Oxyurida) from a coprolite closely associated with the remains of several species of Cynodontia, dated to 240 million years old. This finding is particularly significant because this is the oldest record of an oxyurid nematode yet discovered, and because the cynodonts are considered a stem-group of the mammals.


We extracted material from a fully mineralized coprolite by both scraping the surface, and removing fragments from its interior with clean dental instruments used a single time. A single drop of glycerol from a new vial was added as a clearing reagent. Each slide was sealed with wax and examined with an optical microscope at 100× to 400× magnification.


From one coprolite, 550 slides were examined; from 275 of these slides, sediment was examined that was scraped from the surface of the coprolite, and from the other 275 slides, material was examined that was extracted from the interior of the coprolite. All microscopic structures encountered were photographed, measured, and identified when possible.


From the coprolite examined, we discovered an egg representing a new species of pinworm that, based on the egg structure, clearly places it in the family Heteroxynematidae. Nematodes of the order Oxyurida have very constrained life-histories, occurring only in animals that are not strictly carnivorous and also ingest large amounts of plant material. This fact enabled us to determine which species of cynodont, from several collected at the site in Brazil, are most likely the depositors of the coprolite, and therefore were the putative host of the parasite.

Nidelric pugio: a New Fossil From Very Rare Chancellorids From the Cambrian Chengjiang Biota

A rare 520 million year old fossil shaped like a 'squashed bird's nest' that will help to shed new light on life within Earth's ancient seas has been discovered in China by an international research team - and will honour the memory of a University of Leicester scientist who passed away earlier this year.

The research team behind the discovery was led by Professor Xianguang Hou from the Yunnan Key Laboratory for Palaeobiology at Yunnan University in China with collaboration from the Universities of Leicester and Oxford.

The fossil, from Chengjiang in southern China, is of a probable 'chancelloriid', a group of bizarre, balloon-shaped animals with an outer skeleton of defensive spines. The animal was flattened during the fossilisation process so that it looks like a squashed bird's nest.


In southern China, rocks 520 million years old in Chengjiang County, Yunnan Province yield a diverse array of fossils preserved with traces of their soft anatomy, including their legs, eyes, guts and even brains.

Amongst the fossils are many animals that can be related to modern forms, including distant relatives of arthropods such as crabs and lobsters, and a wide variety of worms.

There are also several enigmatic fossils that don't seem to fit in with anything living today, and amongst these are the chancelloriids.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Leslie Baugh: Now HE is a Cyborg (make sure you get the accent right)

Ukraine Seeking NATO Membership Again

Ukraine aims to get NATO membership "as quickly as conditions permit", according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. "And I would do that tomorrow if it was at all possible."

Speaking to reporters at a joint press conference after his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on 15 December, Yatsenyuk said his country's security strategy is crystal clear.

Canadians Unleash Robopocalypse on our Genomes...Starting With Studying Autism

In the decade since the genome was sequenced in 2003, scientists and doctors have struggled to answer an all-consuming question: Which DNA mutations cause disease?

A new computational technique developed at the University of Toronto may now be able to tell us.

A Canadian research team led by professor Brendan Frey has developed the first method for 'ranking' genetic mutations based on how living cells 'read' DNA, revealing how likely any given alteration is to cause disease. They used their method to discover unexpected genetic determinants of autism, hereditary cancers and spinal muscular atrophy, a leading genetic cause of infant mortality.

Their findings appear in today's issue of the leading journal Science.

Think of the human genome as a mysterious text, made up of three billion letters. "Over the past decade, a huge amount of effort has been invested into searching for mutations in the genome that cause disease, without a rational approach to understanding why they cause disease," says Frey, also a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. "This is because scientists didn't have the means to understand the text of the genome and how mutations in it can change the meaning of that text." Biologist Eric Lander of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology captured this puzzle in his famous quote: "Genome. Bought the book. Hard to read."

What was Frey's approach? We know that certain sections of the text, called exons, describe the proteins that are the building blocks of all living cells. What wasn't appreciated until recently is that other sections, called introns, contain instructions for how to cut and paste exons together, determining which proteins will be produced. This 'splicing' process is a crucial step in the cell's process of converting DNA into proteins, and its disruption is known to contribute to many diseases.

Most research into the genetic roots of disease has focused on mutations within exons, but increasingly scientists are finding that diseases can't be explained by these mutations. Frey's team took a completely different approach, examining changes to text that provides instructions for splicing, most of which is in introns.

Frey's team used a new technology called 'deep learning' to teach a computer system to scan a piece of DNA, read the genetic instructions that specify how to splice together sections that code for proteins, and determine which proteins will be produced.

Unlike other machine learning methods, deep learning can make sense of incredibly complex relationships, such as those found in living systems in biology and medicine. "The success of our project relied crucially on using the latest deep learning methods to analyze the most advanced experimental biology data," says Frey, whose team included members from University of Toronto's Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, Faculty of Medicine and the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, as well as Microsoft Research and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "My collaborators and our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are world-leading experts in these areas."

Once they had taught their system how to read the text of the genome, Frey's team used it to search for mutations that cause splicing to go wrong. They found that their method correctly predicted 94 percent of the genetic culprits behind well-studied diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy and colorectal cancer, but more importantly, made accurate predictions for mutations that had never been seen before.

They then launched a huge effort to tackle a condition with complex genetic underpinnings: autism spectrum disorder. "With autism there are only a few dozen genes definitely known to be involved and these account for a small proportion of individuals with this condition," says Frey.

