WFS News: Sauropod swimmers or walkers?

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An international team of scientists, led by the China University of Geosciences in Beijing and including palaeontologists from the University of Bristol, has shed new light on some unusual dinosaur tracks from northern China. The tracks appear to have been made by four-legged sauropod dinosaurs yet only two of their feet have left prints behind.

This new study of fossil trackways from Gansu Province in northern China has provided evidence that some feet-only tracks were produced by walking, not swimming animals. Credit: Lida Xing

This new study of fossil trackways from Gansu Province in northern China has provided evidence that some feet-only tracks were produced by walking, not swimming animals.
Credit: Lida Xing

Previous studies of such trackways have suggested that the dinosaurs, which were far too big to walk on their hind legs, might have been swimming. Scientists agree that dinosaurs could swim — nearly all animals can — but evidence for swimming has been disputed. It has been suggest that trackways in which only the front or hind feet are imprinted into the sediment could have been made by swimming dinosaurs, their bodies buoyant in deep water while they paddled along with their arms or legs.

Now, a new study of fossil trackways from Gansu Province in northern China has provided evidence that some feet-only tracks were produced by walking, not swimming animals.

The tracks, dating from the Lower Cretaceous, over 120 million years ago, are roughly circular and with a clear set of four or five claw marks at the front. These prints are matched perfectly by the feet of medium-sized sauropod dinosaurs, massive long-necked, plant-eating dinosaurs such as Brontosaurus and Titanosaurus.

But how could only the prints of the hind feet be preserved?

Lead author Lida Xing said: “Nobody would say these huge dinosaurs could stagger along on their hind legs alone — they would fall over. However, we can prove they were walking because the prints are the same as in more usual tracks consisting of all four feet, it’s just that here, we don’t see the hand prints. If they had been swimming, with the hind legs dangling down, some of the foot prints would be scratch marks, as the foot scrabbled backwards.”

The tracks are well preserved, but there is evidence the animals were walking on soft sand. They pressed down because of their weight, and the claws dug deeper so they could gain purchase in the sediment. Most of the animal’s weight was towards the rear, and so the hind-feet pressed deeper. The front feet, on the other hand, did not apply enough pressure to make a lasting mark.

Co-author Professor Mike Benton of the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences said: “This is not to say that sauropods did not swim. We are simply suggesting that a closer study of the details of fossil footprints and the sediments can suggest a rather less romantic idea. The loss of hand prints is down to sedimentology, not dinosaur behaviour.”

  1. Xing, L., Li, D.Q., Falkingham, P.L., Lockley, M.G., Benton, M.J., Klein, H., Zhang, J.P., Ran, H., Persons, W.S., Jr., and Dai, H. ‘Digit-only sauropod pes trackways from China – evidence of swimming or a preservational phenomenon? Scientific Reports, 2016 DOI: 10.1038/srep21138
University of Bristol. “Sauropod swimmers or walkers?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160218060731.htm>.
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WFS News: Mount Agung going to blow?

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Simon Carn studies carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from volcanoes using remote sensing.

Carn notes that monitoring emissions from volcanoes is a useful indicator to predict when volcanoes will erupt. With Mount Agung on eruption watch in Bali, Carn notes that monitoring emissions from the volcano may aid volcanologists in determining whether or not an Agung eruption is imminent.

Mount Agung // Photo by adiartana/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

                           Mount Agung // Photo by adiartana/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

“Something is going on under the volcano, probably a magma intrusion,” Carn says. “The big question we can’t really answer is if it will erupt or if it will subside and go quiet again. Fumaroles and gas emissions can be seen from satellites. High-resolution satellite images of the crater allow us to see that there were some changes in late September.”

Agung has erupted about once per century for the past 5,000 years. It last erupted in 1963, killing more than 1,000 people. A detectable drop in planetary temperature — a few tenths of a degree — in 1964 followed. A seismic swarm, an increase in seismic activity around the volcano, has been detectable for weeks by seismographic equipment, and several earthquakes have been felt by humans.

Simon Carn measures gas emissions from Mount Yasur in the island nation of Vanuatu in 2014. Credit: Simon Carn

Simon Carn measures gas emissions from Mount Yasur in the island nation of Vanuatu in 2014.Credit: Simon Carn

Carn says better understanding gas emissions from volcanoes could lead to better eruption predictions.

“They have evacuated a lot of people from around the volcano, but volcanic unrest can persist for months or even decades without an eruption.”

Materials provided by Michigan Technological University.

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WFS News: Giant extinct burrowing bat discovered in New Zealand

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The fossilized remains of a giant burrowing bat that lived in New Zealand millions of years ago have been found by a UNSW Sydney-led international team of scientists.

Teeth and bones of the extinct bat – which was about three times the size of an average bat today – were recovered from 19 to 16-million-year-old sediments near the town of St Bathans in Central Otago on the South Island.

