Wednesday, December 31, 2014

More Data the American Economy is Continuing to Perform


China's Manufacturing Slows Signalling Economic Slowdown Worsening

A survey of Chinese manufacturers has found their activity contracted in December in a new sign the world's second-largest economy is slowing despite government efforts to shore up growth.

HSBC Corp. said Wednesday that its monthly purchasing managers' index fell to 49.6 on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 show activity contracting. It was down from November's break-even 50 reading and the first contraction since May.

New Tesla Roadster Able to Drive 400 Miles on Single Charge

Car nerds, you just got an extra present under the tree.

Tesla announced Friday an upgrade for its Roadster, the electric car company’s convertible model, and said that the new features significantly boost its range -- beyond what many traditional cars can get on a tank of gasoline.

The company is installing three retrofits for the vehicle. First up is a battery upgrade that marks a 31 percent increase in capacity. Next is an “aero kit” that’ll alter the car’s profile slightly, producing a 15 percent reduction in wind drag. Finally, the Roadster will be getting new, more efficient tires.

The result is an electric vehicle that can reliably travel about 350 miles before needing a recharge, and possibly more in ideal conditions. That’s pretty similar — or even better — than many conventional gasoline-powered cars. The University of Michigan estimates that the average fuel economy of a new car in 2014 was about 25 miles per gallon. With a 12- or 13-gallon tank, that gets you about 325 miles on a single fill-up.

“There is a set of speeds and driving conditions,” Tesla said in a blog post, “where we can confidently drive the Roadster 3.0 over 400 miles."

Russian Rearmament Program Delayed 4th Time, Supposed to be 1/2 Done, but Only 1/3

Russia's 10-year state rearmament programme has reached its halfway point but is only one third completed, the deputy chairman of the government's military industrial commission has conceded.

Oleg Bochkarev added in an interview with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper on 26 December that the updated 2016 to 2025 armament programme is likely to be ready for signing by Russian president Vladimir Putin in December 2015.

Russia's current long-term defence plan - the 10-year Gosudarstvennyi Programme Vooruzheniya, or GPV - runs to 2020. It is the fourth such plan of its type and the most expensive in Russia's history. Formally announced in December 2010, the aim was to bring the proportion of modern weaponry in the Russian armoury to 70% by 2020.

Indian Parliament Very Unhappy With Decline of Military Capabilities

India's Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has castigated the federal government for overseeing a decline in the country's military capabilities due to a failure to modernise and "a state of ad hocism in planning and budgeting" - and of trying to cover up these deficiencies.

In a report tabled in parliament on 22 December, the 31-member committee presented a dismal picture of inadequate funding, severe equipment shortages in all three services, and continuing delays by the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) to rectify the situation.

I have to wonder how much of this is simply politics.  The Parliament is responsible for the budgets and they get info on a regular basis, soooo...are they targeting Prime Minister Modi's government?  Just wondering aloud.  Not an expert.

The New Arms Race to Hypersonic Weapons

According to some analysts, the development of hypersonic weapons creates the conditions for a new arms race, and could risk nuclear escalation. Given that the course of hypersonic research has acknowledged both of these concerns, why have several countries started testing the weapons?

The United States is building hypersonics for two reasons. First, we want to kill people fast, without the messy danger of a global thermonuclear war. Second, we want to be able to punch through the defensive systems of peer competitors.

Unfortunately, these two justifications contradict one another. Given that China, Russia and even India appear on their way to similar systems, we should take care before letting the technology outpace the politics.

The piece states what hypersonics are, who is developing them and then fails on the why.  The author does hit on the idea the powers which possess them will have a commanding advantage, but questions why this is a good idea.  The strawman is placed of a decapitation strike on Russia and how Russia might react.  The author mocks the ability to strike quickly.

Let's tackle this in reverse order (of my listing).  The ability to strike quickly is probably the single most important aspect of hypersonic weapons.  The time delay from intelligence to action is often quite long.  If we know, for example, John the Bad is meeting in a house in landlocked country at the maximum range of a Tomahawk missile.  The range is 1300 miles.  The max speed is 550 mph.  The soonest your missile hits the target is 2 hours and a little less than 22 minutes later.  If John's meeting lasted two hours and he walked away afterwards, he's now a good mile away.  Never mind if he had a car.  OTOH, if the destroyer which launched the Tomahawk had a Hypersonic missile instead, the time of flight would be reduced to just under 22 minutes.  You just shaved off two hours flight time.  Minimum since I picked the 'slowest' hypersonic speed possible, mach 5. 

Everyone remember when in the 90s, the US fired off Tomahawks at al qaeda?  Part of the reason it failed was the time it took to close the loop for steel on target.  Imagine the differences in the world had bin Laden and the their senior leadership died then.

Scenario two.  Clashes between fleets.  Let's say - though I have my doubts it'd come to be, but for the moment, humor me - China and the US clash at sea.  A barrage of Tomahawks will take over three minutes to come from over the horizon to hit various ships.  Three minutes allows for a lot of reaction time, both human and machine.  Considering the sensors - radar and whatnot - probably are airborne and extend out at least 150 miles, you're looking at 15 minutes worth of reaction time.  A barrage of hypersonic missiles give you an entire 2 1/2 minutes from crossing the 150 mile mark.  That greatly increases the chances of taking out a ship, even with the introduction of speed of light weaponry (lasers) since those take time to disable even at high power.

Right now, China and others measure the power and influence America has on a situation based on its ability and will to intervene.  While hypersonic weapons do not influence the will, it does influence the ability.  Hypersonic weaponry extends that ability and this in turn complicates the calculus of a nation forcibly coercing, intervening or clashing with another.  For the time the US has the monopoly on Prompt Global Strike (PGS), this makes the US someone to take into consideration the world over when it comes to military action.

When the US loses that monopoly, I think we can turn to another weapon with decapitating capabilities which we have a history we can draw parallels to: nuclear weapons.  While the nukes are far more devastating, it is worth noting they have had an enormously stabilizing effect on world wars: nuclear states, historically, have not fought the knock-down drag-out fights they did prior to their acquisition: we did not have a World War Three despite all the anxiety. 
While hypersonic weapons will not have the same devastating effect nukes do, the consideration about whether or not the US will intervene or not will apply to any state which acquires a PGS capability.  Likewise, the risk of a decapitation attack would mean (from the paranoid like the Russians) a nuclear retaliation or a response in kind from another PGS wielding state. 

As for Russians replying with nukes, duh.  If we even lobbed Tomahawk missiles at Moscow, we'd get nuked under Russian doctrine since those cruise missiles can carry nuclear warheads as easily as conventional ones, too. Substituting hypersonic missiles for tomahawks does not change that fact.

Will the US be more secure with hypersonic weapons?  Let me ask you this.  What makes you safer?  The ability to deal with a rogue nation as a peer or as a military superior?  Or less than a peer? How does adding the weapon class make us less secure?  Because others will not develop the ability because we have not?  China developed an ASAT despite protesting it would not.

US Navy Considering Upgrading Burke Class Destroyers With Lasers, Railguns

The Navy is considering a range of potential technological upgrades for its fleet of DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to give the ships next-generation weapons, greater fuel efficiency and a reduced radar signature, service officials said.

The Navy currently has 62 DDG 51s currently in service and six Flight IIA-model destroyers under construction. The service plans to potentially build as many as 22 next-generation Flight III DDG 51s, said Capt. Mark Vandroff, DDG 51 program manager.

Laser weapons and electromagnetic rail guns are among some of the upgrades being considered for the Navy’s fleet of destroyers, Vandroff explained.