In collaboration with Dr. Stephen Scherer, senior scientist and director of The Centre for Applied Genomics at SickKids and the University of Toronto McLaughlin Centre, Frey's team compared mutations discovered in the whole genome sequences of children with autism, but not in controls. Following the traditional approach of studying protein-coding regions, they found no differences. However, when they used their deep learning system to rank mutations according to how much they change splicing, surprising patterns appeared.

"When we ranked mutations using our method, striking patterns emerged, revealing 39 novel genes having a potential role in autism susceptibility," Frey says.

The Progress on the Royal Navy's Ballistic Missile Submarine Replacement Program

With the U.K.’s status as a sovereign country assured, and with the major political parties in London committed to retaining an independent nuclear deterrent, the big question now is, what will replace the four Vanguard-class boats when they begin to retire from service in or around 2028?

Commissioned into service between 1993 and 1999, HMS Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant, and Vengeance were originally designed for a 25-year lifespan; however, this has been extended by up to 13 years, postponing the requirement for a new class of SSBN and bringing the procurement timeframe into line with the Ohio-class replacement program (the oldest U.S. boomer, USS Henry M. Jackson, is scheduled to leave service in 2027).

Concept work on Britain’s so-called Successor SSBN began in 2007, with the Ministry of Defense appointing an industry team consisting of shipbuilder and design lead BAE Systems plus Babcock (providing the torpedo handling/launch system, signal ejector system, and through-life support expertise) and Rolls-Royce (responsible for the nuclear steam-raising plant). The MOD approved the “initial gate” business case for the new submarines in 2011, releasing funds for a five-year assessment phase intended to bring the design to 70 percent maturity.

Netherlands to Place First Order of 8 F-35s

The Netherlands’ defence ministry has announced plans to order a first batch of eight operational Lockheed Martin F-35s, with the type to be delivered from 2019.

In an update published on 15 December, the defence ministry says it still plans to obtain a total of 37 F-35s, including five which will be employed as training assets. Initial operational capability with the Royal Netherlands Air Force is anticipated in 2021, with its planned full fleet to be available by 2024. The aircraft will be stationed at air bases in Leeuwarden and Volkel.

Met With Skepticism: Russian Air Force Plans 55 PAK-FAs by 2020

The Russian Air Force (VVS) will have received 55 Sukhoi PAK-FA (T-50) fighter aircraft by 2020, according to Vladislav Goncharenko, the deputy director of the United Aircraft Corporation's (UAC's) combat aircraft department.

The first PAK-FA deliveries are scheduled for 2016.

"The number of prototypes is increasing; the state trial programme is being conducted as per schedule," Goncharenko told Echo of Moscow Radio on 16 December.

Five PAK-FAs have been produced and three more are now being constructed at the Sukhoi Aviation Holding Company Y.A.Gagarin in Komsomolsk-on-Amur (KnAAZ).

Obama Signs Ukraine Freedom Support Act

President Barack Obama said on Thursday he had signed into law a new Russian sanctions bill passed by Congress but did not intend to impose further sanctions against Moscow for now.

"My administration will continue to work closely with allies and partners in Europe and internationally to respond to developments in Ukraine and will continue to review and calibrate our sanctions to respond to Russia's actions," Obama said in a statement.

"We remain prepared to roll back sanctions should Russia take the necessary steps."

Note: the bill allows for considerable military aid in the form of ATGM and MANPADS.  

It does not force the President to do so or enact the sanctions against Russia.  However, the President now has the authority to do so without having to consult Congress.  

Originally, the bill designated Ukraine as a major nonNATO ally (likewise for Moldava and Georgia).  This language was watered down during its passage.  If the President enacts the sanctions and gives the military aid and Russia still doesn't back down in Ukraine. 

Note: do not expect Russia to give up Crimea any time soon.  In fact, expect the Republicans and even Clinton to make this an issue in the 2016 Presidential Race. 

Maastrichtian Cretaceous Cephalopods of Seymour Island Uneffected by Environment Changes Until KT Extinction

Evolution and extinction of Maastrichtian (Late Cretaceous) cephalopods from the López de Bertodano Formation, Seymour Island, Antarctica


Witts et al


One of the most expanded records to contain the final fortunes of ammonoid cephalopods is within the López de Bertodano Formation of Seymour Island, James Ross Basin, Antarctica. Located at ~ 65° South now, and during the Cretaceous, this sequence is the highest southern latitude onshore outcrop containing the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K–Pg) transition. We present comprehensive new biostratigraphic range data for 14 ammonite and one nautiloid species based on the collection of > 700 macrofossils from high-resolution sampling of parallel sedimentary sections, dated Maastrichtian to earliest Danian in age, across southern Seymour Island. We find evidence for only a single, abrupt pulse of cephalopod extinction at the end of the Cretaceous when the final seven ammonite species disappeared, consistent with most evidence globally. In the lead up to the K–Pg extinction in the James Ross Basin, starting during the Campanian, ammonite diversity decreased overall, but the number of endemic taxa belonging to the family Kossmaticeratidae actually increased. This pattern continued into the Maastrichtian and may be facies controlled, linked to changes in sea level and seawater temperature. During the early Maastrichtian, ammonite diversity dropped significantly with only two species recorded from the basal López de Bertodano Formation on Seymour Island. The subsequent diversification of endemic taxa and reappearance of long-ranging, widespread species into the basin resulted in an increase in ammonite diversity and abundance during the mid-Maastrichtian. This was coincident with an apparent period of warming temperatures and sea level rise interpreted from palynology and sedimentology, perhaps reflecting a high latitude expression of the Mid-Maastrichtian Event. Late Maastrichtian diversity levels remained stable despite reported climatic and environmental variation. Ammonite diversity patterns during the Maastrichtian parallel those of microfossil species such as nannofossil and planktonic foraminifera, suggesting that dynamic climatic and environmental changes affected many planktonic and nektonic organisms during the latest Cretaceous. However, we suggest that these perturbations had a minimal effect on overall diversity prior to the catastrophic extinction event at the K–Pg boundary.