The study, by researchers from Australia, New Zealand, the UK and USA, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Burrowing bats are only found now in New Zealand, but they once also lived in Australia. Burrowing bats are peculiar because they not only fly; they also scurry about on all fours, over the forest floor, under leaf litter and along tree branches, while foraging for both animal and plant food.

An artist's impression of a New Zealand burrowing bat, Mystacina robusta, that went extinct last century. The new fossil find, Vulcanops jennyworthyae, that lived millions of years ago in New Zealand, is an ancient relative of burrowing or short-tailed bats. Credit Illustration by Gavin Mouldey.

An artist’s impression of a New Zealand burrowing bat, Mystacina robusta, that went extinct last century. The new fossil find, Vulcanops jennyworthyae, that lived millions of years ago in New Zealand, is an ancient relative of burrowing or short-tailed bats.Credit:Illustration by Gavin Mouldey.

With an estimated weight of about 40 grams, the newly found fossil bat was the biggest burrowing bat yet known. It also represents the first new bat genus to be added to New Zealand’s fauna in more than 150 years

It has been named Vulcanops jennyworthyae, after team member Jenny Worthy who found the bat fossils, and after Vulcan, the mythological Roman god of fire and volcanoes, in reference to New Zealand’s tectonic nature, but also to the historic Vulcan Hotel in the mining town St Bathans.

Other research team members include scientists from UNSW Sydney, University of Salford, Flinders University, Queensland University, Canterbury Museum, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the American Museum of Natural History, and Duke University.

“Burrowing bats are more closely related to bats living in South America than to others in the southwest Pacific,” says study first author and UNSW Professor Sue Hand.

“They are related to vampire bats, ghost-faced bats, fishing and frog-eating bats, and nectar-feeding bats, and belong to a bat superfamily that once spanned the southern landmasses of Australia, New Zealand, South America and possibly Antarctica.”

Around 50 million years ago, these landmasses were connected as the last vestiges of the southern supercontinent Gondwana. Global temperatures were up to 12 degrees Celsius higher than today and Antarctica was forested and frost-free. With subsequent fragmentation of Gondwana, cooling climates and the growth of ice-sheets in Antarctica, Australasia’s burrowing bats became isolated from their South American relatives.

“New Zealand’s burrowing bats are also renowned for their extremely broad diet. They eat insects and other invertebrates such as weta and spiders, which they catch on the wing or chase by foot. And they also regularly consume fruit, flowers and nectar,” says Professor Hand, who is Director of the PANGEA Research Centre at UNSW.

“However, Vulcanops’s specialized teeth and large size suggest it had a different diet, capable of eating even more plant food as well as small vertebrates – a diet more like some of its South American cousins. We don’t see this in Australasian bats today,” she says.

Study co-author, Associate Professor Trevor Worthy of Flinders University says: “The fossils of this spectacular bat and several others in the St Bathans Fauna show that the prehistoric aviary that was New Zealand also included a surprising diversity of furry critters alongside the birds.”

Study co-author Professor Paul Scofield of Canterbury Museum says: “These bats, along with land turtles and crocodiles, show that major groups of animals have been lost from New Zealand. They show that the iconic survivors of this lost fauna – the tuataras, moas, kiwi, acanthisittid wrens, and leiopelmatid frogs – evolved in a far more complex community that hitherto thought.”

This diverse fauna lived in or around a 5600-square-km prehistoric Lake Manuherikia that once covered much of the Maniototo region of the South Island. When they lived, in the early Miocene, temperatures in New Zealand were warmer than today and semitropical to warm temperate forests and ferns edged the vast palaeolake.

Vulcanops provides new insight into the original diversity of bats in Australasia. Its lineage became extinct sometime after the early Miocene, as did a number of other lineages present in the St Bathans assemblage. These include crocodiles, terrestrial turtles, flamingo-like palaelodids, swiftlets, several pigeon, parrot and shorebird lineages and non-flying mammals. Most of these were probably warm-adapted species. After the middle Miocene, global climate change brought colder and drier conditions to New Zealand, with significant changes to vegetation and environments.

It is likely that this general cooling and drying trend drove overall loss in bat diversity in New Zealand, where just two bat species today comprise the entire native land mammal fauna. All other modern land mammals in New Zealand have been introduced by people within the last 800 years.

Source: Public release news in www.eurekalert.org by University of New South Wales.

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WFS News: Sclerocormus parviceps, an ichthyosauriform that’s breaking all the rules about what ichthyosaurs are like

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Two hundred and fifty million years ago, life on earth was in a tail-spin–climate change, volcanic eruptions, and rising sea levels contributed to a mass extinction that makes the death of the dinosaurs look like child’s play. Marine life got hit hardest–96% of all marine species went extinct. For a long time, scientists believed that the early marine reptiles that came about after the mass extinction evolved slowly, but the recent discovery of a strange new fossil brings that view into question.

In a paper published in Scientific Reports, paleontologists describe a new marine reptile, Sclerocormus parviceps, an ichthyosauriform that’s breaking all the rules about what ichthyosaurs are like.

