Category Archives: Nature

A stunning discovery: Dinosaur feathers in amber

From the paper, feathers on the tail of a small dinosaur, found trapped in amber. Also, there’s no DNA, so no Jurassic Park.

From the paper, feathers on the tail of a small dinosaur, found trapped in amber. Also, there’s no DNA, so no Jurassic Park.

It’s Jurassic Park, but without the DNA.

A chunk of amber from Myanmar has given conclusive proof that dinosaurs — at least some of them — really did sport colorful feathers.

Trapped within the fossilized sap was the end of a tail of a tiny dinosaur, with it’s feather delightfully preserved.

The full report, with more images, is offered omn an open access basis by the scientific journal Current Biology.

From CNN:

Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchwan Museum in Canada and co-author of the paper, says he was blown away when Xing first showed him the piece of amber.

“It’s a once in a lifetime find. The finest details are visible and in three dimensions.” The amber adds to fossil evidence that many dinosaurs sported feathers rather than scales.

Fragments of dinosaur-era bird wings have been found preserved in amber before but this is the first time part of a mummified dinosaur skeleton has been discovered, McKellar said.

The tail section belongs to a young coelurosaurian — from the same group of dinosaurs as the predatory velociraptors and the tyrannosaurus. The sparrow-sized creature could have danced in the palm of your hand.

The amber, which weighs 6.5 grams, contains bone fragments and feathers, adding to mounting fossil evidence that many dinosaurs sported primitive plumage rather than scales.

Add giraffes to the list of earth’s vanishing species

Just as polar bears are losing their habitat as the arctic ice melts, so too is the giraffe vanishing from the planet as its habitat vanishes.

From the Associated Press:

The giraffe, the tallest land animal, is now at risk of extinction, biologists say.

Because the giraffe population has shrunk nearly 40 percent in just 30 years, scientists put it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species worldwide, calling it “vulnerable.” That’s two steps up the danger ladder from its previous designation of being a species of least concern. In 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes but in 2015 the number was down to 97,562, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

At a biodiversity meeting Wednesday in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35 species and lowered the threat level for seven species on its “Red List” of threatened species, considered by scientists the official list of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing.

The giraffe is the only mammal whose status changed on the list this year. Scientists blame habitat loss.

Polar bear numbers plunge as arctic ice melts

One of the most magnificent creatures on the planet is losing its habitat.

From Agence France-Presse:

Polar bear numbers could drop a third by mid-century, according to the first systematic assessment, released on Wednesday, of how dwindling Arctic sea ice affects the world’s largest bear.

There is a 70 percent chance that the global polar bear population –- estimated at 26,000 -– will decline by more than 30 percent over the next 35 years, a period corresponding to three generations, the study found.

Other assessments have reached similar conclusions, notably a recent review by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which tracks endangered species on its Red List.

The IUCN classified the sea-faring polar bear—a.k.a. Ursus maritimus—as “vulnerable”, or at high risk of extinction in the wild.

But the new study [open access], published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, is the most comprehensive to date, combining 35 years of satellite data on Arctic sea ice with all known shifts in 19 distinct polar bears groupings scattered across four ecological zones in the Arctic.

Ever more marine creatures imperiled by plastics

Marine life threatened by becoming tangled with or ingesting plastic waste in the oceans. From the report.

Marine life threatened by becoming tangled with or ingesting plastic waste in the oceans. From the report.

The 20th Century is notable for four major technological innovations, each problematic: Nuclear power/weapons, antibiotics, the digital computer, and plastics.

Nuclear gave us the threat of planetary genocide and environmental degradation, antibiotics gave rise to resistant strains of bacteria, the computer gave rise to the panopticon surveillance state, and plastics have proven to cause a host of afflictions and threaten the oceans from which we all draw life.

It’s this last threat that is the subject of a sobering new report.

From the United Nations News Center:

Marine debris is negatively affecting more than 800 animal species and causing serious losses to many countries’ economies, according to a United Nations report launched Monday.

The report, Marine Debris: Understanding, Preventing and Mitigating the Significant Adverse Impacts on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity found that the number of species affected by marine debris has increased from 663 to 817 since 2012. It also warned that this type of waste, which is mostly made of plastic, is an increasing threat to human health and well-being, and is costing countries billions of dollars each year.

