Friday, October 24, 2014

Ebola's Miocene Neogene Roots

A new study is helping to rewrite Ebola's family history.

The research shows that filoviruses — a family to which Ebola and its similarly lethal relative, Marburg, belong — are at least 16-23 million years old.

Filoviruses likely existed in the Miocene Epoch, and at that time, the evolutionary lines leading to Ebola and Marburg had already diverged, the study concludes.

The research was published in the journal PeerJ in September. It adds to scientists' developing knowledge about known filoviruses, which experts once believed came into being some 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the rise of agriculture. The new study pushes back the family's age to the time when great apes arose.

"Filoviruses are far more ancient than previously thought," says lead researcher Derek Taylor, PhD, a University at Buffalo professor of biological sciences. "These things have been interacting with mammals for a long time, several million years."

According to the PeerJ article, knowing more about Ebola and Marburg's comparative evolution could "affect design of vaccines and programs that identify emerging pathogens."

The research does not address the age of the modern-day Ebolavirus. Instead, it shows that Ebola and Marburg are each members of ancient evolutionary lines, and that these two viruses last shared a common ancestor sometime prior to 16-23 million years ago.

Robopocalypse: McDonald's is Starting to Automate its Fast Food Restaurants

McDonald's this week told financial analysts of its plans to install self-ordering kiosks and mobile ordering at its restaurants. It isn't the only food chain doing this.

The company that owns Chili's Grill & Bar also said this week it will complete a tablet ordering system rollout next month at its U.S. restaurants. Applebee's announced last December that it would deliver tablets to 1,800 restaurants this year.

The pace of self-ordering system deployments appears to be gaining speed. But there's a political element to this and it's best to address it quickly.

Just need to add the burgertron on the back end...

Robopocalypse: Walk Like a Man!

Robopocalypse in Singapore! Autonomous Vehicles Tested! EGADS!

US Navy Starting SSN(X) as Follow-on to Virginia Class Attack Submarine

The U.S. Navy is starting early preparation work to design a new nuclear attack submarine to replace the Virginia-class boats (SSN-774) in the 2030s. The new attack boat would become operational in 2044 after the last Block VII Virginias are built.

“The long range shipbuilding plan is for a new SSN authorized in 2034 in lieu of the eighth block of Virginia-class,” Rear Adm. Dave Johnson, Naval Sea Systems Command’s program executive officer for submarines told the Naval Submarine League Symposium in Falls Church, Va., on Thursday
“2034 may seem far off, but the design research community needs to take action now.”
There will likely be an analysis of alternative for the new submarine—which has tentatively dubbed SSN(X) — in about 10 years or 2024.

That, Johnson said, leaves nine years to identify, design and demonstrate the new technologies the new attack boat will need.

Johnson said that he has formed a small team to work on a five-year plan to begin to do some of that work. The team will consult with industry and will identify the threat environment and technologies the submarine will need to operate against in the 2050 plus timeframe, Johnson said.

One of the areas Johnson has already indentified as critical for SSN(X) is integration with off-board systems. Vice Adm. Mike Connor, Commander of Submarine Force, Atlantic (COMSUBLANT), said that future submarine weapons for both the Virginia and the future SSN(X) would be networked extremely long-ranged weapons.

Some of the concepts include a new prototype torpedo propulsion system from Pennsylvania State University — a torpedo could hit targets that could hit targets more than 200 nautical miles away.

British Aerospace Proposing Railgun for Bradley Fighting Vehicle Replacement

 That's a proof of concept M-1 tank with a low profile turret, but given the 70 tons of the GCV just cancelled...probably not far off.
BAE Systems officials said an electromagnetic rail gun firing a kinetic energy warhead could be a real option for the Army’s next generation Future Fighting Vehicle, which the service hopes to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Following the cancellation of the Ground Combat Vehicle, Army officials said they want the defense industry to offer a wide range of technologies before the Army decides whether to pursue the Future Fighting Vehicle, or an additional Bradley upgrade.

BAE Systems presented a host of possible technologies at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference last week. Among those was a model of the electromagnetic rail gun the company is developing for the Navy.


BAE Systems officials said the rail gun would have to be scaled down if it were to be mounted on top of the turret of a Future Fighting Vehicle. However, the officials on the AUSA show floor were confident it was possible.

Palaeoenvironmental Turnover Across the Cenomanian-Turonian Cretaceous Transition

Palaeoenvironmental turnover across the Cenomanian-Turonian transition in Oued Bahloul, Tunisia: Foraminifera and geochemical proxies


Reolid et al


The integrated analysis of foraminiferal assemblages, geochemical proxies, and stable isotopes in the Oued Bahloul section (Tunisia) allowed us to reconstruct the environmental turnover across the Cenomanian–Turonian boundary. An increase in palaeoproductivity proxies (P/Ti, U/Al, Sr/Al) and in δ13C values, and a decrease in foraminiferal diversity and δ18O values mark the beginning of the Oceanic Anoxic Event 2 (OAE2) at the Rotalipora cushmani and Whiteinella archaeocretacea biozones boundary. Eutrophic conditions at the seafloor and in the water column are evidenced by high proportions of buliminids and the replacement of planktic oligotrophic specialist Rotalipora by eutrophic opportunist Hedbergella. The enrichment in organic matter and redox sensitive elements, together with the abundance of low-oxygen tolerant benthic foraminifera, indicate dysoxic conditions in the deep-water column and at the seafloor (higher Uaut than Moaut). Among planktic foraminifera, deep- and intermediate-dwellers disappear (Rotalipora and Globigerinelloides), and surface-dwellers proliferate (Hedbergella). The persistency of the poorly oxygenated conditions during the W. archaeocretacea Biozone locally produced euxinic conditions where MoEF and Moaut reach high values, diversity presents minimum values, and benthic foraminifera temporarily disappear. The maximum percentage of heterohelicids indicates a stratified water column with a well-developed oxygen minimum zone. Improved oxygen conditions returned in the upper part of the W. archaeocretacea Biozone and Helvetoglobotruncana helvetica Biozone, with a slow recovery of foraminiferal assemblages, decrease in eutrophic genera (Heterohelix) and increase in mesotrophic genera (Whiteinella). A gradual increase in δ18O values suggests decreased temperatures in surface waters. The OAE2 has been attributed to global temperature changes and palaeoceanographic reorganization. The poor mixing of surface and deep waters and enhanced primary productivity related to global warming —associated with increasing continental weathering and nutrient runoff— may have favored the eutrophication of the ocean and the expansion of the oxygen minimum zone.

Implications of Aerosol Studies for Titan’s Atmospheric Chemistry

A comprehensive NMR structural study of Titan aerosol analogs: Implications for Titan’s atmospheric chemistry


He et al


Titan has a thick atmosphere composed primarily of nitrogen and methane. Complex organic chemistry induced by solar ultraviolet radiation and energetic particles, takes place in Titan’s upper atmosphere, producing an optically thick reddish brown carbon based haze encircling this moon. The chemistry in Titan’s atmosphere and its resulting chemical structures are still not fully understood in spite of a great many efforts being made. In our previous work, we have investigated the structure of the 13C and 15N labeled, simulated Titan haze aerosols (tholin) by NMR and identified several dominant small molecules in the tholin. Here we report our expanded structural investigation of the bulk of the tholin by more comprehensive NMR study. The NMR results show that the tholin materials are dominated by heavily nitrogenated compounds, in which the macromolecular structures are highly branched polymeric or oligomeric compounds terminated in methyl, amine, and nitrile groups. The structural characteristic suggest that the tholin materials are formed via different copolymerization or incorporation mechanisms of small precursors, such as HCN, CH2double bond; length as m-dashNH, NH3 and C2H2. This study helps to understand the formation process of nitrogenated organic aerosols in Titan’s atmosphere and their prebiotic implications.