Is Titan's Sand Dune Patterning an Artifact of Milankovitch Cycles?

Sand dune patterns on Titan controlled by long-term climate cycles


Ewing et al


Linear sand dunes cover the equatorial latitudes of Saturn’s moon Titan and are shaped by global wind patterns. These dunes are thought to reflect present-day diurnal, tidal and seasonal winds, but climate models have failed to reproduce observed dune morphologies with these wind patterns. Dunes diagnostic of a specific wind or formative timescale have remained elusive. Here we analyse radar imagery from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and identify barchan, star and reoriented dunes in sediment-limited regions of Titan’s equatorial dune fields that diverge by 23° on average from the orientation of linear dunes. These morphologies imply shifts in wind direction and sediment availability. Using a numerical model, we estimate that the observed reorientation of dune crests to a change in wind direction would have taken around 3,000 Saturn years (1 Saturn year ∼ 29.4 Earth years) or longer—a timescale that exceeds diurnal, seasonal or tidal cycles. We propose that shifts in winds and sediment availability are the product of long-term climate cycles associated with variations in Saturn’s orbit. Orbitally controlled landscape evolution—also proposed to explain the distribution of Titan’s polar lakes—implies a dune-forming climate on equatorial Titan that is analogous to Earth.

Ancient Greeks Were Sorta Right: Peuce Island Existed, but as the Dunavat Peninsula

The ancient legendary island of PEUCE – myth or reality?

Romanescu et al


The testimonies left by the ancient Greeks indicate the existence of the legendary Peuce Island at the mouth of the Danube. Several locations for the island have been proposed throughout history: the pre-continental inland of Chilia, the fluvio-maritime levee of Letea, the initial alluvial fan of the Danube, the Dobroudjan inland between the Danube, the Black Sea and the valley of the Telita River and the Dunavat Peninsula, and others. All of these hypotheses have been proven wrong, except for that regarding the Dunavat Peninsula; but for the Dunavat Peninsula to have represented an island, there must have been a fluvial or maritime corridor separating it from the rest of the Dobroudjan inland. The Beibugeac corridor represented the last link in deciphering this enigma. Interdisciplinary research has been conducted to confirm or refute the theory of the existence of an arm. The overall morphology is favourable to the existence of a fluvial arm. Nonetheless, analysis of the geologic boreholes demonstrates that the nature of the sediments is purely continental and that they originate in the superficial erosion of the calcareous slopes belonging to the Dunavat Hills and Bestepe Hills. The position of Peuce Island in the south of the most important Danubian arm makes possible its location between the Halmyris Gulf, the Danube Delta and the continental inland of Dobroudja. The ancient Greeks were interested only in the exploitation of the sea and the coastal area. For this reason, they built cities only within reach of the sea (Orgame [Argamum], Histria, Tomis and Callatis). When viewed from the sea or the surrounding swamp areas, the Dunavat Peninsula – given that it is elongated and narrow – seemed like an island covered by pine forests. Because it was mistaken for an island, its misleading name was ascribed and transmitted throughout history.

Using Robotics to Test Evolutionary Hypotheses for Fish

Hypotheses about the evolution of traits in ancient species are difficult to test, as the relevant animals have often been extinct for thousands or millions of years. In the present study, a population of physical, free-swimming robots modeled after ancient fish evolved vertebrae under selection pressures for predator avoidance and foraging ability, showing how evolutionary robotics can be used to help biologists test hypotheses about extinct animals .

Millions of years ago, during the Cambrian explosion, fish started to evolve tiny proto-vertebrae on the long flexible rods (notochords) that had previously given their bodies structure and lent some stiffness to their tails. As evolutionary traits go, vertebrae were very successful: they have been preserved through these millions of years, through fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and eventually ended up in your backbone.

So why did they evolve in the first place?

One theory is that the sudden increase of genetic diversity during the Cambrian explosion led to an “arms race” between predators and prey, the prize being either dinner (in the case of the predator) or your life (in the case of the prey). Take speed as an example: as prey animals evolve faster escape maneuvers to better evade a particular predator, the predatory species will be under more selection pressure to increase its speed as well. Arms races like this could have led to innovations like vertebrae, which enable fish to displace more water with every tail movement and thus swim faster for only a small increase in energy usage.

We were interested in testing how plausible it is that selection pressure for predator avoidance and foraging ability could drive the evolution of vertebrae, but unfortunately, all of the relevant animals were long extinct. Fortunately, when the desired study animals are unavailable, it’s often possible to create models of animal behavior using other animals that have some characteristics in common with the species of interest, computer simulations of the animals and their environments, or physical simulations of the animals in similar environments in order to test hypotheses like those we were interested in here.

Computer simulations allow researchers to build huge populations of model organisms to which selection can be applied, but are not limited by the laws of physics. The behavior we were interested in here, which involves composite, flexible solids of varying stiffnesses bending in fluids, is difficult to accurately simulate with a computer; however, the number of generations that we wanted to be able to run to perform an evolutionary experiment would make building enough robots difficult. Rather than choose one method and be slave to its flaws, we did both: we created a physical simulation in our lab at Vassar and collaborated with two groups at Lafayette College to develop a computer simulation of the same system. If both of these simulations came up with similar results, there is stronger evidence that the results were not simply due to flaws in simulation.