The Paleoenvironment of the Coniacian–Maastrichtian Cretaceous Bauru Basin, Brazil

Evolution and palaeoenvironment of the Bauru Basin (Upper Cretaceous, Brazil)


Fernandes et al


The Bauru Basin was one of the great Cretaceous desert basins of the world, evolved in arid zone called Southern Hot Arid Belt. Its paleobiological record consists mainly of dinosaurs, crocodiles and turtles. The Bauru Basin is an extensive region of the South American continent that includes parts of the southeast and south of Brazil, covering an area of 370,000 km2. It is an interior continental basin that developed as a result of subsidence of the central-southern part of the South-American Platform during the Late Cretaceous (Coniacian–Maastrichtian). This sag basin is filled by a sandy siliciclastic sequence with a preserved maximum thickness of 480 metres, deposited in semiarid to desert conditions. Its basement consists of volcanic rocks (mainly basalts) of the Lower Cretaceous (Hauterivian) Serra Geral basalt flows, of the Paraná-Etendeka Continental Flood Basalt Province. The sag basin was filled by an essentially siliciclastic psammitic sequence. In lithostratigraphic terms the sequence consists of the Caiuá and Bauru groups. The northern and northeastern edges of the basin provide a record of more proximal original deposits, such as associations of conglomeratic sand facies from alluvial fans, lakes, and intertwined distributary river systems. The progressive basin filling led to the burial of the basaltic substrate by extensive blanket sand sheets, associated with deposits of small dunes and small shallow lakes that retained mud (such as loess). Also in this intermediate context between the edges (more humid) and the interior (dry), wide sand sheet areas crossed by unconfined desert rivers (wadis) occurred. In the central axis of the elliptical basin a regional drainage system formed, flowing from northeast to southwest between the edges of the basin and the hot and dry inner periphery of the Caiuá desert (southwest). Life in the Bauru Basin flourished most in the areas with the greatest water availability, in which dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles, fish, amphibians, molluscs, crustaceans, and charophyte algae lived. The fossil record mainly consists of transported bones and other skeletal fragments. In the northeastern and eastern marginal regions fossils are found in marginal alluvial fan deposits, broad plains of braided streams and ephemeral alkaline water lakes. In the basin interior the fossil record is related to deposits in sand sheets with braided streams, small dunes, and shallow lakes. In the great Caiuá inner desert a few smaller animals could survive (small reptiles and early mammals), sometimes leaving their footprints in dune foreset deposits. The aim of this article is to present and link the basin sedimentary evolution, palaeoecological features and palaeontological record.

Enceladus Oceanic Structure Picture

Temperature (a) and ice fraction (b) distributions at the end of the 100 Myr cycle for base case. Polar oceans are sustained. Ice thickness over the south polar ocean varies from 20 km to 40 km. The ocean extends from the pole to about 45° latitude.


There was More Than One PaleoDiet: Ancestors Changed and Focused on Just Surviving, not Balanced Nutrition

The Paleolithic diet, or caveman diet, a weight-loss craze in which people emulate the diet of plants and animals eaten by early humans during the Stone Age, gives modern calorie-counters great freedom because those ancestral diets likely differed substantially over time and space, according to researchers at Georgia State University and Kent State University.

Their findings are published in The Quarterly Review of Biology.

"Based on evidence that's been gathered over many decades, there's very little evidence that any early hominids had very specialized diets or there were specific food categories that seemed particularly important, with only a few possible exceptions," said Dr. Ken Sayers, a postdoctoral researcher at the Language Research Center of Georgia State. "Some earlier workers had suggested that the diets of bears and pigs--which have an omnivorous, eclectic feeding strategy that varies greatly based on local conditions--share much in common with those of our early ancestors. The data tend to support this view."

The co-author on the paper, Dr. C. Owen Lovejoy, is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University, well known for his reconstructions of the socioecology and locomotor behavior of early hominids such as "Ardi" (Ardipithecus ramidus, 4.4 million years old) and "Lucy" (Australopithecus afarensis, 3.2 million years old).

The study examines anatomical, paleoenvironmental and chemical evidence, as well as the feeding behavior of living animals. While early hominids were not great hunters, and their dentition was not great for exploiting many specific categories of plant food, they were most likely dietary "jacks-of-all-trades."

The review paper covers earliest hominid evolution, from about 6 to 1.6 million years ago. This touches on the beginning of the Paleolithic era, which spans from 2.6 million to roughly 10,000 years ago, but Sayers suggests that the conclusions hold in force for later human evolution as well.

Week of Vintana: Vintana had Much Better Senses (hearing, Smell, etc) Than Other Mesozoic Mammaliaformes

Sensory Anatomy and Sensory Ecology of Vintana Sertichi (Mammalia, Gondwanatheria) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar


Kirk et al


Living mammals are distinguished from other extant tetrapods by adaptations for improved senses of hearing, touch, and smell. These adaptations, and concomitant reductions in visual anatomy, evolved during the Mesozoic in the mammalian and therian stem lineages. Here, we present a comparative study of the sensory anatomy of the Late Cretaceous gondwanatherian mammaliaform Vintana sertichi in order to draw inferences regarding its sensory abilities and sensory ecology. Our analyses demonstrate that Vintana has relatively large orbits that may have accommodated large eyes. Vintana also possessed cochlear primary and secondary osseous laminae and a cochlear canal that was relatively longer than in non-mammaliaform cynodonts but shorter than in extant therians. These features suggest that Vintana had some capacity for high-frequency hearing (i.e., graeter than 20 kHz), but that its cochlea may have encoded a more limited range of frequencies than the cochleas of most extant therians. The semicircular canals of Vintana have large radii of curvature and are nearly orthogonal, suggesting high sensitivity to angular head accelerations. These vestibular features may have evolved in order to stabilize large eyes during rapid and/or agile locomotion. Combined with evidence for large olfactory bulbs and a large trigeminal endocast, these data reveal that Vintana possessed a unique suite of sensory adaptations that distinguish it from other Mesozoic mammaliaforms. If these inferences are correct, then Vintana was probably a large-eyed and agile species, with a keen sense of smell and better high-frequency hearing than most other Mesozoic mammaliaforms.

Toarcian Jurassic Gregarious Tritylodontid (?) Therapsid Dunefield Trackways Suggest Colonial, Prairie Dog-like Lifestyle



Rowland et al


We describe and interpret a tracksite in the Lower Jurassic Aztec Sandstone in Valley of Fire State Park, southern Nevada. The site contains approximately one hundred tracks of the ichnogenus Brasilichnium, arranged in twelve, subparallel trackways, all on the same foreset bedding plane. The Brasilichnium trackmaker was most probably a fossorial, tritylodontid therapsid. Sedimentologicial analyses indicate that the trackway surface is a wind-ripple horizon with a primary dip of about 25°, and that the animals climbed straight up the slip face of the dune. A combination of features leads us to conclude that the footprints were impressed into a crust of moist, cohesive sand, leaving two modes of preserved tracks: (1) shallow, well-defined tracks without associated sand crescents, and (2) deeper, less well defined tracks with associated sand crescents. We interpret this assemblage of tracks to record gregarious behavior in a mixed-age group of tritylodontid therapsids. In the correlative Navajo Sandstone, other researchers have documented the presence of complex networks of burrows concentrated in elevated mounds, reminiscent of colonies of North American prairie dogs. The Brasilichnium trackmaker is a good candidate to have excavated the burrows. Although we cannot directly associate the Brasilichnium trackmaker with the burrow complexes, we hypothesize that these gregarious, fossorial animals lived in prairie-dog–town–like colonies. This study supports the aridity food-distribution hypothesis, which posits that the patchy distribution of food resources in arid environments creates selective pressure for colonial behavior.