Ichthyosaurs were a massive group of marine reptiles that lived around the time of the earliest dinosaurs. Most of them looked a little bit like today’s dolphins–streamlined bodies, long beak-like snouts, and powerful tail fins. But the new species is something of a black sheep. It has a short snout (its species name even means “small skull”), and instead of a tail with triangular flukes (think of a fish’s tail-fins), it had a long, whip-like tail without big fins at the end. And while many ichthyosaurs had conical teeth for catching prey, Sclerocormus was toothless and instead seems to have used its short snout to create pressure and suck up food like a syringe. In short, it’s really different from most of its relatives, and that tells scientists something important about evolution.

Sclerocormus tells us that ichthyosauriforms evolved and diversified rapidly at the end of the Lower Triassic period,” explains Olivier Rieppel, The Field Museum’s Rowe Family Curator of Evolutionary Biology. “We don’t have many marine reptile fossils from this period, so this specimen is important because it suggests that there’s diversity that hasn’t been uncovered yet.”

The way this new species evolved into such a different form so quickly sheds light on how evolution actually works. “Darwin’s model of evolution consists of small, gradual changes over a long period of time, and that’s not quite what we’re seeing here. These ichthyosauriforms seem to have evolved very quickly, in short bursts of lots of change, in leaps and bounds,” says Rieppel.

Animals like Sclerocormus that lived just after a mass extinction also reveal how life responds to huge environmental pressures. “We’re in a mass extinction right now, not one caused by volcanoes or meteorites, but by humans,” explains Rieppel. “So while the extinction 250 million years ago won’t tell us how to solve what’s going on today, it does bear on the evolutionary theory at work. How do we understand the recovery and rebuilding of a food chain, of an ecosystem? How does that get fixed, and what comes first?”

This study was conducted by scientists at Peking University, University of California, Davis, the Anhui Geological Museum, the Università degli Studi di Milano, The Field Museum, National Museums Scotland, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

  1. Da-Yong Jiang, Ryosuke Motani, Jian-Dong Huang, Andrea Tintori, Yuan-Chao Hu, Olivier Rieppel, Nicholas C. Fraser, Cheng Ji, Neil P. Kelley, Wan-Lu Fu & Rong Zhang. A large aberrant stem ichthyosauriform indicating early rise and demise of ichthyosauromorphs in the wake of the end-Permian extinction. Scientific Reports, 2016 DOI: 10.1038/srep26232

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WFS News: Fossil evidence reveals butterflies and moths lived 50m years earlier than thought

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 Example of a living representative of a primitive moth belonging to the Micropterigidae. Scales from this group were found, constituting the oldest evidence for the Lepidoptera. Photograph: Hossein Rajaei

Example of a living representative of a primitive moth belonging to the Micropterigidae. Scales from this group were found, constituting the oldest evidence for the Lepidoptera. Photograph: Hossein Rajaei

The earliest known fossil evidence of butterflies and moths has been found in Germany, showing they lived at least 50m years earlier than previously believed and challenging one of the most popular beliefs about their evolution.

Scales from the wings of at least seven species were found in a sample of just 10g of sediment – the weight of a UK pound coin – and researchers believe there are “many, many more” to be identified.

But as well as dating the flying insects to about 200m years ago, when they would have shared food with the early dinosaurs, the diaphanous, ridged golden-brown wing scales throw up another mystery.

Some of the moths show signs of a proboscis, the protrusion scientists have long believed evolved alongside flowering plants to allow them the reach the nectar.

The researchers now hypothesise that the proboscis was originally used to suck up tiny amounts of sticky sap which the plants produced to trap pollen, until flowering plants evolved tens of millions of years later.

“[This] was most likely an evolutionary response to widespread heat and aridity during the Late Triassic period [before 200m years ago],” they said.

Magnified examples of the oldest wing and body scales of primitive moths found in Germany. Photograph: Bas van de Schootbrugge

Magnified examples of the oldest wing and body scales of primitive moths found in Germany. Photograph: Bas van de Schootbrugge

The team excavated cores from beneath what was once a lagoon in Schandelah, northern Germany with the intention of examining the likely impacts of changes in oceans as rising carbon dioxide emissions are being absorbed, lowering oxygen.

 Because water in the lagoon would have allowed species much lower levels of oxygen than above, remains of algae, spores, pollen, fungi and plants have been well preserved. It was among these species that the wing-scales of tiny butterflies and moths were found.

Since the find, other cores have been re-examined and at least one – from Luxembourg – revealed similar remains.

Previously only one lepidoptera find of a similar age, dated to 190m years ago, had been found on the Dorset coast in England.

“That confirms to us that we’re dealing with something real,” said Bas van de Schootbrugge at Utrecht University, one of the lead authors of the paper, published in Science Advances. “That suggests they were reasonably widespread.”

Source: Article by Juliette Jowit,theguardian.com.

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WFS News: Extra-terrestrial Hypatia stone rattles solar system status quo

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In 2013, researchers announced that a pebble found in south-west Egypt, was definitely not from Earth. By 2015, other research teams had announced that the ‘Hypatia’ stone was not part of any known types of meteorite or comet, based on noble gas and nuclear probe analyses.