Eohupehsuchus brevicollis: a new Hupehsuchian Marine Reptile From Spathian Olenekian Triassic China

A Small Short-Necked Hupehsuchian from the Lower Triassic of Hubei Province, China


Chen et al


Hupehsuchia is a group of enigmatic Triassic marine reptiles that is known exclusively from two counties in Hubei Province, China. One of the common features of the group was a modestly long neck with nine to ten cervical vertebrae. We report a new species of Hupehsuchia, Eohupehsuchus brevicollis gen. et sp. nov., which for the first time shows a short neck in this group, with six cervicals. The configuration of the skull roof in Eohupehsuchus is also unique among Hupehsuchia, with narrow frontals and posteriorly shifted parietals, warranting recognition of a new species. The taxon superficially resembles Nanchangosaurus in retaining hupehsuchian plesiomorphies, such as low neural spines and small body size. However, its limbs are well-developed, unlike in Nanchangosaurus, although the latter genus is marginally larger in body length. Thus, the individual is unlikely to be immature. Also, Eohupehsuchus shares a suite of synapomorphies with Hupehsuchus, including the second and third layers of dermal ossicles above the dorsal neural spines. A phylogenetic analysis suggests that the new species is not the most basal hupehsuchian despite its short neck, and instead forms the sister taxon of Hupehsuchidae. Until recently, Hupehsuchia contained only two monotypic genera. Now there are at least four genera among Hupehsuchia, and the undescribed diversity is even higher. The left forelimb of the only specimen is incomplete, ending with broken phalanges distally. The breakage could only have occurred pre-burial. The individual may have been attacked by a predator and escaped, given that scavenging is unlikely.

Ordovician Eoharpes benignensis Trilobites Showed Gregarious Behaviour Hiding

Fatka et al


The presence of six articulated exoskeletons of late holaspid specimens of the rare harpetid Eoharpes benignensis entombed under a pygidial shield of the large asaphid trilobite Nobiliasaphus repulsus from the Middle Ordovician Dobrotivá Formation of the Prague Basin, Czech Republic is interpreted as a unimodal monotaxic trilobite cluster. The sheltered preservation of the trilobites may be explained as; (1) hiding behavior associated with predation pressure; (2) storm disturbance; or (3) molting associated with feeding. It is herein suggested that these Middle Ordovician holaspid trilobites deliberately entered the restricted space under a large isolated asaphid trilobite pygidial shield to find a refuge and shared the space within restricted shelters with conspecifics. The completeness of all specimens of the rare taxon Eoharpes, combined with the presence of more than one individual in this restricted space, excludes the possibility of transportation by bottom currents. This exceptional find represents an example of “frozen behavior” and provides a new insight in the life strategy of Middle Ordovician benthic trilobites. Attack abatement, e.g., avoidance and dilution effects, is for the first time proposed as a possible explanation for this example of sheltered gregarious behavior in trilobites.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

DOH! A Hacker & Cyber Warrior's Wet Dream: the Internet of Things

San Francisco's Flowermart Going Underground


US Navy's Robopocalypse: That's not a SHARK!

The American military does a lot of work in the field of biomimicry, stealing designs from nature for use in new technology. After all, if you’re going to design a robot, where better to draw inspiration than from billions of years of evolution? The latest result of these efforts is the GhostSwimmer: The Navy’s underwater drone designed to look and swim like a real fish, and a liability to spook the bejeezus out of any beach goer who’s familiar with Jaws.

The new gizmo, at five feet long and nearly 100 pounds, is about the size of an albacore tuna but looks more like a shark, at least from a distance. It’s part of an experiment to explore the possibilities of using biomimetic, unmanned, underwater vehicles, and the Navy announced it wrapped up testing of the design last week.

The robot uses its tail for propulsion and control, like a real fish. It can operate in water as shallow as 10 inches or dive down to 300 feet. It can be controlled remotely via a 500-foot tether, or swim independently, periodically returning to the surface to communicate. Complete with dorsal and pectoral fins, the robofish is stealthy too: It looks like a fish and moves like a fish, and, like other underwater vehicles, is difficult to spot even if you know to look for it.

India's INS Arihant Ballistic Missile Submarine has Started Sea Trials

India's indigenously designed 6,000-ton nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) began sea acceptance trials off the country's east coast on 15 December, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said.

Parrikar presided over the start of Arihant 's classified trials from the jetty of the Ship Building Centre (SCB) at Visakhapatnam following over 18 months of harbour acceptance trials.

The defence minister confirmed that Arihant 's sea trials had started on 16 December at a ceremony in New Delhi to mark the 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the formation of Bangladesh.

Congressional Budget Office Concerned About Ohio Replacement Ballistic Submarine Program Costs

The Navy rebuffed today a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the service is too optimistic about the cost of its new nuclear missile submarine. Still, whatever the final cost, it’s certain to be high — so high the Navy officially admits its own figures show the sub is unaffordable under current budget plans.

In that context, the CBO report that the subs will cost 17 more than the Navy expects is “an urgent reminder” that Congress must figure out how to fund the Ohio Replacement Program, said Rep. Joe Courtney. As co-chair of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus, a senior member of House seapower subcommittee, and representative from Connecticut, the home state of sub-builder Electric Boat, Courtney is a leading voice on undersea warfare. Arguing that replacing the aging Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine is essential to the nation’s nuclear deterrent, Courtney and House seapower subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes have pushed to fund the new sub outside the Navy budget.

“CBO’s report is an urgent reminder for Congress to address the funding challenges for both the Ohio Replacement and the overall shipbuilding program,” Courtney told Breaking Defense in a statement this afternoon. “I was proud to work on a bipartisan basis to establish the National Sea Based Deterrence Fund in this year’s NDAA, which will place this top-priority program outside the regular shipbuilding account. That is just a first step, however, and we will need to continue the discussion about how to prioritize shipbuilding within the defense budget when Congress returns next year.”

