Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Louisiana Only has a Holey Sock, no Boot


Australia Considering Procurement of 10 Japanese Soryu Class Submarines (SSK)

Despite political opposition and apparently contradictory ministerial statements, it appears increasingly likely that Australia will replace its Collins-class submarines with 4,200-tonne Soryu-class submarines built in Japan.

Amid intense media speculation about such an agreement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on 8 September that a decision on replacing the six Australian-built, 3,400-tonne Collins-class submarines under Project Sea 1000 would be based on capability, value for money, and regional rather than industrial policy.

"The most important thing is to get the best and most capable submarines at a reasonable price for the Australian taxpayer," he said.

The current life-of-type of the Collins fleet runs from 2024 to 2031, although there are no apparent issues to prevent some or all of the class having service life extended by up to 10 years.

Several sources have put the cost of 10 Japanese-constructed submarines at about AUD20 billion (USD18.3 billion), compared with an estimated AUD36 billion for an Australian-designed and built replacement.

On 9 September Defence Minister David Johnston said the bulk of what he described as "the Australian work" on future submarines would be carried out in South Australia - a remark which an authoritative source subsequently clarified as referring to maintenance, not construction.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten meanwhile accused Abbott of putting Australia's national security at risk by considering the acquisition of completed submarines from Japan, and pledged to cancel any such agreement should the Labor Party win the next election - due in August 2016.

Although a decision on Sea 1000 had been anticipated as part of a Defence White Paper due to be published in mid-2015, there is now speculation that selection of the Japanese option could be announced as early as the Group of 20 leaders' meeting in Brisbane in November.

In April Johnston described the Soryu class as the platform closest to Australia's requirements and repeated earlier remarks about Australia's interest in the type's drive train.

Little Scotlander Chief: This is the Only Referendum on Independence for a Generation

Alex Salmond has said the independence vote is a "once in a generation" opportunity as he pledged not to quickly bring back another referendum if Scots choose to remain in the UK.

Commentators have been predicting a "neverendum" if the No campaign wins on Thursday by a narrow margin, with nationalists calling for a new independence poll within a few years.

As a series of polls indicate the vote remains too close to call, Mr Salmond was asked if he could pledge not to bring back another referendum if the Yes campaign does not win on Thursday, he said: "That's my view. My view is this is a once in a generation, perhaps even a once in a lifetime, opportunity for Scotland."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Transbay Block 5 Tower: Beale and Howard



one of those cities is a shock.

Russia Banning Converting Cryptocurrencies into Fiat Currency

Russia is set to become the latest country to restrict virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, after a top official announced that a law will be passed banning their exchange into real money by next spring due to their use by criminals and terrorists.

Deputy Finance Minister Aleksey Moiseev said: “People can play with their chips, and they can call them money, but they can’t use these surrogate currencies as tender.

“We will discuss this law in the current session of parliament, and possibly even pass it then, or at the very latest by spring next year.

"We are currently dealing with comments from the law enforcement agencies, about the specifics of legal measures, and we will take their remarks into account. But the overall concept of the law is set in stone.”

Although the draft of the proposed legislation has not been published, officials say they will open criminal proceedings against both those who mint digital currency, usually with the help of powerful computers, and those who use them for transactions. The finance ministry has also asked regulators to ban access to exchanges and online stores that accept bitcoin.

MIT's Pure Electric Cheetah Runs 10 MPH/16 km/h Towards Robopocalypse

DARPA Funds Harvard Soft Exoskeleton

A biologically inspired smart suit that fits under clothing and could help soldiers walk farther, tire less easily, and carry heavy loads more safely has been given a boost that could be as much as $2.9 million.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University announced today that it has been awarded a first-phase, follow-on contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further develop its Soft Exosuit — a wearable robot — alternative versions of which could eventually help those with limited mobility as well.

Technologies developed by DARPA’s Warrior Web program aim to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries for military personnel, but can have civilian applications, too. The suit could reduce long-term health care costs and enhance the quality of life for people on and off the battlefield.

The award is the first of what could be a two-phase contract, and it enables Wyss Institute core faculty member Conor Walsh and his team to build upon their earlier work (also funded by DARPA) demonstrating the proof-of-concept of this radically new approach to wearable robot design and fabrication. Inspired by a deep understanding of the biomechanics of human walking, Soft Exosuit technology is spawning development of entirely new forms of functional textiles, flexible power systems, soft sensors, and control strategies that enable intuitive and seamless human-machine interaction.

“While the idea of a wearable robot is not new, our design approach certainly is,” said Walsh, an assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab.

The lightweight Soft Exosuit overcomes the drawbacks of traditional, heavier exoskeleton systems, such as power-hungry battery packs and rigid components that can interfere with natural joint movement. It is made of soft, functional textiles woven into a piece of smart clothing that is pulled on like a pair of pants, and is intended to be worn under a soldier’s regular gear. The suit mimics the action of leg muscles and tendons when a person walks, and provides small but carefully timed assistance at the leg joints without restricting the wearer’s movement.

In a current prototype, a series of webbing straps around the lower half of the body contain a low-power microprocessor and a network of supple strain sensors. These act as the “brain” and “nervous system” of the Soft Exosuit, respectively, continuously monitoring various data signals, including suit tension, wearer position (walking, running, crouched), and more.

Lockheed Martin Test Flies Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control Turret for High Energy Laser Weapons

Lockheed Martin in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the University of Notre Dame, has demonstrated the airworthiness of a new beam control turret being developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and AFRL to give 360-degree coverage for high-energy laser weapons operating on military aircraft. A research aircraft equipped with the Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) turret conducted eight flights in Michigan.

"These initial flight tests validate the performance of our ABC turret design, which is an enabler for integrating high energy lasers on military aircraft," said Doug Graham, vice president of advanced programs, Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

The ABC turret system is designed to allow high-energy lasers to engage enemy aircraft and missiles above, below and behind the aircraft. Lockheed Martin's flow control and optical compensation technologies counteract the effects of turbulence caused by the protrusion of a turret from an aircraft's fuselage.

All turret components met U.S. Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness requirements.

Subsequent flight tests over the next year will demonstrate the turret in increasingly complex operations.

Sedimentary Conext Matters: That Carbon Isotope Excursion may NOT Mean What you Think it Does

Interpreting carbonate and organic carbon isotope covariance in the sedimentary record


Oehlert et al


Many negative δ13C excursions in marine carbonates from the geological record are interpreted to record significant biogeochemical events in early Earth history. The assumption that no post-depositional processes can simultaneously alter carbonate and organic δ13C values towards more negative values is the cornerstone of this approach. However, the effects of post-depositional alteration on the relationship between carbonate and organic δ13C values have not been directly evaluated. Here we present paired carbonate and organic δ13C records that exhibit a coupled negative excursion resulting from multiple periods of meteoric alteration of the carbonate δ13C record, and consequent contributions of isotopically negative terrestrial organic matter to the sedimentary record. The possibility that carbonate and organic δ13C records can be simultaneously shifted towards lower δ13C values during periods of subaerial exposure may necessitate the reappraisal of some of the δ13C anomalies associated with noteworthy biogeochemical events throughout Earth history.

pop sci version.

Boeing, SpaceX win Commercial Crew Contracts From NASA


Gibbon Genome Sequenced

With the completion of the sequencing and analysis of the gibbon genome, scientists now know more about why this small ape has a rapid rate of chromosomal rearrangements, providing information that broadens understanding of chromosomal biology.

Chromosomes, essentially the packaging that encases the genetic information stored in the DNA sequence, are fundamental to cellular function and the transmission of genetic information from one generation to the next. Chromosome structure and function is also intimately related to human genetic diseases, especially cancer.

The sequence and analysis of the gibbon genome (all the chromosomes) was published today in the journal Nature and led by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University, the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center and the Washington University School of Medicine's Genome Institute.