(The stone was named Hypatia after Hypatia of Alexandria, the first Western woman mathematician and astronomer.)

However, if the pebble was not from Earth, what was its origin and could the minerals in it provide clues on where it came from? Micro-mineral analyses of the pebble by the original research team at the University of Johannesburg have now provided unsettling answers that spiral away from conventional views of the material our solar system was formed from.

Researchers Jan Kramers and Georgy Belyanin found mineral compounds unlike anything on Earth, or in known meteorites or comets, in these fragments from the Hypatia stone, which was picked up in south-west Egypt in the Libyan Desert Glass Field. Credit: Dr Mario di Martino, INAF Osservatorio Astrofysico di Torino

Researchers Jan Kramers and Georgy Belyanin found mineral compounds unlike anything on Earth, or in known meteorites or comets, in these fragments from the Hypatia stone, which was picked up in south-west Egypt in the Libyan Desert Glass Field. Credit: Dr Mario di Martino, INAF Osservatorio Astrofysico di Torino.

Mineral structure

The internal structure of the Hypatia pebble is somewhat like a fruitcake that has fallen off a shelf into some flour and cracked on impact, says Prof Jan Kramers, lead researcher of the study published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta on 28 Dec 2017.

“We can think of the badly mixed dough of a fruit cake representing the bulk of the Hypatia pebble, what we called two mixed ‘matrices’ in geology terms. The glace cherries and nuts in the cake represent the mineral grains found in Hypatia ‘inclusions’. And the flour dusting the cracks of the fallen cake represent the ‘secondary materials’ we found in the fractures in Hypatia, which are from Earth,” he says.

The original extraterrestrial rock that fell to Earth must have been at least several meters in diameter, but disintegrated into small fragments of which the Hypatia stone is one.

Weird matrix

Straight away, the Hypatia mineral matrix (represented by fruitcake dough), looks nothing like that of any known meteorites, the rocks that fall from space onto Earth every now and then.

“If it were possible to grind up the entire planet Earth to dust in a huge mortar and pestle, we would get dust with on average a similar chemical composition as chondritic meteorites,” says Kramers. “In chondritic meteorites, we expect to see a small amount of carbon{C} and a good amount of silicon (Si). But Hypatia’s matrix has a massive amount of carbon and an unusually small amount of silicon.”

“Even more unusual, the matrix contains a high amount of very specific carbon compounds, called polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH, a major component of interstellar dust, which existed even before our solar system was formed. Interstellar dust is also found in comets and meteorites that have not been heated up for a prolonged period in their history,” adds Kramers.

In another twist, most (but not all) of the PAH in the Hypatia matrix has been transformed into diamonds smaller than one micrometer, which are thought to have been formed in the shock of impact with the Earth’s atmosphere or surface. These diamonds made Hypatia resistant to weathering so that it is preserved for analysis from the time it arrived on Earth.

Weirder grains never found before

When researcher Georgy Belyanin analyzed the mineral grains in the inclusions in Hypatia, (represented by the nuts and cherries of a fruitcake), a number of most surprising chemical elements showed up.

“The aluminum occurs in pure metallic form, on its own, not in a chemical compound with other elements. As a comparison, gold occurs in nuggets, but aluminum never does. This occurrence is extremely rare on Earth and the rest of our solar system, as far as is known in science,” says Belyanin.

“We also found silver iodine phosphide and moissanite (silicon carbide) grains, again in highly unexpected forms. The grains are the first documented to be found in situ (as is) without having to first dissolve the surrounding rock with acid,” adds Belyanin. “There are also grains of a compound consisting of mainly nickel and phosphorus, with very little iron; a mineral composition never observed before on Earth or in meteorites,” he adds.

Dr Marco Andreoli, a Research Fellow at the School of Geosciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, and a member of the Hypatia research team says, “When Hypatia was first found to be extraterrestrial, it was a sensation, but these latest results are opening up even bigger questions about its origins.”

Unique minerals in our solar system

Taken together, the ancient unheated PAH carbon as well as the phosphides, the metallic aluminum, and the moissanite suggest that Hypatia is an assembly of unchanged pre-solar material. That means, matter that existed in space before our Sun, the Earth and the other planets in our solar system were formed.

Supporting the pre-solar concept is the weird composition of the nickel-phosphorus-iron grains found in the Hypatia inclusions. These three chemical elements are interesting because they belong to the subset of chemical elements heavier than carbon and nitrogen which form the bulk of all the rocky planets.

“In the grains within Hypatia the ratios of these three elements to each other are completely different from that calculated for the planet Earth or measured in known types of meteorites. As such these inclusions are unique within our solar system,” adds Belyanin.

“We think the nickel-phosphorus-iron grains formed pre-solar, because they are inside the matrix, and are unlikely to have been modified by shock such as collision with the Earth’s atmosphere or surface, and also because their composition is so alien to our solar system,” he adds.