NeoArchean Skjoldungen Orogen Appears to be a Modern Continental Collision

Exhumation rates in the Archean from pressure–time paths: Example from the Skjoldungen Orogen (SE Greenland)


Berger et al


The discussions on the orogenic evolution during Earth's history converge to the question of a different thermal structure in the Archean compared to the Phanerozoic and the applicability of the plate tectonic paradigm. However, geothermal structures are transient in orogens and are difficult to translate into large-scale tectonics and exhumation rates. Therefore, we propose depth–time data in the Archean Skjoldungen Orogen (SE Greenland, North Atlantic Craton) that allow for reconstruction of an exhumation rate independent of geothermal gradients. The resulting exhumation rate of ca. 0.4 km/Ma is similar to exhumation rates during erosion-controlled processes in modern orogens. These exhumation rates can only be established by erosion time constants similar to modern orogens. The occurrence of erosion-controlled exhumation is best explained by a stiff foreland promoting localized deformation in the orogen. Therefore, a switch from magmatic-dominated processes to localized deformation is proposed in the Skjoldungen Orogen area. This is supported by a change in magma composition and volume, from widespread granodiorite to localized alkaline intrusions. In addition, the involved metasedimentary rocks include detrital zircons of the only 50 Ma older foreland, which also correspond to erosion and tectonics as in modern orogens, i.e. flysh-type sediments. Relatively fast exhumation rates and the structural-magmatic evolution of the Neoarchean Skjoldungen Orogen thus indicate modern-style tectonic processes where stiff Mesoarchean continental crust forms a foreland to a collisional orogen instead of typical accretionary tectonics of weak island arc-like terranes in granite-greenstone terranes.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Robopocalypse: I Keep Looking for the Wires

Noel Beat me to Putting it up: UFO Sightings Caused by CIA Spy Planes

There was a giant upsurge in UFO sightings in the 1950s. It would not be unreasonable to blame that on the zeitgeist. Russians and rockets and Russians with rockets, coming right after the Germans aimed for the Moon but hit London. Mass psychology is a plausible explanation.

But such logic would be wrong!


Tablet Market Contracting, Phablets, Apple to Blame?

Did Apple just murder the tablet market?

That’s the conclusion reached by Boy Genius Report, based on data assembled by analytics firm Flurry. That data suggests that Apple “won” the holiday season, with the company’s hardware accounting for 51.3 percent of device activations worldwide (followed by Samsung with 17.7 percent, Nokia with 5.8 percent, and Sony with 1.6 percent).

Much of those activations came from oversized phones. “As we reported in September (pre-iPhone 6 Plus), phablets were gaining share,” Flurry wrote in a blog posting accompanying its data. “This Christmas, it appears even more consumers are switching to the larger phone now that there is an iOS option.”

According to Flurry’s numbers, full-sized tablets accounted for only 11 percent of new devices in 2014, a decline from 2013, when that form-factor totaled 17 percent of the new-device market; small tablets experienced a smaller decline, falling from 12 percent to 11 percent of new devices between 2013 and 2014. Meanwhile, phablets expanded from 4 percent of new devices in 2013 to 13 percent this year.

Russia Lays Down 6th new Ballistic Missile Submarine

The sixth Borey class submarine (Project 955A) was laid down at Sevmash [on Dec 26th, 2014]. The submarine was named "Generalissimus Suvorov".

Is the Z-18 Helicopter Also in Service With the Chinese Army?


Not a Surprise: BAE Systems Wins US Army's Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle Contract

BAE Systems has been awarded a contract for the US Army's Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) programme worth up to USD1.2 billion, the company announced on 24 December. The contract guarantees USD383 million for slightly more than four years of work to produce 29 vehicles, which could be followed by options for 289 vehicles that would push the contract to its full potential value.

The AMPV programme is designed to provide replacements for the BAE's M113s, which were originally designed more than six decades ago.

In April, the army denied a protest from General Dynamics Land Systems that claimed the request for proposal for the programme favoured BAE because the specifications encouraged a tracked vehicle.

Waiting for TALOS: Skepticism Expressed Over Functioning Powered Armor for Special Forces

It’s one of those recurring stories about military technology. The Pentagon is working on an armored combat suit loaded up to the elbows in sensors and communications gear. Any day now, American troops will leap into battle like Iron Man and War Machine.

There’s several projects underway in different branches and defense contractors. The military is working with Harvard University to develop a web-patterned exosuit worn under a soldier’s uniform. The Navy has an exoskeleton project which hopes to augment dockworkers’ physical strength. Lockheed Martin has its own powered exoskeleton project for infantry troops, known as HULC.

Special Operations Command’s plan is for an armored suit known as TALOS. It blew up into a viral sensation earlier in July 2014 after The Wall Street Journal reported SOCOM had teamed up with a Hollywood special effects company to design conceptual models for the armor.

But it’s likely going to remain just a concept for years.

On Dec. 18, SOCOM released a broad agency announcement to contractors with lots of interesting details about it wants in TALOS. There’s little in the details that’s absolutely required, but SOCOM considers everything from bio-mechanical sensors to robotic medical devices as highly desirable.

The Environment and Ecology of Santonian Cretaceous Hungary

Taphonomic and paleoecologic investigations of the Late Cretaceous (Santonian) Iharkút vertebrate assemblage (Bakony Mts, Northwestern Hungary)


Botfalvai et al


The Iharkút vertebrate locality, an open-pit mine in the Bakony Mountains (western Hungary), has provided a rich and diverse assemblage of Late Cretaceous (Santonian) continental vertebrates. The isolated and associated remains represent 31 different taxa including fish, amphibians, turtles, lizards, pterosaurs, crocodilians, non-avian dinosaurs and birds. Sedimentologic investigations suggest that the Iharkút depositional environment was represented by the floodplain of a very low-gradient river. The 10–50 cm thick bonebed of site SZ-6, is the most important fossiliferous layer in the open-pit mine and analysis of this site indicates alternating energy conditions during the bone accumulation, which resulted in fossils of different states of preservation being deposited together. The vertebrate assemblage of site SZ-6 includes three main different subsets with widely different taphonomic history. The characteristics and the preservation mode (high rate of abrasion and the spherical shape) of the “bone pebbles” suggest that this type of the isolated bones was more exposed to abrasion and probably the remains were transported from farther away than the other isolated bones. The second group includes 88% of the Iharkút collection, containing most of the identified isolated bones and teeth, and represents polytypic attritional remains transported and deposited by high density flow during ephemeral flood events. Meanwhile the monospecific ankylosaur skeletal material from Iharkút site SZ-6 may represent a mass death assemblage because seven skeletons of Hungarosaurus were discovered from an area of approximately 400 m2 and in many cases close to each other in the same layer. The Iharkút vertebrate assemblage is dominated by bones of aquatic/semi-aquatic animals, while the number of terrestrial animal remains is subordinate. The taphonomic analysis of the ankylosaur material from Iharkút locality further strengthens the previously suggested hypothesis that some of the ankylosaurs preferred wetland habitats (e.g. areas along fluvial systems) while the other two herbivorous dinosaur groups from Iharkút (ornithopods and ceratopsians) were probably living in distal habitats.

Modeling Enceladus' Internal & Thermal Structure

Keeping Enceladus warm


Travis et al


Despite its small size, Enceladus emits considerable heat, especially at its south pole, even long after simple thermal models predict it should be frozen. Several sources of energy have been proposed as responsible for this heating, such as tidal dissipative heating (TDH), convection and shearing in the ice shell, and exothermic chemical reactions (e.g., serpentine formation). Crater relaxation simulations suggest that episodic heating events have occurred over long stretches of Enceladus’ history. Thermal history and hydrothermal simulations reported here show that a combination of steady plus episodic TDH heating could maintain at least a polar ocean to the present time. Hydrothermal circulation can play a significant role in mining Enceladus’ internal heat, facilitating the persistence of an ocean even to the present by focusing internal heat to the polar regions.

