Sunday, February 05, 2006

Missing Link To Crocodile/Avian/Mammalian Past Rediscovered At Museum of Natural History

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Researchers noticed what looked like a crocodile ankle poking out of a very old cast stored in the Museum's back rooms. Upon opening it, the fossil, which hasn't been seen in many years, turned out to be an important missing link from right after the great Permian extinction.

From National Geographic News:
Ankle aside, Effigia had large eyes, a long tail, and a toothless beak—not unlike the ostrich dinosaurs.

Effigia also walked on two feet, unlike modern crocs.

These physical similarities suggest that Effigia and the ornithomimid dinosaurs evolved similarly during two different eras, the scientists say.

The fossil record shows that many different features have been reinvented time and again in different species. But the Effigia example is a bit surprising.
Untangling the tree of life is a challenge. When we apply genetic tools, it is always surprising and filling out the record by classifying fossils enables us to understand all the many odd things that happened in the past for evolution is all about things happening.
Modern crocodiles are but one remnant of what was once a far more diverse croc family.

"Today we think of crocodiles as looking basically the same," said Nesbitt, of the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "But in their history they took on a wide variety of different body plans."

"Some looked like reptilian armadillos or cats, and others looked like little dinosaurs," Nesbitt said.

The crocodilian family may have been at its peak during the Triassic period.

"Toward the end of the Triassic period you have this crazy diversification of these crocodile relatives, including this animal," Nesbitt said.

"It was really the heyday of the crocodile-like animals, but the only lineage to really make it out of the Triassic was the lineage that led to modern crocodiles."

Recent research now shows that birds, turtles and crocodiles all split off from the main trunk of the dinosaur family pretty quickly and each struck out upon its own path which increasingly diverged. This splitting happened when many species were cut off from each other by the tremendous disaster of the end of the Permian when not only did the planet become very hot, the oxygen supply nearly disappeared again, it being an artifact of plants releasing oxygen when processing CO2. Each species the survived, and very few individuals survived this disaster, lived in small, restricted, protected areas. This allowed them to change rapidly without being interfered with.

Prior to the disaster, proto-mammalian Theraspids hunted proto-dinosarus. It looked like the earth would be inherited by the mammals who could keep their young warm. The bulk of all our fossil fuels comes from this balmy, wet, fertile period. For 100 million years, thick forests of fern-type plants covered the landscape. This mass of greenery and the milling insects and animals thrived happily. From Berkeley University:
In addition to having the ideal conditions for the beginnings ofcoal, several major biological, geological, and climatic events occurred during this time. One of the greatest evolutionary innovations of the Carboniferous was the amniote egg, which allowed for the further exploitation of the land by certain tetrapods. The amniote egg allowed the ancestors of birds, mammals, and reptiles to reproduce on land by preventing the desiccation of the embryo inside. There was also a trend towards mild temperatures during theCarboniferous, as evidenced by the decrease in lycopods and large insects and an increase in the number of tree ferns.
All this got buried suddenly and totally, under rock, no less. This doesn't happen inevitably. The only way to build up rock to seal in great masses of organic matter that couldn't rot easily is by suddenly turning the climate inside/out.

So hot winds, blowing sand, rains falling on bare rocks high up, causing mud flows to pour into deep valleys that were deep graves of former tremendous forests, compressing it all over the eons to turn it all into rock called "coal" or a liquid called "oil".

Here is more on the debate about warming vs asteroid impact: From GSA:
Rapid end-Permian extinctions probably intensified conditions that were already developing on Earth including: 1) extreme warmth, 2) deep-sea stratification and anoxia facilitated by warm, saline bottom water, 3) limitation of nutrient availability, and 4) reduction in atmospheric oxygen levels. All of these factors could have delayed Early Triassic biotic recovery. Decay of unburied biomass would release considerable carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Destruction of most photosynthetic organisms (land plants and phytoplankton) would sustain warmth by sharply reducing Earth’s capability for CO2 drawdown. Water lost during forest destruction would facilitate desertification that would foster erosion resulting in depletion of soil nutrients and release of CO2. Additional greenhouse gas probably entered Earth’s atmosphere from the Siberian Traps eruptions, gas hydrate release, and ocean overturn. Absence of active, low-latitude Late Permian orogenic belts had already reduced long-term silicate weathering and CO2 drawdown.
Like any terrible disaster, multiple forces coiciding with each other amplify each other's effects and thanks to this being a fairly complex system, once out of whack, everything falls rapidly apart since the entire ecosystem is built one part interacting with all neighboring parts which is why we are seeing so many extinctions today, for example.

It so happens, when all animals struggled to survive the great Permian extinction, when things got better over several million desperate years, the niche occupied by the dinosaurs happened to be bigger and more fertile than the one mammalians occupied and when the two lineages met each other again as oxygen levels rose, mammals were much tinier than before and little dinosaurs were much bigger than the poor mammals. So dominating the former dominators was easy and mammals spent the following 100 million years, dodging the thundering footsteps of the dinosaurs.