“Was the bulk of Hypatia, the matrix, also formed before our solar system? Probably not, because you need a dense dust cloud like the solar nebula to coagulate large bodies” he says.

A different kind of dust

Generally, science says that our solar system’s planets ultimately formed from a huge, ancient cloud of interstellar dust (the solar nebula) in space. The first part of that process would be much like dust bunnies coagulating in an unswept room. Science also holds that the solar nebula was homogenous, that is, the same kind of dust everywhere.

But Hypatia’s chemistry tugs at this view. “For starters, there are no silicate minerals in Hypatia’s matrix, in contrast to chondritic meteorites (and planets like the Earth, Mars and Venus), where silicates are dominant. Then there are the exotic mineral inclusions. If Hypatia itself is not presolar, both features indicate that the solar nebula wasn’t the same kind of dust everywhere — which starts tugging at the generally accepted view of the formation of our solar system,” says Kramers.

Into the future

“What we do know is that Hypatia was formed in a cold environment, probably at temperatures below that of liquid nitrogen on Earth (-196 Celsius). In our solar system it would have been way further out than the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where most meteorites come from. Comets come mainly from the Kuiper Belt, beyond the orbit of Neptune and about 40 times as far away from the sun as we are. Some come from the Oort Cloud, even further out. We know very little about the chemical compositions of space objects out there. So our next question will dig further into where Hypatia came from,” says Kramers.

The little pebble from the Libyan Desert Glass strewn field in south-west Egypt presents a tantalizing piece for an extraterrestrial puzzle that is getting ever more complex.

The research was funded by University of Johannesburg Research council via the PPM Research Centre.

The researchers would like to thank Aly Barakat, Mario di Martino and Romano Serra for access to the Hypatia sample material; and Michael Wiedenbeck and his co-workers at the Geoforschungszentrum Potsdam, Germany for their collaboration.

  1. Georgy A. Belyanin, Jan D. Kramers, Marco A.G. Andreoli, Francesco Greco, Arnold Gucsik, Tebogo V. Makhubela, Wojciech J. Przybylowicz, Michael Wiedenbeck. Petrography of the carbonaceous, diamond-bearing stone “Hypatia” from southwest Egypt: A contribution to the debate on its origin. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2018; 223: 462 DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2017.12.020
Citation: University of Johannesburg. “Extra-terrestrial Hypatia stone rattles solar system status quo.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 January 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180109112437.htm>.
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WFS News:Fossil Teeth Link Beast to Earth’s Largest Shark

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Source: Article by By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer,livescience.com

 The Bryant Shark's teeth are about 1 inch tall, while the great white shark (represented by the jaw) has teeth approaching 3 inches. Credit: McWane Science Center

The Bryant Shark’s teeth are about 1 inch tall, while the great white shark (represented by the jaw) has teeth approaching 3 inches. Credit: McWane Science Center

It took nearly 40 years, but researchers have finally collected enough fossil teeth in Alabama to properly identify a previously unknown species of ancient shark — one that was a possible ancestor of megalodon, the largest shark to ever exist.

The newly identified mega-toothed shark lived about 83 million years ago, during the dinosaur age. Its largest tooth discovered so far measures about 1 inch (2.7 centimeters) long, which is substantially smaller than the 7-inch-long (17.7 cm) teeth sported by megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon), the researchers said in a new study.

“Over time, the sharks in the megalodon line acquire [tooth] serrations, lose their cusplets (the little ‘fangs’ on the sides of the main cusp) and grow to enormous sizes,” said study lead researcher Jun Ebersole, director of collections at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama. The newfound shark is an early member of this family, so its teeth are small and unserrated, with up to two pairs of cusplets, he said. [Aahhhhh! 5 Scary Shark Myths Busted]

Researchers found 33 teeth from the Cretaceous period shark from nine different sites in central Alabama over a period of 38 years, Ebersole said. He and his colleague named the species Cretalamna bryanti, or the “Bryant Shark” for short, in honor of the late University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and his family.

The Bryant Shark teeth are tiny compared to a giant megalodon tooth. Credit: McWane Science Center

The Bryant Shark teeth are tiny compared to a giant megalodon tooth.Credit: McWane Science Center

It’s incredible that until now, C. bryanti was “overlooked, not recognized or misidentified by previous scientists as other shark species,” Ebersole said in a statement. The discovery shows that mega-toothed sharks had more diversity than previously realized during the dinosaur age, he noted.

The Bryant Shark’s family, the otodontids, evolved more than 100 million years ago, but are now extinct. The family’s largest member, the 60-foot-long (18 meters) megalodon, lived during the Miocene and Pliocene, epochs that lasted from 23 million to 2.6 million years ago, Ebersole said.

Given that C. bryanti’s teeth had similar chompers to other mega-toothed sharks that survived the nonavian dinosaur extinction 66 million years ago, it’s possible that C. bryanti was part of the lineage that led to megalodon, Ebersole said.