Large Lemurs of Madagascar Were More Vulnerable to Extinction due to Small Population Size

Ancient DNA extracted from the bones and teeth of giant lemurs that lived thousands of years ago in Madagascar may help explain why the giant lemurs went extinct. It also explains what factors make some surviving species more at risk today, says a study in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Most scientists agree that humans played a role in the giant lemurs' demise by hunting them for food and forcing them out of habitats. But an analysis of their DNA suggests that the largest lemurs were more prone to extinction than smaller-bodied species because of their smaller population sizes, according to this team of American and Malagasy researchers.

By comparing the species that died out to those that survived, scientists hope to better predict which lemurs are most in need of protection in the future.

The African island of Madagascar has long been known as a treasure trove of unusual creatures. More than 80 percent of the island's plants and animals are found nowhere else. But not long ago, fossil evidence shows there were even more species on the island than there are today. Before humans arrived on the island some 2,000 years ago, Madagascar was home to 10-foot-tall elephant birds, pygmy hippos, monstrous tortoises, a horned crocodile, and at least 17 species of lemurs that are no longer living -- some of which tipped the scales at 350 pounds, as large as a male gorilla.

Using genetic material extracted from lemur bones and teeth dating back 550 to 5,600 years, an international team of researchers analyzed DNA from as many as 23 individuals from each of five extinct lemur species that died out after human arrival. They looked at a giant ruffed lemur, a baboon lemur, a koala lemur and two sloth lemurs -- all housed in the collections at the University of Antananarivo and the Duke Lemur Center at Duke University. The study also included genetic data from eight extant species, including the three largest lemur species still alive today.

The researchers found that the species that died out had lower genetic diversity than the ones that survived -- a hallmark of small population size.

Week of Vintana: Vintana had Twice the Bite Force of a Modern Nutria

Dental Function and Diet of Vintana Sertichi (Mammalia, Gondwanatheria) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar


Schultz et al


The nearly complete and well-preserved cranium of Vintana sertichi provides an opportunity to investigate its dietary adaptations. We used a combination of comparative morphological and biomechanical analyses to reveal the direction of its power stroke during mastication, reconstruct the positions and relative sizes of its muscles of mastication, and predict its capacity to produce bite forces during incision and molariform occlusion. The orientation of dental wear striations on the upper molariform teeth of Vintana, in combination with the orientation of the enamel islets and synclines and the position of leading and trailing edges, demonstrates that the power stroke was primarily palinal (distally directed), with a significant buccally directed component that is absent in multituberculates, haramiyidans, and other gondwanatherians. The large palinal component of jaw movement was corroborated by biomechanical analyses of the moments generated by the primary jaw adductors around the dentary-squamosal joint axis. Similar analyses also confirmed the previously documented proal (mesially directed) power stroke of the extant rodent Myocastor. Finite element analyses predict that Vintana was capable of producing bite forces that were more than twice as high as the similarly sized Myocastor. Vintana was almost certainly an herbivore, as claimed previously for other sudamericid gondwanatherians. Its size and capacity to generate high bite forces at both the incisors and the molariform teeth suggest that it was a mixed feeder whose diet may have included relatively large, hard food items such as roots, seeds, twigs, or nut-like fruits.

An Early Archosauromorph From Permian-Triassic Bounary of Uruguay

Early archosauromorph remains from the Permo-Triassic Buena Vista formation of NorthEastern Uruguay


Ezcurra et al


The Permo-Triassic archosauromorph record is crucial to understand the impact of the Permo-Triassic mass extinction on the early evolution of the group and its subsequent dominance in Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems. However, the Permo-Triassic archosauromorph record is still very poor in most continents and hampers the identification of global macroevolutionary patterns. Here we describe cranial and postcranial bones from the Permo-Triassic Buena Vista Formation of northeastern Uruguay that contribute to increase the meagre early archosauromorph record from South America. A basioccipital fused to both partial exoccipitals and three cervical vertebrae are assigned to Archosauromorpha based on apomorphies or a unique combination of characters. The archosauromorph remains of the Buena Vista Formation probably represent a multi-taxonomic assemblage composed of non-archosauriform archosauromorphs and a ‘proterosuchid-grade’ animal. This assemblage does not contribute in the discussion of a Late Permian or Early Triassic age for the Buena Vista Formation, but reinforces the broad palaeobiogeographic distribution of ‘proterosuchid grade’ diapsids in Permo-Triassic beds worldwide.

Evidence of Tidal Deposits From NeoArchean India

Late Archean tidalites from western margin of Chitradurga Greenstone Belt, southern India


Bhattacharya et al


Tidalites are preserved within a metavolcano-sedimentary succession of the Late Archean Bababudan Group (Dharwar Supergroup) along the western boundary of the NNW-SSE trending Chitradurga greenstone belt, West Dharwar Craton, southern India. These may represent the oldest record of tidal processes in peninsular India. Millimetre thick sand-mud alternations, bidirectional cross-strata, mudstone-draped sandy foresets, reactivation surfaces indicating time-velocity asymmetry, sigmoidal cross-strata and mudstone draped flaser/lenticular bedding are displayed by the sandstone mudstone heterolithic facies in the upper part of the Bababudan succession, together implying a tidal depositional system. Thick-thin pairs of rhythmic foreset bundles correspond to neap-spring tidal cycles within a semidiurnal tidal system. Development of the studied coastal sediments suggests formation of stable platform along the western margin of the late Archean Chitradurga greenstone belt.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Ballooning Robopocalypse: How DARPA is Inflated Baymax of Big Hero 6 and Bringing on the Robopocalypse

If your kids enjoyed the balloon-like robot Baymax of “Big Hero 6” over the holidays you can thank, in part, the brain-trust that is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for helping fund the inspiration.

DARPA has been funding research into “soft” robots under its Maximum Mobility Manipulation – MP3 – program, and it was an inflatable robotic arm spied by one of the Disney film’s directors that inspired Baymax, the healthcare companion, defense officials said.

Don Hall told Moviefone in July that he was visiting the robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon University in 2011 when he saw the inflatable vinyl arm being developed as a nurse’s or doctor’s assistant.

“This particular researcher went into this long pitch but the minute he showed me that inflatable arm I knew we had our huggable robot,” Hall told Moviefone.

Russia Deploying More Su-27s to Belarus due to Tensions With West

Russia is to permanently deploy an additional eight Sukhoi Su-27 'Flanker' fighters to Belarus, as relations with the West remain tense, state media announced in mid-December.

The eight Su-27s will join the four already based at Baranovichi Air Base, near the Belarus borders with Lithuania and Poland, the TASS news agency reported.

Russia deployed its first Su-27 fighters to Baranovichi Air Base in late 2013, and had deployed six Su-27 fighters, as well as transport and airborne early warning and control aircraft, to this location in the immediate aftermath of the annexation of Crimea in March. It had, however, since reduced the number of 'Flankers' permanently stationed there to four.

Wild Bounce at comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko

US Shipyards Gearing up for Small Combat Ship LCS Variants

With a decision taken by the US Navy (USN) to continue acquiring both Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) variants for the foreseeable future, the two LCS prime contractors are preparing for government discussions on modifying their respective seaframes to fulfill a requirement for more lethal and survivable versions of the fast shallow-water ships, company officials told IHS Jane's on 15-16 December.

Executives at Lockheed Martin Corp and Austal USA - the companies leading the two industry teams building the Freedom and Independence variants of LCSs, respectively - expressed excitement about the navy's decision to continue its 52-ship small surface combatant programme by acquiring modified versions of their Flight 0+ LCS.

India Delivers First Exported Warship to Mauritius

India handed over its first ever warship export to Mauritius in the eastern port city of Kolkata on 20 December.