Overall, Courtney projected optimism about the program. “Navy leaders have been clear about the challenges they face on Ohio Replacement and its impact on other shipbuilding priorities, [and] the Navy has an aggressive plan to reduce costs,” Courtney told us. “Although the CBO and Navy projections differ on how much can be achieved in reducing costs…I am confident that the Navy and the submarine industrial base are equal to the challenge.”

Report: Karem Aircraft Gets Contract From DARPA for Tilt Rotor Work

Karem Aircraft is to continue work on an unmanned version of its Optimum Speed Tilt Rotor (OSTR) concept under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) program to develop a vertical-takeoff-and-landing experimental aircraft (VTOL X-Plane).

link behind paywall.

NASA Funds Propulsion Feasibility Study for Lockheed SR-72

NASA has awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to study the feasibility of building a hypersonic propulsion system for a concept intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft dubbed the SR-72 using existing turbine engine technologies.

The $892,292 contract “provides for a parametric design study to establish the viability of a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) propulsion system consisting of integrating several combinations of near-term turbine engine solutions and a very low Mach ignition Dual Mode RamJet (DMRJ) in the SR-72 vehicle concept,” the award document says.

A spokeswoman for Lockheed’s Skunk Works development laboratory declined to comment on the contract award.

The SR-72 is envisioned as an unmanned, reusable hypersonic ISR and strike aircraft capable of Mach 6.0 flight, or nearly double the speed of its predecessor, the SR-71 Blackbird.

Deccan Traps Geochronologically Synchronous With KT Extinction

U-Pb geochronology of the Deccan Traps and relation to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction


Schoene et al


The Chicxulub asteroid impact (Mexico) and the eruption of the massive Deccan volcanic province (India) are two proposed causes of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, which includes the demise of nonavian dinosaurs. Despite widespread acceptance of the impact hypothesis, the lack of a high-resolution eruption timeline for the Deccan basalts has prevented full assessment of their relationship to the mass extinction. Here we apply U-Pb zircon geochronology to Deccan rocks and show that the main phase of eruptions initiated ~250,000 years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary and that greater than 1.1 million km3 of basalt erupted in ~750,000 years. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the Deccan Traps contributed to the latest Cretaceous environmental change and biologic turnover that culminated in the marine and terrestrial mass extinctions.

Extreme Shrimp as a Guide to Potential Europan Life?

Evidence of a Viking Bronze Working Forge From Baffin Island

A small stone container found by archaeologists a half-century ago has now been recognized as further evidence of a Viking or Medieval Norse presence in Arctic Canada during the centuries around 1000 A.D.

Researchers reporting in the journal Geoarchaeology discovered that the interior of the container, which was found at an archaeological site on southern Baffin Island, contains fragments of bronze as well as small spherules of glass that form when rock is heated to high temperatures. The object is a crucible for melting bronze, likely in order to cast it into small tools or ornaments. Indigenous peoples of northern North America did not practice high-temperature metalworking.

The Norse would likely have travelled to the area to obtain furs and walrus ivory. "The crucible adds an intriguing new element to this emerging chapter in the early history of northern Canada," said lead author Dr. Patricia Sutherland, who has recovered other specimens in Arctic Canada that resemble those used by Europeans of the Viking and Medieval periods. "It may be the earliest evidence of high-temperature nonferrous metalworking in North America to the north of what is now Mexico."

New Theropod Remains From Middle Jurassic Niger

New theropod remains from the Tiourarén Formation (?Middle Jurassic, Niger) and their bearing on the dental evolution in basal tetanurans


Serrano-Martínez et al


A fragment of a maxilla and isolated theropod teeth from the (?) Middle Jurassic Tiourarén Formation are described. The specimens come from Tadibene, in the rural community of Aderbissinat, Thirozerine Department, Agadez Region, Niger. They were identified through direct comparison with teeth previously described in the literature as well as on the basis of discriminant and morphometric analyses. Our results suggest they belong to Ceratosauridae, Megalosauridae, and the oldest representatives of Spinosauridae. The analyzed sample shows some uncommon characters, such as spinosaurid-like ornamentation in megalosaurid-like teeth, or spinosaurid-like teeth with a low number of denticles, which sheds light on tooth morphology and dental evolution in basal tetanurans and early spinosaurids.

Revisting Carnian Triassic Rauisuchid Rauisuchus tiradentes

Osteology of Rauisuchus tiradentes from the Late Triassic (Carnian) Santa Maria Formation of Brazil, and its implications for rauisuchid anatomy and phylogeny


Lautenschlager et al


As the eponymous type species for rauisuchians, Rauisuchus tiradentes von Huene, 1938 represents an important but inadequately known specimen. The revision of the type material from the Upper Triassic (Carnian) Santa Maria Formation of Brazil reveals new anatomical data and previously unrecognised characters, including three new possible autapomorphies: a knob-like thickening on the base of the posterior process of the premaxilla; short and ventrally keeled cervicals lacking postzygodiapophyseal laminae; and mid-caudal vertebrae with an accessory neural spine and a postspinal lamina. Several elements are re-identified, including a postorbital (originally identified as postfrontal) and a pterygoid (originally identified as a prefrontal), and additional material from a secondary fossil site, originally assigned to R. tiradentes, including a left ilium, is excluded. Based on the recovered information and new morphological data, the systematic position of R. tiradentes is tested in a comparison of two phylogenetic reanalyses. Both analyses differ in respect to the phylogenetic position of R. tiradentes, and recover ‘rauisuchians’ as a paraphyletic assemblage of non-crocodylomoprh archosaurs. © 2014 The Linnean Society of London