Until, again, the ecology collapsed, the climate changed and the dinosaurs lost their grip on the planet and became helpess fossils.
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Scientists Now Think Global Warming Caused Greatest Extinction During At End of Permian

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

This is a schematic map of Pangea at the end of the Permian Era, 250 million years ago. The land masses were, except for at the poles, very hot, the averages at over 100 F. Scientists now think the ocean's north/south circulation shut down and the seas became too tepid and stagnant so 90% of all sea life perished while on the land, 70% of the fauna died and oxygen levels were so depressed, the air was breathable only slightly above sea level.

From Science Magazine:
Hypoxia, Global Warming, and Terrestrial Late Permian Extinctions
Raymond B. Huey* and Peter D. Ward
A catastrophic extinction occurred at the end of the Permian Period. However, baseline extinction rates appear to have been elevated even before the final catastrophe, suggesting sustained environmental degradation. For terrestrial vertebrates during the Late Permian, the combination of a drop in atmospheric oxygen plus climate warming would have induced hypoxic stress and consequently compressed altitudinal ranges to near sea level. Our simulations suggest that the magnitude of altitudinal compression would have forced extinctions by reducing habitat diversity, fragmenting and isolating populations, and inducing a species-area effect. It also might have delayed ecosystem recovery after the mass extinction.

Here is a view from above showing how oxygen was cut off by mountains so populations were isolated from each other.

This shows how low the oxygen level was relative to mountains, seen from the side.

There are many reasons for us to try to understand all the extinctions because we are bioforms here and we know we can go extinct. Of course, with lunatics whipping up wars all the time, many we will beat Mother Nature to the punch. Right?

But if sanity prevails, it does behoove us to figure out the planetary past and what dangers to keep a wary eye on. To me, this is simple when it comes to things like asteroids and comets. They are, without any doubt, grave dangers to us. Another is volcanic eruptions of mega volcanoes. Then there are more subtle but insidiously dangerous threats like destroying our air and water! And the data about global warming grows more and more dire, not less and less dangerous.

This latest information is terrifying! Not only did the planet hyper-heat, this killed off a host of sealife that produces masses of oxygen and the loss of these tiny creatures nearly killed off the luxuriant flora and fauna on land. Life existed in only a few scattered "bio-islands" and there was reduced communication between these outposts, all creatures were locked into isolation chambers until the earth cooled off again and then evolution resumed with great force and we all descended from the survivors of this ancient Noah's ark.

National Center of Atmospheric Research:
Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have created a computer simulation showing Earth's climate in unprecedented detail at the time of the greatest mass extinction in the planet's history. The work gives support to a theory that an abrupt and dramatic rise in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide triggered the massive die-off 251 million years ago. The research appears in the September issue of Geology.

"The results demonstrate how rapidly rising temperatures in the atmosphere can affect ocean circulation, cutting off oxygen to lower depths and extinguishing most life," says NCAR scientist Jeffrey Kiehl, the lead author.
Thanks to increasingly powerful computers, scientists can now run detailed climatological programs that take in many more variables than ever before in order to flash forward probabliities to some sort of conclusion. So, running variables on a 50 million year scale, feeding in a small rise in CO2 each year and this was the shocking result.
18 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 30 degrees Celsius) higher than today, and extensive volcanic activity had released large amounts of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere over a 700,000-year period.

To solve the puzzle of how those conditions may have affected climate and life around the globe, the researchers turned to the Community Climate System Model (CCSM). One of the world's premier climate research tools, the model can integrate changes in atmospheric temperatures with ocean temperatures and currents. Research teams had previously studied the Permian extinction with more limited computer models that focused on a single component of Earth's climate system, such as the ocean.
Well, we now know the upper limit! Severe desertfication happened back then. The reason why we have so much oil to pump is because of all that lush biomass rotted and was quickly covered by sand and gravel and then compressed by mud from rising seas. We are literally repeating the mess of the Permian extinction by burning the rotted carcasses of the living creatures who dwelled on this earth so long ago.
The CCSM's simulations showed that ocean circulation was even more stagnant than previously thought. In addition, the research demonstrated the extent to which computer models can successfully simulate past climate events. The CCSM appeared to correctly capture key details of the late Permian, including increased ocean salinity and sea surface temperatures in the high latitudes that paleontologists believe were 14 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) higher than present.
Understanding the dynamics of the ocean currents is important and scientists already fear the mighty Gulf Stream is weakening due to nonsalty water draining off of Greenland.

From this blog:
The most recent study of the Atlantic currents show weakening of the rate of flow. Some scientists have speculated that a slower current could trigger a sudden ice age if all other meteorlogical and solar actions coincide to produce a plunge in the northern jet stream. The debate about this oscillation possibility rages on. Understanding this process is vital for our survival.
Back when I wrote this, I didn't know the new information. This is far more alarming.

The great Siberian eruptions occured at the end of the Permian and this was like Mother Nature running a huge SUV non stop. She does what She does but we can't be that fatalistic, we have to do the right thing, not the wrong thing, since it pays off handsomely, namely, we get to live on as organisms.