Built by the state-owned Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) in Kolkata for USD58.5 million, the 1,300-tonne CGS Barracuda offshore patrol vessel (OPV) is designed to combat piracy, smuggling, and poaching.

The 74 m long, locally designed OPV, completed within three years of the contract being signed in 2011, has a crew of 83 and can be employed for search-and-rescue operations and to transport small troop detachments. GRSE officials claim that Barracuda delivers a top speed of 22.5 km/h, against the customer's requirement of 20 km/h.

Procurement Delays may Force Poland Navy to Abandon Submarine Capability

The deputy commander of the Polish Navy's Submarine Squadron has warned that the force faces a bleak future - and possibly even disbandment - if the government fails to order new vessels soon.

With its four Sokól-class (Type 207) diesel-electric patrol submarines (SSKs) due to retire by 2017, the navy had anticipated that a tender for procurement of three replacement units would be issued by late 2014/early 2015. The published strategy included delivery of the first Orka SSK in 2019-2020, two new vessels in service by 2022 and the third by 2030.

DARPA Looking for new Drone Flight Algorithms for Urban use

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking to develop algorithms that would allow small, fast unmanned air vehicles to operate in cluttered environments without the aid of GPS or external communications.

A broad agency announcement issued on 22 December says in situations such as natural disasters – when UAVs are relied on to provide surveillance in buildings because it is too dangerous for humans to enter – a UAV needs to be able to navigate a “labyrinth of rooms, stairways and corridors”.

DARPA is not looking to develop a new UAV through the Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) programme, the agency says – just the applicable algorithms.

The agency is looking for algorithms and software that would allow a UAV to fly through an open window at 20m/s (45mph) into “complex indoor spaces” without having to be controlled by external operators or through using GPS waypoints.

This, DARPA says, would enhance future unmanned capabilities, reducing processing power, communications and human intervention for low level UAV tasks.

Evidence of Shallow Water Hydrocarbon Seeps From Maastrichtian Cretaceous Antarctica

Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) shallow water hydrocarbon seeps from Snow Hill and Seymour Islands, James Ross Basin, Antarctica


Little et al


Fossil hydrocarbon seeps are present in latest Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) volcaniclastic shallow shelf sediments exposed on Snow Hill and Seymour Islands, James Ross Basin, Antarctica. The seeps occur in the Snow Hill Island Formation on Snow Hill Island and are manifest as large-sized, cement-rich carbonate bodies, containing abundant thyasirid bivalves and rarer ammonites and solemyid bivalves. These bodies have typical seep cement phases, with δ13C values between − 20.4 and − 10.7‰ and contain molecular fossils indicative of terrigenous organic material and the micro-organisms involved in the anaerobic oxidation of methane, including methanotrophic archaea and sulphate-reducing bacteria. On Seymour Island the seeps occur as micrite-cemented burrow systems in the López de Bertodano Formation and are associated with thyasirid, solemyid and lucinid bivalves, and background molluscan taxa. The cemented burrows also have typical seep cement phases, with δ13C values between − 58.0 and − 24.6‰. There is evidence from other data that hydrocarbon seepage was a common feature in the James Ross Basin throughout the Maastrichtian and into the Eocene. The Snow Hill and Seymour Island examples comprise the third known area of Maastrichtian hydrocarbon seepage. But compared to most other ancient and modern seep communities, the James Ross Basin seep fauna is of very low diversity, being dominated by infaunal bivalves, all of which probably had thiotrophic chemosymbionts, but which were unlikely to have been seep obligates. Absent from the James Ross Basin seep fauna are ‘typical’ obligate seep taxa from the Cretaceous and the Cenozoic. Reasons for this may have been temporal, palaeolatitudinal, palaeobathymetric, or palaeoecological.

Did Venus Have Oceans of Carbon Dioxide?

Structural Evolution of Supercritical CO2 across the Frenkel Line


Bolmatov et al


Here, we study structural properties of the supercritical carbon dioxide and discover the existence of persistent medium-range order correlations, which make supercritical carbon dioxide nonuniform and heterogeneous on an intermediate length scale. We report on the CO2 heterogeneity shell structure where, in the first shell, both carbon and oxygen atoms experience gas-like-type interactions with short-range order correlations while within the second shell, oxygen atoms essentially exhibit a liquid-like type of interactions due to localization of transverse-like phonon packets. Importantly, we highlight a catalytic role of atoms inside of the nearest-neighbor heterogeneity shell in providing a mechanism for diffusion and proving the existence of an additional thermodynamic boundary in the supercritical carbon dioxide on an intermediate length scale. Finally, we discuss important implications for answering the intriguing question whether Venus may have had CO2 oceans and urge for an experimental detection of this persistent local-order heterogeneity.

Sivapithecus Remains From Miocene Neogene Pakistan

A partial hominoid innominate from the Miocene of Pakistan: Description and preliminary analyses


Morgan et al


We describe a partial innominate, YGSP 41216, from a 12.3 Ma locality in the Siwalik Group of the Potwar Plateau in Pakistan, assigned to the Middle Miocene ape species Sivapithecus indicus. We investigate the implications of its morphology for reconstructing positional behavior of this ape. Postcranial anatomy of extant catarrhines falls into two distinct groups, particularly for torso shape. To an extent this reflects different although variable and overlapping positional repertoires: pronograde quadrupedalism for cercopithecoids and orthogrady for hominoids. The YGSP innominate (hipbone) is from a primate with a narrow torso, resembling most extant monkeys and differing from the broader torsos of extant apes. Other postcranial material of S. indicus and its younger and similar congener Sivapithecus sivalensis also supports reconstruction of a hominoid with a positional repertoire more similar to the pronograde quadrupedal patterns of most monkeys than to the orthograde patterns of apes. However, Sivapithecus postcranial morphology differs in many details from any extant species. We reconstruct a slow-moving, deliberate, arboreal animal, primarily traveling above supports but also frequently engaging in antipronograde behaviors. There are no obvious synapomorphic postcranial features shared exclusively with any extant crown hominid, including Pongo.

Week of Vintana: Sudamericid Gondwanatherian Mammal Vtiana Lived in Seasonal, Semiarid Coastal Floodplain of Maastrichtian Cretaceous Madagascar

Introduction, Systematic Paleontology, and Geological Context of Vintana Sertichi (Mammalia, Gondwanatheria) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar


Krause et al


Vintana sertichi is a sudamericid gondwanatherian mammal known only from the Upper Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Maevarano Formation in the Mahajanga Basin of northwestern Madagascar. It is based on a single specimen, a well-preserved and virtually complete cranium discovered in 2010 near Lac Kinkony. The cranium is superficially bizarre and constitutes the only cranial remains of the poorly known, phylogenetically enigmatic Gondwanatheria, which are otherwise known only from isolated teeth and fragmentary dentaries. Gondwanatheria are represented by seven other monotypic genera assigned to two families (Ferugliotheriidae and Sudamericidae). Historically, this clade was assigned to Xenarthra, Paratheria (as a sister group to Xenarthra), Multituberculata, Allotheria (as a sister group to Multituberculata), Mammalia incertae sedis, and, most recently, back to Multituberculata or a close relative of Multituberculata. The craniodental evidence provided by Vintana supports inclusion in Sudamericidae, the monophyly of Gondwanatheria, and the position of Gondwanatheria as nested within or sister to Multituberculata. In addition to briefly reviewing the taxonomic composition and phylogenetic history of Gondwanatheria, this introductory chapter sets the stage for the other chapters in the volume by (1) briefly summarizing the inferred life habits of gondwanatherians; (2) reviewing the systematic paleontology of V. sertichi; and (3) providing overviews of the discovery of the holotypic specimen, its preservation, its preparation, and the imaging and measurement techniques used to study it. The chapter closes with an overview of the geological context of V. sertichi, which indicates that the species lived in a coastal floodplain environment and in a highly seasonal, semiarid climate.