"Everything we learn about the genome sequence of this particular primate and others analyzed in the recent past helps us to understand human biology in a more detailed and complete way," said Dr. Jeffrey Rogers, associate professor in the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor and a lead author on the report. "The gibbon sequence represents a branch of the primate evolutionary tree that spans the gap between the Old World Monkeys and great apes and has not yet been studied in this way. The new genome sequence provides important insight into their unique and rapid chromosomal rearrangements."

Mapping Sauropod Paleodiversity Geographically

In modern scientific researches of biological direction the geographic information systems (GIS) are increasingly used. For example, GIS technology is successfully applied in the study of patterns of spatial and temporal distribution of biological objects with taking into account the unique features of the environment. Typically, a GIS is used for the analysis of current events and / or the future forecast, but they are also useful for the study of the fossils, living conditions in the distant past, changes in biodiversity and for determining historical patterns of biosphere evolution.

Convenience of GIS for integrated paleontological studies is due to the combination of database management systems functionality, editors of raster and vector graphics and a variety of analytical tools.

Over the last decades of paleontological researches a huge number of fossils belonging to a variety of species of animals, plants and microorganisms has been found. For a comprehensive qualitative analysis of this information it is not enough to draw on the paper map a certain amount of points. Maximum efficiency of the analysis can be achieved by creating a database and its integration with GIS. But if not so long ago each individual researcher or a research institute tried to do their own, as a rule, small databases containing information gathered only by them, but now there is a fundamentally new approach to automate many operations and combine the efforts of many scientists and research teams from all over the world. The projects that implement in practice, such approaches already exist. Paleobiology Database (Paleontological database) can be considered as one of them, 350 specialists from 133 institutions in 24 countries took part in this work. Currently this database contains information on more than a million found fossils, and it is open and available for use under the license of Creative Commons.

Norian Triassic Coloradisaurus is Really a Massospondylid Sauropodomorph

Redescription of the Skull of Coloradisaurus brevis (Dinosauria, Sauropodomorpha) from the Late Triassic Los Colorados Formation of the Ischigualasto-Villa Union Basin, northwestern Argentina


Apaldetti et al


The cranial anatomy of the basal sauropodomorph Coloradisaurus brevis from the upper levels of the Norian Los Colorados Formation is here redescribed and comparisons made based on the holotype skull and mandible. Coloradisaurus brevis is diagnosed by most of the features proposed in the original description and an additional set of autapomorphies, such as presence of circular upper temporal fenestrae, laminae on the ventrolateral margins of a ventral fossa of the basisphenoid and on the ventral region of the parasphenoid, and tab-like medial process at the posteromedial end of the mandible. Coloradisaurus is placed within Massospondylidae, as in recent analyses. This position is supported primarily by postcranial characters, but some cranial features identified in this study provide additional evidence supporting this position (e.g., jugal contribution to the antorbital fenestra, frontal proportionately longer than nasals). However, the cranial anatomy of Coloradisaurus also bears several characters that are shared with plateosaurids (e.g., low mandibular articulation, broad maxillary wall on the anterior margin of antorbital fossa, broad prefrontals, projection of infratemporal fenestra behind the orbit, stepped braincase, robust septum between basipterygoid processes). Thus, Coloradisaurus is interpreted as a massospondylid that has convergently acquired characters that are otherwise only known in plateosaurids, highlighting the conflicting pattern of character distribution among basal sauropodomorphs.

Hadean may NOT Have Been Hellacious for Life

Iceland is not a magmatic analog for the Hadean: Evidence from the zircon record


Carley et al


Tangible evidence of Earth's earliest (Hadean; greater than 4.0 Ga) crust, and the processes and materials that contributed to its formation, exists almost entirely in a record of detrital zircon from Jack Hills, Western Australia, and a few other locations. Iceland, with its thick, juvenile, basaltic crust and relatively abundant silicic rocks, is considered a potential modern analog for the Hadean magmatic environment where greater than 4 Ga zircon formed. We present the first extensive dataset for Icelandic zircon, with trace element and oxygen isotope compositions from samples that span the island's history and full range of tectonic settings. This statistically robust zircon-based comparison between Iceland and the early Earth reveals distinctions in chemistry that suggest fundamental differences in magmatic environments. Whereas the δ 18O signature of Hadean zircons generally exceed that of zircons equilibrated with mantle-derived magma (85%≥5.3‰85%≥5.3‰; median 6‰), almost all Icelandic zircons are characterized by a “light” oxygen signature (98%≤5.3‰98%≤5.3‰; median 3‰). Deviations from “juvenile” oxygen values indicate that many Hadean zircons and almost all Icelandic zircons grew from magmas with substantial contributions from materials that had interacted with surface waters. In the Hadean case, the interaction occurred at low temperatures, while in Iceland, it was a high-temperature interaction. Icelandic and Hadean zircons are also distinct in their Ti concentrations (Icelandic median concentration 12 ppm, Hadean median 5 ppm). Titanium in zircon correlates positively with temperature of crystallization, and this difference in median Ti concentration suggests a temperature difference of at least 50 °C. Other differences in trace elements compositions are consistent with the interpretation that Icelandic and Hadean zircons grew in magmas with very different origins and histories (e.g., the heavy rare earth element Yb is almost an order of magnitude higher in Icelandic zircon). A comparison with elemental data for Phanerozoic zircon from different environments demonstrates that the Hadean population is unusually depleted in Ti, but otherwise similar to zircons from continental arc settings. Zircons from Iceland, and from modern evolving rift environments where oceanic lithosphere and upwelling asthenosphere are replacing continental lithosphere, are compositionally intermediate between mid-ocean ridge and continental arc zircon populations. The elemental distinctions are consistent with fractionation of zircon-bearing magmas under hotter and drier conditions in Icelandic, mid-ocean ridge, and evolving rift environments and cooler and wetter conditions in arc and, especially, Hadean environments.

pop sci link.

Impact of Global Warming on Tropical Sharks

Early-life exposure to climate change impairs tropical shark survival


Rosa et al


Sharks are one of the most threatened groups of marine animals worldwide, mostly owing to overfishing and habitat degradation/loss. Although these cartilaginous fish have evolved to fill many ecological niches across a wide range of habitats, they have limited capability to rapidly adapt to human-induced changes in their environments. Contrary to global warming, ocean acidification was not considered as a direct climate-related threat to sharks. Here we show, for the first time, that an early ontogenetic acclimation process of a tropical shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum) to the projected scenarios of ocean acidification (ΔpH = 0.5) and warming (+4°C; 30°C) for 2100 elicited significant impairments on juvenile shark condition and survival. The mortality of shark embryos at the present-day thermal scenarios was 0% both at normocapnic and hypercapnic conditions. Yet routine metabolic rates (RMRs) were significantly affected by temperature, pH and embryonic stage. Immediately after hatching, the Fulton condition of juvenile bamboo sharks was significantly different in individuals that experienced future warming and hypercapnia; 30 days after hatching, survival rapidly declined in individuals experiencing both ocean warming and acidification (up to 44%). The RMR of juvenile sharks was also significantly affected by temperature and pH. The impact of low pH on ventilation rates was significant only under the higher thermal scenario. This study highlights the need of experimental-based risk assessments of sharks to climate change. In other words, it is critical to directly assess risk and vulnerability of sharks to ocean acidification and warming, and such effort can ultimately help managers and policy-makers to take proactive measures targeting most endangered species.

How Russia Plans on Countering the Color Revolutions

The May 2014 Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS), sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defense, was focused on the role of popular protest, and specifically color revolutions, in international security. The speakers, which included top Russian military and diplomatic officials such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, argued that color revolutions are a new form of warfare invented by Western governments seeking to remove independently-minded national governments in favor of ones controlled by the West. They argued that this was part of a global strategy to force foreign values on a range of nations around the world that refuse to accept U.S. hegemony and that Russia was a particular target of this strategy.

While the West considers color revolutions to be peaceful expressions of popular will opposing repressive authoritarian regimes, Russian officials argue that military force is an integral part of all aspects of color revolutions. Western governments start by using non-military tactics to change opposing governments through color revolutions that utilize the protest potential of the population to engineer peaceful regime change. But military force is concealed behind this effort. If the protest potential turns out to be insufficient, military force is then used openly to ensure regime change. This includes the use of external pressure on the regime in question to prevent the use of force to restore order, followed by the provision of military and economic assistance to rebel forces. If these measures are not sufficient, Western states organize a military operation to defeat government forces and allow the rebels to take power. Russian officials at the MCIS conference described color revolutions as a new technique of aggression pioneered by the United States and geared toward destroying a state from within by dividing its population. The advantage of this technique, compared to military intervention, is that it requires a relatively low expenditure of resources to achieve its goals.

Shoigu argued that this scheme has been used in a wide range of cases, including Serbia, Libya, and Syria—all cases where political interference by the West transitioned into military action. In 2014, the same scheme was followed in Ukraine, where anti-regime protests over several months transformed into a civil war, and in Venezuela, where the so-called democratic opposition is supposedly organized by the United States. While Western readers may find the lumping together of uprisings as disparate as those in Serbia in 2000, Syria in 2011, and Venezuela in 2014 hard to swallow, from the Russian point of view, they all share the common thread of occurring in countries that had governments that were opposed to the United States. Although uprisings in countries whose governments were close to the United States, such as Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and Egypt and Bahrain in 2011, are harder to explain, such inconsistencies do not appear to trouble the Russian government.

Furthermore, while Russian discussion of the destabilizing role of color revolutions usually portrays U.S. actions as taking place around the world, there is a clear perception that Russia is one of the main targets. This drives fear that unrest in the post-Soviet region may be a wedge for the United States to force regime change in Russia itself.

India's Military Buildup in in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

EXPLORE the palm-fringed bays of Port Blair, the capital of the Indian-owned Andaman and Nicobar islands, and intriguing sights appear. On one islet are the ghostly remains of a Victorian-era British settlement, its barracks, ballroom and Presbyterian church strangled by monstrous banyan trees. On another shore sits the headquarters of India’s only three-service—army, air and navy—military command. At a nearby wharf warships form a line, white ensigns flapping. A dry dock lies moored out in the harbour as a frigate steams out into the Bay of Bengal.

India had long neglected its island outpost close to mainland South-East Asia. Populated for thousands of years by indigenous tribes, the Andamans were used as a penal colony by the British until the Japanese invasion in 1942. After independence, India treated the Andamans as a remote backwater, too costly to supply or defend. The country’s military planners mostly faced west, to Pakistan.

Attitudes are changing. India increasingly looks east, whether hoping for trade or fretting about China’s military heft. In the Himalayas China has built roads, railways and other infrastructure along a 3,380-kilometre (2,100-mile) disputed border. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, says his country must build up there too. He will discuss the border with Xi Jinping, China’s president, who will visit India for three days from September 17th. Whatever progress he might make, India is at a strategic disadvantage in the Himalayas, since China looks down on it from the high Tibetan plateau. To compensate, Indian strategists seek advantages elsewhere.

That means bolstering strength at sea. A rising share of India’s growing military budget is being passed to the Indian navy. Three years ago it got just $4.2 billion; this year it has $6.2 billion, or nearly a fifth of total military spending. The navy is reportedly moving vessels and men from its western to its eastern command, which is said to include five guided-missile destroyers, three stealth frigates and a nuclear submarine. An aircraft-carrier is to come later. In the Andaman command a fleet of 15 vessels will expand to 32 in eight years. The army presence will also double, to 6,000.

Those in charge in Port Blair are natural disciples of those late-19th-century strategists who argued that geography and sea power are destiny.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Harvard, Wyss Institute Develop Spleen-like Device for Blood Cleansing

Kang et al


Here we describe a blood-cleansing device for sepsis therapy inspired by the spleen, which can continuously remove pathogens and toxins from blood without first identifying the infectious agent. Blood flowing from an infected individual is mixed with magnetic nanobeads coated with an engineered human opsonin—mannose-binding lectin (MBL)—that captures a broad range of pathogens and toxins without activating complement factors or coagulation. Magnets pull the opsonin-bound pathogens and toxins from the blood; the cleansed blood is then returned back to the individual. The biospleen efficiently removes multiple Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, fungi and endotoxins from whole human blood flowing through a single biospleen unit at up to 1.25 liters per h in vitro. In rats infected with Staphylococcus aureus or Escherichia coli, the biospleen cleared >90% of bacteria from blood, reduced pathogen and immune cell infiltration in multiple organs and decreased inflammatory cytokine levels. In a model of endotoxemic shock, the biospleen increased survival rates after a 5-h treatment.

Bitcoin Stable, DogeCoin Surges

Bitcoin has continued its uncharacteristic streak of stability over the weekend, with its price never straying far from $478 (£294, €370).

Most other major cryptocurrencies have followed in the example set by bitcoin, as litecoin, peercoin, darkcoin and namecoin all shifted by less than 2% in value since Friday.

The only big player to see any significant movement was dogecoin, which saw its market capitalisation surge to £40m.

A Robopocalyptic Flying Car: Israeli AirMule VTOL UAV is Entering Flight Tests

An Israeli company that spent a decade developing an autonomous, unmanned vertical takeoff and landing craft utilizing internal lift rotors says its first prototype is now going through flight tests and it’s at work on a second prototype.

Called the AirMule, the rotorcraft is envisioned for use as an unmanned transport – ferrying supplies into a combat zone or taking out wounded – operating in areas where helicopters and fixed-wing planes cannot.

Defense Tech first came across this work-in progress in 2009, when Urban Aeronautics Ltd. of Israel was preparing to demonstrate flight tests using a smaller, electrically-driven model to validate the basic technology. It now has a full-scale version being put through its paces.

Tactical Robotics Ltd., the UA subsidiary now handling development of the AirMule, says the vehicle will weigh 1,700 lbs, carry a payload of 1,400 pounds and fly at a maximum altitude of 12,000 feet. It will also make speeds of about 112 miles per hour.

Gen Heithold: I Want a Directed Energy Weapon for Special Forces in 2017 Budget

The head of Air Force Special Operations Command says he is in the market for a directed energy beam weapon and plans to look at acquisitions possibilities as part of the 2017 defense budget.

Such a weapon could be used to knock out communications and power stations without the devastation and loss of life caused by bombs, rockets and missiles — something Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold said was on the mind of many who lived through Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989.

The operation to grab one-time U.S. ally and Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.

“All we really had were kinetic rounds coming out of the airplane and really what you were trying to do was dismantle the Panamanian defense forces, wall them off and do the mission we had in hand,” said Heithold at a meeting with reporters Monday during the 2014 Air & Space Conference in Washington.

There are capabilities already being put to him, he said, but the timing and perhaps the technology still is not right.

“I’m a fan of looking at directed energy weapons, more of a fan of non-lethal directed energy weapons, so I’ve always kept [planning] space on my AC-130s for them,” he said. His 1998 paper suggested taking out the 20mm gun and replacing it with a directed energy weapon, but the technology at the time required a space the size of a small conference room.

US Air Force Expects to Have Awarded LRS-B Nuclear Bomber Contract by Spring/Summer 2015

The Air Force plans to award a contract to build its new bomber to a single vendor by next spring or summer as part of its ongoing effort to engineer a stealthy long range bomber that can evade advanced air defenses, service leaders said Sept. 15 at the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

“We’re about ready to enter into the next phase of the bomber. We’ve spent the last couple of years refining the requirements and maturing the technology. Within the next year we will down-select to one contractor and then start the heavy lifting of building the first bomber and testing,” Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy for Air Force acquisition, told Military​.com in an interview.

The new Long-Range Strike Bomber program, or LRS-B, plans to have new planes in the fleet by the mid-2020s. The Air Force ultimately plans to acquire as many as 80 to 100 new bombers for a price of roughly $550 million per plane, she added.

The Air Force has made the Long Range Strike Bomber one of its top priorities and successfully protected it from the cuts other weapons programs have sustained.

The Paleoenvironment From the Late Pleistocene to Early Holocene Quaternary at the El Mirón Cave (Spain)

Investigation of Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene palaeoenvironmental change at El Mirón cave (Cantabria, Spain): Insights from carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of red deer


Stevens et al


El Mirón Cave was occupied by humans for over 40,000 years. Evidence of Late Mousterian, Gravettian, Solutrean, Magdalenian, Azilian, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age and Mediaeval occupations has been found in the cave. Understanding the local environmental conditions during the occupations is crucial for gaining an insight into the lifeways of El Mirón's inhabitants as they relied on the surrounding region and its natural resources for their subsistence. 170 bones of hunted red deer recovered from the cave were sampled for carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses with the aim of reconstructing the palaeoenvironment and palaeoclimate during the human occupation. The results show that the surrounding landscape underwent considerable environmental change during the Late Pleistocene and Early to Mid-Holocene. Shifts in δ13C values between the Last Glacial Maximum, Heinrich stadial 1, Heinrich event 1, the Late-glacial interstadial and the onset of the Holocene are likely to reflect changes in water availability and temperature. Deer δ15N generally increased over time indicating the regeneration of soil biological activity and nitrogen cycling, which was temporarily halted during the Younger Dryas. Comparison of the El Mirón results with those of 300 deer from other regions of Europe shows geographical variations in the timing and magnitude of the variation in δ13C and δ15N values. This variation tracks local climate (temperature and water availability) and environmental (vegetation and forest development) changes.

Lunar Gravity Insufficient for Human Orientation?

Keeping upright in a low-gravity environment is not easy, and NASA documents abound with examples of astronauts falling on the lunar surface. Now, a new study by an international team of researchers led by York University professors Laurence Harris and Michael Jenkin, published today in PLOS ONE, suggests that the reason for all these moon mishaps might be because its gravity isn't sufficient to provide astronauts with unambiguous information on which way is "up".

"The perception of the relative orientation of oneself and the world is important not only to balance, but also for many other aspects of perception including recognizing faces and objects and predicting how objects are going to behave when dropped or thrown," says Harris. "Misinterpreting which way is up can lead to perceptual errors and threaten balance if a person uses an incorrect reference point to stabilize themselves."

Using a short-arm centrifuge provided by the European Space Agency, the international team simulated gravitational fields of different strengths, and used a York-invented perceptual test to measure the effectiveness of gravity in determining the perception of up. The team found that the threshold level of gravity needed to just influence a person's orientation judgment was about 15 per cent of the level found on Earth – very close to that on the moon.

The team also found that Martian gravity, at 38 per cent of that on Earth, should be sufficient for astronauts to orient themselves and maintain balance on any future manned missions to Mars.

Increased Hunting Pressure Evidence from Paleolithic/Aurignacian Greece

Optimal Foraging, Dietary Change, and Site Use during the Paleolithic at Klissoura Cave 1 (Southern Greece)




This paper evaluates a long sequence of zooarchaeological remains from Klissoura Cave 1 (southern Greece) within the paradigm of evolutionary ecology. The prey choice, central place foraging, and patch choice models are applied to the dataset in order to understand subsistence shifts related to local resource depression and changes in the intensity of site use from the Middle Paleolithic through Mesolithic. Major trends in prey choice indicate that Middle Paleolithic hominins tended to focus on high-ranked large game resources, while Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic occupants shifted to lower-ranked small game, fast-moving animals in particular. Overarching shifts in prey use do not correspond to environmental change, so they likely reflect human impacts on local prey populations. Reconstructions of body part profiles indicate that hunters exploited large game animals locally, possibly as they passed through the gorge or drank at a nearby stream. Occupation intensity at the site was highest at the beginning of the Aurignacian, which is reflected by an increase in material culture such as lithics and hearth features, as well as different subsistence strategies. Specifically, bone marrow processing is more important, evidenced by ungulate transport decisions that focus on marrow-rich elements, and an overall increase in marrow processing intensity. Environmental data indicate that conditions in southern Greece were particularly favorable at the beginning of the Aurignacian, which supported rich ungulate faunas and larger populations of their hominin predators in the area. In general, faunal data from Klissoura Cave 1 fit within larger trends found in the Mediterranean over the course of the Late Pleistocene, which indicate that human hunting pressures were on the rise. However, many aspects of prey use are specific to Klissoura Cave 1, reflecting unique environmental and cultural circumstances of southern Greece at various phases in the occupation of the site.

Lakukullus anatisrostratus: a new Miocene Neogene Nothrotheriid Sloth From Bolivia

Lakukullus anatisrostratus, gen. et sp. nov., a new massive nothrotheriid sloth (Xenarthra, Pilosa) from the middle Miocene of Bolivia


Pujos et al


Xenarthra constitute one of the most representative groups of South American endemic mammals. The armored Cingulata is recorded beginning in the Itaboraian SALMA (lower Eocene; Pujos et al., 2012). Its sister group is Pilosa, which includes Tardigrada, the sloths, and Vermilingua, the South American anteaters.

Sloths appear during the Eocene–Oligocene transition (Tinguirirican SALMA) in Chile, represented by Pseudoglyptodon (McKenna et al., 2006). The late Oligocene Deseadan SALMA saw the emergence of Mylodontidae (e.g., Octodontotherium and Orophodon) and Megalonychidae (e.g., Deseadognathus) in Patagonia and the Bolivian altiplano (Pujos et al., 2007). Megatherioidea appear later during the middle Miocene, Megatheriidae in the Santacrucian SALMA (i.e., Megathericulus; Pujos et al., 2013), and Nothrotheriidae in the Huayquerian SALMA (i.e., Mionothropus; De Iuliis et al., 2011). According to De Iuliis et al. (2011), Nothrotheriidae is supported by 13 unequivocal synapomorphies and includes at least five genera: Mionothropus, Pronothrotherium, Thalassocnus, Nothrotherium, and Nothrotheriops. Several possible nothrotheriids, generally represented by poor material, have been described from Colombia (Huilabradys), Argentina (e.g., Nothropus, Chasicobradys, Amphibradys, and Xyophorus), and Bolivia (Xyophorus and Hiskatherium). Those from Argentina are poorly diagnosed, cannot certainly be differentiated morphologically from other taxa such as Hapalops, and are likely invalid. Nothropus priscus is exclusive to the Pleistocene of Argentina and is not present in the Amazon (see De Iuliis et al., 2011, for further details). By its central geographical position in South America, the present territory of Bolivia (Fig. 1) has played an important role in the evolution and diversity of mammals during the Paleogene and Neogene periods (Croft, 2007), although few nothrotheriids have been recorded from this country. St.-Andr e (1996) assigned a dentary and an astragalus to Xyophorus villarroeli from the Huayquerian SALMA of Achiri; previously this genus was known from the Santacrucian (Ameghino, 1887, 1891, 1894) and Chasicoan of Argentina with X. bondesioi (Scillato-Yan e, 1979). A partial skull and mandible of X. villarroeli is also recorded from the Laventan SALMA of Quebrada Honda (D Hapalops angustipalatus Frailey, 1988; Fig. 3 A–D; see Scillato-Yan e and Carlini, 1999, for further details), which also yielded the dentary of the peculiar Megatherioidea Hiskatherium saintandrei, recently described by Pujos et al. (2011). Croft et al. (2009) noted the presence of Xyophorus cf. bondesioi in the Friasian SALMA of Cerdas.

The Laventan SALMA Quebrada Honda vertebrate locality was identified by Hoffstetter (1977). Croft (2007) presented the most recent list of the vertebrate fauna, which includes the marsupials Didelphimorphia, Paucituberculata, and Sparassodonta, native ungulates Litopterna, Notoungulata, and Astrapotheria, five rodent clades (Dasyproctidae, Eocardiidae, Octodontidae, Echimyidae, and Chinchillidae), and xenarthrans, represented by dasypodids, glyptodontids, and sloths. Three sloths have previously been reported from Quebrada Honda: the nothrotheriid Xyophorus villarroeli, the megatherioid Hiskatherium saintandrei, and a mylodontid indet. (Takai et al., 1984). Here we describe the fourth sloth, a massive Nothrotheriidae.

Evidence of Hydrothermal Fluid, Escaping CO2 & Black Shale Interaction From Rhyacian PaleoProterozoic China

Fluid evolution of the Paleoproterozoic Hujiayu copper deposit in the Zhongtiaoshan region: Evidence from fluid inclusions and carbon-oxygen isotopes


Jiang et al


The Zhongtiaoshan region, located in the southern margin of the North China Craton, is the host to a number of metamorphosed sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits. These deposits are hosted by dolomitic marble and silicic albitite of the mid-Paleoproterozoic Zhongtiao Group and contain economically significant copper and cobalt. The formation of these deposits is considered to be closely associated with the evolution of the Paleoproterozoic “Zhongtiao” rift. The Hujiayu deposit, the second largest Cu deposit of this type, is mainly hosted in silicic albitite and dolomitic marble in the upper part of the Bizigou Formation but locally extends into carbonaceous shales at the bottom of the Yujiashan Formation. Mineralization of the Hujiayu Cu deposit can be divided into an early stage (diagenetic stage) with disseminated to veinlet sulfides and a late stage (metamorphism stage) with coarse-vein sulfides. Mineral assemblages are similar for the two stages, with major minerals as chalcopyrite, pyrite, and pyrrhotite and main gangue minerals as dolomite and quartz. Sulfide veinlets formed in the early stage are thin and discrete, and have irregular boundaries with the host rocks; whereas the ore-bearing veins of the late stage are controlled by fractures.

Five types of fluid inclusions are recognized in the Hujiayu Cu deposit and they are: (1) pure vapor and vapor-rich inclusion (V-type), (2) pure CO2 inclusion (PC-type), (3) CO2-H2O inclusion (C-type), (4) liquid-rich inclusion (L-type), and (5) daughter mineral-bearing inclusion (S-type). Microthermometric analysis shows that the ore-forming fluids of the early mineralization stage are characterized by high salinity (22-40 wt.% NaCl equiv.) and moderate temperature (120-280 °C). The ore-forming fluids of the late mineralization stage are characterized by CO2 enrichment, high salinity, high temperature and underwent significant unmixing at a temperature interval of 240 °C to 480 °C. Compositions of the ore-forming fluids in the early and late stages are interpreted to be mainly basinal brine and metamorphic hydrothermal solution, respectively. Carbon and oxygen isotope compositions suggest possible carbon isotope exchange between the ore-forming fluids and organic-rich carbonaceous shales during the early stage. In the late mineralization stage, both degassing of CO2 and isotopic exchange with organic carbon may have contributed to the formation of the more negative δ13CV-PDB values of mineralized carbonates.

The early stage mineralization of the Hujiayu Cu deposit may have occurred via interaction of oxidized Cu-bearing brines from the red-bed in the lower segment of the Bizigou Formation with the overlying reductive carbonaceous shales. Late stage mineralization at Hujiayu was mainly triggered by CO2 escaping from metamorphic hydrothermal solutions.

Florida Reefs Experiencing 2 deg F Higher Water Temperatures, Endangered

Late-summer water temperatures near the Florida Keys were warmer by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last several decades compared to a century earlier, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Researchers indicate that the warmer water temperatures are stressing corals and increasing the number of bleaching events, where corals become white resulting from a loss of their symbiotic algae. The corals can starve to death if the condition is prolonged.

"Our analysis shows that corals in the study areas are now regularly experiencing temperatures above 84 F during July, August and September; average temperatures that were seldom reached 120 years ago," said Ilsa Kuffner, a USGS research marine biologist and the study's lead author. "When corals are exposed to water temperatures above 84 F they grow more slowly and, during extended exposure periods, can stop growing altogether or die."

The new analysis compares water temperatures during two time periods a century apart at two of Florida's historic offshore lighthouses – Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, off Miami, and Carysfort Reef Lighthouse, off Key Largo, Florida. The first period included data from 1879 to 1912, while the second period spanned from 1991 to 2012. Temperatures at a third area, a reef off Islamorada, Florida, were also monitored from 1975 to 2007.

"What's interesting is that the temperature increase observed during this recent 32-year period was as large as that measured at the lighthouses spanning 120 years," said Kuffner. "This makes it likely the warming observed at the lighthouses has actually occurred since the 1970s."

The study indicates that August is consistently the month when Florida's ocean temperatures peak. In the analysis of recent decades, average temperatures for August have been at or very close to 86 F. At Fowey Lighthouse from 1879 to 1912, the average August temperature was just 84.2 F. Temperatures this August at the same location, though not included in the study, averaged 87 F.

Russians Successfully Launch Bulava SLBM From Borey Class Vladimir Monomakh SSBN

On September 10, 2014 the Vladimir Monomakh submarine of the Project 995 Borey class successfully launched a Bulava missile from the White Sea toward the Kura test site at Kamchatka (this video appears to show the actual launch. UPDATE: No, it's probably a launch of a R-29RM Sineva/Liner. See the discussion in comments). According to the ministry of defense, the launch was part of the state tests of the submarine, which is expected to join the fleet later this year. All warheads were said to successfully reach their targets.

This was the first Bulava launch after the September 2013 failure.

Catalonia Threatens "Practically Impossible" to Stop Independence Referendum

Catalonia's president warned Wednesday it was "practically impossible" to stop the region voting on secession from Spain and looked to Scotland to smooth the way with its own independence referendum.

Artur Mas, who has defied Madrid by calling a vote on independence for the rich northeastern region on November 9, predicted Scotland would stay in the European Union even if it chooses independence and drew hope from that for his own cause.

"If the Catalan population wants to vote on its future, it's practically impossible to stop that forever," Mas told AFP in an interview on the eve of Catalonia's annual national day, the Diada.

The commemoration this year is more politically charged than ever, coming just a week before Scotland holds a referendum on independence from the rest of Britain, and less than two months before the date set for the Catalan vote.

Spain's national government fiercely opposes any move towards independence for Catalonia. It has branded the planned vote illegal and vowed to block it.

"I think it's absurd to pretend that could be so and I think the Spanish government will have to realise that," Mas said.

In contrast to Madrid's stance on Catalonia, the British government has agreed to let Scots vote in a referendum even though it is against Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom.

Mas said Scotland's vote could smooth the way for Catalonia on its own drive for independence.

"If a nation such as Scotland can vote, why not Catalonia?" Mas said.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Details of Google's Self Driving Car Tests in Nevada Revealed by IEEE Spectrum

Regulations governing Google’s experimental self-driving cars will come into effect on California’s roads starting 16 September. They have driven more than 1 million kilometers since the company started secretly developing them in 2009, but they have been tested only once by a government body on open roads—by Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) officials in May 2012.

IEEE Spectrum has now obtained the driving log of this test, and e-mails referring to it, under Freedom of Information legislation. Some of this information is not new. For example, Nevada officials shared that the Google’s autonomous Toyota Prius passed the test almost immediately. What has not been revealed until now, however, is that Google chose the test route and set limits on the road and weather conditions that the vehicle could encounter, and that its engineers had to take control of the car twice during the drive.

First Cryptocurrency (bitcoin) Derivative Launches

Good news for Bitcoin enthusiasts: TeraExchange today launched a swap based on the cryptocurrency.

It is the first financial product based on Bitcoin to receive approval from the Commodity Futures Trading Commision, as Reuters’ Douwe Miedema reports:

The derivative allows clients to protect the value of their bitcoin holdings by locking in a dollar value, offering an insurance against the astronomical price swings that have plagued the computer-generated currency.

“For a merchant to take bitcoin, there wasn’t until this product a regulated way for them to put on a hedge to manage the risk … and now with this product they can,” Christian Martin, who heads TeraExchange, told Reuters.
The launch comes nearly six months after TeraExchange announced plans for the swap this spring. As Miedema writes, “The Tera Bitcoin Price Index was based on information from six different exchanges, the company said, a number it expected to grow. It had agreed with the exchanges to share information if there were suspicious price moves.”

US Navy Secretary: UCLASS to be More Than a Recon Drone

The U.S. Navy's planned unmanned plane for use on aircraft carriers should eventually be able to take on additional roles besides just surveillance, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said on Wednesday.

The Navy last week said it had delayed this month's planned kickoff of a competition for the new carrier-based unmanned spy plane, citing affordability concerns and a Pentagon-wide review of intelligence and surveillance programs.

Mabus addressed the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance Strike (UCLASS) program during the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit, but stopped short of calling the delay a setback for the program.

"It's going through a process at (the Office of the Secretary of Defense) to take a broader look at programs," he said, adding that decisions about the program's future would likely be included in the Pentagon's fiscal 2016 budget request.

Companies interested in the competition include Northrop Grumman Corp, maker of the X-47B unmanned, unarmed plane that has already been tested on U.S. carriers, Boeing Co, Lockheed Martin Corp, and privately held General Atomics, which builds the popular Predator unmanned planes used by the U.S. Air Force and other government agencies.

Congress has been debating what the range and armaments should be for the Navy's next-generation unmanned plane.

US Navy Testing "Universal" Operating System for Unmanned Aerial Systems

The US Navy has begun testing the software that eventually will control all of its maritime unmanned air vehicles and will initially be installed in the unmanned carrier-launched surveillance and strike (UCLASS) vehicle.

US Naval Air Systems Command announced on 10 September that engineers at NAS Patuxent River had installed the latest version of the common control system (CCS) software on a simulator based on the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton control station. The common software will eventually be the baseline for navy UAS, including the Triton and MQ-8 Fire Scout rotary wing UAS.

CCS is the control and connectivity leg of the three-part UCLASS programme. The other two legs are the UCLASS air vehicle and its physical control station aboard a carrier. Integration and testing of all three systems will be done at Pax River’s laboratory.

The navy already has demonstrated the feasibility of a stealthy, tailless carrier-based UAS with the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air systems demonstrator (UCAS-D) programme. That aircraft in August successfully launched from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, flew in formation with a Boeing F/A-18D Hornet and returned to the ship’s deck.

A final request for proposals from industry was expected following a meeting of a defence acquisition board scheduled for 10 September, but the meeting was delayed as the Navy reviews how to proceed with UCLASS in regard to the 2016 budgeting process. Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems already were awarded preliminary design review contracts for the air vehicle last year.

“One of the premises that started CCS was not rebuilding the software that we needed for every UAS every time,” CCS team lead Jeff Davis says in a statement. “We focused on using existing products that we have within the Navy inventory to provide that first baseline going forward for the next UAS, in this case UCLASS. As a result, this allows development investment to focus on the future — the new capabilities that you can bring to the fleet.”

United States Calls Revised Sino-Russian Spcae Weapons Ban "Fundamentally Flawed"

A U.S. review of an updated Chinese-Russian treaty proposal to ban weapons in space finds that it suffers from the same problems that made the original version unacceptable, an American diplomat said.

Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said Sept. 9 that the United States had completed an in-depth review of the revised treaty, formally known as the “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects” and generally referred to as PPWT. China and Russia had submitted an update to their original 2008 proposal in June.

“According to the U.S. analysis, the draft PPWT, like the earlier 2008 version, remains fundamentally flawed,” Wood said in his prepared remarks for a plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament.

Wood, in his speech, cited a number of issues with the PPWT, including the lack of a verification mechanism and no restrictions on the development and stockpiling of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons on the ground. That means, he said, a nation “could develop a readily deployable space-based weapons break-out capability” should it decide to withdraw from the treaty.

Dung Beetles Probably did NOT Feed on Dinosaur Droppings

The evolution of scarab beetles tracks the sequential rise of angiosperms and mammals


Ahrens et al


Extant terrestrial biodiversity arguably is driven by the evolutionary success of angiosperm plants, but the evolutionary mechanisms and timescales of angiosperm-dependent radiations remain poorly understood. The Scarabaeoidea is a diverse lineage of predominantly plant- and dung-feeding beetles. Here, we present a phylogenetic analysis of Scarabaeoidea based on four DNA markers for a taxonomically comprehensive set of specimens and link it to recently described fossil evidence. The phylogeny strongly supports multiple origins of coprophagy, phytophagy and anthophagy. The ingroup-based fossil calibration of the tree widely confirmed a Jurassic origin of the Scarabaeoidea crown group. The crown groups of phytophagous lineages began to radiate first (Pleurostict scarabs: 108 Ma; Glaphyridae between 101 Ma), followed by the later diversification of coprophagous lineages (crown-group age Scarabaeinae: 76 Ma; Aphodiinae: 50 Ma). Pollen feeding arose even later, at maximally 62 Ma in the oldest anthophagous lineage. The clear time lag between the origins of herbivores and coprophages suggests an evolutionary path driven by the angiosperms that first favoured the herbivore fauna (mammals and insects) followed by the secondary radiation of the dung feeders. This finding makes it less likely that extant dung beetle lineages initially fed on dinosaur excrements, as often hypothesized.

Space Property Bill Gets Mixed Reception in Congress

A bill that would grant property rights and other protections for commercial asteroid mining ventures received a mixed reception at a hearing of the House Science space subcommittee Sept. 10.

H.R. 5063, the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities In Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act, would grant U.S. companies the rights to resources they extract from asteroids. The bill would also allow companies to take legal action if they suffered “harmful interference” during those activities by other entities under U.S. jurisdiction.

At the hearing, though, one space law expert raised questions about the bill’s language. “My professional opinion is that the ASTEROIDS Act, as written, is very, very vague,” said Joanne Gabrynowicz, professor emerita of space and remote sensing law at the University of Mississippi. “Strictly from reading the text, and based on legal knowledge, it definitely needs work.”

Gabrynowicz said she was concerned about the use of the term “harmful interference” in the bill. While the phrase is used in accords like the Outer Space Treaty, it refers to exploration activities by nations, not private entities. “Harmful interference has never been used that way in the treaties. It’s a completely novel application of that term of art,” she said.

That, she said, could raise questions about what constituted such interference.

She added that international legal opinion is divided on whether an entity that extracts space resources then owns those resources, ownership that the bill would recognize. “What we are talking about is resource extraction, which is a very volatile and contentious issue at the international level,” she said. “There will be a great deal of political and legal discussion catalyzed by this.”

One key member suggested that, because of those issues, the committee delay work on the bill until next year. “We could easily postpone our consideration” of the bill to carry out “additional, more in-depth explorations in the next Congress,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), ranking member of the space subcommittee.

Boom/Bust Demographic Patterns in Neolithic Europe

Reconstructing regional population fluctuations in the European Neolithic using radiocarbon dates: a new case-study using an improved method


Timpson et al


In a previous study we presented a new method that used summed probability distributions (SPD) of radiocarbon dates as a proxy for population levels, and Monte-Carlo simulation to test the significance of the observed fluctuations in the context of uncertainty in the calibration curve and archaeological sampling. The method allowed us to identify periods of significant short-term population change, caveated with the fact that around 5% of these periods were false positives. In this study we present an improvement to the method by applying a criterion to remove these false positives from both the simulated and observed distributions, resulting in a substantial improvement to both its sensitivity and specificity. We also demonstrate that the method is extremely robust in the face of small sample sizes. Finally we apply this improved method to radiocarbon datasets from 12 European regions, covering the period 8000 to 4000 BP. As in our previous study, the results reveal a boom-bust pattern for most regions, with population levels rising rapidly after the local arrival of farming, followed by a crash to levels much lower than the peak. The prevalence of this phenomenon, combined with the dissimilarity and lack of synchronicity in the general shapes of the regional SPDs, supports the hypothesis of endogenous causes.

Oh no They Didn't! Ikrandraco avatar: An Aptian Cretaceous Pterosaur From Aptian Cretaceous China

An Early Cretaceous pterosaur with an unusual mandibular crest from China and a potential novel feeding strategy


Wang et al


The Aptian Jiufotang Formation of northeast China is a Konservat Lagerstätte particularly rich in pterosaurs, notably azhdarchoids. Here we describe a new genus and species of toothed pteranodontoid pterosaur, Ikrandraco avatar gen. et sp. nov., based on two laterally flattened specimens. Ikrandraco avatar is diagnosed by a suite of features, including a very low and elongate skull, strongly inclined quadrate, and a deep, blade-like bony mandibular crest with a hook-like process on its posterior edge, an unusual structure so far unique to this taxon. The particular skull shape hints at a distinct feeding habit for pterosaurs that potentially includes temporary skimming and an extensible skin acting as a throat pouch that was more developed than in any other pterosaur known so far. The presence of two other taxa of purported piscivorous pterosaurs in the Jiufotang Formation suggests distinct resource exploitation in this part of China during the Early Cretaceous.

Spinosaurus was Really a Croc, erm, Parallel Evolution to a Croc

Semiaquatic adaptations in a giant predatory dinosaur


Ibrahim et al


We describe adaptations for a semiaquatic lifestyle in the dinosaur Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. These adaptations include retraction of the fleshy nostrils to a position near the mid-region of the skull and an elongate neck and trunk that shift the center of body mass anterior to the knee joint. Unlike terrestrial theropods, the pelvic girdle is downsized, the hind limbs are short, and all of the limb bones are solid without an open medullary cavity, for buoyancy control in water. The short, robust femur with hypertrophied flexor attachment and the low, flat-bottomed pedal claws are consistent with aquatic foot-propelled locomotion. Surface striations and bone microstructure suggest that the dorsal “sail” may have been enveloped in skin that functioned primarily for display on land and in water.

Evidence of Supercontinent Wilson Cycle From the Central Tianshan Arc Terrane, NW China

Geochemistry and geochronology of the Precambrian high-grade metamorphic complex in the Southern Central Tianshan ophiolitic mélange, NW China


Wang et al


The Central Tianshan Arc Terrane is one of the major constituents of the Tianshan orogen in the southwestern Altaids. Thus its Precambrian evolution is important for unraveling the geodynamic and continental evolution of the Altaids. Biotite-plagioclase-hornblende orthogneisses intruded by leucogranite dykes are exposed as exotic blocks within the Southern Central Tianshan ophiolitic mélange. Zircon U–Pb age dating of one orthogneiss sample yields an upper intercept age of 2466 ± 51 Ma and a weighted mean 207Pb/206Pb age of 1812 ± 19 Ma around the lower intercept. These ages are interpreted as protolith crystallization age and subsequent metamorphic overprint age, respectively. The orthogneisses have moderate SiO2 contents, high MgO and Na2O contents, high Sr/Y ratios (32–43) and moderately fractionated REE patterns ([La/Yb]N = 7.59–13.64) with negligible Eu anomalies, enriched Sr contents and pronounced negative Th–U, Nb–Ta, Zr–Hf and Ti anomalies resembling high-SiO2 TTGs derived from subducted basaltic slab-melts. Positive ɛHf(t) values (+3.4 to +9.2) and low (176Hf/177Hf)i ratios (0.281304–0.281469) with Neoarchaean to early Paleoproterozoic single-stage Hf model ages (TDM1 = 2431–2652 Ma) suggest that the orthogneisses probably originated from partial melting of juvenile subducted oceanic crust. The orthogneisses were subsequently also affected by collisional orogenic events associated with the assembly of the supercontinent Columbia. In contrast, the zircon U–Pb age of 785 ± 15 Ma obtained for the intrusive leucogranite dykes is consistent with the timing of rifting events associated with the breakup of Rodinia. The leucogranites have a high-Al trondhjemitic composition characterized by extremely low MgO and K2O contents as well as high SiO2, Al2O3 and Na2O contents, dramatically low ∑REE abundances and REE patterns with moderate LREE enrichments ([La/Yb]N = 3.55–8.4) and pronounced positive Eu anomalies (Eu/Eu* = 1.29–2.61). The high zircon initial Hf compositions (0.281670–0.281841) and negative ɛHf(t) values (-21.7 to -15.4), in conjunction with high whole-rock initial 87Sr/86Sr ratios (0.70737–0.70751) and negative ɛNd(t) values (-4.7 to -5.1) suggest that the leucogranite resulted from reworking of ancient lower crust. Based on the presented data we conclude that the Central Tianshan Arc Terrane has undergone three tectonothermal events, namely ∼2.5 Ga continental crustal growth, ∼1.8 Ga collision related to the Columbia assembly and ∼785 Ma crustal reworking due to the Rodinia breakup. The Central Tianshan Arc Terrane, which experienced the same tectonic events as the Tarim Craton during the Precambrian, is considered to be a micro-Precambrian block that separated from the Tarim Craton during the Rodinia breakup.

Rare, Endangered African Amphibian Distrbitution NOT Modeled Under Climate Change

An international team of researchers has found that the majority of threatened species are 'invisible' when using modern methods to predict species distributions under climate change.

Using African amphibians as a case study, the researchers found that more than 90 per cent of the species listed as threatened on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are omitted by the most popular tools for species distribution modelling.

The study, led by researchers from the Universities of York and Copenhagen and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in Cambridge, is published in the journal Diversity and Distributions.

Dr Philip Platts, lead author and Research Fellow with York's Environment Department, said: "Modern methods to predict species distributions under climate change typically leave out rare and threatened species - the ones that currently underpin global spending on conservation. This is because those species, almost by definition, have too few data for their spatial distributions to be modelled using standard tools. We looked at whether missing them out makes a difference for conservation priority setting, either now or under future climates."

The researchers found that under the current climate, statistical restrictions on species distribution modelling means that important sites for narrow-ranging and threatened species are systematically down-played. They say this issue spans many species-groups and is only partially mitigated by modelling at finer spatial scales.

However, when they looked at climate change in the future, they found that persistence among both narrow and wide-ranging species is likely to be highest in sites already identified for conservation investment. Many such sites are projected to experience lower rates of climatic change, echoing historical processes underlying their importance. The wealth of species accumulated, in part, because they were able to persist during large-scale climatic shifts.

China Unveils Boston Dynamics Big Dog Knock-off, Other Unmanned Advances

In early September Norinco revealed a "Mountain Quadruped Bionic Mobile Platform": a four-leg walking unmanned ground vehicle. A brief mention in a Chinese press report noted that it could perform transport, reconnaissance or combat missions or could be used for disaster relief in mountainous areas.

The same article noted that it weighs 130 kg while carrying a payload of 50 kg at a maximum speed of 6 km/h. It can traverse a 30 degree slope and has an endurance of two hours. An image showed it carrying four backpacks.

Royal Bank of Scotland, Other Banks to Relocate to London if Little Scotlanders Win

Scotland's leading banks warned Thursday that they would move their headquarters to England if Scots vote to leave the United Kingdom, intensifying doubts about the territory's economic future and dealing a blow to the Scottish independence campaign just days ahead of a historic referendum.

Although the banks say the contingency plans are legal procedures that would have a minimal effect on their operations and jobs in Scotland, the warnings renewed concerns about an independent Scotland's ability to retain businesses — particularly during the long months of financial uncertainty that would follow a vote to break the 307-year union with England.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, which has been based there since 1727, said it drew up the plans because of uncertainties that could hurt its business and customers if the Sept. 18 vote leads to independence. Lloyds Banking Group, which owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland, said it also had plans to set up new "legal entities" in England if the independence campaign succeeds.

The vote "could have a bearing on the bank's credit ratings and the fiscal, monetary, legal and regulatory landscape to which it is subject," RBS said in a statement.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where and why Languages go Extinct

Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk


Amano et al


Many of the world's languages face serious risk of extinction. Efforts to prevent this cultural loss are severely constrained by a poor understanding of the geographical patterns and drivers of extinction risk. We quantify the global distribution of language extinction risk—represented by small range and speaker population sizes and rapid declines in the number of speakers—and identify the underlying environmental and socioeconomic drivers. We show that both small range and speaker population sizes are associated with rapid declines in speaker numbers, causing 25% of existing languages to be threatened based on criteria used for species. Language range and population sizes are small in tropical and arctic regions, particularly in areas with high rainfall, high topographic heterogeneity and/or rapidly growing human populations. By contrast, recent speaker declines have mainly occurred at high latitudes and are strongly linked to high economic growth. Threatened languages are numerous in the tropics, the Himalayas and northwestern North America. These results indicate that small-population languages remaining in economically developed regions are seriously threatened by continued speaker declines. However, risks of future language losses are especially high in the tropics and in the Himalayas, as these regions harbour many small-population languages and are undergoing rapid economic growth.

Bank of England's Take on Bitcoin

Is bitcoin irrelevant to the U.K. economy? Well perhaps the biggest authority on that, the Bank of England, has weighed in on the cryptocurrency today, and its conclusion is basically thus: While bitcoins in circulation in the U.K. pose no threat to the financial system, and perhaps never will, the technology raises interesting possibilities that could one day have ramifications for stocks, other financial products and even physical assets like gold.

The bank estimates some 20,000 people (of a nation of 60 million at the moment) in the U.K. hold bitcoins. And daily transactions number about 300 or so.

As a proportion of the U.K. economy that’s obviously tiny: In all the £60 million of bitcoins circulating in the U.K. represent a tiny 0.003% of British broad money balances. All of which means that bitcoin currently represents no financial stability risk to Britain.

What’s more, there are reasons to believe that Bitcoin’s relative importance to the economy won’t grow much, the BOE’s economists add. Why? Well, although one of the prime attractions to bitcoin is how cheaply it can be transacted, its design suggests transaction fees would rise with usage and that could limit interest.

And its attractiveness as a medium of exchange is also limited by its volatility. With bitcoin’s total supply limited in advance, it won’t be able to respond to normal economic fluctuations in demand. So where a central bank can adjust liquidity to meet economic conditions, a bitcoin based economy would see the electronic currency’s value swing violently.

But the bank, which has touched on bitcoin before but has never opined in this level of detail, says all this doesn’t mean its uptake couldn’t change in future.

NY's Proposed Undeground 'Lowline' Park

Perhaps these guys ought to talk to yesterday's mass producer of forests...otherwise this will look like a mall...bleh.

Pentagon Wants to buy 8 F-35s, 12 AH-64Es With Supplemental Wartime Funding

The Pentagon has asked the US Congress for permission to move just over USD1.9 billion in supplemental wartime funding, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, into specific procurement accounts, with over half of that amount going to aircraft purchases.

The reprogramming request, dated 9 September and viewed by IHS Jane's , asks for USD404,000 million for 12 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to replace 21 Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters lost in combat.

Miocene Neogene Paleoenvironment of Bulgaria

Late Miocene vegetation and climate reconstruction based on pollen data from the Sofia Basin (West Bulgaria)


Hristova et al


The analysis of fossil palynomorh assemblages in the Late Miocene freshwater sediments of the Sofia Basin (West Bulgaria) was done to collect data on the vegetation and climate dynamics during the Late Miocene. On the basis of pollen data, we described the main palaeocomunities developed in the region. The mixed mesophytic forests dominated the vegetation in which species of Quercus, Ulmus, Zelkova, Fagus, Carpinus, Betula, Castanea, Corylus, Pterocarya, Carya, Juglans, and Eucommia played important roles. Swamp forests were also recorded, including Taxodiaceae, Alnus, Glyptostrobus, Nyssa, and Myrica. Herbaceous vegetation was distributed in the middle part of the section, with a maximum of 35.5%. The vegetation dynamic passes through several phases, which were associated with changes in paleoclimate and palaeoecological conditions. Coexistence Approach (CA) was applied to palynological data to calculate four climatic parameters. The values of coexistence intervals for mean annual temperatures are 13.6–16.6 °C, with winter temperatures being 3.7–6.6 °C and summer temperatures being 23.6–27.8 °C. Mean annual precipitation ranged most frequently between 828–1308 mm. The palaeoclimatic reconstruction illustrates existence of a warm-temperate and relatively humid climate with higher mean annual temperature than the present day climate.

China Plans to Launch 2nd Small Space Station in 2016

China will launch its second orbiting space laboratory in two years' time, a top official said Wednesday, the latest step in an ambitious space programme Beijing says will one day land a Chinese man on the moon.

Astronaut Yang Liwei, who in 2003 became China's first man in space and is now deputy director of the country's manned space programme, made the announcement at the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) congress in Beijing.

"We are going to launch the spacelab Tiangong-2 in 2016, and then we will launch Shenzhou-11 and then Tianzhou-1 cargo spaceship to dock on the spacelab," he said.

It is the first time China has hosted the annual meeting, which has drawn nearly 100 astronauts from 18 countries to Beijing, in a marker of the country's scientific progress.

Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space programme as a symbol of its rise and the Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

Yang added that Beijing plans to launch an experimental core space station module in 2018 and finish construction of a Chinese space station around 2022.

NASA Completes First Orion Capsule


Tomographically Examining the Taung Child for Clues to Human Brain Evolution

New high-resolution computed tomography data of the Taung partial cranium and endocast and their bearing on metopism and hominin brain evolution


Holloway et al


Falk and colleagues [Falk D, Zollikofer CP, Morimoto N, Ponce de León MS (2012) Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109(22):8467–8470] hypothesized that selective pressures favored late persistence of a metopic suture and open anterior fontanelle early in hominin evolution, and they put an emphasis on the Taung Child (Australopithecus africanus) as evidence for the antiquity of these adaptive features. They suggested three mutually nonexclusive pressures: an “obstetric dilemma,” high early postnatal brain growth rates, and neural reorganization in the frontal cortex. To test this hypothesis, we obtained the first high-resolution computed tomography (CT) data from the Taung hominin. These high-resolution image data and an examination of the hominin fossil record do not support the metopic and fontanelle features proposed by Falk and colleagues. Although a possible remnant of the metopic suture is observed in the nasion–glabella region of the Taung partial cranium (but not along the frontal crest), this character state is incongruent with the zipper model of metopic closure described by Falk and colleagues. Nor do chimpanzee and bonobo endocast data support the assertion that delayed metopic closure in Taung is necessary because of widening (reorganization) of the prefrontal or frontal cortex. These results call into question the adaptive value of delaying metopic closure, and particularly its antiquity in hominin evolution. Further data from hominoids and hominins are required to support the proposed adaptive arguments, particularly an obstetric dilemma placing constraints on neural and cranial development in Australopithecus.

Chinese Oxfordian Jurassic Euharamiyidan Mammals Suggest Allotheria Split From Other Mammals at the Rhaetian/Norian Triassic Boundary

Three new Jurassic euharamiyidan species reinforce early divergence of mammals


Bi et al


The phylogeny of Allotheria, including Multituberculata and Haramiyida, remains unsolved and has generated contentious views on the origin and earliest evolution of mammals. Here we report three new species of a new clade, Euharamiyida, based on six well-preserved fossils from the Jurassic period of China. These fossils reveal many craniodental and postcranial features of euharamiyidans and clarify several ambiguous structures that are currently the topic of debate. Our phylogenetic analyses recognize Euharamiyida as the sister group of Multituberculata, and place Allotheria within the Mammalia. The phylogeny suggests that allotherian mammals evolved from a Late Triassic (approximately 208 million years ago) Haramiyavia-like ancestor and diversified into euharamiyidans and multituberculates with a cosmopolitan distribution, implying homologous acquisition of many craniodental and postcranial features in the two groups. Our findings also favour a Late Triassic origin of mammals in Laurasia and two independent detachment events of the middle ear bones during mammalian evolution.