As usual, we take tiny steps forwards, here is an example, the British are getting kind of worried since they are on the front lines of so many bad things here (forget Florida or any Gulf state, they are doomed). From the BBC:
Governments are wrestling with problems of rising energy demands, rising costs and the spectre of climate change. In this week's Green Room, Dr Matt Prescott argues there is an easy first step to dealing with all three issues - banning the traditional light bulb.
Ever since I began to use solar energy, I used only fluorecent bulbs. I never use the cheap bulbs. I agree they should be outlawed but bet this will never happen any more than people will respond by doing the right thing rather than the destructive, cheap thing. This is why people are going to be caught in a trap of their own devising.

Simple things like building houses facing the optimal direction for solar heating or keeping cool depending on the climate, is a no-no nearly universally in this country. I must be living on one of all of 1% of houses deliberately sited and designed to maximize natural forces to my benefit. This is woeful and suicidal, our building for no future. Even if we build vast bubbles to protect us, the planet will die around us and end up with less oxygen than Mars.
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4.5 Mag Earthquake At Dangerous Yellowstone Faultline at Hebgen Lake, Montana

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

A small but important earthquake just happened at Hebgen Lake, Montana, today. It was only 5 km down which is extremely shallow. This is also the exact same site of the famous 7.9 Yellowstone earthquake. Here is a review of what happened back then.

Here are pictures of the quake zone.

This landslide killed many campers. The Hebgen Lake dam, for the lake is artificial, nearly collapsed. Luckily, the fault line upheaval occured just above the north side of the dam.

The fault lines in Yellowstone are fairly complex. I simplified them, they are actually all extremely short and very close together, I just tried to give a general idea of their directional orientations. The Hebgen region is part of the Yellowstone complex. The earthquakes at this point echo easily further south.

According to scientists, even very distant earthquakes on the same American plate cause echos at Yellowstone.

During the last week, we had yet another 6+ earthquake at both the Adaman Islands, site of one of the great quakes last year, and the boundry between the Australian and Pacific Plates. In other words, the reverberations from the Boxing Day Quake are still happening. Far from the earth being at rest, it is still working out the dynamics of that great change in the crust.

Californians think, since all the quakes are happening elsewhere, maybe it won't happen here. This is a ridiculous idea. But then, people are madly rebuilding bigger and more expensive structures in the heart of hurricane alley. And we know for a fact, next year's hurricanes just might dwarf the ones that happened last year.
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NASA Is Really Run By Right Wing GOP 24 Year Old Boy

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Ever since Super Brat, Bush, hijacked America, he has installed fellow frat style creeps in positions of responsibility all over the place. He had them run Iraq's economy which is now a disaster area, he had them run FEMA which turned disaster areas into super disasters. And he has them running NASA and of course, NASA is collapsing. A heck of a job, army of Brownies.

From the NYT:
A week after NASA's top climate scientist complained that the space agency's public-affairs office was trying to silence his statements on global warming, the agency's administrator, Michael D. Griffin, issued a sharply worded statement yesterday calling for "scientific openness" throughout the agency.

"It is not the job of public-affairs officers," Dr. Griffin wrote in an e-mail message to the agency's 19,000 employees, "to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff."
Griffin is a far right winger nut case. I warned NASA employees in the beginning, he was going to allow Bush and his fellow lunatics run the show into the ground and I was right, as usual.

For Griffin to pretend he had no idea that the far rightwing Texas tot he himself installed in a position of authority in NASA is just too silly for words. How dare he. He was touted as the hands-on super smart guy who would fix NASA and all I see is wall to wall destruction and misdirection. The know-nothings that fill every possible government position were placed there by the heads of departments so I am demanding that Griffin resign.

For example, this news is straight out of the Stalin "political officer" playbook:
Other National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists and public-affairs employees came forward this week to say that beyond Dr. Hansen's case, there were several other instances in which political appointees had sought to control the flow of scientific information from the agency.

They called or e-mailed The Times and sent documents showing that news releases were delayed or altered to mesh with Bush administration policies.

In October, for example, George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web designer working for the agency to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Deutsch that another NASA employee forwarded to The Times.
How could Mr. Super Smart, Hands On Griffin not know what his own office was doing? Is he spaced out? Is he NASA's Ken Lay, Mr. "I'm out of the loop" NASA?

No wonder the agency is dying. I can see it all over the place. Now that Bush is totally unpopular, the poor scientists at NASA are no longer being censored by the press. They now dare to strike back against these idiots running the show. Mr. Deutsch, by the way, is only 24 years old, a very connected Texas brat brought in to muzzle NASA scientists and his ability to do this was gained with the tacit approval of Griffin.

This monumentally stupid political operative was peddling the dumb "intelligent design" crap that seems to be the ultimate sign of brain rot afflicting America. As we fight a war to the death with Muslim funamentalists, we let our own minds collapse into cottage cheese.

Griffin has been leading a fool's errand since day one. His entire plan is to misdirect NASA until it is totally nonfunctional so that the GOP can crow that the government can't run things and then sell NASA off to private investors. In other words, this is yet another right wing conspiracy to steal public resources and sell them at a huge loss to rich people who will then use it for their own purposes just like they want to sell the weather satellite feed to private investors who then keep it all secret unless you pay them off!

Gads. This pisses me off.
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