Chaohusaurus is Oldest Known Ichthyopterygian

Ammonoid age control of the Early Triassic marine reptiles from Chaohu (South China)


Ji et al


Here we described a series of ammonoid specimens from the Early Triassic of Chaohu, South China and recognized the occurrence of Procolumbites for the first time in this area. The Procolumbites layer is about one meter above the first appearance of Chaohusaurus, indicating that the oldest Chaohusaurus is within the Procolumbites Zone of middle Spathian age. This new age constrain is significantly older than the previously suggested Subcolumbites Zone assignment (early late Spathian). To date, Chaohusaurus is the oldest known ichthyopterygian.

NeoArchean Deposits Discovered in North China Craton

Ca. 2.9 Ga granitoid magmatism in eastern Shandong, North China Craton: Zircon dating, Hf-in-zircon isotopic analysis and whole-rock geochemistry


Xie et al


Eastern Shandong is one of the important early Precambrian areas in the North China Craton, where extensive 2.5, 2.7 and 2.9 Ga magmatic activities have been identified, followed by very strong late Neoarchean and Paleoproterozoic tectono-thermal events. We carried out SHRIMP zircon dating, Hf-in-zircon isotope analysis and a whole-rock geochemical study on ca. 2.9 Ga Mesoarchean magmatic rocks. These include gneissic diorite, gneissic quartz diorite, gneissic tonalite and gneissic high-Si trondhjemite and were identified in five new areas. All these rocks contain ca. 2.5 Ga metamorphic zircons. The dioritic and tonalitic rocks are enriched in large ion lithosphile (LIL) elements (K, Rb, Ba) and depleted in Nb and P with moderate to highly fractionated REE patterns, similar in chemical compositions to Archean TTG rocks worldwide. The high-Si trondhjemites are characterized by very high SiO2 and very low FeOt + MgO. The magmatic zircon grains from all these rocks are similar in their Hf isotopic compositions and have ɛHf(t) values ranging from +1.3 to +9.9. Combined with previous work, our main conclusions are: (1) eastern Shandong underwent a major magmatic event at ca. 2.9 Ga; (2) diorites and tonalites formed by melting of thickened lower crust or the root of an oceanic plateau, whereas the high-Si trondhjemites were derived from melting of intermediate to felsic rocks; (3) the Mesoarchean (ca. 2.9 Ga) was a major period of juvenile crustal addition from the depleted mantle, earlier than the major crustal growth period at 2.7–2.8 Ga in the North China Craton; (4) the 2.7–2.9 Ga rocks underwent strong metamorphism at ca. 2.5 Ga, probably as a result of magmatic underplating.

Friday, December 26, 2014

US Economy Grows While Many Developed Nations are Struggling

While the U.S. economy grew from July through September at the fastest pace in more than a decade, most other major economies have been struggling.

Europe is straining just to grow. So is Brazil. Japan has slid into recession. China is trying to manage a slowdown. Russia foresees a recession next year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy accelerated at a robust 5 percent annual rate last quarter.

"The U.S. is easily top of the charts in the developed world and frankly not half-bad by (faster) emerging-market standards," said Eric Lascelles, chief economist for RBC Global Asset Management.

The United States has benefited from aggressive easy-money policies by the Federal Reserve, a banking system that rebounded from the 2008 financial crisis, solid consumer spending in areas like autos and a roaring stock market that has left many Americans feeling wealthier and more willing to spend.

Eurasian Union Finalized Despite Russia's Economic Problems

Russia and four other ex-Soviet nations on Tuesday completed the creation of a new economic alliance intended to bolster their integration, but the ambitious grouping immediately showed signs of fracture as the leader of Belarus sharply criticized Moscow.

The Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, comes to existence on Jan. 1. In addition to free trade, it's to coordinate the members' financial systems and regulate their industrial and agricultural policies along with labor markets and transportation networks.

Russia had tried to encourage Ukraine to join, but its former pro-Moscow president was ousted in February following months of protests. Russia then annexed Ukraine's Black Sea Crimean Peninsula, and a pro-Russia mutiny has engulfed eastern Ukraine.

Impact of Antarctic Clouds on Climate

Impact of Antarctic mixed-phase clouds on climate


Lawson et al


Precious little is known about the composition of low-level clouds over the Antarctic Plateau and their effect on climate. In situ measurements at the South Pole using a unique tethered balloon system and ground-based lidar reveal a much higher than anticipated incidence of low-level, mixed-phase clouds (i.e., consisting of supercooled liquid water drops and ice crystals). The high incidence of mixed-phase clouds is currently poorly represented in global climate models (GCMs). As a result, the effects that mixed-phase clouds have on climate predictions are highly uncertain. We modify the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Earth System Model (CESM) GCM to align with the new observations and evaluate the radiative effects on a continental scale. The net cloud radiative effects (CREs) over Antarctica are increased by +7.4 Wm−2, and although this is a significant change, a much larger effect occurs when the modified model physics are extended beyond the Antarctic continent. The simulations show significant net CRE over the Southern Ocean storm tracks, where recent measurements also indicate substantial regions of supercooled liquid. These sensitivity tests confirm that Southern Ocean CREs are strongly sensitive to mixed-phase clouds colder than −20 °C.

Should the P-8 Poseidon be Equipped With the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile?

Recent months have found uniformed officers and naval strategists writing and speaking about regaining the ability of U.S. Navy (USN) ships to conduct offensive anti-surface warfare (ASuW). The discussion has been lively and featured many authors and many different approaches. Some solutions are incremental, such as fielding more capable long-range weapons in existing launch systems.[i] Others are more radical, such as trading large long-range missile defense interceptors for small point defense missiles and building a new generation of multi-role cruise missiles.

Missing from the discussion of future acquisitions and new weapons is how the USN can leverage existing land-based airpower to seize the offensive in ASuW. The P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft is deployed today, with the range, persistence, sensors, and network architecture to serve as a self-contained “kill chain.” It is able to disperse and operate in an expeditionary environment during peacetime or contingency operations. If equipped with more suitable long-range anti-ship weapons, this aircraft will provide greatly increased capability for the combatant commander. This will allow more flexibility for USN forces to operate in an A2/AD environment when a carrier is not nearby or in the interim until more capable surface-based ASuW weapons are fielded.

Taiwan's new Corvette (warship)

another link.

yet another link.

US Marine Corps Receives Last F-35 Delivery of 2014, First F-35C for USMC

The US Marine Corps has received its first carrier-based Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II, marking the 36th and final delivery of a Joint Strike Fighter in 2014.

Lockheed Martin says the 22 December delivery of aircraft CF-19 meets the 36 aircraft delivery target for 2014, and marks the 109th overall delivery of operational F-35s to the USA and partner operators.

The first USMC F-35C out of a planned 80 will be assigned to the US Navy’s VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing, based at Eglin AFB. After delivery CF-19 will be used for F-35C pilot training.


Of the 36 aircraft delivered in 2014, 23 are USAF ‘A’ models, two are RAAF ‘A’ models, four are USMC ‘B’ models and seven are ‘C’ models – six for the USN and one for the USMC.

China's Getting Faster at Producing its J-20 Stealth Fighter Prototypes

The first prototype for China’s J-20 stealth fighter appeared in blurry photos in December 2010. Almost exactly four years later, the sixth J-20 has taken flight, just three weeks after the fifth.

Beijing is building J-20s at an accelerating rate. And with six of the huge, twin-engine planes in the air for testing, China is well on its way to finalizing the J-20’s design—and getting the new fighter ready for front-line service.

How Much Nitrous oxide was in the Atmosphere at the end of the Ice Age?