The Bryant Shark teeth are different sizes, but the largest one is 1 inch (2.7 centimeters) tall. Notice the small cusplets on the sides of the teeth. Credit: McWane Science Center

The Bryant Shark teeth are different sizes, but the largest one is 1 inch (2.7 centimeters) tall. Notice the small cusplets on the sides of the teeth.Credit: McWane Science Center

He added that it’s difficult to calculate the length of C. bryanti based on its teeth alone. However, the shark’s crown teeth are similar to a those of a mako shark, even though the two species are not related. “Thus, using recent makos as a modern analogue, the Bryant Shark may have reached lengths of up to 15 feet [4.5 m],” Ebersole told Live Science.

The public will soon be able to see a handful of C. bryanti’s teeth on display in the fossil hall at McWane Science Center. The study was published online today (Jan. 8) in the journal PeerJ.

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WFS News: Trace Fossils On mars?

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Photographs taken by NASA’s Mars rover may show trace fossils on the Red Planet

Photographs taken by NASA’s Mars rover may show trace fossils on the Red Planet

Photographs taken by NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity, Lens Imager (MAHLI) may show trace fossils on the Red Planet, according to researcher Barry DiGregorio.

Mr DiGregorio, who written several research papers about Mars, believes that the images taken at the start of 2018 could be similar to Ordovician trace fossils.

He said: “They look remarkably similar to Ordovician trace fossils I have studied and photographed here on Earth.

“If not trace fossils, what other geological explanations will NASA come up with?”

Mr DiGregorio is a research fellow at the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology in the UK and author of the nonfiction books “Mars: The Living Planet” and “The Microbes of Mars.”

Ashwin Vasavada, the Curiosity project scientist, reported that the features in the images are very small and only a millimetre or two (0.04 to 0.08 inches) in width, with the longest of the features stretching to roughly 5 millimeters (0.2 inches)

He said: “So, they are tiny.”

The images were first captured in black and white but were fascinating enough for NASA to roll the Curiosity back to further examine them, making use of MAHLI.

MAHLI is a focusable colour camera mounted on the rover’s arm.

Mr Vasavada said: “These were unique enough, given the fact that we didn’t know they were there [that] we thought we should go back.”

 A still from a NASA video shows a bear like figure on Mars

  A still from a NASA video shows a bear like figure on Mars

Fellow Curiosity team member Christopher Edwards, a planetary geologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff wrote earlier this year: “This site was so interesting that we backtracked to get to where the rover was parked for this plan.”In the workspace in front of the rover, we have some very peculiar targets that warranted some additional interrogation.”

Mr Vasavada said he doesn’t rule out trace fossils on Mars, “but we certainly won’t jump to that as our first interpretation.”

He went on to say that close up looks at the images show them to be angular in multiple dimensions and suggested it could mean they are related to crystals in the rock and even crystal moulds that are found here on Earth.

Mr Vasavada said crystals in rock that are dissolved away leave crystal molds.

NASA reported that the features in the images are very small

                           NASA reported that the features in the images are very small

The scientist added: “If we see more of them … then we begin to say that this is an important process that’s going on at Vera Rubin Ridge.”

Curiosity scientists have been discussing the newly found and novel features, attempting to figure out what they mean.

Meanwhile, as well as with new MAHLI imagery, Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) are also inspecting the features for clues about their nature.

Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist at the Mars Institute and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California said: “The Curiosity images really pique our curiosity.”

However, “it’s hard to tell what the wiggly sticks are and a strictly mineral origin is, of course, the most plausible.”

Mr Lee said: “The immediate thought that came to my mind is bioturbation.”

Bioturbation is the process through which organisms living in sediments can disturb the structure of these sediments.

Mr Lee told Inside Outer Space: “A common example of bioturbation is the formation of worm burrows. The burrows, once refilled with sediments, fossilised and then exposed by erosion, can end up looking like wiggly sticks.”

Source: Article by Thomas Mackie www.express.co.uk

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WFS News: How metallic cores of rocky planets formed

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Scientists have long pondered how rocky bodies in the solar system — including our own Earth — got their metal cores. According to research conducted by The University of Texas at Austin, evidence points to the downwards percolation of molten metal toward the center of the planet through tiny channels between grains of rock.

The finding calls into question the interpretation of prior experiments and simulations that sought to understand how metals behave under intense heat and pressure when planets are forming. Past results suggested that large portions of molten metals stayed trapped in isolated pores between the grains. In contrast, the new research suggests that once those isolated pores grow large enough to connect, the molten metal starts to flow, and most of it is able to percolate along grain boundaries. This process would let metal trickle down through the mantle, accumulate in the center, and form a metal core, like the iron core at the heart of our home planet.

“What we’re saying is that once the melt network becomes connected, it stays connected until almost all of the metal is in the core,” said co-author Marc Hesse, an associate professor in the UT Jackson School of Geosciences Department of Geological Sciences, and a member of UT’s Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences.