New Articulated Protospongiid Sponges From the Camrbian Chengjiang Biota

New articulated protospongiid sponges from the early Cambrian Chengjiang biota


Chen et al


Sponges are among the earliest diverging crown-group animals and widely regarded as the earliest biomineralizing animals. Indeed, unambiguous hexactine sponge spicules first occur in the lowermost Cambrian strata of the Fortunian Stage. Articulated sponge skeletons interpreted as hexactinellids and demosponges have been reported from Cambrian Stage 2–3 strata at multiple localities. Articulated sponge skeletons in the Chengjiang biota (Cambrian Stage 3), however, are dominated by forms interpreted as demosponges, despite the exceptional preservation in this biota. Here, we report new articulated sponge skeletons from the Chengjiang biota, including Paradiagoniella magna n. gen. n. sp. and P. xiaolantianensis n. gen. n. sp. The skeleton of both species consists of ranked stauractines and rare oxeas (straight or curved diactines), as well as hexactines in the former species. Their stauractines form irregular, nested, local sub-quadrules oriented obliquely to the sponge body axis. Sub-quadrules of different ranks are not in parallel arrangement. The two species are tentatively placed in the family Protospongiidae, which as currently defined may be a paraphyletic group including members of the total-group hexactinellids and perhaps stem-group siliceans. The phylogenetic placement of P. magna and P. xiaolantianensis is uncertain but, like many other protospongiids, they could be members of the total-group hexactinellids or stem-group siliceans. The diactines in the two species could be secondarily reduced hexactine-based spicules; alternatively, these two species may represent an evolutionary grade of stem-group siliceans with both diactines and hexactine-based spicules, the latter of which was lost in demosponges. A comprehensive cladistics analysis is needed to resolve the exact phylogenetic placement of the two species described here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Implications of Machine Learning, Both Good and bad

He goes off rails at 18:00 minutes.  The problem is those improvements in computers are not coming.  There's a reason most HPC sites are investing in "post Moore's law" technical groups to keep HPC alive at least until quantum computing: Moore's law dies in the next five years.

San Francisco Transbay Block 9 Tower Revised Rendering


The orange red highlighting reminds me of rust.  Not something I'd like on a highrise I'd buy into.  YMMV.

Robopocalypse Comes for the Game of 'Go'

Computers are rapidly beginning to outperform humans in more or less every area of endeavor. For example, machine vision experts recently unveiled an algorithm that outperforms humans in face recognition. Similar algorithms are beginning to match humans at object recognition too. And human chess players long ago gave up the fight to beat computers.

But there is one area where humans still triumph. That is in playing the ancient Japanese game of Go. Computers have never mastered this game. The best algorithms only achieve the skill level of a very strong amateur player which the best human players easily outperform.

That looks set to change thanks to the work of Christopher Clark and Amos Storkey at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. These guys have applied the same machine learning techniques that have transformed face recognition algorithms to the problem of finding the next move in a game of Go. And the results leave little hope that humans will continue to dominate this game.

China's Claims to South China Sea Increasingly Challenged

China’s ambiguous claim to the South China Sea, approximately demarcated by a series of hash marks known as the “nine-dashed line,” faced objections from an expanding number of parties over the past two weeks. While a challenge from the United States came from an unsurprising source, actions by Indonesia and Vietnam were unexpected in their tone and timing.

heh.  All the claimants other than China ought to sell their claims to the Spratley Islands to the US.  

Rise of the Asian Marines

Across the Pacific Rim, regional powers are creating new marine infantry units.

Fast, highly-trained and designed for military missions originating from the sea, marines are invaluable for the kinds of conflicts Asian and Pacific nations might fight in the future.

Since 2009, India, Australia and Japan have all announced the creation of seagoing infantry forces.

These units are tiny in comparison to the U.S. Marine Corps. But Asia’s regional powers are not just creating mini-marine forces of their own, they’re buying the landing ships and transport aircraft to carry troops to danger zones and—if necessary—into battle.

It’s an expensive insurance policy for a region where Pacific Ocean shipping lanes serve as economic lifelines. Losing control of these sea lanes will have dire consequences for billions of people.

But as these three countries are discovering—there’s a lot to learn when it comes to amphibious warfare.

General Pawlikowski on the Pentagon's Offset Strategy: Autonomy, Refueling & Additive Manufacturing are key

Ellen Pawlikowski helps decide what weapons the Air Force buys and manages the buying process, so when the lieutenant general says she likes autonomy and 3-D printing as the most promising capabilities for her service to develop as part of the new offset strategy, it’s worth listening.

“This is Ellen Pawlikowski speaking,” she says in her E-ring office at the Pentagon, making sure we all know this is her personal opinion. She thinks autonomy — a cluster of technologies that allows weapons to execute missions without much human intervention — can “play a major role. It can allow me to get more numbers in things than I can get now.” And, as most generals will tell you, quantity possesses a quality all its own.

This is all about the Pentagon’s offset strategy, overseen by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, designed to ensure America’s continued military dominance for a long time. Pawlikowski is the uniformed official who oversees the Air Force’s science and technology work, so much of the service’s offset strategy effort will be led by her.

“I can see a scenario where you’ve got an F-35 orchestrating an attack with 20 RPAs [remotely-piloted aircraft] that are weapons-equipped and that F-35, with all its sensors and communications, is essentially an orchestrator,” she says.

An Interview With the Designer of China's J-20 Stealth Fighter

It is designed keen to build on the understanding of future combat mode and aircraft design technology development considered. "It is our team of designers design concept gives the 'Raptors' new features and a new quality." In Yang Wei view, this is the value of an aircraft where the chief architect.