“I hope that this report will provide governments and other stakeholders with the information needed to take urgent actions to address marine debris, one of the most prominent threats to marine ecosystems, and support healthy and resilient oceans as a critical aspect of achieving sustainable development,” said Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, the Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The report was launched in Cancun, Mexico, on the sidelines of the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to Convention, known as ‘COP13,’ where governments and private sector delegations have been gathered since 2 December to discuss, among others, how to integrate biodiversity into policies relevant to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism sectors. The meeting wraps up on 17 December.

Marine debris is usually defined as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. Three-quarters of all marine debris is plastic, a persistent and potentially hazardous pollutant, which fragments into microplastics that can be taken up by a wide range of marine organisms.

The most common types of marine debris are: food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, grocery bags, beverage bottles and cigarette butts. Five of these items are made of plastic.

Marine and coastal species – fish, seabirds, marine mammals and reptiles – are affected by marine debris mostly through ingestion or entanglement. According to the report, 40 per cent of cetaceans, and 44 per cent of seabird species are affected by marine debris ingestion. The effect of ingestion is not always understood, as many ingest microplastics – little pieces or fragments that are less than five millimetres in diameter.

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Pipeline protesting vets head to Flint, Michigan

Thousands of American military veterans joined with Native Americans and environmentalists to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline project, and with the Obama administration placing a halt on the project, at least until the Trumpster takes office, the vets are heading to another region plagued by pipeline projects.

Their new target is Flint, Michigan, where aging lead pipes have added dangerous levels of the highly toxic metal to the water supply of a largely poor African American population.

From U.S. Uncut:

The veterans who just joined the indigenous protest to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota are heading to Flint, Michigan next.

While a date hasn’t yet been set for the trip to Flint, Wes Clark Jr., who organized a force of over 4,000 U.S. military veterans to mobilize for Standing Rock, said he’s planning a similar mobilization to help the people of Flint.

“This problem is all over the county. It’s got to be more than veterans,” Clark told the Flint Journal. “People have been treated wrong in this county for a long time.”

Flint resident Arthur Woodson, who is a veteran and a supporter of the Standing Rock protesters, said the veterans coming to Flint may help revive media attention on the community’s plight of tainted drinking water, and that the renewed public pressure could bring about an effective solution.

“All the media attention that was there brought more attention to Standing Rock. The government had a change of heart,” Woodson told the Journal.

Another Oklahoma fracking seismic quake storm

From the U.S. Geological Survey [the Kansas Oklahoma border is shown as the line toward the top of the map]:


Map of the day: Massive drought in South America


From NASA’s Earth Observatory:

Even before the 2016 dry season started in South America, a marked deficit in rainfall was apparent across much of the continent. Parts of the Amazon, for example, were already far drier than in 2005 and 2010, the last serious drought years. Now, as the wet season approaches, intense drought still runs deep across the Amazon basin and much of Brazil.

The map above shows the accumulated deficit in rainfall flowing into surface and groundwater storage as of October 2016. The data were compiled by the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre, which analyzes precipitation data collected from rain gauges. Red areas show the level of the rainfall deficit compared to the norm for October, while blue areas had more than usual amounts of rainfall.

Some areas fared better than others. For example, Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, is located between areas that were anomalously dry (to the north) and others that were anomalously wet (south). The city has reportedly received sufficient rain since late 2015 to begin raising the water level in its main reservoir system.

But as the map also shows, rainfall elsewhere in Brazil and the Amazon was far below normal for October. It remains to be seen whether the rainfall associated with the wet season can break the ongoing drought.

“In Brazil, the rainy season is the austral summer, from December to March,” said Augusto Getirana, a hydrologist and remote sensing scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s hard to tell if this summer will be the same, but considering the pattern of previous years, my guess would be a yes.”

Getirana knows well the patters of recent years. In February 2016, he published a satellite-based study showing that southeastern Brazil lost 6.1 centimeters of water per year from 2012 to 2015. That may not sound like much, but in terms of volume over the entire area, that’s 56 trillion liters of water.