Isotopic constraints on marine and terrestrial N2O emissions during the last deglaciation


Schilt et al


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substance that has anthropogenic as well as natural marine and terrestrial sources. The tropospheric N2O concentrations have varied substantially in the past in concert with changing climate on glacial–interglacial and millennial timescales. It is not well understood, however, how N2O emissions from marine and terrestrial sources change in response to varying environmental conditions. The distinct isotopic compositions of marine and terrestrial N2O sources can help disentangle the relative changes in marine and terrestrial N2O emissions during past climate variations.Here we present N2O concentration and isotopic data for the last deglaciation, from 16,000 to 10,000 years before present, retrieved from air bubbles trapped in polar ice at Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. With the help of our data and a box model of the N2O cycle, we find a 30 per cent increase in total N2O emissions from the late glacial to the interglacial, with terrestrial and marine emissions contributing equally to the overall increase and generally evolving in parallel over the last deglaciation, even though there is no a priori connection between the drivers of the two sources. However, we find that terrestrial emissions dominated on centennial timescales, consistent with a state-of-the-art dynamic global vegetation and land surface process model that suggests that during the last deglaciation emission changes were strongly influenced by temperature and precipitation patterns over land surfaces. The results improve our understanding of the drivers of natural N2O emissions and are consistent with the idea that natural N2O emissions will probably increase in response to anthropogenic warming.

Mysterious Gouges in Martian Sand Dunes may be Caused by Evaporating Dry ice

After the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began beaming back close-up images of the Red Planet, researchers spotted peculiar features along the slopes of dunes: long, sharply defined grooves (pictured) that seem to appear and disappear seasonally. They look like trails left behind by tumbling boulders, but rocks never appear in the sunken pits at the trail ends. Researchers initially took these gullies as signs of flowing liquid water, but a new model suggests they’re the result of sand-surfing dry ice. During the martian winter, carbon dioxide ice freezes over parts of the planet’s surface and sublimates back into a gas during the spring thaw. But according to the model presented here today at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union, chunks of warming dry ice may also break off from the crests of dunes and skid down slopes. This is no ordinary tumble—according to the model, the bases of the chunks are continually sublimating, resulting in a hovercraftlike motion that gouges the dune while propelling the ice down slopes. Solid ice that survives to the bottom settles into a pit before dissipating back into the atmosphere.

Evidence From 30,000 BP (Pleistocene Quaternary) Indonesia of Limpet Shells Used as Simple Tools

Limpet shells as unmodified tools in Pleistocene Southeast Asia: an experimental approach to assessing fracture and modification


Szabó et al


Pleistocene tools manufactured in shell are rarely identified. This may in part be due to the complexity of shell as a raw material and associated challenges in recognising and interpreting shell modification. A series of unusually-shaped Scutellastra flexuosa limpets from c. 30,000 year old deposits in Golo Cave, eastern Indonesia were identified as putatively modified during midden analysis. A pilot programme of investigations into the microstructure and natural fracture patterns of this species, coupled with a series of use-wear experiments, demonstrates that some S. flexuosa shells were used as scrapers. The shells were used in unmodified form and were ‘repurposed’ after having been gathered for subsistence purposes. Taken together with other forms of early shell-working already reported for Golo Cave, the identification of these new unmodified shell tools expands the corpus of shell tool use at the site and presents a picture of diversity and complexity not seen in the associated lithic assemblage.

Studying Arboroharamiya Suggests Haramiyidans Closely Related to Multituberculates

Meng et al



Two recent studies published in the same issue of Nature reached conflicting conclusions regarding the phylogeny of early mammals: One places the clade containing haramiyidans and multituberculates within the Mammalia and the other separates haramiyidans from multituberculates and places the former outside of the Mammalia. These two contrasting results require that the minimally oldest divergence time of the Mammalia was within the Late Triassic or the Middle Jurassic, respectively. Morphological descriptions of the species named in the two papers were brief, and no comparisons between the newly named species were possible.

Principal Findings

Here we present a detailed description of the dentary bone, teeth, occlusal and wear patterns of the haramiyidan Arboroharamiya and compare it with other haramiyidans and Megaconus. Using this new information, we suggest that tooth identifications and orientations of several previously described haramiyidan species are incorrect, and that previous interpretations of haramiyidan occlusal pattern are problematic. We propose that the published upper tooth orientation of Megaconus was problematic and question the number of upper molars, the length of dentition and mandible, and presence of the mandibular middle ear in Megaconus.


The additional morphological descriptions and comparisons presented here further support the view that Arboroharamiya, as a derived haramiyidan, shows similarity to multituberculates in tooth and mandible morphologies. Our comparison also suggests that Megaconus lacks many diagnostic features for the family Eleutherodontidae and that its close affinity with multituberculates cannot be ruled out. The detailed morphological data demonstrate that haramiyidans are more similar to multituberculates than to any other mammaliaforms.

Weberepeton sondalensis: a new Stem Tetrapod From Frasnian Devonian Russia

Revision of the early tetrapod Obruchevichthys Vorobyeva, 1977 from the Frasnian (Upper Devonian) of the North-western East European Platform


Clément et al


Species composition of the genus Obruchevichthys Vorobyeva, 1977, previously based on two specimens from the Upper Frasnian (Upper Devonian) of Latvia and Leningrad Region of Russia is revised. The precise locality of the latter specimen was considered by the author of this taxon as unknown. Archives recently found in collection and field research in the presumable locality allowed the rediscovery of this important locality along the Sondala River (east of the Leningrad Region). This provenance is furthermore supported by spectrometric testing. Despite the presence of several subadult features hindering its attribution by earlier authors to a separate taxon, new observations on its morphology revealed that several characters of the material from Russia significantly differ from those of the type specimen that resulted in its attribution to a new genus and species Weberepeton sondalensis gen. et sp. nov. These differences mainly consist in a number of lower jaw characters, such as relative size of marginal teeth, development rate of the adsymphysial plate, orientation of the precoronoid fossa, and dermal ornamentation.

Low Latitude, Gaskiers/Ediacaran-aged Glacial Deposits in Uruguay

Rapalini et al


A new paleomagnetic study was carried out on 15 sites of the Sierra de las Ánimas Complex, exposed in SE Uruguay. A paleomagnetic remanence was isolated at six sites, and this direction is likely to be pre-tectonic and primary. Mean directions from five of these sites are consistent with the SA2 paleomagnetic pole, which is based on a previous paleomagnetic study of the complex. A new paleomagnetic pole was computed for compiled results from the the Sierra de las Ánimas Complex (SAn, 12.2°S, 258.9°E, A95: 14.9°). A geochronological study based on U/Pb (SHRIMP) dating of magmatic zircons was also carried out on three samples of the Sierra de las Animas Complex, yielding a grand mean age of 578 ± 4 Ma. The new SAn paleomagnetic pole anchors the Early Ediacaran segment of the Apparent Polar Wander Path for the Río de la Plata craton. Consistency of the new pole with other Ediacaran poles from the Congo-Sao Francisco craton suggests a coherent Central Gondwana by this time. These data also support a wide Clymene Ocean between the conjoined Río de la Plata-Congo-São Francisco blocks and Western Gondwana, i.e., Amazonia-West Africa. Additional sampling (sixteen samples) was carried out on the basal levels of the glaciogenic Playa Hermosa Formation, exposed in the same area. These samples retain a paleomagnetic component consistent with the previously reported data, confirming the original pole position. U-Pb (SHRIMP) dating of detrital zircons reveal a bimodal distribution of Paleoproterozoic (around 2.1 Ga) and late Neoproterozoic ages The youngest zircons are interpreted as pre-dating to penecontemporaneous with deposition and points to a ≤594 Ma age for deposition of the older levels of the Playa Hermosa Formation. A minimum age of deposition is set by the 578 ± 4 Ma age of the Sierra de las Ánimas magmatism. The low inclination of magnetization indicates that low-latitude (13.0° + 9.5°/-5.5°), Gaskiers-aged glacial deposits are preserved atop the Rio de la Plata craton

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What was the Roman Republic Really Like?