Xinhua news (reporter Liu Ji US): Fighters from AVIC Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute, mostly in the "Dragon" series named: "Raptors", "Fierce Dragon" ...... these names in the history of China's aviation development, every birth is promote the upgrading of China's aviation weaponry; each one is Chinese aviation industry milestone in the development process; each has become legendary Chinese fighter family.

AVIC interviewed Yang Wei, deputy chief engineer of the people, without exception, and the cast wanted to "Dragon" people have their "Dragon" photo, but, because of confidentiality reasons, many of the "dragon" is still not for the world known.

link (warning: site in Chinese.  You'll need to run it through Google Translate)

PaleoClimate Change Across the Albian/Cenomannian Cretaceous Transition

Paleoclimatic reconstruction for the Albian–Cenomanian transition based on a dominantly angiosperm flora from the Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah, USA


Arens et al


The Soap Wash flora from the Cedar Mountain Formation of Emery County, Utah (Albian–Cenomanian boundary) consists almost entirely of angiosperms and is positioned stratigraphically near the first appearance of flowering plants in this region. We applied both univariate (leaf margin analysis—LMA, and leaf area analysis—LAA) and multivariate (Climate Leaf Analysis Multivariate Program—CLAMP) methods to the 17 morphotypes recognized in the flora to reconstruct palaeoclimate. LMA produced a mean annual temperature (MAT) estimate ranging from 19 °C to 26 °C. CLAMP yielded 16 °C–18 °C. LAA produced a mean annual precipitation (MAP) of 81 cm, while CLAMP generated a mean growing season precipitation of 134–187 cm, within the range of standard error for the LAA estimation. CLAMP also estimated a nine to ten month growing season with some temperature seasonality and substantial seasonality in precipitation. This reconstruction is broadly consistent with sedimentological data that suggested a semiarid to monsoonal precipitation regime for the region and with climate models that predict warm summers and strong winter seasonality in precipitation. Leaf physiognomic parameters of the Soap Wash flora fall within the range of variation circumscribed by the calibration sets of all three methods, so the differences in reconstructed MAT values cannot be explained exclusively by this kind of systematic error. We propose two alternative hypotheses: First, modern leaf form-climate relationships may not yet have evolved. This seems unlikely because CLAMP has been successfully applied to older material elsewhere. Second, the Soap Wash flora may be out of equilibrium with its prevailing climate due to contemporaneous rapid climate flux. If correct, this pattern may suggest a link between mid-Cretaceous environmental perturbations and the rapid diversification and geographic spread of flowering plants.

Science Goals for a Mission to Titan and Enceladus

Science goals and mission concept for the future exploration of Titan and Enceladus


Tobie et al


Saturn׳s moons, Titan and Enceladus, are two of the Solar System׳s most enigmatic bodies and are prime targets for future space exploration. Titan provides an analogue for many processes relevant to the Earth, more generally to outer Solar System bodies, and a growing host of newly discovered icy exoplanets. Processes represented include atmospheric dynamics, complex organic chemistry, meteorological cycles (with methane as a working fluid), astrobiology, surface liquids and lakes, geology, fluvial and aeolian erosion, and interactions with an external plasma environment. In addition, exploring Enceladus over multiple targeted flybys will give us a unique opportunity to further study the most active icy moon in our Solar System as revealed by Cassini and to analyse in situ its active plume with highly capable instrumentation addressing its complex chemistry and dynamics. Enceladus׳ plume likely represents the most accessible samples from an extra-terrestrial liquid water environment in the Solar system, which has far reaching implications for many areas of planetary and biological science. Titan with its massive atmosphere and Enceladus with its active plume are prime planetary objects in the Outer Solar System to perform in situ investigations. In the present paper, we describe the science goals and key measurements to be performed by a future exploration mission involving a Saturn–Titan orbiter and a Titan balloon, which was proposed to ESA in response to the call for definition of the science themes of the next Large-class mission in 2013. The mission scenario is built around three complementary science goals: (A) Titan as an Earth-like system; (B) Enceladus as an active cryovolcanic moon; and (C) Chemistry of Titan and Enceladus – clues for the origin of life. The proposed measurements would provide a step change in our understanding of planetary processes and evolution, with many orders of magnitude improvement in temporal, spatial, and chemical resolution over that which is possible with Cassini–Huygens. This mission concept builds upon the successes of Cassini–Huygens and takes advantage of previous mission heritage in both remote sensing and in situ measurement technologies.

Metallurgy in the Aconcagua Valley Under the Inca

Metallurgical traditions under Inka rule: A technological study of metals and technical ceramics from the Aconcagua Valley, Central Chile

Plaza et al


The spread of the Inka state in the Aconcagua Valley (Central Chile) is thought to have been culturally mediated, avoiding military coercion, and thus leading to different forms of cultural acceptance, resistance or hybridisation. However, there has been no previous attempt to investigate the extent to which these interactions are reflected in the use of metals and metallurgical technologies. Here we present analytical work on metallic artefacts and technical ceramics from Cerro La Cruz and Los Nogales, two Valley sites with evidence dated to the Late Period (ca. AD 1400-1540). The analyses included SEM-EDS, optical microscopy, petrography, XRD and FTIR. The results suggest that the sites represent different technological traditions. At Cerro La Cruz, the style of the metal objects and the lack of tin bronzes reflect continuity with an ancient metallurgical tradition with bases in the Diaguita Culture, rather than a wholesale adoption of an Inka metallurgical tradition. In Los Nogales, the presence of tin bronze and the use of perforated crucibles and other technical ceramics lined with bone ash is consistent with a tradition closely related to the Inka expansion and north-western Argentina, perhaps reflecting a stronger receptivity towards the new technologies. This disparity supports the idea that the Inka domination in the Valley was not forceful, and suggests a closer relationship between the state and some local groups, not previously identified.

Exploring the Paleobiodiversity of Sauropods in Cretaceous South America

Cretaceous sauropod diversity and taxonomic succession in South America


de Jesus Faria et al


The South American sauropod dinosaurs fossil record is one of the world’s most relevant for their abundance (51 taxa) and biogeographical implications. Their historical biogeography was influenced by the continental fragmentation of Gondwana. The scenery of biogeographic and stratigraphic distributions can provide new insight into the causes of the evolution of the sauropods in South America. One of the most important events of the sauropods evolution is the progressive replacement of Diplodocimorpha by the Titanosauriformes during the early Late Cretaceous. The fluctuation of the sea levels is frequently related to the diversity of sauropods, but it is necessary to take into account the geological context in each continent. During the Maastrichthian, a global sea level drop has been described; in contrast, in South America there was a significant rise in sea level (named ‘Atlantic transgression’) which is confirmed by sedimentary sequences and the fossil record of marine vertebrates. This process occurred during the Maastrichtian, when the hadrosaurs arrived from North America. The titanosaurs were amazingly diverse during the Late Cretaceous, both in size and morphology, but they declined prior to their final extinction in the Cretaceous/Paleocene boundary (65.5Yrs).

Pseudochampsa ischigualastensis: a new Genus for a Proterochampsid From Carnian (?) Triassic Brazil

Osteology of Pseudochampsa ischigualastensis gen. et comb. nov. (Archosauriformes: Proterochampsidae) from the Early Late Triassic Ischigualasto Formation of Northwestern Argentina


Trotteyn et al


Proterochampsids are crocodile-like, probably semi-aquatic, quadrupedal archosauriforms characterized by an elongated and dorsoventrally low skull. The group is endemic from the Middle-Late Triassic of South America. The most recently erected proterochampsid species is “Chanaresuchus ischigualastensis”, based on a single, fairly complete skeleton from the early Late Triassic Ischigualasto Formation of northwestern Argentina. We describe here in detail the non-braincase cranial and postcranial anatomy of this species and revisit its taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships. The phylogenetic analysis recovered ‘Chanaresuchus ischigualastensis’ as part of a trichotomy together with Gualosuchus reigi and Chanaresuchus bonapartei. Accordingly, “Chanaresuchus ischigualastensis” can be potentially more closely related to Gualosuchus reigi, or even Rhadinosuchus gracilis, than to Chanaresuchus bonapartei. In addition, after discussing previously claimed synapomorphies of Chanaresuchus, we could not find unambiguous support for the monophyly of the genus. As a result, we propose here the erection of the new genus Pseudochampsa for ‘Chanaresuchus ischigualastensis’, which results in the new combination Pseudochampsa ischigualastensis. The information provided here about the anatomy and taxonomy of Pseudochampsa ischiguaslastensis will be useful for future quantitative analyses focused on the biogeography and macroevolutionary history of proterochampsids.

Understanding Echinoderm Evolution From Cambrian Fossils

Deciphering the early evolution of echinoderms with Cambrian fossils


Zamora et al


Echinoderms are a major group of invertebrate deuterostomes that have been an important component of marine ecosystems throughout the Phanerozoic. Their fossil record extends back to the Cambrian, when several disparate groups appear in different palaeocontinents at about the same time. Many of these early forms exhibit character combinations that differ radically from extant taxa, and thus their anatomy and phylogeny have long been controversial. Deciphering the earliest evolution of echinoderms therefore requires a detailed understanding of the morphology of Cambrian fossils, as well as the selection of an appropriate root and the identification of homologies for use in phylogenetic analysis. Based on the sister-group relationships and ontogeny of modern species and new fossil discoveries, we now know that the first echinoderms were bilaterally symmetrical, represented in the fossil record by Ctenoimbricata and some early ctenocystoids. The next branch in echinoderm phylogeny is represented by the asymmetrical cinctans and solutes, with an echinoderm-type ambulacral system originating in the more crownward of these groups (solutes). The first radial echinoderms are the helicoplacoids, which possess a triradial body plan with three ambulacra radiating from a lateral mouth. Helicocystoids represent the first pentaradial echinoderms and have the mouth facing upwards with five radiating recumbent ambulacra. Pentaradial echinoderms diversified rapidly from the beginning of their history, and the most significant differences between groups are recorded in the construction of the oral area and ambulacra, as well as the nature of their feeding appendages. Taken together, this provides a clear narrative of the early evolution of the echinoderm body plan.

Monday, December 15, 2014

More on the IARPA's Cryogenic Supercomputer Effort

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has officially commenced a multi-year research effort to develop a superconducting computer as a long-term solution to the power, cooling and space constraints that afflict modern high-performance computing. First revealed in February 2013, when the agency put out a call for proposals, the Cryogenic Computer Complexity (C3) program aims to pave the way for a new generation of superconducting supercomputers that are far more energy efficient than machines based on complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology.

Studies indicate the technology, which uses low temperatures in the 4-10 kelvin range to enable information to be transmitted with minimal energy loss, could yield one-petaflop systems that use just 25 kW and 100 petaflop systems that operate at 200 kW, including the cryogenic cooler. Compare this to the current greenest system, the L-CSC supercomputer from the GSI Helmholtz Center, which achieved 5.27 gigaflops-per-watt on the most-recent Green500 list. If scaled linearly to an exaflop supercomputing system, it would consume about 190 megawatts (MW), still quite a bit short of DARPA targets, which range from 20MW to 67MW.