The research was published on Dec. 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work was the doctoral thesis of Soheil Ghanbarzadeh, who earned his Ph.D. while a student in the UT Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering (now the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering). He currently works as a reservoir engineer with BP America. Soheil was jointly advised by Hesse and Maša Prodanovic, an associate professor in the Hildebrand Department and a co-author.

Planets and planetesimals (small planets and large asteroids) are formed primarily from silicate rocks and metal. Part of the planet formation process involves the initial mass of material separating into a metallic core and a silicate shell made up of the mantle and the crust. For the percolation theory of core formation to work, the vast majority of metal in the planetary body must make its way to the center.

In this study, Ghanbarzadeh developed a computer model to simulate the distribution of molten iron between rock grains as porosity, or melt fraction, increased or decreased. The simulations were perfomed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. Researchers found that once the metal starts to flow, it can continue flowing even as the melt fraction decreases significantly. This is in contrast to previous simulations that found that once the metal starts flowing, it only takes a small dip in the volume of melt for percolation to stop.

New research from The University of Texas at Austin adds evidence to a theory that claims the metallic cores of rocky planets like Earth were formed when molten metal trapped between grains of silicate rock percolated to the center of the planet during its early formation. Credit: UT Austin

New research from The University of Texas at Austin adds evidence to a theory that claims the metallic cores of rocky planets like Earth were formed when molten metal trapped between grains of silicate rock percolated to the center of the planet during its early formation.
Credit: UT Austin

“People have assumed that you disconnect at the same melt fraction at which you initially connected…and it would leave significant amounts of the metal behind,” Hesse said. “What we found is that when the metallic melt connects and when it disconnects is not necessarily the same.”

According to the computer model, only 1 to 2 percent of the initial metal would be trapped in the silicate mantle when percolation stops, which is consistent with the amount of metal in the Earth’s mantle.

The researchers point to the arrangement of the rock grains to explain the differences in how well-connected the spaces between the grains are. Previous work used a geometric pattern of regular, identical grains, while this work relied on simulations using an irregular grain geometry, which is thought to more closely mirror real-life conditions. The geometry was generated using data from a polycrystalline titanium sample that was scanned using X-ray microtomography.

“The numerical model Soheil developed in his Ph.D. thesis allowed for finding three-dimensional melt networks of any geometrical complexity for the first time,” said Prodanovic. “Having a three-dimensional model is key in understanding and quantifying how melt trapping works.”

The effort paid off because researchers found that the geometry has a strong effect on melt connectivity. In the irregular grains, the melt channels vary in width, and the larges ones remain connected even as most of the metal drains away.

“What we did differently in here was to add the element of curiosity to see what happens when you drain the melt from the porous, ductile rock,” said Ghanbarzadeh.

The researchers also compared their results to a metallic melt network preserved in an anchondrite meteorite, a type of meteorite that came from a planetary body that differentiated into discernable layers. X-ray images of the meteorite taken in the Jackson School’s High-Resolution X-Ray CT Facility revealed a metal distribution that is comparable to the computed melt networks. Prodanovic said that this comparison shows that their simulation capture the features observed in the meteorite.

The study was funded by the Statoil Fellows Program at UT Austin and the National Science Foundation.

  1. Soheil Ghanbarzadeh, Marc A. Hesse, Maša Prodanović. Percolative core formation in planetesimals enabled by hysteresis in metal connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201707580 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1707580114
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WFS News: Origin of unique respiratory system of birds and dinosaurs

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“The respiratory organs of vertebrates exhibit a tremendous degree of diversity, but the lung-air sac system of birds is truly unique among extant species,” says Dr. Markus Lambertz from the Institute for Zoology at the University of Bonn in Germany. Air sacs are bellows-like protrusions of the lung, and their volume changes cause the air flow in the separate gas exchanger. This functional separation is crucial for the exceptional efficiency of this respiratory system, but air sacs can do more: they can invade bones, a process called “pneumatization.”

Pneumatized bones are very light, because they are filled with air instead of the more heavy marrow, which was not only important for active flight, but also for the evolution of gigantism in sauropod dinosaurs. Through the presence of the resulting pneumatic cavities, it has long been known that air sac-like structures predate the origin of birds, since they were found both in the gigantic sauropods as well as in carnivorous dinosaurs. However, when and potentially how many times air sacs did evolve was inaccessible until now.

Pneumosteum: a hitherto unknown type of bony tissue as a diagnostic tool

Filippo Bertozzo was pretty surprised when he analyzed the bone structure in the course of his master’s thesis at the Steinmann-Institute for Geology, Mineralogy and Paleontology of the University of Bonn: “Bones that are in contact with air sacs exhibit a unique structure composed of very fine and densely packed fibers. After it turned out that this was true both in modern birds and extinct dinosaurs, we proposed to name this special kind of bony tissue “pneumosteum.” ”

Especially astonishing was the fact that pneumosteum was not only restricted to pneumatized bones, but was also found on the surface of conspicuous cavities present in cervical vertebrae of sauropod dinosaurs. Dr. Lambertz adds: “Such cavities had already previously been hypothesized as potential locations of air sacs, but only our microscopic analysis now provides convincing arguments for this.”

Pneumosteum in sauropods. (a) Cross section of left prezygapophysis of Europasaurus holgeri cervical vertebra. The lamina connecting neural spine and prezygapophysis consists of primary fibrolamellar bone dorsally (a(i)) and metaplastic bone ventrally (a(ii)). The crenulated surface of the lateral fossa is composed of secondary trabecular bone showing densely packed fine fibres: pneumosteal bone (a(iii–iv)). The appearance of pneumosteal fibres is markedly different from the coarse Sharpey's fibres associated with tendinous insertions a(ii). (b) Pneumatized vertebrae of Diplodocus sp. present pneumosteal bone facing the pleurocoel, but not the floor of the neural canal, which is lined by parallel-fibred bone. (c) Pneumatized anterior caudal vertebrae exhibit pneumosteum in their loose trabeculae. (d) Apneumatic middle caudal vertebrae do not exhibit pneumosteum in their denser trabeculae consisting of regular lamellar bone. (Online version in colour.)

Pneumosteum in sauropods. (a) Cross section of left prezygapophysis of Europasaurus holgeri cervical vertebra. The lamina connecting neural spine and prezygapophysis consists of primary fibrolamellar bone dorsally (a(i)) and metaplastic bone ventrally (a(ii)). The crenulated surface of the lateral fossa is composed of secondary trabecular bone showing densely packed fine fibres: pneumosteal bone (a(iii–iv)). The appearance of pneumosteal fibres is markedly different from the coarse Sharpey’s fibres associated with tendinous insertions a(ii). (b) Pneumatized vertebrae of Diplodocus sp. present pneumosteal bone facing the pleurocoel, but not the floor of the neural canal, which is lined by parallel-fibred bone. (c) Pneumatized anterior caudal vertebrae exhibit pneumosteum in their loose trabeculae. (d) Apneumatic middle caudal vertebrae do not exhibit pneumosteum in their denser trabeculae consisting of regular lamellar bone. (Online version in colour.)

Other soft tissues, such as muscles, can leave traces in bone as well. “There are several types of fibers within bone tissue, but the pneumosteum is markedly different from them,” explains Prof. Dr. Martin Sander from the Steinmann-Institute in Bonn. This characteristic individuality of the pneumosteum thus makes it an excellent diagnostic tool for recognizing bones that were in contact with air sacs.

Pneumosteum in birds and its absence in mammals. (a) Ostrich cervical vertebra cut transversely revealing Sharpey's fibres at tendinous insertions a(i) and pneumosteum in air-sac-associated secondary endosteal trabeculae (a(ii–iii)). The right part of the centrum cortex consists of primary fibrolamellar bone whereas the left lower part of pneumosteum (a(iii), asterisks), truncated by an endosteal resorption front (arrows). (b) Longitudinal section of cervical rib with pneumosteal trabeculae proximally (b(i)) and ossified tendons distally (b(ii)). (c) Subfossil moa sternum exhibiting pneumosteum in the secondary trabeculae. (d) The pneumatized skull of the aurochs lacks pneumosteum. (Online version in colour.)

Pneumosteum in birds and its absence in mammals. (a) Ostrich cervical vertebra cut transversely revealing Sharpey’s fibres at tendinous insertions a(i) and pneumosteum in air-sac-associated secondary endosteal trabeculae (a(ii–iii)). The right part of the centrum cortex consists of primary fibrolamellar bone whereas the left lower part of pneumosteum (a(iii), asterisks), truncated by an endosteal resorption front (arrows). (b) Longitudinal section of cervical rib with pneumosteal trabeculae proximally (b(i)) and ossified tendons distally (b(ii)). (c) Subfossil moa sternum exhibiting pneumosteum in the secondary trabeculae. (d) The pneumatized skull of the aurochs lacks pneumosteum. (Online version in colour.)

Access to the past and potential for future research

Given that pneumosteum was only discovered in the dinosaurian lineage now provides the opportunity to trace the evolutionary origin of air sacs. Especially the fact that pneumosteum is not restricted to pneumatized bones but was also found on bone surfaces opens up access to studying species that might have exhibited air sacs as part of their respiratory system, but lack obviously pneumatized bones.

Fossilization of air sacs is nearly impossible because their delicate structure is composed of only a few layers of cells. Professor Sander thus is convinced that the discovery of pneumosteum will lead to a greatly improved understanding of the evolution of the dinosaurian respiratory system. Dr. Lambertz concludes with: “This project once again highlights the importance of the interdisciplinary collaboration between zoologists and paleontologists for elucidating evolutionary history.”

  1. Markus Lambertz, Filippo Bertozzo, P. Martin Sander. Bone histological correlates for air sacs and their implications for understanding the origin of the dinosaurian respiratory system. Biology Letters, 2018; 14 (1): 20170514 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0514
Source: University of Bonn. “Birds and dinosaurs: High-performance breathing in bones: Origin of unique respiratory system of birds and dinosaurs.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 January 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180103100951.htm>.
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