Is the Russian Economy About to Meltdown? And is China Going to try to Save it?

Russian government is doing a bank bailout.

China offers a currency swap to stabilize ruble.

How Will Fracking, Climate Change Impact American National Security?

Energy sources and related commodities have driven national security issues ever since the modern nation-state was born with the Peace of Westphalia. Oak made Spain and England’s stout sailing ships. Water energy and wind drove mills and moved water. Wood and coal moved steamships. Then came the almost magical commodity of oil, packed with energy. World War II brought us the wonder and terror of nuclear energy. Today, America buys much less foreign oil for the first time in decades, largely due to fracking and other technological advances. Wind and solar energy are growing by leaps and bounds. How fundamental are these changes in the world’s energy markets and what is their likely effect on our national security interests? My colleague at Breaking Energy, Jared Anderson, tackles the energy side of the equation. We’ve got the national security side. Read on. The Editor.

very very important counterpoint or two from Noel.

General Dynamics Awarded Contract for ~$500 Million Mobile Landing Platform-class ship

General Dynamics NASSCO has been awarded a $498 million contract to build the fourth Mobile Landing Platform that will be the second configured as a so-called Afloat Forward Staging Base for mine countermeasure (MCM) helicopters and special operations forces (SOF) and U.S. Marines, the company announced on Monday.

The ship — based on the hull of an Alaska-class crude oil tanker — will be built at NASSCO’s San Diego, Calif. shipyard and will be completed by 2018, according to a Friday Department of Defense contract announcement.

“Under this option, NASSCO will provide the detail design and construction efforts to build the second AFSB of the Mobile Landing Platform-class ships,” read a statement from NASSCO.

The contract modification that funds the construction follows the first AFSB — USNS Lewis B. Puller (MLP-3/AFSB-1) — which was launched at the San Diego yard in November.

The 764-foot ship will field large helicopter deck capable of fielding MH-53E Sea Dragon MCM helos and provide accommodations for up to 250.

The Coming Knife Fight Over US Navy Procurements & Budget

Smooth sailing is not in the Navy’s forecast for the next year.The service faces big decisions on major programs, and we can expect clashes between Navy plans, congressional politics and budgetary realities on three of the biggest: the upgunned Littoral Combat Ship, the UCLASS armed drone, and the jewel in the Navy’s crown, the nuclear aircraft carrier.

The fate of all three programs — and countless others — is tied up with the looming budget cuts known as sequestration. But this isn’t just another sequestration story. Each program carries its own unique controversies that may doom it regardless of whether the sequester is solved.

For the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) drone in particular, the debate is less about funding than about warfighting, and ultimately about the odds of war with China. Congress, especially House Republicans, want weapons built first and foremost to survive and win a high-end fight in the West Pacific — or better yet to deter one altogether. The Navy, backed by the Obama administration, has proposed more modest capabilities and lower costs for a wider range of missions.

MQ-8C Fire Scout Drone Helicopter's First Take off and Landing on a US Navy Destroyer

Fire Scout makes it look easy to take off from a destroyer. It’s not.

In video released today (above), the MQ-8C helicopter takes off from the destroyer Jason Dunham with its eyes closed — or rather with its cockpit windows painted over, because there’s nobody inside. Though derived from the widespread Bell 407, the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C is a drone. This month’s tests are the first time the unmanned helicopter has taken off from a Navy ship at sea, and the first time any unmanned helicopter of any kind has taken off from a destroyer. The earlier MQ-8B version of the Fire Scout has already seen service on Navy frigates and Littoral Combat Ships, but the C-model is a much bigger aircraft and the Jason Dunham is a much bigger vessel.


Lookie! Lookie! China's J-20 Stealth Fighter has an Aerial Refueling Probe


The Paleoenvironment of Oligocene Paleogene Patagonia

Reconstruction of a fossil forest reveals details of the palaeoecology, palaeoenvironments and climatic conditions in the late Oligocene of South America


Brea et al


This research focuses on the three-dimensional reconstruction of an in situ forest based on fossil wood assemblages recovered in the Rancahué Formation (Upper Oligocene), Neuquén, Argentina. Atherospermataceae, Lauraceae, Nothofagaceae, Eucryphiaceae, Cunoniaceae and Myrtaceae specimens are described. The mapping of a forest floor section and in situ tree diameters enabled the estimation of the following palaeoecological quantitative data: tree density, dominance, basal area, biomass, diametric classes, canopy height, and age classes. Palaeoclimatical data was determined on the basis of physiognomic anatomical features using multivariate anatomical analyses. These results were compared with other proxies including Carlquist's index, Coexistence Approach (CA), Nearest Living Relatives (NLRs), and growth-rings analyses. The structural data from the Aluminé forest inferred from these analyses includes: tree density of 463–701 trees/ha, mean height of 15.22 m, dominance of the genus Nothofagoxylon (89.66 m2/ha), total basal area of 158.20 m2/ha, biomass between 43 and 712 tn/ha and mean age of 223 years (specimens between 31 and 700 years old). These results are comparable to those of mature low-to-middle altitude extant forests dominated by Nothofagus and developed under humid-temperate conditions. Based on the NLRs method, the Aluminé forest has a floristic composition similar to the present-day Valdivian forest. The persistence of Nothofagus as the dominant element in temperate rainforests correlates with regimes where large-scale disturbances, such as volcanism and earthquakes are prevalent. The fossil taxa are closely related to the extant Laurelia, Persea, Eucryphia, Nothofagus, Weinmannia, Myrceugenia and Luma. The forest shows intermixed deciduous and evergreen elements, and taxa with shade-intolerance and intermediate shade tolerance. Also, the majority of these taxa need soils with available water. The integrated analysis of multiple sets of proxy data suggests that the late Oligocene forest grew under temperate and humid climate, while the eco-anatomical features and sedimentary data provide information about the environmental stress conditions of its development and the violent causes of burial.

NASA's Maven Finds Hints of Martian Atmospheric Loss due to Solar Wind

Early discoveries by NASA's newest Mars orbiter are starting to reveal key features about the loss of the planet's atmosphere to space over time.

The findings are among the first returns from NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which entered its science phase on Nov. 16. The observations reveal a new process by which the solar wind can penetrate deep into a planetary atmosphere. They include the first comprehensive measurements of the composition of Mars' upper atmosphere and electrically charged ionosphere. The results also offer an unprecedented view of ions as they gain the energy that will lead to their to escape from the atmosphere.

"We are beginning to see the links in a chain that begins with solar-driven processes acting on gas in the upper atmosphere and leads to atmospheric loss," said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "Over the course of the full mission, we'll be able to fill in this picture and really understand the processes by which the atmosphere changed over time."

On each orbit around Mars, MAVEN dips into the ionosphere - the layer of ions and electrons extending from about 75 to 300 miles above the surface. This layer serves as a kind of shield around the planet, deflecting the solar wind, an intense stream of hot, high-energy particles from the sun.

Scientists have long thought that measurements of the solar wind could be made only before these particles hit the invisible boundary of the ionosphere. MAVEN's Solar Wind Ion Analyzer, however, has discovered a stream of solar-wind particles that are not deflected but penetrate deep into Mars' upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

Interactions in the upper atmosphere appear to transform this stream of ions into a neutral form that can penetrate to surprisingly low altitudes. Deep in the ionosphere, the stream emerges, almost Houdini-like, in ion form again. The reappearance of these ions, which retain characteristics of the pristine solar wind, provides a new way to track the properties of the solar wind and may make it easier to link drivers of atmospheric loss directly to activity in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere.