Lystrosaurus: The Most Humble Badass of the Triassic
by Annalee Newitz
One of the greatest survivors in all of Earth’s history was a humble creature named Lystrosaurus. It was a dog-sized animal whose peculiar lineage evolved about 270 million years ago, and looked like a cross between a pig and a lizard. Snub-faced and splay-legged, it was a burrower with powerful front legs who probably dug its own den every night. And somehow, it managed to survive the worst mass extinction the world has ever known.
About 250 million years ago, at the close of the Permian period, an enormous volcano called an igneous province started erupting in the region of the world that would one day be Siberia. At the time, this volcano was at the northern tip of a supercontinent called Pangaea that stretched from the north pole all the way down to the south. The eruption formed massive vents, rifts in the earth that released wave after wave of lava, along with billowing clouds of ash, carbon, and other toxins.
The Siberian igneous province laid waste to the environment for over a thousand years, ultimately releasing as much as to 43,000 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere. It’s likely that the planet cooled down for a time, then heated up into a devastatingly profound greenhouse. At the same time, all that carbon caused ocean acidification. The resulting climate changes ultimately killed off 95 percent of all species on Earth.
CONSTELLATION HYDRA - Dashing the hopes of those among them who believed the faraway world would surely prove habitable, astronomers from the Terxus II star system announced Thursday that a recently discovered planet remarkably like their own is in fact completely hostile to life…
Antarctica’s Mountains Revealed by Sharpest Map Yet
by Christine Dell’Amore
Buried under miles of ice, Antarctica’s mysterious mountain ranges are coming into sharper focus thanks to a new map.
Created by the British Antarctic Survey, Bedmap2 drew upon millions of new measurements of the frozen continent’s surface elevation, ice thickness, and bedrock topography from a wide variety of sources collected over several decades.
Due to technological advances, Bedmap2 is also higher in resolution, more precise, and covers more of the continent than the original Bedmap, produced more than ten years ago, according to Charles Webb, deputy program scientist for cryospheric sciences at NASA headquarters. Earth’s frozen regions are collectively called the cryosphere…
A pocket of water some 2.6 billion years old — the most ancient pocket of water known by far, older even than the dawn of multicellular life — has now been discovered in a mine, near the city of Timmins in Ontario, Canada, 2 miles below the Earth’s surface.
With everything that progress has brought in our modern world, it’s refreshing to know that there are still places on the planet that are virtually untouched — places where humans haven’t completely tainted the environment. Some areas may be on the fringe of impurity, but fortunately there are several lucky locations have been designated as conservancies, so that future generations can remember them as we have. Here are ten of these places of our wide, wild world…
Shannon Bileski took this picture on March 29, 2013 at Patricia Beach in Canada. It shows a bright meteor streaking through a sky filled with the green glow of the aurora borealis. Shannon Bileski was out at the beach attempting to witness and photograph the northern lights with others from a photography club and an astronomy club.
Ray Troll is a world-renowned Alaska-based artist, specializing in fish and paleontology art. This is from his Pancakes and Geology: Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway.
“… I drew this image for the Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway book and exhibit I did with Dr. Kirk Johnson. … I truly believe that everyone should know the geologic ages of our planet. They should be taught in kindergarten right alongside the ABCs as far as I’m concerned. I’m dead serious about this folks. And hey… they’re surprisingly easy to memorize and having this t-shirt in your wardrobe will make it even easier…”
In January 2013, a new Earth-observing instrument was installed on the International Space Station (ISS). ISERV Pathfinder consists of a commercial camera, a telescope, and a pointing system, all positioned to look through the Earth-facing window of ISS’s Destiny module. ISERV Pathfinder is intended as an engineering exercise, with the long-term goal of developing a system for providing imagery to developing nations as they monitor natural disasters and environmental concerns.
The image above is the “first light” from the new ISERV camera system, taken at 1:44 p.m. local time on February 16, 2013. It shows the Rio San Pablo as it empties into the Golfo de Montijo in Veraguas, Panama. It is an ecological transition zone, changing from agriculture and pastures to mangrove forests, swamps, and estuary systems. The area has been designated a protected area by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) of Panama and is listed as a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention. (Note that the image is rotated so that north is to the upper right.)
“ISERV’s full potential is yet to be seen, but we hope it will really make a difference in people’s lives,” said principal investigator Burgess Howell of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “For example, if an earthen dam gives way in Bhutan, we want to be able to show officials where the bridge is out or where a road is washed out or a power substation is inundated. This kind of information is critical to focus and speed rescue efforts.”…
Rock that Ended Reign of the Dinosaurs Was a Comet
by Paul Rincon
The space rock that hit Earth 65 million years ago and is widely implicated in the end of the dinosaurs was likely a speeding comet.
That is the conclusion of research which suggests the 180km-wide Chicxulub crater in Mexico was carved out by a smaller object than previously thought. Many scientists consider a large and relatively slow moving asteroid to have been the likely culprit.
But other researchers were more cautious about the results.
“The overall aim of our project is to better characterise the impactor that produced the crater in the Yucatan peninsula [in Mexico],” Jason Moore, from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, told BBC News.
The space rock gave rise to a global layer of sediments enriched in the chemical element iridium, in concentrations much higher than naturally occurs; it must have come from outer space…
Cold temperatures, chlorine and a stagnant atmosphere caused a thinning in the ozone layer over the Arctic in 2011, a new NASA study finds.
This ozone loss is not the more famous ozone hole, found seasonally over Antarctica, which has been shrinking since the phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, that interact with ozone molecules in the atmosphere. These ozone molecules are made of three oxygen atoms bound together. Their high concentration in the stratosphere about 12 miles to 19 miles (20 to 30 km) above the Earth’s surface blocks harmful ultraviolet light from the sun.
Arctic ozone depletion is typically not as severe as that in the Antarctic. Over the South Pole, the sun barely or never sets around Christmas, creating a confluence of sunlight and cold in the atmosphere. Under these conditions, chlorine from CFCs eats away at ozone molecules…
NASA Study Says Arctic Gets Greener as Climate Warms
by Live Science staff
Higher temperatures and a longer growing season mean some of Earth’s chilliest regions are looking increasingly green, researchers say.
Today, the plant life at northern latitudes often looks like the vegetation researchers would have observed up to 430 miles (700 kilometers) farther south in 1982, according to a new study.
“It’s like Winnipeg, Manitoba, moving to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in only 30 years,” study researcher Compton Tucker of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement.
Tucker and a team of university and NASA scientists looked at 30 years’ worth of satellite and land surface data on vegetation growth from 45 degrees north latitude to the Arctic Ocean. In this region, large patches of lush vegetation now stretch over an area about the size of the continental United States and resemble what was found 4 to 6 latitude degrees to the south in 1982, the researchers say…
When ice possibly swathed the entire world, the oceans underneath may have nevertheless surprisingly churned, potentially helping to provide life with vital nutrients, new research suggests.
For decades, scientists have proposed that the planet may once have been a “Snowball Earth,” with geological evidence suggesting ice reached all the way to the equator at least twice during the Neoproterozoic era (about 635 million to 750 million years ago) in stints lasting millions of years. The ice sheets blanketing Earth were not completely solid — there were likely many holes or thin patches around warm spots such as volcanoes — but in many other places, ice may have been more than a half-mile thick.
During these Snowball Earth periods, it is also thought that ancient life may have begun its drive toward explosive diversity. However, until now, little was done to model how water and nutrients might have flowed in the ice-capped oceans in which this primordial life dwelled. Past research did suggest that oceans might have flowed sluggishly due to ice shielding the waters from wind, and such relatively stagnant water would not have been as conducive to driving the developing diversity of primordial life in the oceans. But such studies failed to account for geothermal heat from the planet that could potentially drive ocean mixing, researchers said…