Medieval Climate Anomaly Allowed Polynesians to Expand to New Zealand, Easter Island and Other Isolated Locales

Climate windows for Polynesian voyaging to New Zealand and Easter Island


Goodwin et al


Debate about initial human migration across the immense area of East Polynesia has focused upon seafaring technology, both of navigation and canoe capabilities, while temporal variation in sailing conditions, notably through climate change, has received less attention. One model of Polynesian voyaging observes that as tradewind easterlies are currently dominant in the central Pacific, prehistoric colonization canoes voyaging eastward to and through central East Polynesia (CEP: Society, Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier, Southern Cook, and Austral Islands) and to Easter Island probably had a windward capacity. Similar arguments have been applied to voyaging from CEP to New Zealand against prevailing westerlies. An alternative view is that migration required reliable off-wind sailing routes. We investigate the marine climate and potential voyaging routes during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), A.D. 800–1300, when the initial colonization of CEP and New Zealand occurred. Paleoclimate data assimilation is used to reconstruct Pacific sea level pressure and wind field patterns at bidecadal resolution during the MCA. We argue here that changing wind field patterns associated with the MCA provided conditions in which voyaging to and from the most isolated East Polynesian islands, New Zealand, and Easter Island was readily possible by off-wind sailing. The intensification and poleward expansion of the Pacific subtropical anticyclone culminating in A.D. 1140–1260 opened an anomalous climate window for off-wind sailing routes to New Zealand from the Southern Austral Islands, the Southern Cook Islands, and Tonga/Fiji Islands.

Habitat Partitioning by Upper Cretaceous Mosasaurs

Habitat preference of mosasaurs indicated by rare earth element (REE) content of fossils from the Upper Cretaceous marine deposits of Alabama, New Jersey, and South Dakota (USA)


Harrell et al


Knowledge of habitat segregation of mosasaurs has been based on lithology and faunal assemblages associated with fossil remains of mosasaurs and stable isotopes (δ13C). These approaches have sometimes provided equivocal or insufficient information and, therefore, the preference of habitat by different mosasaur taxa is still suboptimally constrained. The present study is focused on the analysis of rare earth element (REE) ratios of mosasaur fossils from the Upper Cretaceous formations of western Alabama, USA. Results of the REE analysis are used to infer the relative paleobathymetry associated with the mosasaur specimens and then to determine if certain taxonomic groups showed a preference for a particular water depth. Comparisons are then made with mosasaur specimens reported in the literature from other regions of North America from different depositional environments. Results indicate that Mosasaurus, Platecarpus and Plioplatecarpus may have preferred more restricted habitats based on water depth whereas Tylosaurus and Clidastes favoured a wider range of environments. Results also suggest that Plioplatecarpus lived in a shallower environment than its Platecarpus predecessor. Although the results of this study are encouraging, caution must be exercised before drawing any final conclusions due to the small sample size of most of the taxa analysed.

Panguraptor lufengensis: a Coelophysoid Theropod From Lower Jurassic

The first well-preserved coelophysoid theropod dinosaur from Asia.


You et al


Coelophysoid dinosaurs represent the earliest major radiation of neotheropods. These small-to-medium-sized agile bipeds lived throughout much of Pangaea during the Late Triassic–Early Jurassic. Previously reported coelophysoid material from Asia (excluding the Gondwanan territory of India) is limited to two specimens that comprise only limb fragments. This paper describes a new genus and species of coelophysoid, Panguraptor lufengensis, from the Lower Jurassic Lufeng Formation of Yunnan Province, China. The new taxon is represented by a well-preserved skeleton, including the skull and lower jaw, the presacral vertebral column and partial ribs, the right scapula, a partial forelimb, part of the pelvic girdle, and an almost complete hind limb. It is distinguished from other coelophysoid theropods by the unique combination of the following three character states: 1) diagonal (rostrodorsal-caudoventral) ridge on lateral surface of maxilla, within antorbital fossa, 2) elliptical, laterally facing fenestra caudodorsal to aforementioned diagonal ridge, and 3) hooked craniomedial corner of distal tarsal IV. Cladistic analysis recovers Panguraptor lufengensis deeply nested within Coelophysoidea as a member of Coelophysidae, and it is more closely related to Coelophysis than to “Syntarsus”. Panguraptor represents the first well-preserved coelophysoid theropod dinosaur from Asia, and provides fresh evidence supporting the hypothesis that terrestrial tetrapods tended to be distributed pan-continentally during the Early Jurassic.

Gondwana's Ediacaran NeoProterozoic Afro-Brazilian "Himalayas" Found

Scientists have found evidence for a huge mountain range that sustained an explosion of life on Earth 600 million years ago.

The mountain range was similar in scale to the Himalayas and spanned at least 2,500 kilometres of modern west Africa and northeast Brazil, which at that time were part of the supercontinent Gondwana.

"Just like the Himalayas, this range was eroded intensely because it was so huge. As the sediments washed into the oceans they provided the perfect nutrients for life to flourish," said Professor Daniela Rubatto of the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University (ANU).

"Scientists have speculated that such a large mountain range must have been feeding the oceans because of the way life thrived and ocean chemistry changed at this time, and finally we have found it."

The discovery is earliest evidence of Himalayan-scale mountains on Earth.

"Although the mountains have long since washed away, rocks from their roots told the story of the ancient mountain range's grandeur," said co-researcher Professor Joerg Hermann.

"The range was formed by two continents colliding. During this collision, rocks from the crust were pushed around 100 kilometres deep into the mantle, where the high temperatures and pressures formed new minerals."

Karakoram Glaciers are Stable, may Even Grow Under Climate Change

Researchers from Princeton University and other institutions may have hit upon an answer to a climate-change puzzle that has eluded scientists for years, and that could help understand the future availability of water for hundreds of millions of people.

In a phenomenon known as the "Karakoram anomaly," glaciers in the Karakoram mountains, a range within the Himalayas, have remained stable and even increased in mass while many glaciers nearby — and worldwide — have receded during the past 150 years, particularly in recent decades. Himalayan glaciers provide freshwater to a densely populated area that includes China, Pakistan and India, and are the source of the Ganges and Indus rivers, two of the world's major waterways.

While there have been many attempts to explain the stability of the Karakoram glaciers, the researchers report in the journal Nature Geoscience that the ice is sustained by a unique and localized seasonal pattern that keeps the mountain range relatively cold and dry during the summer. Other Himalayan ranges and the Tibetan Plateau — where glaciers have increasingly receded as Earth's climate has warmed — receive most of their precipitation from heavy summer monsoons out of hot South and Southeast Asian nations such as India. The main precipitation season in the Karakoram, however, occurs during the winter and is influenced by cold winds coming from Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan to the west, while the main Himalayan range blocks the warmer air from the southeast throughout the year.

The researchers determined that snowfall, which is critical to maintaining glacier mass, will remain stable and even increase in magnitude at elevations above 4,500 meters (14,764 feet) in the Karakoram through at least 2100. On the other hand, snowfall over much of the Himalayas and Tibet is projected to decline even as the Indian and Southeast Asian monsoons increase in intensity under climate change.

Russia Warns NATO Away From Arctic Involvement

There were no emerging problems in Arctic that require NATO involvement and, “moreover, there are no problems there which demand military decisions,” Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in a foreign policy lecture on Monday.

“We firmly believe that there are no problems in the Arctic which demand NATO participation,” he said according to a report in the ITAR TASS news agency.

“The Arctic is a territory of dialogue… We use this slogan for regular forums in Russia, and the work of the Arctic Council, to a large extent, is drawn up in this way.”


However, despite Lavrov’s comments, Russia is currently reestablishing a robust military presence in the Arctic.

Russia has reactivate[d] ten bases on its northern border to protect its claims in the region and stood up a new Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command earlier this year.

The Economist on Catalona's Independence Setbacks and a Response

CATALONIA’S referendum on independence, planned for November 9th, will not now happen. Or might it, after all? On October 14th the Catalan president, Artur Mas, admitted that, with the referendum officially suspended by Spain’s constitutional court, it would have to be scrapped. But, he added, some other sort of public consultation will still happen on that day—and it will involve ballot boxes.

Mr Mas refused to provide details. He claimed that he did not want to give the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, too many clues about his plans. Given the legal obstacles, even Mr Mas may not be sure how to proceed. Catalonia’s more radical and leftist separatists were angered by his decision to obey the court while calling for a watered-down, pseudo-referendum. They want an early election in this rich and populous region of north-east Spain. Mr Mas is trying to deflect the separatists’ claims of cowardice by ramping up the war of words. “The Spanish state is the adversary,” he declared.

To The Editors Of The Economist

I am writing this missive addressed to you as I am outraged, nay scandalized, by the level of your reporting on the Catalan question. The source of my discontent are two recent pieces – both signed by one GT – the first of which appeared on the Charlemagne Blog (Getting to “sí”, 19 September 2014), while the second was published under the rubric The Economist Explains (Catalonia’s independence movement,14 October 2014.)

Of the two, I consider the second much more reproachable since it purports to be an informative document, and not a mere opinion piece. My issue with your journalist is not his opinion – to which any journalist is entitled – but that he attempts to pass off opinion as fact. My view is the that the level of journalism being demonstrated is not what you should be seeking in a publication with your high level of international prestige.

At the end of the day, of course, whether this is the case or not is an editorial decision on your part. I fully understand why the Economist originally took the decision to publish non-editorial unsigned articles, but in the modern age I think this be a double edged sword as it leads to confusion about what is an Op-ed and what isn’t. Personally I think the practice is now more trouble than it’s worth, but again that’s for you to decide.

In order to try and demonstrate my case I have gone to the rather tedious lengths of re-reading the two offending articles and identifying what I consider to be factual inaccuracies (see below).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Next Set of Russia's Little Green Men may be Outsourced

Yesterday, Just Russia Duma deputies tabled a draft bill that would allow private firms to create under license from the FSB their own military units, something that some Russian corporations have already done and that others appear to want to do and that could create new possibilities for deception and denial for Moscow.

According to the measure, such private firms could “provide military and guard services to the state, other companies or individual citizens, including foreign ones,” and assist Moscow in “the alternative resolution of military conflicts beyond the borders of the Russian Federation” (

Although this bill was proposed by a nominally opposition party, the idea of creating such units enjoys support from within the pro-government United Russia Party. Last summer, Frants Klintsevich, a United Russia deputy who chairs the Duma defense committee, said he was working with the defense ministry on a similar measure.

Such privatization or outsourcing of military functions is already a major business around the world. According to the authors of the new bill, 110 countries already have some form of private militaries. Their activities a 350 billion US dollar business in which Russian firms would then have a chance to participate, backers of the plan say.

Shapify Booth: 3D Scanner to 3d Print Life-like Figures...of YOU

3D scanner manufactuer Artec Group announced the U.S. debut of its Shapify Booth, which can scan your entire body in 12 seconds and use the resulting file to print a life-like figurine.

The figurine, which Shapify is calling a "Shapie," is created on a 3D printer in full color.

Artec hopes the scanning booths will catch on in U.S. retail stores, such as Walmart, as well as theme parks and other major tourist sites, shopping malls and airports. Artec has already rolled out the booths in two ASDA supermarkets in the UK. ASDA is owned by Walmart.

A Perfect Pictoral Metaphor for the Cost of Interstellar Flight


US Navy Submarine Control Systems are Vulnerable to Cyber Attack

The head of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) warned that the U.S. Navy will have to ramp up its cyber-security efforts to secure the controls systems of its submarines.

“It is the threat to our control systems,” Vice Adm. William Hilarides, commander of NAVSEA, told an audience at the Naval Submarine League Symposium in Falls Church, Va. on Wednesday.

“We’re just now starting to hear the inklings of it.”

There are little noticed cyber vulnerabilities on nuclear attack submarines like the Virginia-class boats that are slowly becoming the mainstay of the Navy’s undersea fleet, Hilarides said. One example of that is the Virginia-class boat’s backup Caterpillar-built diesel engine, he said.

Specifically, the problem is a computer chip that helps control that engine—a chip that runs on Microsoft Windows XP, Hilarides said.

That chip is connected into the rest of the vessel so that the data can be displayed in other parts of the submarine, he said. That means that chip is connected to the submarines machinery control system.

But it goes beyond that, Hilarides said, the data from the chip sent off board the submarine to maintenance crews at a warfare center. The problem is that the data is automatically shared via an unclassified network, Hilarides said, which renders that chip on the diesel engine as a point of vulnerability for the multi-billion dollar warship. A hacker could attack that network and gain access to the submarine’s systems and cause chaos.


Chinese are Concerned the X-37B is a Precursor to a Space Bomber

The return of the unmanned X-37B space plane last week after nearly two years in space has aroused some curiosity from space observers. It marks the completion of the third mission for the orbital test vehicle (OTV) system, the longest mission, with nearly 22 months of orbital time, and the first reuse of one of the two OTVs. Resembling a miniature space shuttle, the X-37B program has been publicly described by the U.S. Air Force as testing a variety of technologies, including "advanced guidance, navigation, and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation; lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, reentry, and landing."

For the People's Republic of China (PRC), the maturation of the OTV is seen as part of the inevitable evolution of space systems towards military ends. As the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been modernizing, its approach to warfare has steadily evolved, exploiting lessons derived from foreign wars. Of particular note to Chinese military thinkers has been the steadily advancing importance of space.

Just as aircraft initially provided reconnaissance and artillery observation, space systems are seen by Chinese military thinkers as a crucial part of modern warfare. From the Chinese perspective, space has played an essential role in fighting and winning "local wars under informationized conditions," from the first Gulf War through the Balkan conflicts to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Space is essential, because one cannot fight the "non-contact, non-linear, non-symmetric" wars that are the hallmark of the Information Age without incorporating space systems, whether for forecasting meteorological conditions; for positioning, navigation, and timing in weapons guidance and troop movements; or for imaging and identifying enemy formations and undertaking battle damage assessment. Information Age wars, in the Chinese estimation, depend on space systems to gather, transmit, or otherwise exploit information.

But just as reconnaissance aircraft led to fighter planes to shoot down those reconnaissance planes, and there then developed bombers for both battlefield support and strategic bombing campaigns, Chinese thinkers have generally expected an eventual move towards "space-to-ground" operations to complement space information support, space offense, and space defense missions. An article from the Chinese military journal China Military Science in 2003, by a professor at the Chinese National Defense University, talked about the prospect of future space-ground conflict complementing traditional land, sea, and air conflict. The 2005 PLA textbook Military Astronautics notes the inevitability of space-ground operations as part of the development of military space systems. And a 2013 publication of PLA teaching materials similarly discusses space combat as divided into operations against space systems, and space-ground operations.

The Chinese appear to be concerned that the X-37B is the first stage towards developing that space-to-ground attack capability. It is unlikely that the Chinese, with their own robust space development effort, sees the X-37B itself as a space-bomber. The craft itself weighs about 11,000 pounds, while its payload bay is typically compared to that of a van or a pickup truck. Nonetheless, one Chinese article opined that, while the X-37B's payload was limited, it could nonetheless carry smaller munitions, or even nuclear weapons.

China to Start Building 2nd Indigenous Aircraft Carrier

China will soon start building its second locally designed aircraft carrier in Shanghai, according to a Canadian report.

Kanwa Asian Defence, an English-language monthly defence review produced in Toronto, said Shanghai's Jiangnan Shipyard was preparing to start work on the carrier.

When completed, the carrier and another under construction in Dalian will give the PLA Navy two fully functioning, battle-ready aircraft carriers.

The recently completed Liaoning, the refitted former Soviet carrier Varyag, is classed as a training platform, not a full combat vessel, by the navy, since it went into service in September 2012.

Counter to many expectations, the new carrier about to be built at the Jiangnan Shipyard will use conventional, not nuclear power.

The report was also carried in the Chinese-language sister publication, Kanwa Defence Review.

Military experts said China would not attempt a nuclear-powered carrier until a range of issues were resolved, such as the reliability of nuclear-powered engines, crew training and establishing a reliable home port for carrier maintenance.

According to the report, Chinese shipbuilding industry sources said the design for the second carrier had not been completed.


Multiple Isotopic Signatures in Toarcian Jurassic Oceanic Anoxic Event

Multiproxy geochemical analysis of a Panthalassic margin record of the early Toarcian oceanic anoxic event (Toyora area, Japan)


Kemp et al


The early Toarcian oceanic anoxic event (OAE) was a significant palaeoenvironmental perturbation that led to marked changes in ocean chemistry and climate, and which also had a long-lasting impact on marine ecosystems. The global significance of the event has been recognised from the widespread occurrence of a ~ 3-7‰ negative excursion in the carbon-isotope (δ13C) composition of marine organic and inorganic matter and terrestrial plant material. This feature of the event is indicative of a pronounced perturbation to the global carbon cycle; an inference further supported by widespread evidence for seawater deoxygenation and elevated rates of organic carbon burial. Nevertheless, the precise palaeoenvironmental impacts of this event from sections outside of the Boreal and Tethyan realms are uncertain. Here, we present the results of a multiproxy geochemical study of an expanded record of the early Toarcian event from the northwest Panthalassa Ocean margin exposed in southwest Japan (Toyora area, Yamaguchi prefecture). Our results indicate that in the studied succession, organic matter enrichment persisted through the early Toarcian event, but elemental redox proxies do not support persistent seawater anoxia. Analyses of terrigenously derived major and trace element abundances coupled with sedimentological observations reveal an increase in coarse-grained sediment close to the onset of a ~ − 4‰ excursion in δ13Corg, and coincident with an inferred increase in terrestrial organic matter flux. These observations are consistent with previously published evidence for a marked strengthening of hydrological cycling and increased runoff that occurred contemporaneously with abrupt warming at the onset of the carbon isotope event.

The Titan Haze Simulation

The Titan Haze Simulation experiment on COSmIC: Probing Titan’s atmospheric chemistry at low temperature


Sciamma-O’Brien et al


The aim of the Titan Haze Simulation (THS) experiment is to contribute to a better understanding of aerosol formation in Titan’s atmosphere through the study of the chemical formation pathways that link the simpler gas phase molecules resulting from the first steps of the N2–CH4 chemistry, to the more complex gas phase precursors of aerosols; and more specifically, to investigate the role of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and nitrogenated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PANHs), among other hydrocarbons, in this process. In the THS experiment developed at the NASA Ames Cosmic simulation facility (COSmIC), Titan’s atmospheric chemistry is simulated by a pulsed plasma jet expansion at temperature conditions (∼150 K) close to those found in Titan’s atmosphere in regions where aerosols are formed. In addition, because of the very short residence time of the gas in the plasma discharge, only the initial steps of the chemistry occur, making the COSmIC/THS a unique tool to study the first and intermediate (when adding heavier precursors to the initial N2–CH4 mixture) steps of Titan’s atmospheric chemistry at low temperature as shown in the study presented here. We further illustrate the potential of COSmIC/THS for the simulation of Titan’s atmospheric chemistry by presenting very promising results from a preliminary comparison of the laboratory data to data from the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer–Ion Beam Spectrometer (CAPS–IBS) instrument.

Polynesian Canoe From 1400 AD Found on New Zealand Coast

An early sophisticated East Polynesian voyaging canoe discovered on New Zealand's coast


Johns et al


The colonization of the islands of East Polynesia was a remarkable episode in the history of human migration and seafaring. We report on an ocean-sailing canoe dating from close to that time. A large section of a complex composite canoe was discovered recently at Anaweka on the New Zealand coast. The canoe dates to approximately A.D. 1400 and was contemporary with continuing interisland voyaging. It was built in New Zealand as an early adaptation to a new environment, and a sea turtle carved on its hull makes symbolic connections with wider Polynesian culture and art. We describe the find and identify and radiocarbon date the construction materials. We present a reconstruction of the whole canoe and compare it to another early canoe previously discovered in the Society Islands.

Large Caenagnathid Oviraptorosaur From Campanian/Maastrichtian Cretaceous

Large caenagnathids (Dinosauria, Oviraptorosauria) from the uppermost Cretaceous of western Canada


Bell et al


Large caenagnathid unguals are described from the Dinosaur Park (upper Campanian) and Frenchman (Maastrichtian) formations of Alberta and Saskatchewan, respectively. The latter constitutes the first formal description of Caenagnathidae from the Frenchman Formation. The Saskatchewan material is also notable for its large size, comparable to Anzu wyliei from the coeval Hell Creek Formation, placing them among the largest caenagnathids from North America. The slightly smaller Dinosaur Park unguals may pertain to either Caenagnathus collinsi (a taxon for which manual material is only tentatively known) or to an as yet unidentified large taxon. The new material demonstrates that despite an apparent reduction in diversity in the Maastrichtian, North American caenagnathid distribution did not retract notably from its Campanian maximum.

The PaleoEcology of the Lower Cretaceous Jehol Biota

The Early Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystems of the Jehol Biota based on food-web and energy-flow models


Matsukawa et al


The ancient terrestrial ecosystems of the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation and the Jiufotang Formation, consecutive components of the Jehol Group in Northeast China were reconstructed using an energy-flow and food-web model. This model can be used to quantitatively estimate population densities for ancient terrestrial vertebrates based on food webs, net primary productivity, and three categories of energy-transfer efficiency. The results indicate that densities reached 866 individuals km−2 and 4122 individuals km−2 in two ecosystems, respectively. The main component of the vertebrate fauna of the Yixian Formation consisted of large herbivorous dinosaurs, while much smaller avians dominated the Jiufotang fauna. The model also indicates a temporal transition in the dinosaur fauna from the Yixian fauna to the Jiufotang fauna in which theropods decreased and ceratopsids became more abundant. We then compared these estimates of biodiversity with the Early Cretaceous Choyr fauna of Mongolia, and Tetori fauna of Japan using Simpson's diversity indices. Those indices, based on biomass, indicate that the biodiversities of the Jehol fauna lay between those of the Choyr and Tetori faunas. This range in biodiversity seems attributable to fundamental differences in vegetation and the environment.

Academic Bun Fight! Forest Fires as Root Cause of the Famennian-Frasnian Devonian Mass Extinction

Reply to the comment on Kaiho et al., “A forest fire and soil erosion event during the Late Devonian mass extinction” [Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 392 (2013): 272–280]


Kaiho et al


Kaiho et al. (2013) showed that high values of organic molecule indices of combustion, soil erosion, and euxinia occurred at the Frasnian-Famennian transition at Sinsin, Belgium. Marynowski and Racki (2014) commented on the paper. Their issues mainly address (1) the low resolution of the data, (2) the reliability of the proxies, (3) weathering as a cause of the peaks of the proxies, (4) the discrepancy between rare charcoal occurrence and the high combustion proxy, and (5) the stepwise collapse of the huge global reef ecosystem ending well before the F-F boundary. In response to comment (1), the positive excursion of δ13Ccarb marking the F-F transition in the Sinsin section indicates that the Sinsin section has enough strata to detect environmental changes during the culmination of the Late Devonian stepwise mass extinction. On comment (2): soil erosion was indicated not only by dibenzofuran but also by a spike of cadalene. Dibenzothiophene should have increased when euxinic water developed on the surface of sediments, which is supported by the coincidence of isorenieratane and dibenzothiophene on the middle shelf in the late Permian. We show the combustion index at the Cretaceous-Paleogene transition, indicating that this ratio is useful as a proxy of combustion. On comment (3): we cannot explain the high and low combustion, soil erosion, and euxinia index values by weathering because of the consistently well-preserved state of the rock samples. On comment (4): we need to detect charcoal during the F-F transition and early Famennian, corresponding to maxima of high sea levels, to clarify the discrepancy. On comment (5): our model is only for the F-F transition event marked by the extinction acme; it may not explain the collapse of the reef ecosystem that ended before the F-F boundary, but it can explain the extinction acme at the F-F transition.

North America's Stenian MesoProterozoic Midcontinent Rift Explored

An international team of geologists has a new explanation for how the Midwest's biggest geological feature -- an ancient and giant 2,000-mile-long underground crack that starts in Lake Superior and runs south to Oklahoma and to Alabama -- evolved.

Scientists from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the University of Gottingen in Germany and the University of Oklahoma report that the 1.1 billion-year-old Midcontinent Rift is a geological hybrid, having formed in three stages: it started as an enormous narrow crack in the Earth's crust; that space then filled with an unusually large amount of volcanic rock; and, finally, the igneous rocks were forced to the surface, forming the beautiful scenery seen today in the Lake Superior area of the Upper Midwest.

The rift produced some of the Midwest's most interesting geology and scenery, but there has never been a good explanation for what caused it. Inspired by vacations to Lake Superior, Seth and Carol A. Stein, a husband-and-wife team from Northwestern and UIC, have been determined to learn more in recent years.

Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis: A Potentially Potent Microbial Amplipher to Anthropogenic Global Warming

Tiny soil microbes are among the world's biggest potential amplifiers of human-caused climate change, but whether microbial communities are mere slaves to their environment or influential actors in their own right is an open question. Now, research by an international team of scientists from the U.S., Sweden and Australia, led by University of Arizona scientists, shows that a single species of microbe, discovered only very recently, is an unexpected key player in climate change.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, should help scientists improve their simulations of future climate by replacing assumptions about the different greenhouse gases emitted from thawing permafrost with new understanding of how different communities of microbes control the release of these gases.

Earlier this year, the international team discovered that a single species of microbe, previously undescribed by science, was prominent in permafrost soils in northern Sweden that have begun to thaw under the effect of globally rising temperatures. Researchers suspected that it played a significant role in global warming by liberating vast amounts of carbon stored in permafrost soil close to the Arctic Circle in the form of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere. But the actual role of this microbe — assigned the preliminary name Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis, which roughly translates to "methane-bloomer from the Stordalen Mire" — was unknown.

The new research nails down the role of the new microbe, finding that the sheer abundance of Methanoflorens, as compared to other microbial species in thawing permafrost, should help to predict their collective impact on future climate change.

"If you think of the African savanna as an analogy, you could say that both lions and elephants produce carbon dioxide, but they eat different things," said senior author Scott Saleska, an associate professor in the UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and director of the UA's new Ecosystem Genomics Institute. "In Methanoflorens, we discovered the microbial equivalent of an elephant, an organism that plays an enormously important role in what happens to the whole ecosystem."

Significantly, the study revealed that because of these microbial activities, all wetlands are not the same when it comes to methane release.

Should France Sell the Russian Mistrals to European Union to Form Nucleus of EU Navy?

Selling warships to Russia doesn't seem like a great idea right now. But there's someone else that could buy them -- and make it a win-win for European security.

China Manufacturing Almost Flat

A gauge of the health of China's manufacturing industry inched higher in October but factory output was at a five-month low in a sign of slowing domestic and foreign demand.

HSBC said Thursday the preliminary version of an index based on a survey of factory purchasing managers rose to 50.4 from 50.2 in September. Figures above 50 on the 100-point scale indicate expansion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Walking Deinocheirus Rendering

Oakland's Coliseum City Development Gets an Extension


A Bold Statement on India's Urban Development


Someone really ought to take a picture of India from orbit during Diwali though.

Heno Hoverboard: do you actually believe this?

Its a slick video, but IDK.... 

Oh and Marty and Doc Brown want royalties.  

Lockheed Behind on F-35 Deliveries, in Danger of not Meeting Delivery of 36 Jets in 2014

Lockheed Martin Corp on Monday confirmed that it had delivered just 22 of 36 F-35 fighter jets promised to the U.S. government this year, but had a plan to complete work on the remaining 14 warplanes over the next two months.

"We are not giving up on delivering 14 more aircraft this year," Lockheed spokesman Mike Rein told Reuters when asked about delays in deliveries. "We'll get there."

A source familiar with the $399 billion Joint Strike Fighter program, the Pentagon's costliest weapons project, said slower-than-expected deliveries had sparked concern about whether Lockheed would meet its delivery target of 36 jets for the full year. The company could lose incentive fees if it does not, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The Pentagon's F-35 program office had no immediate comment on the issue.

OCTOBER SURPRISE! Revealed Chinese JF-17 Pictures Show With HYPERSONIC Anti Ship Missiles

Recent images of two China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) CM-400AKG high-speed air-to-surface missiles fitted to an airborne Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) FC-1/JF-17 fighter suggest that China continues to develop the missile.


Chinese sources indicate the CM-400AKG is derived from the SY-400 tactical ballistic missile. The CM-400AKG has been promoted as a 'hypersonic' anti-ship-capable missile since its unveiling at the November 2012 Zhuhai Airshow.


Time to trot out the lasers, guys.

(arms race!  arms race!  arms race!)

Parasitism & Symbosis From Coral Reefs From Cenomanian Cretaceous Israel

Bivalve borings, bioclaustrations and symbiosis in corals from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of southern Israel


Wilson et al


Specimens of the small compound coral Aspidiscus cristatus (Lamarck, 1801) containing evidence of symbiosis with bivalves have been found in the En Yorqe'am Formation (Upper Cretaceous, early Cenomanian) of southern Israel. The corals have paired holes on their upper surfaces leading to a common chamber below, forming the trace fossil Gastrochaenolites ampullatus Kelly and Bromley, 1984. Apparently gastrochaenid bivalve larvae settled on living coral surfaces and began to bore into the underlying aragonitic skeletons. The corals added new skeleton around the paired siphonal tubes of the invading bivalves, eventually producing crypts that were borings at their bases and bioclaustrations at their openings. When a boring bivalve died its crypt was closed by the growing coral, entombing the bivalve shell in place. This is early evidence of a symbiotic relationship between scleractinian corals and boring bivalves (parasitism in this case), and the earliest record of bivalve infestation of a member of the Suborder Microsolenina. It is also the earliest occurrence of G. ampullatus.

Titan’s Emission Spectrum

Titan’s emission processes during eclipse


Lavvas et al


Observations of Titan’s emissions during its 2009 eclipse by Saturn revealed a weak airglow around the moon, as well as a brighter emission from its disk (West et al. [2012]. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39 (1), 18204). We explore here the potential mechanisms that could generate these emissions and more specifically the role of magnetospheric plasma and cosmic rays in the upper and lower atmosphere, respectively. We consider excitation of N2 by these energy sources and calculate the resulting emissions through a detailed model of N2 airglow followed by careful radiation transfer of the emitted photons through the atmosphere, and into the UVIS and ISS instruments. Our results indicate that the observed limb emissions are consistent with magnetospheric plasma energy input, while emissions instigated by cosmic ray excitation are very weak and cannot explain the observed disk emissions. We discuss possible contributions from other sources that could potentially explain the disk observations. The most likely scenario is that of scattered stellar light from Titan’s disk.

45,000 Year Old Siberian Man had Significantly More Neandertal Genes Than Modern People

Genome sequence of a 45,000-year-old modern human from western Siberia


Fu et al


We present the high-quality genome sequence of a ~45,000-year-old modern human male from Siberia. This individual derives from a population that lived before—or simultaneously with—the separation of the populations in western and eastern Eurasia and carries a similar amount of Neanderthal ancestry as present-day Eurasians. However, the genomic segments of Neanderthal ancestry are substantially longer than those observed in present-day individuals, indicating that Neanderthal gene flow into the ancestors of this individual occurred 7,000–13,000 years before he lived. We estimate an autosomal mutation rate of 0.4 × 10−9 to 0.6 × 10−9 per site per year, a Y chromosomal mutation rate of 0.7 × 10−9 to 0.9 × 10−9 per site per year based on the additional substitutions that have occurred in present-day non-Africans compared to this genome, and a mitochondrial mutation rate of 1.8 × 10−8 to 3.2 × 10−8 per site per year based on the age of the bone.

Now we know when Neandertals got the Sapiens drunk enough for the first beer goggles.  

Evolution Has Stopped?! Agriculture's Impact Over 6150 Years on Lower Limb Skeletal Biomechanics

Lower limb skeletal biomechanics track long-term decline in mobility across ∼6150 years of agriculture in Central Europe


Macintosh et al


Central Europe is a region with a rich agricultural history that dates back to the emergence of the first Neolithic cultures here during the second part of the 6th millennium BC. The effects of prolonged cultural change on the skeletal morphology of agricultural populations in this region have not yet been fully reported. This study investigates diachronic trends in lower limb cross-sectional geometry among preindustrial Central Europeans spanning over 6000 years from the initial spread of agriculture in the region (∼5300 cal BC) to the Early Medieval (∼850 AD). Midshaft diaphyseal cross-sectional geometric (CSG) properties were derived from 443 three-dimensional laser scans of femora and tibiae. Results documented temporal change that was particularly pronounced in the tibia relative to the femur, indicative of declining compressional strength (males), bending and torsional rigidity (males), and increasingly more circular cross-sections (both sexes). When examined chronologically by cemetery, a major shift towards lower tibial rigidity was identified in the Late Bronze Age among males, after which time sexual dimorphism also declined. Regional variation in tibial rigidity was identified among males, being consistently low in males from modern-day Vojvodina (Serbia) relative to contemporaneous males elsewhere in Central Europe. In contrast, female temporal trends by cemetery were indicative of progressive but gradual declines in tibial loading. Results report systematic change in lower limb cross-sectional geometry among preindustrial Central European agriculturalists that are likely indicative of declining terrestrial mobility through 6000+ years of cultural change in the region.

Deinocheirus mirificus Resolved to be Another Whackidillosaurus (Giant, Cretaceous Hump/Sailback MegaOmnivore Dinosaur)

Resolving the long-standing enigmas of a giant ornithomimosaur Deinocheirus mirificus


Lee et al


The holotype of Deinocheirus mirificus was collected by the 1965 Polish–Mongolian Palaeontological Expedition at Altan Uul III in the southern Gobi of Mongolia. Because the holotype consists mostly of giant forelimbs (2.4 m in length) with scapulocoracoids , for almost 50 years Deinocheirus has remained one of the most mysterious dinosaurs. The mosaic of ornithomimosaur and non-ornithomimosaur characters in the holotype has made it difficult to resolve the phylogenetic status of Deinocheirus. Here we describe two new specimens of Deinocheirus that were discovered in the Nemegt Formation of Altan Uul IV in 2006 and Bugiin Tsav in 2009. The Bugiin Tsav specimen (MPC-D 100/127) includes a left forelimb clearly identifiable as Deinocheirus and is 6% longer than the holotype. The Altan Uul IV specimen (MPC-D 100/128) is approximately 74% the size of MPC-D 100/127. Cladistic analysis indicates that Deinocheirus is the largest member of the Ornithomimosauria; however, it has many unique skeletal features unknown in other ornithomimosaurs, indicating that Deinocheirus was a heavily built, non-cursorial animal with an elongate snout, a deep jaw, tall neural spines, a pygostyle, a U-shaped furcula, an expanded pelvis for strong muscle attachments, a relatively short hind limb and broad-tipped pedal unguals. Ecomorphological features in the skull, more than a thousand gastroliths, and stomach contents (fish remains) suggest that Deinocheirus was a megaomnivore that lived in mesic environments.

Induan/Olenekian Triassic South African Proterosuchid Archosauriforms Revised

Figure 11. Skull and lower jaw reconstructions of Proterosuchus species from the Lystrosaurus AZ of South Africa. A, juvenile of Proterosuchus fergusi (based on RC 59 and BP/1/4016); B, adult of Proterosuchus fergusi (based on BSPG 1934 VIII 514, GHG 231, RC 846); C, Proterosuchus alexanderi; and D, Proterosuchus goweri in left lateral views. Abbreviations: a1, a2, a4, diagnostic characters 1, 2 and 4 of Proterosuchus alexanderi; P1–3, diagnostic characters 1–3 of Proterosuchus; g1–7, diagnostic characters 1–7 of Proterosuchus goweri; f1–6, diagnostic characters 1–6 of Proterosuchus fergusi. Characters with asterisks indicate autapomorphies. All scale bars represent 20 mm.

Taxonomy of the proterosuchid archosauriforms (Diapsida: Archosauromorpha) from the earliest Triassic of South Africa, and implications for the early archosauriform radiation


Ezcurra et al


Proterosuchidae is one of the first clades of Archosauriformes (archosaurs and closely related species) to appear in the fossil record, with the richest sample of the group coming from the Lystrosaurus Assemblage Zone (earliest Triassic) of South Africa. Four nominal proterosuchid species were described from South Africa during the twentieth century (Proterosuchus fergusi, Chasmatosaurus vanhoepeni, Chasmatosaurus alexanderi and Elaphrosuchus rubidgei), but interpretations of their taxonomy have been widely disparate. The most recent taxonomic revision concluded that P. fergusi is the only valid species and that the other nominal species are junior subjective synonyms of this taxon. This proposal was based on the interpretation that anatomical differences between the nominal species could be explained as a result of ontogenetic changes and/or post-mortem deformation. The recent discoveries of multiple new South African proterosuchid specimens provide an impetus to revisit their taxonomy. Based upon a comprehensive re-examination of all known specimens, as well as examination of other proterosuchid taxa in collections worldwide, we conclude that the holotype of Proterosuchus fergusi is undiagnostic. As a result, we propose a neotype (RC 846) for the species. ‘Chasmatosaurus vanhoepeni’ and ‘Elaphrosuchus rubidgei’ are considered subjective junior synonyms of P. fergusi. ‘Chasmatosaurus’ alexanderi is considered a valid species, for which we propose the new combination P. alexanderi comb. nov. A third species, P. goweri sp. nov., is erected on the basis of a single specimen (NMQR 880). All three species recognized here are taxonomically distinct from a previously described archosauriform maxilla from the lower Lystrosaurus AZ. As a result, we recognize a minimum of four archosauriform species following the Permo-Triassic mass extinction in South Africa. Our results suggest a greater species richness of earliest Triassic archosauriforms than previously appreciated, but that archosauriform morphological disparity remained low and did not expand until the late Early Triassic – early Mid-Triassic.

Paleoecological Study of the Burgess Shale Tulip Beds is Recommended



O'Brien et al


Burgess Shale–type deposits represent exceptional preservational windows for examining the biodiversity and ecological structure of some of the earliest metazoan communities that evolved during the Cambrian Explosion. While much attention has been paid to the original Burgess Shale locality, the Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge, temporal and regional variations of the depositional environment of the Burgess Shale biota as a whole are still poorly understood. Here we present the first comprehensive taphonomic and sedimentological study of the Tulip Beds on Mount Stephen (Campsite Cliff Shale Member, Burgess Shale Formation), based on a time-averaged assemblage of nearly 10,000 specimens. The taphonomic characteristics—size sorting, resistance to decay, and potential flow alignment—and mode of deposition of this assemblage are compared specifically to those of the nearby and stratigraphically younger Walcott Quarry assemblage. Like other Burgess Shale–type deposits, the Tulip Beds consist of millimeter-laminated, event-derived claystone, but lack the thicker claystone layers and prominent carbonate interbeds that occur in the Walcott Quarry. These differences suggest a depositional environment lower in energy and possibly more distal to the Cathedral Escarpment. Overall, taphonomic analyses suggest no significant decay biases, transport, or sorting of the assemblage, and most specimens, benthic taxa in particular, appear to have been buried close to their living environments. Single bedding planes with large accumulations dominated by a single taxon, e.g., isolated claws of Anomalocaris, suggest short time-averaged assemblages with limited background sedimentation. Overall the Tulip Beds locality is environmentally and taphonomically comparable to the Walcott Quarry and biotic variations between the two sites are likely to be primary in nature, thus paving the way for more detailed paleoecological investigations in the future.

El Niño Strongly Influences Flooding Around the World

Strong influence of El Niño Southern Oscillation on flood risk around the world


Ward et al


El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the most dominant interannual signal of climate variability and has a strong influence on climate over large parts of the world. In turn, it strongly influences many natural hazards (such as hurricanes and droughts) and their resulting socioeconomic impacts, including economic damage and loss of life. However, although ENSO is known to influence hydrology in many regions of the world, little is known about its influence on the socioeconomic impacts of floods (i.e., flood risk). To address this, we developed a modeling framework to assess ENSO’s influence on flood risk at the global scale, expressed in terms of affected population and gross domestic product and economic damages. We show that ENSO exerts strong and widespread influences on both flood hazard and risk. Reliable anomalies of flood risk exist during El Niño or La Niña years, or both, in basins spanning almost half (44%) of Earth’s land surface. Our results show that climate variability, especially from ENSO, should be incorporated into disaster-risk analyses and policies. Because ENSO has some predictive skill with lead times of several seasons, the findings suggest the possibility to develop probabilistic flood-risk projections, which could be used for improved disaster planning. The findings are also relevant in the context of climate change. If the frequency and/or magnitude of ENSO events were to change in the future, this finding could imply changes in flood-risk variations across almost half of the world’s terrestrial regions.

 One of the potential outcomes of global warming is a permanent el nino.

Is India's Prime Minister a Modernizer, not a Liberal Reformer?

THOSE who hoped that Narendra Modi would prove a busy liberal reformer as prime minister have so far been disappointed. But that, says Gurcharan Das, a writer and former businessman who now advises the government, is to judge the man by the wrong measure. Rather than being mad about markets, he says, Mr Modi is a strong-willed moderniser, a man who thinks a capable bureaucracy can fix much of what ails India. It is the lesson of Mr Modi’s running of Gujarat, where he relied heavily on his civil service and got public-sector firms to flourish.

But the bureaucracy is very far from capable. Lant Pritchett of Harvard University has described India as a “flailing state” thanks to its rotten administration. Bureaucrats are incompetent and corrupt when they are not simply absent. India struggles to implement even well-found policy. India’s head, in Mr Pritchett’s metaphor, is not reliably connected to its limbs.

Mr Modi appears bent on changing that. In office for only five months, he spends a lot of time with civil servants, preferring to meet them instead of ministers. He and they have been looking for fixes, such as shifting the paperwork needed to open a business onto the internet, or freeing firms from petty inspections. Meetings are said to have a corporate air, with Mr Modi as chief executive. Dates for specific targets—the “deliverables” of corporate jargon—are set. Resistant bureaucrats are transferred. On October 16th Mr Modi announced a big reshuffle, with a liberal reformer from Rajasthan becoming the finance ministry’s top bureaucrat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

After Cell Transplant, Paralyzed Man Can Walk

A paralysed man has been able to walk again after a pioneering therapy that involved transplanting cells from his nasal cavity into his spinal cord.

Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame.

The treatment, a world first, was carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London.

Details of the research are published in the journal Cell Transplantation.

The Leaders who Freed, Broke, Stabilized and Will Fix Africa

Russian Needs "Beltway Bandit" to map out Path Forward to Terminators for Military Robopocalypse

The Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade (Minpromtorg) has announced the publication of a tender opportunity to create a roadmap for the development of robot systems and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) by the country's military industrial base.

In a statement on its website Minpromtorg said the aim was to "create a road map for military robotics for the period up to 2030. The winner will examine domestic and foreign experience [and] predict the development of appropriate industrial technology".

LX(R) Next Gen Amphibious Ship Probably Going to be Based off LPD-17 San Antonio Hull

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has signed an internal memo recommending the service base its next generation amphibious warship (LX(R)) on the existing San Antonio-class (LPD-17) warship design, first reported by the Inside the Navy newsletter on Monday.

Mabus’ approval of the memo, which he signed last week, validates more than a year of Marine Corps lobbying for a new amphibious ship based on the existing 25,000-ton San Antonio design.

“Through a focused and disciplined process that analyzed required capabilities and capacities, as well as cost parameters, it has been determined that a derivative of the Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD-17) hull form is the preferred alternative to meet LX(R) operational requirements,” read the document.

The lead ship of a San Antonio derived LX(R) would cost about $1.64 billion with follow-ons costing about $1.4 billion for a total of 11 ships, according to information from the service.

USS Detroit (LCS 7) Christened, Launched

A seventh Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) for the US Navy (USN) was launched on 18 October.

Christened Detroit (LCS 7), the ship entered the water for the first time at Marinette Marine Corp's construction facilities in Marinette, Wisconsin.

The 118.6 m steel monohull is the fourth Freedom variant LCS being built by a team led by Lockheed Martin. Detroit is the second ship in a batch of 10 LCS currently in serial production at the Marinette Marine shipyard. It is expected to be ready for handover in November 2015, according to Naval Sea Systems Command.

Paleoclimate Evidence From Campanian Cretaceous Mexico

Wood Anatomy Reveals High Theoretical Hydraulic Conductivity and Low Resistance to Vessel Implosion in a Cretaceous Fossil Forest from Northern Mexico


Martínez-Cabrera et al


The Olmos Formation (upper Campanian), with over 60 angiosperm leaf morphotypes, is Mexico's richest Cretaceous flora. Paleoclimate leaf physiognomy estimates indicate that the Olmos paleoforest grew under wet and warm conditions, similar to those present in modern tropical rainforests. Leaf surface area, tree size and climate reconstructions suggest that this was a highly productive system. Efficient carbon fixation requires hydraulic efficiency to meet the evaporative demands of the photosynthetic surface, but it comes at the expense of increased risk of drought-induced cavitation. Here we tested the hypothesis that the Olmos paleoforest had high hydraulic efficiency, but was prone to cavitation. We characterized the hydraulic properties of the Olmos paleoforest using theoretical conductivity (Ks), vessel composition (S) and vessel fraction (F), and measured drought resistance using vessel implosion resistance and the water potential at which there is 50% loss of hydraulic conductivity (P50). We found that the Olmos paleoforest had high hydraulic efficiency, similar to that present in several extant tropical-wet or semi-deciduous forest communities. Remarkably, the fossil flora had the lowest , which, together with low median P50 (−1.9 MPa), indicate that the Olmos paleoforest species were extremely vulnerable to drought-induced cavitation. Our findings support paleoclimate inferences from leaf physiognomy and paleoclimatic models suggesting it represented a highly productive wet tropical rainforest. Our results also indicate that the Olmos Formation plants had a large range of water conduction strategies, but more restricted variation in cavitation resistance. These straightforward methods for measuring hydraulic properties, used herein for the first time, can provide useful information on the ecological strategies of paleofloras and on temporal shifts in ecological function of fossil forests chronosequences.

The Origin and Meaning of the Ice Blocks of Enceladus

Spatial distribution of ice blocks on Enceladus and implications for their origin and emplacement


Martens et al


We have mapped the locations of over 100,000 ice blocks across the south polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, thus generating the first quantitative estimates of ice-block number density distribution in relation to major geological features. Ice blocks were manually identified and mapped from twenty of the highest resolution (4–25 m per pixel) Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) narrow-angle images using ArcGIS software. The 10–100 m-diameter positive-relief features are marginally visible at the resolution of the images, making ice-block identifications difficult but not impossible. Our preliminary results reveal that ice blocks in the southern hemisphere are systematically most concentrated within the geologically active South Polar Terrain (SPT) and exhibit peak concentrations within 20 km of the tiger-stripe fractures as well as close to the south pole. We find that ice blocks are concentrated just as heavily between tiger-stripe fractures as on the directly adjacent margins; although significant local fluctuations in ice-block number density do occur, we observe no clear pattern with respect to the tiger stripes or jet sources. We examine possible roles of several mechanisms for ice-block origin, emplacement, and evolution: impact cratering, ejection from fissures during cryovolcanic eruptions, tectonic disruption of lithospheric ice, mass wasting, seismic disturbance, and vapor condensation around icy fumeroles. We conclude that impact cratering as well as mass wasting, perhaps triggered by seismic events, cannot account for a majority of ice-block features within the inner SPT. The pervasiveness of fracturing at many size scales, the ubiquity of ice blocks in the inner SPT, as well as the occurrence of linear block arrangements that parallel through-cutting crack networks along the flanks of tiger stripes indicate that tectonic deformation is an important source of blocky-ice features in the SPT. Ejection during catastrophic cryovolcanic eruptions and condensation around surface vents, however, cannot be ruled out. Further, sublimation processes likely erode and disaggregate ice blocks from solid exposures of ice, especially near the warm tiger-stripe fractures. The relative paucity of blocks beyond the bounds of the SPT, particularly on stratigraphically old cratered terrains, may be explained in part by mantling of the surface by fine particulate ice grains that accumulate over time.

Academic Bun Fight: Whether or not There is Archaelogical Evidence of People in Uruguay 30,000 Years Ago

Extraordinary Claim!

Arroyo del Vizcaíno, Uruguay: a fossil-rich 30-ka-old megafaunal locality with cut-marked bones


Fariña et al


Human–megafauna interaction in the Americas has great scientific and ethical interest because of its implications on Pleistocene extinction. The Arroyo del Vizcaíno site near Sauce, Uruguay has already yielded over 1000 bones belonging to at least 27 individuals, mostly of the giant sloth Lestodon. The assemblage shows some taphonomic features suggestive of human presence, such as a mortality profile dominated by prime adults and little evidence of major fluvial transport. In addition, several bones present deep, asymmetrical, microstriated, sharp and shouldered marks similar to those produced by human stone tools. A few possible lithic elements have also been collected, one of which has the shape of a scraper and micropolish consistent with usage on dry hide. However, the radiocarbon age of the site is unexpectedly old (between 27 and 30 thousand years ago), and thus may be important for understanding the timing of the peopling of America.

Pffle: Bad! Science! Bun thrown!

Archaeological evidences are still missing: a comment on Fariña et al. Arroyo del Vizcaíno site, Uruguay


Suárez et al


Fariña et al. suggest the possibility of human presence ca 30 ka in the Arroyo del Vizcaíno site (AVS) (southern Uruguay). This is based mainly on the record of cutmarks made by human artefacts on Pleistocene animal bones. They also inform of the finding of a single tiny stone tool and few other possible lithic artefacts. Nevertheless, their research has serious methodological problems and important interpretative errors.

Counterattack! Bad! Paper! Bunn Thrown Back!

Among others, cut-marks are archaeological evidence: reply to ‘Archaeological evidences are still missing: a comment on Fariña et al. Arroyo del Vizcaíno Site, Uruguay’ by Suárez et al.


Fariña et al


In Fariña et al. [1], we claimed that a rich fossiliferous locality, Arroyo del Vizcaíno (hereafter, AdV), with marked bones that are much older than widely accepted for human presence in the Americas, deserved ‘to be included in the agenda of early American peopling, either as a not foreseeable discovery … or as an example of natural processes mimicking human presence’. The comments by Suárez et al. [2] fail to offer a hypothesis of such a process. Instead, they mention we incur in ‘serious methodological problems and important interpretative errors’ that remain mostly unexplained.

THAGOMIZED! Fossil Evidence a Stegosaur Killed an Allosaur

Stegosaurs might be portrayed as lumbering plant eaters, but they were lethal fighters when necessary, according to paleontologists who have uncovered new evidence of a casualty of stegosaurian combat. The evidence is a fatal stab wound in the pubis bone of a predatory allosaur. The wound – in the conical shape of a stegosaur tail spike – would have required great dexterity to inflict and shows clear signs of having cut short the allosaur's life.

"A massive infection ate away a baseball-sized sector of the bone," reports Houston Museum of Natural Science paleontologist Robert Bakker and his colleagues, who present a poster on the discovery on Tuesday at the meeting of the Geological Society of America in Vancouver, B.C. "Probably this infection spread upwards into the soft tissue attached here, the thigh muscles and adjacent intestines and reproductive organs." The lack of any signs of healing strongly suggests the allosaur died from the infection.

Similar wounds are seen in rodeo cowboys or horses when they are gored by longhorns, Bakker said. And since large herbivores – like longhorn cattle, rhinos and buffalo – today defend themselves with horns, it's reasonable to assume spiky herbivorous dinos did the same. A big difference is that stegosaurs wielded their weapon on their tails rather than their heads. Skeletal evidence from fossil stegosaurs suggests their tails were more dextrous than most dinosaur tails.

"They have no locking joints, even in the tail," Bakker explained. "Most dinosaur tails get stiffer towards the end." But stegosaurs had massive muscles at the base of the tails, flexibility and fine muscle control all the way to the tail tip. "The joints of a stegosaur tail look like a monkey's tail. They were built for 3-dimensional combat."

In order to deliver the mortal wound to the allosaur, a stegosaur would have had to sweep its tail under the allosaur and twist the tail tip, because normally the spikes point outward and backward. That would have been well within the ability of a stegosaur, Bakker said.

Tsagandelta dashzevegi: a new Carnivorous Deltatheroidan Metatherian From Cenomanian/Campanian Cretaceous Mongolia

A deltatheroidan mammal from the Upper Cretaceous Baynshiree Formation, eastern Mongolia


Rougier et al


Deltatheroidans are a specialized group of basal metatherians with a long fossil history and a broad geographic distribution across Asia and North America. The group was among the first Mesozoic mammals known by relatively complete cranial material, recovered from the Gobi Desert by the American Museum expeditions in the 1920s. Deltatheroidans exhibit trends in their dentition towards apparent specializations for carnivory, including strongly developed postmetacrista, pronounced postvallum-prevallid shear, and a reduction of the ultimate molar. While the oldest undisputed deltatheroidans hail from the Early Cretaceous of North America, Upper Cretaceous rocks in central Asia have yielded the best preserved specimens and the bulk of the diversity. Here we describe a new deltatheroidan, Tsagandelta dashzevegi, gen. et sp. nov., from the Upper Cretaceous Baynshiree Formation of eastern Mongolia. This taxon adds to the diversity of the group in central Asia and provides further evidence of uniformity among the Late Cretaceous vertebrate faunas across the Gobi Desert.

Late Triassic Non-mammaliaform Cynodont Brasilitherium riograndensis had Mammal-like Nasal Cavity

Nasal Anatomy of the Non-mammaliaform Cynodont Brasilitherium riograndensis (Eucynodontia, Therapsida) Reveals New Insight into Mammalian Evolution


Ruf et al


The mammalian nasal cavity is characterized by a unique anatomy with complex internal features. The evolution of turbinals was correlated with endothermic and macrosmatic adaptations in therapsids and in early mammals, which is still apparent in their twofold function (warming and moistening of air, olfaction). Fossil evidence for the transformation from the nonmammalian to the mammalian nasal cavity pattern has been poor and inadequate. Ossification of the cartilaginous nasal capsule and turbinals seems to be a feature that occurred only very late in synapsid evolution but delicate ethmoidal bones are rarely preserved. Here we provide the first µCT investigation of the nasal cavity of the advanced non-mammaliaform cynodont Brasilitherium riograndensis from the Late Triassic of Southern Brazil, a member of the sister-group of mammaliaforms, in order to elucidate a critical anatomical transition in early mammalian evolution. Brasilitherium riograndensis already had at least partially ossified turbinals as remnants of the nasoturbinal and the first ethmoturbinal are preserved. The posterior nasal septum is partly ossified and contributes to a mesethmoid. The nasal cavity is posteriorly expanded and forms a distinctive pars posterior (ethmoidal recess) that is ventrally separated from the nasopharyngeal duct by a distinct lamina terminalis. Thus, our observations clearly demonstrate that principal features of the mammalian nasal cavity were already present in the sister-group of mammaliaforms.